Our team

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Janessa Gans Wilder, Founder + CEO

Janessa Gans Wilder, a former CIA analyst, founded Euphrates on the heels of a 21-month assignment in Iraq. Janessa was liaising with top Iraqi leaders in the run up to the first elections in 2005, and witnessed first hand the clashes between Americans and Iraqis and the lack of cultural, religious, and historical understanding that pervaded both sides. Convinced that our foreign policy challenges require more than government effort, Janessa resigned from the CIA to start a grassroots movement to allay fear and restore trust between the West and Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. Her aim is to help citizens on both sides realize their mutual humanity as the way to find lasting freedom and security. Her Middle East experience has included Arabic study in the Palestinian Territories and extended travel throughout the Arab world. After five years of government service on the Middle East and South Asia, she became a consultant to the State Department and a visiting professor of Middle East issues at Principia College. Janessa received a Master’s degree in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, and her BA from Principia College.

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Natasha Turak, Publications Director

Natasha Turak is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Politics. Originally from Washington, D.C., she is currently based in Tunis, Tunisia as an editor. It was through meeting people in countries like Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt, and living with families, both Christian and Muslim, that she realized the positive potential of intimate dialogue and the vast common desires that we all share, regardless of religion or ethnicity. She also discovered the predominantly moderate and conflict-averse populations that are widely ignored by mainstream Western media. Natasha hopes to promote the building of camaraderie and tolerance as an invaluable tool in breaking misconceptions and paving the way toward peace and greater understanding.

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Kristin Lauria, Director of Academic Programs

Kristin Lauria became inspired by the power of people to overcome differences and divisive politics growing up as a young girl in Ireland during the tail end of The Troubles. She received her Master’s degree in Coexistence and Conflict from Brandeis University.

While researching in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, her conviction grew that real change occurs at the grassroots level, where the roots of progress toward peaceful coexistence are nurtured by “ordinary” visionaries, who refuse to be daunted or deterred by systemic dysfunction. Prior to her studies of the Middle East, Kristin spent four years working and studying in Mainland China where she learned firsthand the power of engaging in person-to-person dialogue to overcome stereotypes, fears and distrust.

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Ben Frederick, Program Manager

Ben Frederick graduated from Principia College in 2014 with a degree in Theater and English. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he took a year off of school to work at The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, Massachusetts. After considering the violence of both the Syrian Civil War and the Boston Marathon bombing, Ben realized the importance of global citizenship, and began looking for the truth behind sensationalized news stories. He also works as a freelance writer, editor and journalist.

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Emily Mattson, Program Manager

Emily Mattson graduated from Principia College in 2014 with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology with minors in Religion and ‘Gender and Women’s Studies’. After spending time working and travelling in India, Emily’s fervor for foreign cultures became a more intensified desire to find the hope in the bleakest situations through the recognition of right motive, joy, and harmony beneath and within the seeming chaos. Emily was overjoyed to find that the Euphrates Institute was already making progress toward this goal and felt as though her postgrad time would be best spent working with other likeminded and passionate people who see the importance of the individual in every culture around the world.

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Craig Hunter, Attorney

Craig Hunter has been a Los Angeles trial lawyer for about 30 years who likes to think he breaks the traditional mold.  He received a B.A. in mathematics from Principia College and a law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, serving as an editor of the law review.  As his daughters steered clear of the law, Craig branched out from his litigation practice to help commercial wind developers and assist a few Indian tribes in developing their economies through gaming and renewable energy projects.  He is also a commercial pilot who enjoys flying as a hobby and is a weekend sailor and surfer.

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Chuck Wattles, Chairman of the Board of Directors

Chuck Wattles has worked for many years in both international and domestic development programs for numerous non-governmental organizations and governmental agencies.  Internationally, he worked with the Education Development Center as the Washington D.C. Program Manager for a Youth Leadership Program in the West Bank and Gaza, and lived for three years in Sudan working with street children, refugee resettlement, emergency housing, and disaster relief. He’s traveled throughout East Africa, the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan. While working at Peace Corps headquarters he brought special focus to combining youth development and environmental projects. In the U.S. he has directed three nonprofit housing and community development organizations and served on the boards of two youth development organizations. He has a Master’s degree in International Administration from the School for International Training, in Brattleboro, Vermont.

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Rebecca Tobias, Vice President, Board of Directors

Rebecca Tobias is a Global Council Trustee of the United Religions Initiative and the Program Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, which designs and facilitates interfaith and intercultural programming which serves to foster a culture of peace; and through her work has coordinated capacity-building projects with civic, faith, and social justice advocacy organizations locally, nationally and internationally. As a Fellow with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Working Groups for Indigenous Populations, Rebecca assisted in the drafting of resolutions presented for the Human Rights Sub-Commission meeting held in August 2005 and since that time has served as a delegate to the United Nations for several CSO’s including the inaugural meeting of the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.

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Joy Schwentker, Board of Directors

Joy Schwentker’s interest in the Middle East began when she travelled to Syria, Jordan and Israel on a Bible study tour in 1995. Since then, she has travelled to Turkey and served as a Trustee of the Crisler Library in Ephesos (Turkey). As a founding member of a Middle East Book Club in Raleigh, NC, the books read have helped educate her about the history, people, religions, culture, politics, and literature of the region. She is a graduate of Principia College, attended the Euphrates Institute Summit there in 2011, is the head of a church-related non-profit organization, serves on boards and committees of other non-profits that work with young people, and enjoys her grandchildren and travelling with her husband.

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Kent Libbe, Chief Financial Officer

Kent Libbe brings his 35 years of business experience to the Euphrates Institute.  He earned his MBA and BS degrees from Bowling Green State University.  His work background is focused in the areas of finance and accounting but also includes eleven years serving as the President of a major regional construction company.  He also worked as a consultant to small businesses for three years, during which time he discovered that his organizational experience could benefit many smaller organizations.

His introduction to the Euphrates Institute came through his daughter who participated in a life changing three month experience in the Middle East which was led by the Euphrates founder.  This led him to attend the Euphrates Summit at Principia College in 2011.  The powerful ideas presented there naturally drew him to want to help Janessa and her strong team with their very important mission in helping solve one of the most challenging issues in the world.

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Eric D. Pagett, Board of Directors

Eric D. Pagett has learned about both the beauty and complexity of the global community through undergraduate studies in the United States and traveling abroad.  While on a study abroad program that was co-sponsored by Euphrates Institute, Eric became keenly aware of mankind’s need for more compassion, justice, and love.  This sparked a deep desire to better understand the relationship between the West and the Middle East and to be an aware global citizen.  Eric believes that education is the tool to heal intolerance and the consequences of ignorance.  Eric has a BA in Business Administration from Principia College.  Eric is now a Christian Science Practitioner living on the central coast of California.
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Glenn Williams, Board of Directors

Glenn Williams is retired after 25 years fundraising for his alma mater, Washington State University, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and Principia in St. Louis. He became personally engaged in Middle East issues while on trip through Egypt and Jordan, when a visit into Israel was cancelled due to fighting in the West Bank. Standing on Mt. Nebo in Jordan, where according to Deuteronomy Moses first saw the Promised Land, he could see Jerusalem in the distance but was also denied entrance. He wondered then what could be done to bring peace to the region. He was introduced to Janessa and the Euphrates Institute a few years later after joining the Principia staff. He saw through their efforts the potential for realistic solutions and wanted to find a way to assist.