Our Team


Daniel Colbert, Esq. serves as the Vice Chair of the board and was introduced to Aquinas Center through a law fellowship with Drexel University. Daniel provides important support to the community through immigration related advocacy. He enjoys backyard gardening and home brewing. Daniel and his family live a few blocks from the Aquinas Center.

Matthew Davis serves as Secretary for the board. He is the Director of Life and Justice Ministries in the Diocese of Camden. Matthew is from Millville, New Jersey and studied Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He did an additional 2 years study of Philosophy at Kenrick Glennon Seminary and St. Louis University. He has taught ESOL in St. Louis, Boston, and in the Dominican Republic. For six years, he helped refugees in Boston secure employment and job training and formerly served as the Director of Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

María Paula Ghiso, Ed.D serves as the Board Chair. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University whose scholarly interests include early childhood literacy, multilingualism, teacher education, and children’s literature. Her current research investigates the transcultural and multilingual literacy practices of Latina/o emergent bilinguals as they document their neighborhood experiences through multimodal forms of inquiry. María Paula is a former New York City dual language teacher and has facilitated professional development in a range of national and international contexts.

Lan Ngo, Ph.D. serves as the Board Treasurer and was introduced to Aquinas Center through her graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.  She has been in the field of education for over a decade in various roles, including as a teacher, research fellow, and the director of a university writing center.  Lan is currently a project manager in edtech at Penn, where she is also an education lecturer.

Mary Beth Schluckebier, Esq. is a Staff Attorney at The Public Interest Law Center where she uses a community lawyering framework to support Philadelphia tenants combating uninhabitable housing, unresponsive landlords, and evictions. Previously, Mary Beth practiced as a litigator in the higher education space after graduating from Temple University Law School where she was a Public Interest Scholar.  Before law school, Mary Beth worked for several years in community organizing, social service, and public policy work in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and spent a volunteer year with the Sisters of Saint Joseph after graduating from the University of Scranton. Mary Beth lives in South Philly with her family.


Aidé Cuenca-Narvaez is the Aquinas Center Director of Education, overseeing all learning programs, from afterschool to youth development to English for Speakers of Other Languages. From Ecuador, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Guayaquil and recently completed a Masters of Science in Leadership from Cabrini University in Radnor, PA. During her free time, she loves to cook, read, travel, and hike. She is very excited to be part of the Aquinas team.

Shirley Dessein, MSW is serving as the lead social worker for Aquinas Center while also working full time at Lankenau Hospital. Shirley is a graduate of West Chester University with a Masters in Social Work. She loves working with people and enjoys cooking and dancing. Shirley is from Maplewood, New Jersey now living in Philadelphia.

 Raya Fagg serves as the Beginner instructor for our Adult ESoL classes. Frustrated with rote ESoL teaching, she was inspired to teach useful skills for English learners and joined our team. She works full time during the day in Upper Darby and in her free time she likes to cook and work in her garden.

Chris Geraghty serves as the resident advisor. He provides hospitality in a variety of ways, frequently welcoming visiting groups with a hot cup of coffee and plenty of pens to complete forms. Chris is a graduate of St. Josephs Preparatory High School, John Carroll University, and Cabrini University.

Heather Hillas is the Intermediate teacher for the Adult ESoL program. Some of Heather’s favorite pastimes are walking in the local parks with her dog Rose, listening to British mystery audiobooks, trying out new (simple) recipes and playing board games with friends.

Martina Hyacinth is the operations coordinator who provides a welcoming presence and facility support at the center. She is a native of the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is located in the West Indies. She came to Philadelphia in 1999 by way of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Martina loves to garden and help the parish with decorations and flowers in the church. She attends Mass daily and likes to bring people together across cultures.

Hannah Marshall is the Afterschool program coordinator and summer camp director. She has a BSW from West Chester University and served at Aquinas Center for her field placement, bringing a valuable social work lens to the center’s program design and development. Her commitment to a holistic approach to inclusive learning spaces can be seen in staff training programs and the integration of mindfulness across curriculum for adults and children. 

Carid Maranan is a program assistant in the afterschool program and with Encounter groups on Saturdays.  He is a member of the Green & Growing Summer Camp team, frequently serving as Gym Coordinator. In 2018, Carid received the Mayor’s Youth Hero Award for his involvement in immigrant rights work and service to his South Philly community.


Guadalupe Mendez is the Intake Coordinator for the Aquinas Center Immigration Legal Services.  She also assists with the Afterschool program and Encounter groups, bringing her love of culture and beauty to our programs. Guadalupe was raised in South Philly, is a fantastic baker, loves to dance salsa, and currently attends Cabrini University.

Dr. Tia N. Pratt serves as the Aquinas Center’s inaugural Scholar-in-Residence, providing research and facilitation training for Youth Researchers and Encounter team members engaged in crafting meaningful learning experiences around intersectional justice issues. Pratt is currently writing a book titled:  Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black:  Structure, Racism, and Identity in the African-American Catholic Experience. 

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.  is the Executive Director of Aquinas Center. Her research on the Catholic Church and urban revitalization prompted Philadelphia’s St. Thomas Aquinas parish to invite her to help them repurpose a former convent to create a space that builds unity in diversity, supports learning, and inspires thoughtful action. In 2014, Dr. Welch was recognized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award for how her work addresses poverty and injustice. Welch, a VISTA volunteer from 2003-2004, also received a Spirit of Service Award in 2006 from the Corporation for National and Community Service for advancing transformational change in urban communities through research, planning, and capacity building. She has a PhD from the University of Delaware, MS from the University of Rochester, and BS from Roberts Wesleyan College. Dr. Welch recently co-authored a book on the unique collaborative research undertaken by the Aquinas community and students at the University of Pennsylvania. Partnering with Immigrant Communities was published in 2016 by Teachers College Press. When she’s not at Aquinas, Bethany can be found painting murals, hanging out with her niece and nephew, growing vegetables, and teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Rutgers University-Camden. To see a list of recent publications and upcoming talks, click here.