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MLK Advisors & Staff

The Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) staff and advisors are very knowledgeable and helpful, and they have a wealth of experience working with students in the College of Liberal Arts.


Leah Milojevic​

Assistant Director, CLA Diversity Student Support Programs
Individualization l Woo l Communication l Adaptability l Positivity

Leah Milojevic (formerly Woodstrom) is the assistant director for CLA Diversity Student Support Programs where she manages advising and programing for the Access to Success Program and Martin Luther King, Jr. Program in the College of Liberal Arts. She completed an individualized studies BA through the Inter-College Program with focus areas in political science, sociology, and family social science. She completed her MA in educational policy and administration in higher education from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

Leah is a Minneapolis native who loves to spend time with her family and son, cook, eat out and socialize, read about the US Supreme Court, and travel. Before working for the College of Liberal Arts, Leah worked in career services for the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development, and she played multiple roles at the University of Minnesota's former General College.


Gennise Wilson image

Gennise Wilson

Executive Office & Administrative Specialist



Academic Advisors

Charissa Blue-Downs Headshot 

Charissa Blue-Downs

Academic Advisor

Charissa Blue-Downs is an academic advisor for the MLK Program in the College of Liberal Arts, and she will be the advisor for the Departments of American Indian Studies and Chicano & Latino Studies. Charissa completed her BS and MS in ethnic and multicultural studies with minors in biology, chemistry and music from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She also has a Certified Professional Project Manager (CPPM) certificate from the University of St. Thomas. She has worked at nonprofits, foundations and educational institutions, focusing on education, health and diversity. Prior to joining the MLK program, Charissa worked with the American Indian Cancer Foundation and at Metropolitan State University as the TRIO Upward Bound Coordinator. She has also worked with the Department of Indian Work (St. Paul), MultiCultural Development Center (MCDC) and HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs). In addition to her work experience, Charissa has served as a Racial Justice Facilitator for the YWCA and participated in the Blandin Reservation Community Leadership Program.

Charissa is from Granite Falls, Minnesota and is an enrolled member of the Upper Sioux Community. In her free time, Charissa enjoys spending time with her family, decorating custom fondant cakes and watching sci-fi TV shows and movies.

Walter Goodwin

Walter Goodwin

Academic Advisor

Walter Goodwin Jr. is an academic advisor for the MLK Program. Walter will also be working with transfer students. He received his undergraduate degree from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico in political science with an emphasis in pre-law. He also attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, where he earned his Master's in Counseling and Human Resource Development with a specialization in Higher Education Administration.

Walter is originally from Sioux City, Iowa, and is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and is part of the Eagle Clan. Prior to joining the MLK program, Walter served as the President of Little Priest Tribal College located in Winnebago, Nebraska. Walter also worked with the Bureau of Indian Education as a school safety specialist and the Anoka-Hennepin ISD as Native American student advisor. He enjoys being outdoors, trying various pizza places, and spending time with his two children.



Jennifer Thonedara

Academic Advisor

Jen Thonedara was born and raised in the Twin Cities. Her family immigrated from Laos, a small country in southeast Asia. Jen is a first generation college student who graduated from Hamline University with a BA degree in psychology. She continued her education at the University of St. Thomas, completing her MA degree in educational leadership and administration. Jen's passion for working with students has given her opportunities to work in various departments that include admissions and advising. She would like to pursue her PhD in the future and be able to continue to help students within higher education.

Outside of spending time with family and friends, Jen is a self-proclaimed foodie. She enjoys trying new restaurants around the city and keeps a running list of "must go to" places. Some of her favorite restaurants are 112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Haute Dish, and Borough. The food trucks around the city have really excited her since it makes for convenient good eats. Jen truly enjoys and waits for the Minnesota State Fair every year so she can over-indulge in great fair foods. She loves that the Twin Cities has become a very eclectic food scene.


Kao Yong

Kao Yong Thao

Academic Advisor

Kao Yong Thao is an academic advisor for the MLK Program in the College of Liberal Arts. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a BA in English literature and gender & women's studies. She also completed a master's degree in higher education with a concentration in diversity and social justice from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Kao Yong was born in a refugee camp in Thailand but has lived most of her life in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Prior to her work as an academic advisor for the MLK Program, Kao Yong organized programs focused around deepening school-family-community partnerships at an elementary school in the Madison Metropolitan School District. During Kao Yong's time at Michigan, she coordinated retreats and workshops that aimed to engage the campus community in exploring the concept and practice of social justice allyhood. When Kao Yong is not working, she enjoys watching movies, reading blogs, cooking, trying new food, and spending time with family.



Melanie Johnson

Academic Advisor

Melanie Johnson is an academic advisor for the MLK Program in the College of Liberal Arts. She will also be the collegiate advisor for the Department of African American & African Studies. She graduated from Humboldt State University in northern California with a BS in social work. She also completed a master's of social work at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where she has a concentration in community organization and community and social systems.

Melanie was born in Compton, California and the first in her family to receive a bachelor's and master's degree. Prior to coming to University of Minnesota, Melanie has dedicated her time to supporting programs that provide emergency housing and family services, coordinating service providers for individuals in partnership with the Department of Developmental Disabilities, and organizing social change in marginalized communities. She recently served as an advisor in Lima, Ohio at Rhodes State College working with the College Credit Plus Program (PSEO) and pre-nursing students. It is her passion to work in communities that believe in access to higher education for all and is excited to be a part of the MLK Program. When Melanie is not working, she enjoys singing, going to the movies, and going on food adventures around the US with her family.

Gayle Smaller Jr Headshot

Gayle Smaller, Jr.

Academic Advisor

Gayle Smaller, Jr., is an academic advisor for the MLK Program in the College of Liberal Arts. He will also be the collegiate advisor for the Department of American Studies. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a BA in African American Studies and a BA in Theatre. He also completed a master's degree in Administrative Leadership at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee where he concentrated in Higher Education Administration.
Gayle was born in Minneapolis and is the first in his family to receive a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Prior to coming to the University of Minnesota, Gayle has served as a Hall Director at Augsburg University and a program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin - Madison for the Multicultural Learning Community. Gayle is passionate about social justice and human development. You can sometimes find him performing at a local open mic or trying to inspire someone to be their best self. Gayle believes in the potential of humans and wants to see any and everyone flourish to their full potential.