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.
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Access
Alexander earned a B.S. in Management Studies and a double minor in History and Psychology from the University of Maryland, University College, European Division, Heidelberg, Germany and a Masters of Education Degree in Counseling and Guidance Services from Clemson University with an emphasis in Student Affairs.
Alexander Hines served in the United State Air Force as a non-commissioned officer for 12 years and considers one his most noteworthy experience besides serving and living abroad for 14 years is guarding 52 of the 60 American held hostages of the Iran crisis.
Alexander has 26 years of experience in higher education in student and academic affairs working with traditional, non-traditional, first-generation, underserved and underrepresented with high school and college students and their parents/caregivers with intersectional identities. Being a first generation college student and African American man, his passions are African American/Black Identity development, and assisting underrepresented and underserved high school students to gain access to higher education and helping them to become successful in pursuing their dreams of obtaining a postsecondary degree. He is very active in communities where he works and considers himself to be a change agent and transformational leader.
Alexander has co-authored articles and book chapters to include: The Miseducation of Nigger in American Public Schools, Talking About Race, Alleviating the Fear (2013); The Light of Knowledge and Reason: Some Essential Competencies that B-20 Faculty Need to Master in Order to Facilitate Student Success. The Journal of Educational Research and Interdisciplinary Studies (2013): Cultural Awareness and Congruence: A Paradigm Shift through Immersion and Intentionality, Journal of International Social Issues (2015); and Nurturing Cultural Competence while facilitating the developmental progression of the Cognitive Lens: Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, Black Critical Studies Reader (2016);
Alexander has conducted various diversity, cultural competence workshops, trainings and presentations at the state, regional and national level to include two-year and four-year institutions, non-profit and for profit organizations.
Alexander is the recipient of numerous awards from colleges, universities and national organizations he has served with but his most notable awards include Minnesota Education Equity Partnership (MnEEP) Ron McKinley “All My Relations Award” December 2016: JV Educational Consultants – The Calvin P. Styles Service Award The Educational Leadership Award (2016); John Latsch Winona Human Rights Award (2014, 2013 & 2012); MnSCU Academic and Student Affairs Annual Award for Innovative Partnering and Collaboration, Preparing Future Teachers for Cultural Competence, Culturally Responsive Teaching to Deliver Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the Classroom - Collaboration with WSU Inclusion and Diversity Office, Southeast Technical College, WSU College of Education, Riverland Community College and Target Corporation (2013); Minnesota Campus Compact President’s Civic Engagement Stewards Award (2013); and the Tennessee Governor’s Certificate of Appreciation for the Passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act Conference: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” Conference (January 2005); and the New Professional of the Year Award, Southeastern Association of Colleges and Employers (2001)
Alexander’s favorite quote is by the late Dr. Asa Hilliard, “When you begin to do things that raise the achievement of the poorest and disenfranchised students, you may not always get applause. You need to be ready for that.”
Executive Office & Administrative Specialist
Gennise is an administrative professional; that spent 13 years in administration and marketing with Public Radio International (PRI) before coming to the University of Minnesota. She attended Gustavus Adolphus College, studied music and theatre; and she is a professionally certified travel agent. She spent several years singing with the Grammy Awarding winning Sounds of Blackness. She is proud to be: a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; the mother of a University of Minnesota graduate; the daughter of mother that marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his only visit to the city of Chicago in August of 1966.
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.
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.
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.