Mary Gwen Wheeler – Executive Director

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Mary Gwen Wheeler is the Executive Director of 55,000 Degrees. Previously, she served as the Mayor’s Sr. Advisor for Education and Youth for Louisville Metro Government, leading policy development and implementation of education and youth initiatives.  In Jerry Abramson’s first term as Metro Mayor, she served as Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  In June of 2010, Ms. Wheeler was also appointed by Governor Beshear to the Kentucky Board of Education.

With a B.A. in American Studies and a Masters in Public and Private Management from Yale University, Ms. Wheeler also has experience in family literacy, workforce development, non-profit management, strategic planning, and international development.  This included 10 years with the National Center for Family Literacy as a project manager and vice president of planning and development.

Lilly Massa-McKinley, Ed.D. – Sr. Director Program Management


Lilly Massa-McKinley is the Senior Director Project Management of 55,000 Degrees. She has a decade of experience working in higher education, community and volunteer engagement and student support services at the University of Montana, Indiana University –Bloomington, Ivy Tech, and Vanderbilt. Prior to joining 55,000 Degrees, Massa-McKinley served as Associate Director for the Office of Active Citizenship and Service at Vanderbilt University.  Massa-McKinley also served as director of volunteer engagement for Habitat for Humanity in Benton Harbor, Michigan, when they hosted the 2005 Jimmy Carter Work Project, an annual home-building blitz.  A recent doctoral graduate in Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt, Massa-McKinley has an MS from Indiana University and received her BA, Magna Cum Laude, from Wake Forest University.

Emma Brown – Director of Community Engagement

emma brown 55000 degrees@Emma55K

Emma Brown is the Director of Community Engagement for 55,000 Degrees. She brings strong outreach, communications and relationship-building skills developed in her professional career. Brown joins 55,000 Degrees after serving as Marketing Director at Strothman and Co., Executive Director of Young Professionals Association of Louisville (YPAL), and as Regional Director at KY YMCA Youth Association. Brown received her Masters in Communication from Bellarmine University and has a BA in Economics from DePauw University.


Mike Kennedy – Technology and Data Manager

mike kennedy 55000 degrees@mike_55K

Mike Kennedy is the Technology and Data Manager of 55,000 Degrees. He graduated from the University of Louisville with a bachelor’s in Political Science. He also graduated from U of L with an MBA. Kennedy was part of the inaugural full-time MBA program, of which he was the youngest student.

Kennedy began working at 55K through an internship for the full-time MBA program. He was 55K’s first paid employee. Prior to that, Kennedy served as Editor-in-Chief of The Louisville Cardinal, U of L’s student newspaper. He is also a budding entrepreneur and has served as the policy director for a major congressional campaign.



Board of Directors

55,000 Degrees is a public-private partnership, and is overseen by a diverse board of directors.

    • Chairman Greg E. Fischer,
      Mayor, Louisville Metro Government
    • Ms. Susan A. Barry,
      President and CEO, The Community Foundation of Louisville
    • Dr. Barbara Bichelmeyer,
      Chancellor, Indiana University- Southeast
    • Mr. Tony Bohn,
      System Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer, Norton Healthcare
    • Mr. David Calzi,
      Managing Partner, Ernst & Young
    • Ms. Joan Coleman,
      President, Coleman Consulting
    • Dr. Kevin Cosby,
      President, Simmons College of Kentucky
    • Dr. Donna Hargens,
      Superintendent, Jefferson County Public Schools
    • Ms. Alice Houston,
      President and CEO, Houston-Johnson, Inc.
    • Mr. David Jones, Jr.,
      Chairman and Managing Director, Chrysalis Ventures
    • Mr. William Lear,
      Chair of the Board, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC
    • Ms. Tori Murden McClure,
      President, Spalding University
    • Dr. Joseph McGowan,
      President, Bellarmine University
    • Dr. Anthony Newberry,
      President and CEO, Jefferson Community and Technical College
    • Mr. Kent Oyler,
      President and CEO, Greater Louisville, Inc.
    • Dr. James Ramsey,
      President, University of Louisville
    • Mr. Benjamin Richmond,
      President and CEO, Louisville Urban League
    • Ms. Mason Rummel,
      President, James Graham Brown Foundation
    • Ms. Leisa Schulz,
      Superintendent of Schools, Archdiocese of Louisville
    • Dr. Rita Hudson Shourds,
      Chancellor, Ivy Tech Community College Southern Indiana
    • Mr. Victor Staffieri,
      President and CEO, LG&E and KU Energy
    • Mr. Glenn Sullivan,
      President, The Sullivan University System
    • Mr. Joseph Tolan,
      President and CEO, Metro United Way