Our Team

Jay Benanav - Founder

Jay is a longtime college consultant and is committed to helping families find the right academic, social and financial fit. He served on the St. Paul City Council for 10 years, has a law degree from St. John’s Law School and has attended Harvard School of Government and Columbia University School of Business.

Jay’s wife Lucy is a clinical social worker and a former teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools. They have three sons all of whom have attended and graduated from college with very little debt.

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Chris Wills - President

As a college student, Chris founded a company now helping over a half million high school students transition to life after high school and has had a passion to help families with the college admission process ever since he and his parents made many mistakes and learned things the hard way.

He has been a featured speaker at college admissions, school counseling and financial services conferences around the country, and he and his wife Vanessa, a high school teacher, have two young sons, John and Thomas.

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Cozy Wittman - Education and Partnerships

Education and networking are a way of life for Cozy. At College Inside Track she runs both the parent events as well as professional development training for those who work with families who have high school students. She speaks nationally about college search, training financial and other professionals.

Cozy is excited connect with organizations and families interested in learning more about the complex college process.  She is a mom of 5 kids with very different goals for college, so she is no stranger to the college search challenge.

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Susan Westerholm - Education and Partnerships

Susan’s 20 year passion of coaching volleyball to all age levels inspired a desire to professionally work with teens and their families.  Susan loves to educate families through College Inside Track events and meeting with families one-on-one to help build knowledge and confidence in their own high school student’s college search.

Susan and her husband Al are looking to the future with excitement as they prepare their own 3 daughters for a successful college search.

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Suzy Fallon - Consultant

Suzy admits to loving teenagers! She has a passion for helping them figure out what’s important to them and finding colleges that will fit them academically, socially and financially. Suzy is an avid lifelong learner and is a certified life coach, health coach and public speaker.

She received her undergraduate degree from Binghamton University in New York, her law degree from California Western, and her college counseling certificate from UC Irvine. Suzy lives with her husband Larry, and two active kids, Elle and Cooper.

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Jennifer Danforth - Consultant

Jennifer has been a school counselor for over 20 years, first at St. Louis Park High School and then with Nova Classical Academy, where she personally developed and launched the highly successful college counseling program.

Jennifer is past president of the Lakes Area Counseling Association and is a licensed school principal. Her son Zach is currently attending college.

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Susan Whalen, PhD - Consultant

Susan especially loves the mentoring elements that come into play in admissions work, and exploring with students how their interests and skills might develop in particular college programs. She spent the first part of her career as a professor and associate director of a human rights archive at University of Colorado Boulder, followed by teaching and consulting for high performing high schools.

Susan earned a B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and has an M.A. and Ph.D from Pennsylvania State University. She lives in St. Paul, where she grows tomatoes and is obsessively searching for a puppy to bring home.

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Matthew Andrews, PhD - Consultant

A graduate of Stanford University, Matthew has founded education companies serving over 1 million students in 63 countries. He has developed college counseling curriculum for business and schools and has been a featured speaker at education conferences around the world.

Matthew's expertise includes designing, implementing and assessing educational programs, and he has used clinical interviews and surveys in a 4-year longitudinal study to understand how adolescents develop a sense of purpose in the world.

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Greta Van Ochten - Consultant

Greta has a passion for helping students navigate the college search process. She has a unique understanding of the college campus environment from her previous career in higher education publishing where she visited campuses and worked with college and university faculty and staff.

Greta graduated from the University of Michigan and currently lives with her husband Greg. They have two grown daughters, both in graduate school.

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Lessa Scherrer - Consultant

Lessa has worked with many populations of students, including homeschoolers, students with learning differences, and the gifted. She is active in Mensa and also spent seven years teaching ACT test prep. She has also designed a college prep study skills curriculum for students preparing to apply to highly selective colleges.

Lessa is a graduate of the University of Michigan and holds a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling through UCLA. A former homeschooler, Lessa lives in Eau Claire, WI with her husband, two goofy dogs and, at any given time, one or more of her three boys.

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Farrah Jennings - Consultant

Farrah is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Minnesota and was a longtime counselor in the Minnetonka School District before joining CIT. Farrah earned an M.S. degree in Professional School Counseling from Minnesota State University-Mankato and has completed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program through the University of Minnesota.

Farrah lives in St. Louis Park with her husband and two sons.  In her free time, she enjoys running, boating and spending time at the cabin with family and friends. She is looking forward to being a part of your child’s post high school planning journey.

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Karen Padgett - Office Manager

Most of Karen's career has been in the educational field. Before coming to College Inside Track, she worked for the Rochester Public Schools for over 30 years, first as an office manager and then in the research and assessment office.

Karen and her husband Larry have been married for 50+ years and have two sons, two grandchildren and recently became great-grandparents.

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Donna Wilkerson - Office Assistant

Donna worked for the Rochester Public Schools in the business service department for 37 years before coming to College Inside Track. During her time with the district, she managed payroll, purchasing, budgeting and forecasting.

She and her husband, Jim, have two children and four grandchildren.

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Amy O'Neill - College Essay Coach

Amy is a Gifted and Talented Teacher in the Minnetonka School District and prior to that was a classroom teacher in the Edina Public Schools.  She has a true passion for writing and coaching students through the essay writing process.

Amy earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband and three children. Their oldest son recently graduated from high school, so Amy now brings her personal experience of the college search to her coaching.

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Michelle Hegarty - College Essay Coach

Michelle is the owner of Modified Editing and previously was a grant writer and English and writing tutor for ESL exchange students. She is serious about childhood literacy and stays involved by volunteering in public education, serving on countless committees in education and the nonprofit sector.

Michelle has a degree from the University of Oregon and has been a teaching assistant in Sociology and English. She has a daughter in high school and son who recently graduated.

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Brendan O'Hara - College Essay Coach

Brendan is an English/Language Arts Instructor at Nova Classical Academy, where he teaches a variety of courses and has extensive experience running workshops and creative exercises centered on the college essay process.

His other educational pursuits include working with local cohorts to promote equitable and just practices into classroom and school-wide settings, and a continued push to complete an MFA in creative writing at Hamline University.  When he is not buried in one of his crafts, he is exploring and adventuring with his wife and two sons.

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Rachel Yang - College Essay Coach

Rachel works at the Loft Literary Center, a creative writing-focused arts nonprofit, and previously was a program director with the Breakthrough Collaborative, preparing Minneapolis Public Schools students for success in high school and beyond.

Rachel is a graduate of Swarthmore College, and as a high school senior, published a series of anxiety-ridden posts chronicling her college admissions process for the New York Times.

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Yvonne Pearson - College Essay Coach

Yvonne is a freelance writer and a clinical social worker. She writes and edits essays, books, curriculum, articles, newsletters, and poetry. Her publications include Rev Up Your Writing in Fictional Stories; Poetry Party; The Chilean Miners: Buried Alive; and The Way Home: A Collective Memoir of the Hazelden Experience, as well as other publications. She also teaches writing workshops.

Yvonne has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Social Work, lives in Minneapolis with her husband, and has three grown children and two grandchildren.

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