Our Team


Gretchen Belanger

Managing Director

Gretchen grew up in the Capital Region and earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Union College in Schenectady, and her M.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. In 1997 she joined Lockheed Martin in Niskayuna, NY as an engineer in their Leadership Development Program, supporting the Navy as a thermal hydraulic engineer. Through her career at Lockheed Martin, Gretchen developed a love for new ground-breaking technologies and leading teams.

When Gretchen’s children were young, she left the corporate world for a season and pursued volunteer and employment experiences as a girls volleyball coach, a volunteer coordinator at the SchenectadyWorks program at the City Mission of Schenectady, and a church youth leader. In 2016, Gretchen became a leader volunteer for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child and also returned to Niskayuna as a lead engineer for Fluor Marine Propulsion, working in technical training and then advanced technology development.

Gretchen joined Rise High @ Clarkson as Managing Director in May 2022, and continues to serve with Samaritan’s Purse as Area Coordinator for the Southern Adirondack region. She enjoys knitting/crocheting, music, serving in the community with her husband, and watching her children pursue their passions. She lives in Ballston Spa with her husband and three high school/college age children.

Nichole Mantas

Curriculum Lead, Grades 10 & 11

Nichole earned her B.A. in biology from The College of Saint Rose, followed by her M.A. in Teaching (Biology 7-12) from Union Graduate College. This fall, she will proudly enter her tenth year as a classroom teacher at Saratoga Springs High School. Nichole currently teaches Honors Biology, PLTW Medical Interventions, co-facilitates a book club for untenured science teachers, and is a mentor teacher. Her journey in education has allowed her to learn with students in a variety of districts, including Schenectady, Lansingburgh, Troy, and Mohonasen in addition to Saratoga. Nichole is eager to apply what she has learned within her classroom, community, and coursework to the Rise High program, helping students delve into their STEM curiosities.

Excited about science herself, she strives to help others find joy in STEM. She has been an active participant and presenter with STANYS, an adjunct professor for Instructional Theory and Practice in Biology at Siena College, and a Summer Science Research Fellow with Questar III BOCES.

Outside the classroom and science community, Nichole is happiest with her dog, family, and friends. She is an avid reader, yoga enthusiast, and furniture flipper.

Jillian Baird

Curriculum Lead, Grades 8 & 9

Jill grew up in the Capital Region and moved away from the area for ten years. During that time, she did work towards her undergraduate degree at both Paul Smith’s College and SUNY Potsdam. At Paul Smith’s College, she studied Wildlife Conservation but then transferred to SUNY Potsdam after discovering a passion for teaching. Jill transferred to SUNY Potsdam to pursue a degree in Physics, Biology, and Adolescent Education. At SUNY Potsdam, she continued to earn her Master’s degree in Science Teaching. Jill is a certified (NYS) teacher in Physics and Biology, with an extension for General Science.

Jill has taught in various public schools since graduation in the Rochester area and is now back in the Capital Region. Her teaching experience includes working with various K-12 Science Curriculum to make engaging hands-on learning experiences for students, focusing on NYSSLS standards. She has also worked with students previously as a STEM Teacher for the 21st Century Grant Program at her previous school district. Currently, Jill is a Physics teacher at Schalmont High School, but has taught grades 7th through 12th in her career so far.

In her free time Jill enjoys going Geocaching and doing needlepoint crafts!

Mark Little, PhD

Board of Directors, President and Treasurer

In his 37 year career at General Electric, Mark Little served in diverse senior leadership roles in operations, research, strategic planning, joint venture development, and product management. From 2005, as GE’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Senior Vice President/Director of GE Global Research, Mark reported to the CEO and developed fundamental technologies to help GE compete and grow in every one of its businesses: energy, oil & gas, aviation, healthcare, transportation, consumer products, and financial services.

A company officer for 21 years, Mark had a two-part senior leadership career at GE managing both major lines of business and global research. Mark became only the ninth director of GE Global Research in the company’s history. Mark’s research team of over 3,600 people was from every major scientific and engineering discipline, working at nine facilities in the USA, India, China, Germany, Brazil, and Israel. As CTO, he led some 50,000 technologists across GE.

Charitable work is central to Mark’s purpose. He and his wife founded and operate the Little Family Foundation, which supports the local community as well as international and veterans organizations.

Since retiring from GE, Mark continues to be active in business as a Director of Analog Devices Inc., a Venture Partner in Material Impact, and a board member in a number of startups. He is also active in the Schenectady Community as Chairman of the Board of Ellis Medicine, Chairman of the Schenectady Smart City Commission, Director of Better Community Neighborhoods, and a strong supporter of Young Parents United and the Schenectady Boys and Girls Clubs.

Mark trained as a mechanical engineer, with a bachelor’s degree from Tufts, master’s from Northeastern, and Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of which Mark is a Trustee. Family life is at Mark’s core. He and his wife Terri have two adult children and two beautiful granddaughters. He is an avid book reader, a self-taught guitarist (rock, blues, jazz), a golfer, and a huge Boston sports fan.

Teresa (Terri) Little

Board of Directors, Vice President

Terri is a former teacher who holds a Master of Arts Degree in Special Education. She has been an active community volunteer for over 25 years. She has served on the boards of The Schenectady Foundation, Safe Inc of Schenectady, Bethesda House, Jr. League of Schenectady and St. Kateri School Board. Terri has enjoyed being a mentor in Schenectady schools and loves to spend time with her grandchildren.

Terri and her husband, Mark, founded and operate the Little Family Foundation, which supports many local community organizations including Boys & Girls Club, Ellis Hospital, Girls Inc., City Mission, and Young Parents United, among others.

Julie Little

Board of Directors, Secretary

Julie earned her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Villanova University. She joined General Electric’s Operations Management Leadership Program in 2005. She was a regional Sourcing Leader at GE until leaving to focus on her family.

Julie enjoys gardening, cooking, photography, and spending time with her family. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Niskayuna.


Collage - Our Team - Risehigh

We have an amazing team that keeps things rolling! This group includes local scientists, educators, college students and professionals in various fields of science, and dedicated volunteers that simply love children! Our people engage in various roles that include, but are not limited to…

• managing all technical planning that supports computer-aided curricula

• guiding curriculum development alongside local experts who deliver current and highly relevant content

• supporting student engagement

• weekly mentoring of students assigned to each grade cohort represented (currently 9th, 10th, and 11th grades)

• planning and distribution of weekly meals for our students during session

We could not do it without them!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Rise High @ Clarkson is hosting four virtual volunteer information meetings in July and August for people interested in learning more about partnering with Rise High.  Click here to sign up to attend.

If you are interested in volunteering with Rise High @ Clarkson, contact RiseHigh@Clarkson.edu.