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DHE Leadership and Senior Staff


Dr. Angie Paccione, 
Executive Director

Dr. Angie Paccione was appointed executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education by Gov. Jared Polis, assuming the role on Jan. 10, 2019, and unanimously confirmed by the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 17, 2019.

Dr. Paccione has more than 20 years of experience in secondary and postsecondary education. She was a high school teacher, coach, and administrator at Smoky Hill High School in the Cherry Creek School District before earning a Ph.D. in education and human resource studies from Colorado State University (CSU). There, Dr. Paccione served on the CSU faculty for nine years as a teacher educator in the “Project Promise” program, a nationally recognized program of excellence in teacher preparation for mid-career professionals. She also conducted research in the teacher education field, examining educators’ life events that led them to become committed to issues of diversity and inclusion. Her findings informed a teacher preparation program and were later published in Teacher’s College Press, which has been cited in over 75 academic papers.

Dr. Paccione left higher education to pursue public service and was elected to two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, rising to become house majority caucus chair. She served on the Education Committee during all four years in the legislature, helping guide the education environment for the state of Colorado. In 2006, she ran for U.S. Congress and came within 2.5 percent of unseating the incumbent.

From 2007 to her appointment as executive director, Dr. Paccione worked for Verus Global where she specialized in the areas of leadership development, diversity and inclusion, talent development, and change management. She has worked with leaders from the shop floor to the C-suite in 40 countries and all 50 states. Dr. Paccione has also co-authored two books on leadership: One Team: 10-minute Discussions that Activate Inspired Teamwork and Do Big Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds and Make an Epic Impact.

Growing up biracial in New York City, attending college in California, and residing in Colorado, Dr. Paccione bridges many divides. She was raised to believe you can accomplish anything to which you set your mind, a philosophy that runs through her life’s accomplishments. Playing basketball at Stanford University and professionally in the 1980s, Dr. Paccione’s credo is that she’s as committed to your success as she is to her own.

When she’s not working, Dr. Paccione can be found reading, traveling, enjoying theater and films, or gardening. She counts her family and friends among her greatest blessings.

For speaking engagements, please use the following condensed bio:

Dr. Angie Paccione (Pah-CHŌ- nēē) is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a member of the Governor’s Cabinet. She has been a professional athlete, a high school educator, administrator, and coach, a university professor, a state legislator, a global corporate consultant, and an award-winning author. Through all the work she has done, Dr. Paccione continues to be committed to activating the potential of others. 

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CollegeInvest Board of Directors | Colorado 529 Savings Plans

Angela P. Baier, CEO of College Assist and CollegeInvest

Since 2009, Baier has been responsible for managing Colorado’s 529 College Savings program representing more than $5 billion in assets under management and more than 330,000 families. In 2012, she was named CEO of CollegeInvest and of College Assist, a federal student loan Guaranty Agency representing more than $11.5 billion in student loans. Baier brings over 25 years of senior level management, business development, and marketing expertise to her position.

Baier’s diverse career consists of 20 years in nonprofit leadership, including serving as CEO of The New York State Zoo and as a vice president at the Denver Zoo. She served as a Hickenlooper mayoral appointee for the City & County of Denver – leading the first-ever city branding effort. She was the youngest department head in Best Western’s Corporate history, led the nation’s largest retail sponsorship program at Cherry Creek Shopping Center, was a national nonprofit liaison for the Walt Disney Company, and has been host of her own TV and radio shows – appearing with live animals.

Baier is very active in the Metro-Denver community, serving on the mayoral transition teams for both Mayor Hickenlooper and Mayor Hancock, and has served on a number of non-profit boards.

Baier earned her B.S. from the University of Kansas.

Lorna Candler

Lorna Candler, Chief Occupational Education Officer

Lorna Candler directs the seven-member governor-appointed Private Occupation Board and the Division of Private Occupational Schools (DPOS). Candler has been an attorney since 1994 and has served the state in various roles; most recently as an assistant Colorado attorney general advising DPOS (and other educational and healthcare agencies).

For the past 10 years, she has overseen the state authorization of both for-profit and non-profit private occupational education (both degree and certificate programs that are two years or less).

She has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Vermont and a juris doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law. Candler has served as present and vice president on the National Association of School Administrators & Supervisors of Private Schools (NASASPS) Board of Directors. She continues to serve on the Board of Directors since she was initially appointed in 2017.


Crystal L. Collins, Chief Financial Officer

Crystal L. Collins joined CDHE in 2023 after spending 11 years serving in various fiscal policy roles with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. She is a fervent proponent of relationship building, innovative fiscal policy solutions, and effective, affordable higher education opportunities for all.

As the Chief Financial Officer at CDHE, she oversees the budget strategy for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the internal budget for the Department; assists in the setting of the fiscal policy agenda for the Department; and coordinates communications with the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB), the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), the Capital Development Committee (CDC), other legislative entities, and the institutional CFOs.

Crystal earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, both from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.


Dr. Tricia Johnson, Deputy Executive Director

Prior to joining the Department in 2023, Dr. Johnson served as Vice President, Westminster/North Metro and Vice President, Strategic Initiatives for Front Range Community College where she served as the chief operating officer for the Westminster Campus and chief of staff to the president. Before that, she was Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Community College of Aurora. Johnson has led programs in postsecondary education and training institutions in Colorado and Oklahoma, focusing on high quality teaching and learning and connection with workforce. Over the last two decades, Johnson has worked in education teaching, promoting, designing, and administering programs in secondary, postsecondary, and career and technical education. During her tenure, Johnson has served as a classroom teacher, community college department chair, research analyst, and marketing manager.

Johnson earned a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Denver, a Master of Education in Secondary Education, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Central Oklahoma.


Sophia Laderman, Chief Policy and Research Officer

Dr. Sophia Laderman leads DHE’s data, research, and policy division, where she guides the development of a higher education policy agenda informed by robust research. In her role, Dr. Laderman is focused on identifying policy options to meet the Department’s goals, evaluating existing policies, and reporting on the progress and success of the Department’s strategies and policy initiatives.

Before joining the Department in 2023, Dr. Laderman was associate vice president at the State Higher Education Executive Officers association (SHEEO). In this role, she led SHEEO’s research and policy analysis related to state higher education finance. Prior to being named associate vice president, Dr. Laderman was a senior policy analyst and data analyst at SHEEO. She also previously worked in admissions at the University of Colorado Boulder and as a research coordinator at Duke University.

Dr. Laderman has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo, a masters in public administration from the University of Colorado Denver, and a PhD in higher education from the University of Denver, where she was an NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow.

Megan McDermott

Megan McDermott, Chief Communications
and Outreach Officer/ PIO

Megan McDermott is an award-winning communications strategist, bringing more than 20 years of experience helping organizations conceive and execute strategies to achieve their goals. In her role, she engages with key audiences to advance CDHE's mission, visibility, strategic goals, and communications objectives. She also manages two teams—communications, outreach, and community engagement – to inspire collaboration, garner resources, and leverage impact.

Before joining the Department in 2016, she was the Assistant Director of Communications at the Colorado Department of Education for nearly eight years where she developed and implemented strategic communications that advanced the department's efforts to increase educational achievement for all students. Before that, she was the Director of Communications for an international sorority where she managed the quarterly magazine and co-planned a national convention for 150,000+ members. Her professional experiences include expertise in education, nonprofit, tech, media, and government sectors.

She has served on several state-level committees and boards and as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe teaching English and working at an HIV/AIDS non-profit for more than two years. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism & communications, with a concentration in English from Drake University.

Dr. G Headshot

Dr. Gillian McKnight- Tutein, Chief Educational Equity Officer

Dr. G, (as students refer to her), believes that each student was born for greatness and that their potential is infinite. She has the audacity to believe that all students are equally capable and should have the same opportunities. Her goal as the Chief Educational Equity Officer is to act as an advocate for educational equity initiatives and systemic change at Colorado’s institutions of higher education (IHE) that result in better experiences and outcomes for historically underrepresented and marginalized students.

An award-winning educator, Dr. McKnight-Tutein has served in executive roles in academic and student affairs at Colorado Mesa University, Community College of Denver, and Front Range Community College.  In over 15 years in higher education, Dr. G has focused her equity work in the areas of closing attainment gaps, access, concurrent enrollment, assessment, instructional design, curriculum, and funding.

Prior to higher education, Gillian was employed in industry at companies including Johnson and Johnson, Alamo, and Comcast, where she was focused on the training and education of employees and clients all over the world. She brings her corporate experiences to bear when talking to IHEs about industry, and when partnering with organizations that employ Colorado students.

Gillian is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She has four degrees including her doctorate in Instructional Technology and Distance Education from Nova Southeastern University.

Kim Poast

Dr. Kim Poast, Chief Student Success and Academic Affairs Officer

Kim Poast leads statewide academic and student affairs policy in Colorado’s higher education ecosystem- and is strategically focused on equitable transfer, prior learning assessment, non-degree credentials, student advising, wraparound support programs, and educational innovation. She has more than 35 years of experience as a practitioner and policy maker in higher education and K12 and non-profit administration. In her spare time, she is an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver teaching higher education policy and governance.

She has previously served as the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness at Denver Public Schools, working to ensure that all students are ready for the next step after high school. Previously, she served the Community College of Denver as Dean of Students and Vice President/Executive Director of Institutional Advancement. Before that, she was Deputy Director for DHE, overseeing the strategic planning that led up to the master plan process and providing overall leadership for student services and statewide outreach divisions and activities.

Dr. Poast earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in counseling psychology from California Lutheran University and Ph.D. in Higher Education, Student Affairs Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado.

Michael Vente

Michael Vente, Chief Performance Officer

Michael Vente works to harness connections between people, projects, programs, divisions, and organizations to ensure that CDHE is executing the right things. He examines and develops key performance indicators, finds efficiencies and/or opportunities for connection, and creates a roadmap to fix any problems.

He manages the research environment for CDHE as well as several specific research projects and reports related to student success. He also manages data governance activities by improving the quality and managing the protection of sensitive data and information assets.