Advisory Board

The Playworks Illinois Advisory Board is a group of change-makers who believe in the power of play and are active ambassadors for Playworks. These playful professionals contribute their personal time to share the mission of Playworks: to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play.


Chris Renn, Chair

SVP of Strategic Services
RR Donnelley

As Senior Vice President of Strategic Services, Chris leads business development and consulting services efforts to architect communications management and supply chain management solutions for the Fortune 1000.  Prior to his professional career, he graduated from Ball State University and earned an MBA from the University of Notre Dame.  Chris has been involved in several non-profit activities including President of the Lexington Musical Theatre and many governance roles at the Union League Club of Chicago.  He learned the importance of structured play through involvement in numerous high school athletics, the YMCA and coaching youth basketball.  Today he enjoys intramural sports, squash, a variety of outdoor activities and is a dedicated supporter of the arts.  He believes fully that children need the opportunity to develop all aspects of their lives to become well-rounded adults and is excited to join an organization that shares these beliefs by focusing on healthy fair play.


Mir Ali, Vice Chair

Schiff Hardin, LLP

Mir Ali is an Associate with the law firm of Schiff Hardin, LLP in Chicago, focusing his practice on general litigation. He earned his law degree from University of Michigan Law School where he was an associate editor for the Journal of Law Reform and worked for the University of Michigan Child Advocacy Law Clinic. Prior to his law career, he served for seven years in the United States Army as an infantry officer and Special Forces Detachment Commander. He is a founding member of Team Red White & Blue, an organization that helps veterans connect to their communities through different physical and social activities. Mir and his wife, Huma, are proud parents of their baby daughter, Yasmeen. Mir is excited to join Playworks and be part of an organization that improves children’s lives both in and out of the classroom and promotes their physical and mental health.


Adam Parrott-Sheffer, Secretary

Senior Director of School Leadership
New Teacher Center

Adam Parrott-Sheffer is a Senior Director of School Leadership for the New Teacher Center and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Under the name “Mr. P,” Parrott-Sheffer was a Chicago Public Schools principal at Mary Gage Peterson School, one of Playworks’ three initial sites in Chicago. Parrott-Sheffer’s passion for the power of play to enhance school culture and expand learning was further strengthened through his experiences partnering with Playworks from 2011 to 2014. In 2013, his commitment to play and student leadership was recognized nationally when he received Playworks’ Most Valuable Principal Award.

Parrott-Sheffer is a strong advocate of social emotional learning and the complementary role organizations such as Playworks can have in youth development. He has spoken and written on the positive impact supporting student emotional development can have on each child’s overall success.

Parrott-Sheffer holds an M.S.Ed. in School Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education—where he also serves on the advisory board of the Principal’s Center; a M.S.Ed. in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania; and a B.A. in Humanities from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He and his wife, Chelsey, can usually be found chasing after their two boys near their home in Hyde Park.


Steve Tennessen, Chair*

TRANSEARCH International

As a director with a Global Top 10 executive search firm, Steve fosters client relationships and leads project delivery for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to start ups.  Though most of his professional activity falls within commercial sectors, Steve has also recruited senior leadership for some of the nation’s largest nonprofits, including ones headquartered in Chicago.  In recent years, he’s been involved on a personal level with various Chicago-based nonprofits.  Prior to his career in executive search, Steve graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in economics and history.  He and his wife Stephanie live on the near north side of Chicago with their young dog, Zoe.  An Eagle Scout by the time he reached high school, Steve still enjoys camping and the outdoors.  He is enthusiastic about joining up with Playworks to cultivate the healthy living and positive social interactions among children.


Emma Adam

Professor of Human Development and Social Policy
Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University

Dr. Emma Adam is Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. She received her Ph.D. in child psychology from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. in public policy from the University of Chicago. Adam is a developmental psychologist/developmental psychobiologist, and an expert on how everyday experiences affect stress hormones in children and adolescents, and the implications of stress for emotional and physical health and academic performance. She also studies factors affecting child and adolescent sleep, and the implications of sleep for child and adolescent wellbeing. Emma’s research has received national and international research awards, including the Curt P. Richter award from the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology. Emma believes that play, and the positive social relationships with adults and peers that Playworks promotes are important for stress reduction in children, and looks forward to sharing her expertise and energy as part of the Playworks board.


Beth Birnbaum

Vice President of Product

Beth Birnbaum is Vice President of Product for GrubHub. She leads the development of web and mobile online ordering products for the GrubHub and Seamless consumer brands, which allow diners to order directly from approximately 29,000 takeout restaurants in more than 700 U.S. cities and London. Prior to GrubHub, Beth spent 8 years in leadership roles at Expedia, most recently as Vice President of Connectivity and Product Management.

Beth holds a BA in economics and international studies from Yale and an MBA from INSEAD. She is passionate about the outdoors and, as the child of an elementary school teacher, is very excited by the Playworks mission of using physical play to bring out the best in children and improve their learning environment. She lives in Chicago with her husband Barney and their two young children.


Bess Cummings

Chief Information Officer

Elizabeth is the Managing Director and Chief Information Officer for CIBC. She is a member of the Executive Committee and is responsible for overseeing Corporate Information Technology, Operations, and Client Services. She has filled a key leadership role in the successful growth of the company through partnership with the business to align technology solutions with business strategy. Elizabeth joined the Private bank in 2008 as Chief Operations Officer responsible for the consolidation of four bank charters to one central charter and centralizing all operations and technology support in a nine-month period. Prior to joining CIBC, Elizabeth contributed more than 25 years of leadership experience at JPMorgan Chase, and its predecessor Chicago banking companies, First Chicago NBD and Bank One Corporation.


Greg Healy, Development Chair

SVP & Chief Product Officer
Encyclopedia Britannica

Greg Healy is the SVP and Chief Product Officer for Encyclopedia Britannica. He leads the development of classroom and curriculum-based, digital products for the K-12 as well as driving innovative change through digital experiences for the consumer business globally for the company. Before joining Britannica, Greg led product teams and businesses at Sears, Tribune and a couple of start-up businesses developing digital products. He graduated from Marist College and has an International MBA from American Graduate School of International Management, Thunderbird. Greg, his wife, Kim and two children live in the Chicago area. He is very excited to join Playworks to help combine his knowledge of developing curriculum products for the K-12 market with the goal of improving health and emotional balance to many children so they can continue to grow and succeed.


Naufal Khan

McKinsey & Company

Naufal Khan is a Partner in the Chicago office of McKinsey & Company. He serves leading organizations across a wide range of industries including retail, transportation & logistics, financial services, and the public sector. Naufal also leads McKinsey’s IT Strategy & Organization practice, and in that capacity, advises senior management and executives on a broad set of strategy, technology, and operations topics. Prior to McKinsey, Naufal launched and scaled a software start-up, and held other senior leadership roles in R&D, engineering, and operations.

Naufal has a B.S in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A from Northwestern University. Naufal lives in the western suburbs of Chicago and has four children. With two boys in elementary school, he understands and is inspired by Playworks’ mission of using healthy, inclusive play at school for a greatly enhanced learning experience that develops leadership, conflict-resolution, and social and emotional skills.


Justin Philips

Program Manager
Google Fiber

Justin leads the mid-west deployment for Google Fiber, the high-speed internet and television service from Google Inc.  He recently moved from Mountain View, CA where he led global finance operations for Google Inc.  Prior to Google, Justin spent 8 years with General Electric in their Operations Management Leadership program and running various manufacturing operations in the mid-Atlantic.  Justin has been an advocate for the relationship between Google and Playworks hosting many events on Google campus and even leading the Google kickball team to victory (2 years in a row!).

Justin has a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Villanova University. In his spare time, Justin can be found hiking, woodworking, cooking, and being a human jungle gym for his 2-year old son.


Joel Graves

Senior Manager, West Monroe Partners

Joel is a Senior Manager within the Financial Services Practice at West Monroe Partners. He has a decade of experience helping banks navigate complex changes to improve performance, create a competitive advantage, and grow profitably. Joel earned an MBA from DePaul University in Chicago and an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is a CFA charter holder.

Joel believes there is no greater cause than investing in the future of our children, which is consistent with the mission of Playworks.

He lives with his wife Karen and their two young children. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, golfing, and playing the guitar and piano.


Chris Glad

Director, Houlihan Lokey

Chris grew up in northwest Indiana with Chicago as his backdrop and immersion into cultures and arts. He attended Indiana University, studying accounting and finance, and has been living in downtown Chicago for the past 15 years. Chris and his wife currently live in Roscoe Village with their two daughters and Airedale Terrier and plan to raise their children in the city where they can have opportunity for the best in world arts, museums, and diversity. You can usually find them at a park, zoo, or conservatory on the weekends.

Professionally, Chris is a CPA and director at Houlihan Lokey, an international investment bank, and focus on corporate valuations for regulatory reporting and compliance. He has been with Houlihan Lokey for the past 10 years, starting his career at KPMG’s M&A group before a short stint in private equity.


Manika M. Turnbull, PhD, Governance Chair*

Chief Diversity Officer
Health Care Service Corporation

Manika Turnbull is Chief Diversity Officer for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC). In her previous role as Chief of Staff or Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), Manika was responsible for directing overall planning, administration, handling the budget and the reporting functions for the Illinois Division. Prior to working as the Chief of Staff for BCBSIL, Manika was BCBSIL’s Strategic Human Resources Business Partner. Prior to that, she served as Operations Manager in the Service Delivery Operations (SDO) division.  In all, Manika has been with BCBSIL for over seven years. Manika earned a PhD in Organizational Leadership and a Masters in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, Illinois, where she also serves as adjunct faculty for the Business Psychology department. Manika earned a Bachelors in Psychology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she played Division I Women’s Basketball. Prior to joining the Playworks board, Manika served on the board of the Organizational Development Network of Chicago (ODNC). Manika resides in Northwest Indiana with her husband, John. They share a passion for sports and the outdoors, and an even bigger passion for their Boston terrier puppy, Bettis.



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