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Backbone Staff

John Phillips, PhD serves as a co-PI on the Native FEWS Alliance of which AIHEC is the backbone. Dr. Phillips is Interim President & CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). Through AIHEC, the nation’s 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) work toward Strong Sovereign Nations Through Excellence in TRIBAL Higher Education. 

Dr. Phillips brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), he has been with AIHEC since 2000 and previously served as the Director of AIHEC Land-Grant programs and policy.  Phillips is also the Executive Director of First Americans Land-Grant Consortium (FALCON), a non-profit association of TCU “1994” Land-Grant administrators, directors, faculty, and staff. 

From 2000-2005, Phillips was the first 1994 Land-Grant Institutions (TCUs) liaison with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  He was responsible for representing the interests of the 1994 Land-Grant Institutions throughout USDA and the public.  Phillips also provided executive resources to the USDA/AIHEC Leadership Group, a national advisory board comprised of top USDA and AIHEC officials.

Phillips directed the Cooperative Extension Program at Si Tanka College on the Cheyenne River Reservation, South Dakota, from 1997 to 1999, for which he was awarded a USDA Secretary’s Honors Award and a USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) Administrator’s Recognition.  During that time, he developed community outreach programs in nutrition, community gardening, and youth development.  He has also conducted USDA-sponsored research on diet and nutrition.  In 2017, Phillips was inducted into the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Hall of Fame.

Phillips earned his Ph.D. in Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a M.S. degree in Environmental Systems from Humboldt State University, California, and a B.S. degree in Computer Science from California State University, Sacramento.  He has worked as a systems engineer for IBM Corporation and has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Africa.


Kathy Isaacson, PhD serves as the Director of the Backbone for the Native FEWS Alliance representing the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). Kathy ensures that the Alliance continues to have a central hub for communication and planning, continuous interaction with NSF INCLUDES, and web-based dissemination of wise practices from the Alliance partners. She has over 20 years experience working with tribal colleges and universities in strategic planning and project management. Kathy has served on the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, was chair of the board for the Institute for Higher Education Policy, faculty member at the University of New Mexico, and president of Strategic Engagement, a consulting business. Her research and writing interests include a focus on sustainable system change and innovative methods for multi-stakeholder engagement. Kathy is the author of Communication, Conflict, and the Management of Difference; Facework: Bridging Theory and Practice; Engaging Communication in Conflict: Systemic Practice; and Mediation: Empowerment in Conflict Resolution. She received her MA from the University of New Mexico, and her PhD from Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Frank Brannon is supporting the AIHEC backbone for the FEWS Alliance, focused on collaborative opportunities between the Alliance and TCUs.

Frank hails from East Tennessee and has lived in Northern Virginia for four years. He studied Physics at the University of Tennessee and later Environmental Science at Sony Brook University in New York. After working for NASA Marshall Space Flight Center as an Education Specialist, he returned to school and graduated with an MFA in Art from the University of Alabama. Frank has been an instructor with Western Carolina University, Penland School of Crafts and returned to education administration with Northern Virginia Community College in 2017. The limited edition, letterpress books that Frank produces are held in several special collections libraries in the United States, England and with private collectors. His 2005 letterpress monograph focused upon research into the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper of northern Georgia, 1828-1834. As the 2016-2017 Vaughan Fellow with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, he continued this historical research, documenting his work supporting Cherokee language revitalization through art. He enjoys gardening, running, bonsai, opera and quesitos. His email address is

Kathy Aplan is supporting the backbone by creating and disseminating a quarterly newsletter and supporting their social media efforts.

Kathy Aplan, AIHEC Communications and PR Associate, is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She manages the social media, press releases, and newsletters for both the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the Tribal College Journal.  

She has previously worked in Public Affairs for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe CARES Act and at the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations as their Communications Coordinator.  She worked at Oglala Lakota College as the TV Production Director overseeing and teaching their TV Production Program that was given several awards.  She was co-PI on an NSF grant that highlighted locations of interest on the Pine Ridge Reservation having students make short video vignettes that combined history, research, and GIS.  She has also worked in television production, including copywriting, graphics, shooting and editing.

Jana Hanson is AIHEC’s IR and Assessment Director for Student Success. 

Erica Moore, Ph.D., is Boriken Taíno of iukaieke Guainia and a member of the United Confederation of Taino People. She has a Ph.D. in higher education leadership and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in history. Moore currently serves as Executive Director of Native Student Success at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Previously, she was director of the American Indian Student Center at South Dakota State University (SDSU), where she oversaw Native student success and worked as a content expert for an ongoing educational development series and fostered a culturally responsive and supportive campus environment for American Indian students.

Prior to working at SDSU, she served as chief academic officer of Lower Brule Community College, the tribal college for the Lower Brule tribal community. Moore has worked in education for over 10 years, including teaching a variety of history and political courses and a research agenda focused on Native American student success.

In addition to her higher education experience, Moore has shared her expertise in culturally responsive practices in workshops for K-12 classrooms, museum networks, and medical facilities. In 2018, she served as a U.S. Human Rights Network ‘Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education’ Fellow. Moore continues her passionate advocacy, where her lobbying for equity, diversity, and inclusion has positively impacted organizations, communities, and those they serve.