Lazar Lazarov - Executive Director
Lazar graduated from Newcastle University with a bachelor's degree in computer science in 2018, and earlier, from Geo Milev FLHS in Dobrich in 2014. His BEST journey began in 2013 as a debate competitor. In the five years since, he has also been an intern (unofficially), Alumni Relations Coordinator, Webmaster, Translation Coordinator, and Board of Directors member, while also dabbling in Tournament Logistics. As a relatively recent high school student, the closest he's been able to get to putting a finger on why students love BEST is this: BEST addresses a glaring gap in the Bulgarian education system. Students need a community which they choose, one with which they identify, and one to which they belong.
Tiana Brownen - Assistant Director & BEST-Fulbright Fellow
Tiana grew up in rural Missouri and attended Southwest Baptist University where she graduated with a B.A. in Communication and English. Throughout high school and college, Tiana participated in speech and debate and fell in love with the activity. When she came to Bulgaria, she was excited to continue being a part of the speech and debate community through BEST as a coach and judge. During her time as an ETA at Yordan Radichkov Foreign Language High School in Vidin, she was inspired by her students’ creativity and passion, which made her want to continue helping grow the BEST community. This year, Tiana will be teaching at the 119th Secondary School Mihail Arnaudov in Sofia where she will also be serving as the Assistant Director for BEST. She is looking forward to having a wonderful year with all of the “BEST” students in Bulgaria!
Vanya Petrova - Assistant Director of Bulgarian Logistics
Vanya was born and raised in the small town of Montana where she graduated at FLHS “Peter Bogdan.” She then moved to Sofia where she continued her studies in International Economic Relations at the University of National and World Economy. Her journey with BEST started in 2015 when her brother Niki started competing in tournaments. It was then and there Vanya was asked to become a judge and discovered the wonderful BEST Community! From then on Vanya has been actively participating in tournaments as a judge and has been volunteering with various organizational tasks. For her, taking part in BEST, a social event that has such a big influence on various groups of society, is something to look forward to in the upcoming year, and she cannot wait to take on the challenges and emotions it will bring.
Azlin Armstrong - Communications Director
Azlin is an English Teaching Assistant, a BEST coach, and now a BEST Management Team member, living and working in Kyustendil, Bulgaria. Last year, she had the pleasure of starting her very own team (who she firmly believes will all rule the world someday.) She grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying Advertising and Public Relations, Broadcasting and English. She has the pleasure of curating and creating content for BEST’s Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and website. She’s passionate about representing BEST’s inspiring performers on social media, so be sure to give the pages a look!
Mihaela Kafedzhiyska - Tournament Coordinator
Mihaela Kafedzhiyska was born, raised, and still lives in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. This year’s Tournament Coordinator graduated from the local Foreign Language High school “Akademik Lyudmil Stoyanov” in 2018 and continued her studies in the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). Her first Speech and Debate competition was in 8th grade. Mihi competed for total of five years and has done all five events. During the last year other than judging in BEST competitions and studying, she was also part of the Better Community Club, The Hiking Club, and The Improvisational Theater in AUBG. She always goes the extra mile for the things she cares about and BEST is an inseparable part of her. She is always up to watch a round of any of the Speech and Debate events!
Hristina Todorova - Student Leader Program Coordinator
Born Hristina Todorova in Lovech, 1999, now 19-year old New Bulgarian University student lives in Sofia and often goes by “mom”. Her BEST life begins as a debate competitor and continues with being a Student Ambassador, Student Coach (unofficially) and Student Leader Intern (as well as judging at a few tournaments). And because of her obvious love for the word “student”, she now joins the BEST MT as a Student Leader Coordinator. Amongst her other interests you can find: scrolling through dog memes, travelling, skating and chasing people on missed deadlines. Her best quality is that she is one of those people who will talk to you even if you call them at 3 a.m. Her worst-she would probably never call first, because it makes her anxious.
Olivia Melodia - Judge and Coach Coordinator
Olivia is a second-year English Teaching Assistant and BEST coach in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. She is aggressively proud of being from New Jersey and refuses to identify as a New Yorker, despite years of speed-walking and living in Midtown. Olivia attended Hamilton College to study philosophy, Hispanic studies and theatre, the least practical of which is the only degree she uses on a daily basis. She looks forward to returning as Judge and Coach Coordinator and helping bridge communication between judges, coaches, and participants in order to cultivate the BEST community we know and love.
Dayana Baleva - Development Coordinator
Dayana will be returning to the BEST MT for one more year. This time she will take the position of a Development Coordinator in which she will be making sure that BEST continues to cater for its participants’ needs and that it lives up to its mission and potential. Before joining the Management Team in 2017, Dayana competed at BEST tournaments as part of Team Pleven. It was the positive growth that BEST stimulated in her personal and professional life that drives her to keep on promoting the organization’s ideals and mission. Dayana is a political science and international relations student in the Netherlands, graduating this year. In her free time she likes pondering the mysteries of life, travelling and having a good laugh.
Samantha Johnson - Debate and Outreach Coordinator
Sam has spent the past year as the BEST coach and English Teaching Assistant at Ivan Vasov FLHS in Smolyan, Bulgaria. In addition to bringing a team to all the 2018-2019 BEST tournaments, Sam also served as a judge. In doing so, she fell in love with the fun atmosphere and was incredibly inspired by all the amazing poetry, prose, duo, oratory and debate rounds she watched. This year she will continue with her roles in Smolyan while also serving as the Debate and Outreach coordinator for BEST. Prior to Bulgaria, Sam grew up in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and later graduated from Carthage College in 2018 after studying Environmental Science, Political Science, and Spanish. Outside of BEST she loves learning new languages, reading, hiking, swimming, and juggling (in all senses of the word). She also loves to have discussions and debates (hence the job title), so if you want to have a good conversation, find her at any tournament!
Board of Directors
Anna Fuselier, Chair
Anna Fuselier is the Chair of the Board of Directors. Anna began her time in Bulgaria as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Montana in 2014, where she founded and coached a BEST team. After seeing the impact of BEST first hand, Anna moved to Sofia and went on to serve as Managing Director the following year, eventually joining the Board of Directors in 2017 out of a desire to continue to facilitate BEST’s growth. Anna has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs with a specialization in International Development from George Washington University. Anna presently teaches 7th and 8th grade in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Reid Furubayashi, Vice-Chair
Reid Furubayashi currently works as an executive recruiter at Spencer Stuart helping to build and enhance high-performing senior leadership teams for clients ranging from the world's largest companies to emerging businesses and local nonprofit institutions. Born in Seattle, Reid was first exposed to Speech and Debate in high school where he competed in local, regional, and national competitions. His love for rhetoric and public speaking followed him into his undergraduate studies at Claremont McKenna College where he led his college's Mock Trial team and graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After graduating, he spent a year in Montana, Bulgaria as a Fulbright-America for Bulgaria English Teaching Assistant and Speech and Debate coach for the 2015-16 academic year. Seeing the creativity and confidence that BEST inspires in Bulgarian youth, he continued his involvement with BEST as the Assistant Director for the 2016-17 school year and now serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors.
Alex Kieselstein was a two-year Fulbright ETA and BEST Coach at Second English Language School in Sofia. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from Kenyon College and a Master's Degree from Middlebury College. Currently, Alex is the Academic Placement Advisor for Humanities fields at the Institute of International Education.
Athena Lao – Co-Founder
Athena Lao helps manage the Fulbright Program for South and Central Asia at the Institute of International Education. She holds an A.B. in Classics from Harvard University and an M.S.Ed. in International Educational Development from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Athena served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for 3 years at Ezikova Gimnazia “Akademik Lyudmil Stoyanov” in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. During that time, she co-founded BEST with five other Fulbright ETAs and started her school’s award-winning English language speech and debate team. She served as the first Chair of the BEST Board of Directors from 2015-2017. Athena loves the enthusiasm of BESTies, speech and debate, Bulgarian cuisine, and a good horo.
Juliana McMillan-Wilhoit – Co-Founder
Juliana Wilhoit is a native of the Chicago area, and a lover of shopska salata, banitsa, and the Black Sea. She has been involved in speech and debate in a variety of forms since she was in seventh grade. She credits much of her success in life to finding an avenue in which she could succeed.
During the 2012-2013 school year she was an English Teacher at the Fifth Language School in Varna. Juliana holds a Master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works for a research institution conducting urban security research.
Board of Advisors
Angela Rodel came to Bulgaria on a Fulbright grant in 1996, lured by the mystery of Bulgarian voices. Having fallen in love with Bulgarian folk singing and Bulgarian language, she decided to make Bulgaria her permanent home as of 2004. In recent years, she has become a leading translator of Bulgarian literature into English, with seven novels published in the US and UK, as well as plays, poems and essays by leading Bulgarian writers. She is now executive director of the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission. At her first BEST tournament two years ago, she was blown away by the students’ talent, intelligence and artistry – and immensely proud of the Fulbright/ABF ETAs who founded this wonderful organization.
Claire Sagstuen - BEST Co-Founder
Mark Leonard was born and raised in Kansas, where he competed in speech and debate in high school and in speech in college. Since then, he has judged competitive speaking events at both high school and college tournaments in the USA. He has been a judge for BEST Foundation events since the first annual tournament. Mark is Associate Professor of Economics at American University in Bulgaria. Mark makes daily use of his prose and poetry competition skills while reading to his daughters.
Ronald Harvey earned his PhD in Community Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago in 2014. He is a two-time Fulbright recipient to Bulgaria (2009 and 2015) where he did research and implementation of recovery housing for former drug addicts in Sofia and Varna. He is current Assistant Professor of Psychology at American University in Bulgaria. He is also a trained long-form improviser and teaches English-language improv comedy as part of “Shizipro” Comedy Theatre in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Dr. Harvey has been involved in BEST Foundation competitions as a judge and speaker since February, 2016. He has also had the great fun and privilege to lead a number of improv workshops for BEST teams and BEST ambassadors in Montana, Stara Zagora, and Sofia.
Ivan Dimov returned from New York to Sofia in order to establish Single Step Foundation in 2016. His professional career is in the field of finance: as an investment banker and investor in New York, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sydney, Australia (Credit Suisse, Gramercy Communications Partners, Lazard) in the media, telecommunications and technology sectors.
Ivan is a former CFO of Edamam, which provides nutrition data services and value-added solutions to health, wellness and food businesses. He is also the former Chairman of the Board of Netinfo.
Ivan is a keen marathon runner, CrossFitter and world traveler.
Val Nikolov is from Burgas, Bulgaria and was an active member of a non-profit focused on educational and environmental projects in high school. A life-long believer in the power of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, Val is excited to share his expertise in planning, analytics, and strategy towards advancing BEST’s mission.
Val holds a BA in Mathematical Economics from Colgate University and an MBA from Northwestern University. A former economic consultant in Boston, MA and London, UK, he is currently living in Austin, TX where he is a Sales Analytics and Planning Manager at Dell Technologies.
Tyler Donahue is currently the Director of Market Development at Yext and has been tasked with leading Yext’s go to market efforts in Japan. Prior to helping to open the Tokyo this past July, Tyler ran and managed all Data Partnerships for Yext for several years and was a crucial part of expanding Yext’s business into Europe. Before Yext, Tyler spent time working in the bagged salad industry with Chiquita, as well as working with a small grassroots organization in Kenya. He has a double degree in Mathematics and Economics from Duke University and served as the Blue Devil Mascot while there.
Ettie (Tzvetelina) Nikolova graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in Government and Russian Literature. After graduation, she lived in the Republic of Georgia, Taiwan, and Bulgaria, where she taught English at Bertolt Brecht Language Academy (located in the best city in Bulgaria- Pazardzhik).
In 2015, Ettie left Bulgaria to obtain her Master’s in Business Administration from Yale University. Although she no longer lives in Bulgaria, Ettie’s heart will always be with BEST and her former students. She is excited to watch BEST continue to grow!
Michael Pelehach is from North Carolina where he studied Psychology and Markets & Management at Duke University. After graduation, he spent four years working for Target Corporation in Minneapolis, MN. In search of more meaningful work, he accepted a Fulbright Grant to teach English at Peyo Yavorov Languages High School in Silistra, Bulgaria.
Michael is currently pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration at Northwestern University, where he is learning to apply business principles to solve social problems.
2017-2018 Management team members
Dena Popova – Executive Director (since summer 2016)
Hannah Combe – BEST-Fulbright Fellow/Assistant Director
Boris Busov – Student Ambassadors Program Coordinator
Caroline Murphy – Communications Director
Boyana Atanasova – Translations and Content Coordinator (since summer 2016)
Sevastian Petkov – Webmaster and Photography Coordinator (since summer 2016)
Anna Kate Brainerd – Coaches Coordinator
Emily Enquist – Tournament Operations Coordinator
Emily Paxson – Judges and Grant Writing Coordinator
Helena Tatgenhorst– Tournament Activities Coordinator
Petar Donchev – Logistics Coordinator (since summer 2016)
Violeta Dimitrova – New Teams Coordinator (since summer 2015)
2016-2017 management team members
Reid Furubayashi – BEST-Fulbright Fellow/Assistant Director
Lauren Gieseke – Communications Director
Andrew Malin – Alumni Relations Director
Molly O’Keefe – Student Ambassadors Director
Lazar Lazarov – Website and Translation Director (since summer 2014)
Lyuba Todorova – Tournament Activities Intern
Viktoria Nestorova – Graphic Design Intern
Katerinа Stoyanova – Tournament Logistics Intern
2015-2016 Management team members
Anna Fuselier – Managing Director
Yordan Demirov – Team Bulgaria Head Coach, Trainings Coordinator
Verzhinia Hristova – Tournament Coordinator
Kristina Krusteva – Financial Director
Andrey Mirchev – Tournament Coordinator
Christine Pardue – Communications Director
Stanimir Stoilov – Intern
board of directors members
Roumyana Mihaylova – 2013-2015 Managing Director, 2015-2016 BOD Member
Tatiana Rostovtseva – Co-Founder, 2015-2016 BOD Member
Hannah Allen – Co-Founder, 2016-2017 BOD Member
Michael Deegan – Co-Founder, 2016-2017 BOD Member
Claire Sagstuen – Co-Founder, 2016-2017 BOD Member
Sarah Craycraft – 2016-2017 BOD Member
Ettie Nikolova – 2016-2018 BOD Member
Michael Pelehach – 2017-2018 BOD Member
Lazar Lazarov – 2017-2018 BOD Member