“Team BEST” includes three different groups: the Management Team, the Board of Directors, and the Board of Advisors. Please see each page for more information, and contact if you are interested in being part of Team BEST.

You can find out more about the former members of Team BEST on this page.

Management Team

The BEST Management Team (MT) consists of motivated and dedicated Bulgarians and Americans who are responsible for all on-the-ground operations in Bulgaria. The MT includes one full-time Executive Director, one BEST-Fulbright Fellow who serves as Assistant Director, volunteer coordinators, and student interns. Almost all MT members are current or former BEST coaches and competitors. New MT staff are selected each spring, and new interns are selected each summer.

2017-2018 Management Team:

DenaDena Popova – Executive Director

Dena Popova, originally from Sofia, has studied and worked in 6 countries on 3 continents. Dena holds a B.A. in Rhetoric, Film Studies and Politics from Whitman College, WA, USA. During her undergraduate studies Dena was an Abshire Grant Fellow and did ethnographic fieldwork research in the Ecuadorian Andes where she lived with an indigenous community. She was also part of blue moon literary magazine selection staff. After Whitman College, Dena pursued a M.Sc. in Political Science at Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain where she got sound in-depth knowledge on the issues of migration, multiculturalism and diversity. Then she returned to Bulgaria where she started working as coordinator and expert on projects in the spheres of migration, diversity and education. Dena was a speaker at TEDxYouth@ACSofia giving her talk Go beyond the Walls and Meet the Refugees in front of the audience at the American College of Sofia in April 2015. She is also a published writer of two books with short stories. Dena is excited to start her second academic year as Executive Director and looking forward to working with the new Management Team! 

IMG_2498Hannah Combe – Assistant Director & Fulbright-BEST Fellow

Hannah Combe grew up in the quiet suburbs of Ohio and has tried to avoid them ever since. She spent much of her childhood reading, playing sports, and spending time with her family. She studied English Literature at Oberlin College where she also ran track and field and played soccer. After graduating in 2013 she spent a happy year working as a librarian in her hometown public library. From 2014-2016 she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia (the country, not the state!) teaching English in the small village of Kvishkheti. She has been energized and inspired by her BEST students in Pravets, and is so excited to use her second year as a Fulbright ETA to contribute to BEST in a broader and forward-looking way!

Lyuba Todorova – Student Ambassadors Program and Alumni Relations

Lyuba Todorova was born in Varna, the wonderful sea-capital of Bulgaria and has been living in Sofia (still cool but not sea capital) ever since. Her BEST experience started in late 2013 and resulted in developing a severe Duo-BFL-later-BEST addiction. In her view the overwhelming reliability of BEST to have a ton of good influence on your personal development and the power of its community are yet to be fully discovered, so she’s excited to run the SA Program teamed-up with the charming Boris and start changing BG and the world together (no pressure, SAs and all). And also have fun, though. Her hobbies include doing lots of stuff (except cooking) and soon her uni courses as well. She’s known for being very professional and laconic and sticking to the point and all.

Boris Busov – Student Ambassadors Program

Boris Busov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, moved to the United States when he was a wee baby, and bopped around until he finally settled in Houghton, Michigan (a small snowy town in the deep north). After finishing high school, Boris attended University of Michigan and studied Biomolecular Science and Spanish. He is currently a second year English teacher and speech and debate coach at Zaharii Stoyanov high school in Sliven, Bulgaria. This year Boris will be coordinating the Student Ambassador Program with Lyuba Todorova, working to make the BEST community an even better space. In his free time Boris loves hiking, cuddling with his pets, and worshipping Beyoncé.

Daniel Ivanov – Graphic Design and Merchandise Director

Once upon a time, Pernik had a team of immensely talented students who participated in the first annual BEST Tournament. Daniel Ivanov, or Danny, was a part of that team. After he graduated from high school Danny could no longer compete so he took up the next best thing – judging. Danny is currently doing a bachelor’s degree in Animation which helped him transition to graphic design. He believes that BEST brings out hidden talents and provides a platform for the youth of Bulgaria to send a message to their peers which in its essence is the art of self-expression.

Caroline Murphy – Communications Director

Caroline was born and raised in Portland, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in Secondary Education. Last year she was a Fulbright/America for Bulgaria English Teaching Assistant and BEST coach at Simeon Radev FLS in Pernik, and she now teaches at the English Language Institute at AUBG. Caroline is passionate about increasing educational opportunities for everyone and loves that BEST creates a supportive and enthusiastic community where students can grow in their confidence and creativity. When she’s not teaching or BESTing, you can find her reading long books, writing short poems, and sending memes to other MT members.

Boyana Atanasova – Translations and Content Coordinator

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Boyana is the translation assistant for 2017-2018. For two years (8th and 9th grade) she has been a student at the American College of Sofia where she was an active part of the speech and debate club. After participating in quite a few BEST tournaments, she soon realised that BEST is so much more than just winning a trophy at the award ceremony. Ultimately, BEST became for her the opportunity to become a little more compassionate, respectful and tolerant with each competition, as well as a platform for exchanging ideas and meeting wonderful new people. Since last year, Boyana embarked on a new adventure as a student in Belgium and the experience she has gained from living abroad has definitely made an impact as to how she sees the world now. She couldn’t be more excited to spread BEST’s message and help more people find out about the life-changing opportunities BEST provides students from all over Bulgaria.

Sevastian Petkov – Webmaster

Sevastian Petkov was born and raised in the small city of Shumen. He was first introduced to BEST in October 2014 by his former coach Samantha and since then has been a part of BEST as a competitor. For him, one of the best things about BEST is that so many people gather at one place, share their unique stories with others, make friendships, and have fun with people from all over the country. Because BEST truly is a place that can show you that there are people who care about the future of this country. In his free time Sev (as many people refer to him) likes to watch movies and TV shows, read books, play games (like… a lot), play tennis with friends, or just listen to music. And last, but not least – be as awkward as possible without even trying hard.

Anna Kate Brainerd – BEST Coaches Trainings Coordinator

Anna Kate hails from the Southeastern United States. Born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, she attended the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee, where she studied Middle School Education and English. She currently teaches English at Aprilov National High School in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. The 2016-17 school year was Anna Kate’s initial involvement with BEST, and it was by far the highlight of her first year in Bulgaria. She looks forward to continuing the BEST legacy of impacting students throughout Bulgaria!

Emily Enquist – BEST Tournament Operations and International Programs Coordinator

Emily Enquist hails from Plymouth, Minnesota, a western suburb of Minneapolis you probably haven’t heard of. She attended Drake University, earning her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Anthropology. During her time as a Bulldog, she had the opportunity to explore the field of International Education both as a student and a professional on both short term programs in Uganda, Finland, Mexico and Brazil, and a longer term program in Argentina. She aspired to be a Fulbrighter for years, and had the opportunity to fulfill this dream during the 2016 academic year, working with the students at Ezikova Gimnazia Lyudmil Stoyanov in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. It was here that her love for BEST and its participants grew, and she looks forward to contributing to the organization in deeper ways as it continues to enrich her experience.

Emily Paxson – External Relations and Grant Writing Coordinator

Originally from Pennsylvania, Emily Paxson earned a B.A. in International Studies and a minor in German with a concentration in International Economic Development from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. During her time at Miami, Emily spent a semester studying in Thailand where she did research on human trafficking. She later traveled back to Thailand to intern with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok for one summer and at the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai the following summer. In her free time, Emily enjoys reading nonfiction, playing basketball and traveling. With very little prior speech and debate experience, Emily had no idea what to expect at the BEST Tournaments, but it quickly became apparent the impact that the organization had, and continues to have on students all around Bulgaria. She can’t wait to further her involvement in the BEST community by joining the Management Team. Emily currently teaches at Ekzarh Yosif I Foreign Language School in Lovech.

Helena Tatgenhorst– Tournament Activities Coordinator

Helena Tatgenhorst grew up in the small town of Winterport, Maine before heading to Massachusetts to earn a degree in Geosciences from Smith College. While at Smith, she sang in two choirs, directed an a cappella group, and led outdoor orientation and outdoor adventure trips. Helena has a deep love for theatre and performing and appreciates that BEST creates a space for students to develop creativity and confidence. She teaches at Geo Milev ELS in Ruse, Bulgaria and will be coordinating volunteers at BEST tournaments.

Petar Donchev –  Judge Coordinator and Logistics Coordinator

Petar’s first encounter with speech and debate was back in 2013 when he mistook one of the categories – original oratory – for a stand-up act. It later turned out to be the happiest little accident of his life. After graduating from high school he coached his school’s team for a year and moved on to become a part of BEST’s Management Team. Petar believes that what BEST does is essential to develop one’s character and bring out their true personality. In his spare time he’s been known to play video games, watch TV shows and drool over the Japanese domestic market.

villiVioleta Dimitrova – Petrich Program and New Teams Coordinator

Violeta Dimitrova is a BEST alumna from Stara Zagora. She is very passionate about reforming the current standardized education system and fighting for social issues through education. Years later, her future plans can still be summed up in a Bird Rights Activist’s tweet: “I would like to sled on a potata chip down a mountains of puddin.” While those future plans are taking shape, Violeta will have the privilege of being the coach for a second year of the most wonderful students in the southernmost and warmest town in Bulgaria – Petrich. Sometimes she thinks about the abyss and wonders whether it thinks about her too but those thoughts quickly disperse when she remembers that she is living in an absurdly beautiful town and is a member of the MT at BEST. Violeta is looking forward to helping BEST achieve its goals and to helping its amazing community grow! She believes that no words can define the awesomeness of BEST, as words entail a limitation to its boundlessness, and BEST simply transcends any definition.

2017-2018 Student Interns:


Dayana Baleva
– Translation Intern

Dayana used to be a part of the Pleven team until she graduated high school and left to spend a year living in London, the UK. This year she will be a first-year international relations student in the Hague, the Netherlands. Looking back on her involvement with BEST as a competitor, she recognizes how much the tournament scene has helped her build character, overcome some of her greatest personal setbacks and expand as an individual. She believes that speech and debate has had a tremendously positive impact on many students like her, which is why she is trying to help support the cause. In her free time, Dayana enjoys journalling, meeting people and exploring.

GabrielaGabriela Ilieva – Photography Intern

I’m an eleventh grader who isn’t quite ready to graduate next year, but yet keen on taking over the world. I love traveling (and sometimes I even have the tendency to get lost but I always end up having good stories to tell!) and making friends who share my passion for art. I’m part of my school’s theatrical group. Since photography is my lover, I’m never single so I always manage to find the beauty all around me. In my spare time I love listening to music, reading books, watching films and jogging. I would love to study photography or film directing. Coldplay and Benedict Cumberbatch have stolen my heart. I’m definitely the BEST at making bad jokes (obviously).