“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.

2016-2017 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 and hopes to write some more this fall.

ReidReid Furubayashi – Assistant Director & Fulbright-BEST Fellow

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Reid Furubayashi is a Pacific Northwesterner at heart. When he was not studying, he spent his high school days competing in soccer, speech and debate, and mock trial. After graduating, he continued his studies in California at Claremont McKenna College where he majored in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Eventually, by some twist of fate, he touched down in Montana, Bulgaria as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and Speech and Debate coach. Reid is enthusiastic and passionate about the creativity and confidence that BEST inspires in Bulgarian youth and is excited to be involved this year. Outside of BEST, you might find him reading a book in the park, dancing in a crowd, or forever struggling to learn guitar.

Andrew Malin – Alumni Relations Director

Andrew Malin was raised in the beautiful state of Minnesota. Staying true to his Midwestern roots, Andrew attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio where he studied History. During the 2015-2016 school year, Andrew had the pleasure of teaching at Geo Milev Foreign Language High School in Dobrich. This year, Andrew will be an English Teaching Assistant at Thomas Jefferson Second English Language School in Sofia. In his free time, Andrew enjoys eating cheese curds, watching ice hockey, chasing his beagle (Toby), and playing jazz and classical trumpet.

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.

Lauren Gieseke – Communications Director

Lauren currently lives in Shumen, Bulgaria and teaches English at Nikola Vaptsarov Foreign Language School, Shumen. She grew up in Louisiana and studied European History at Southwestern University in Texas. After spending a semester of university in Belgrade and Pristina, Lauren decided to focus on the Balkans – and that decision led her to become a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bulgaria in 2015. She loves BEST because it brings together students from across the country and gives high schoolers the chance to make new friends from all over Bulgaria. Her favorite part of BEST is the awesome community it creates!

Lazar Lazarov – Translation Director

Speech and debate became a part of Lazar’s life in the 12th grade as he joined Team Geo Milev FLHS Dobrich for BFL (now BEST) competitions. He has now graduated high school and is continuing his studies in Newcastle, where he is currently an Assistant Business Analyst for Newcastle University. Lazar sees BEST as a means of giving the gifted students in Bulgaria hope that any status quo can be changed – as long as someone actively commits to making that change. Establishing a vast community of intelligent young people is just the first step! His pastime activities include reading books, playing computer games and making bad jokes.

Molly O’Keefe – Student Ambassadors Coordinator

Molly O’Keefe was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated from Middlebury College (Vermont) with a BA in Theatre, and spent several years working as a theater artist, singer and assistant arts educator in New York City and Massachusetts. She is currently entering her second year as the Fulbright ETA at the Romain Rolland Foreign Language School in the beautiful city of Stara Zagora. This year, Molly will be working closely with Andrew to coordinate Student Ambassador projects and leadership programs. In her spare time, Molly enjoys singing, playing soccer, watching (American) football, hiking, and and cuddling with her adorable cat, Boris.

Petar Donchev – Tournament 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.

VioletaVioleta Dimitrova – Tournament Coordinator

Violeta Dimitrova is a BEST alumna from Stara Zagora. Her future plans can be summed up in a Bird Rights Activist’s tweet: “I would like to sled on a potata chip down a mountains of puddin.” She is very passionate about reforming the current standardized education system and fighting for social issues through education. Sometimes she thinks about the abyss and wonders whether it thinks about her too but those thoughts quickly disappear when she remembers that she is a member of the MT at BEST and 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.

2016-2017 Student Interns:

BoyanaBoyana Atanasova – Translation Intern

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Boyana is the translation intern for 2016-2017. For the past 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. Starting this fall, Boyana will embark on a new adventure as a student in Belgium. 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.

LyubaLyuba Todorova – Special Events & Fundraising Intern

Lyuba Todorova was born in Varna, the wonderful sea-capital of Bulgaria. Since first grade, however, she’s been living and studying in Sofia. Anyway, as the tournaments have proven, all cities in Bulgaria are great so whatever. Her BEST experience started in late (almost dead) 2013, which coincided with her beginnings (marked by enthusiasm and agony) in studying English language and resulted in developing severe Duo-BFL- later-BEST addiction. In her own words, BEST has helped her acquire not only performance and public speech skills but actual English language skills (so BEST does have the potential to also be great studying method). That is why she is insanely excited to work with Team BEST as a Special Events & Fundraising Intern 2k16 and help nourish the idea for self-improvement of everyone present at tournaments in all possible areas. Lyuba’s plans for the future include not making many plans since (she’s lazy, but also:) the world around offers her the BEST (pun might be intended) things anyway, so she’ll just stick to saying “yeah, let’s do it” to as much as she can. She is also a keen creative-writer as you can guess by the length of this.

KaterineKaterina Stoyanova – Tournament Logistics Intern

Katerina Stoyanova was born in deep south Smolyan, but grew up and still dwells in Pazardzhik – home of the Bertolt Brecht Language High School where she is currently a senior. She first experienced the magic of speech and debate in 2013 when her awesome ex-coach, ex-Management Team and presently Board of Directors member – Ettie Nikolova, started the school’s team. A keen musician, artist and amateur cosplayer by night and a debater, student and traveler by day, she claims that speech and debate have made school a much better place for her than it was before. Currently on her mission to rescue every cat on the Earth and bring speech and debate into the Bulgarian high-school curriculum, she is thrilled to be part of Team BEST and dreams of becoming an arts journalist one day.

SevSevastian Petkov – Photography Intern

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. He will be doing a bachelor’s degree in Computer Systems and Technologies in the city of Ruse, starting in September 2016. 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.

ViktoriaViktoria Nestorova – Graphic Design Intern

Speech and debate became a part of Viktoria’s life when she was in 10th grade. She was part of the Dimitrovgrad team and got the chance to cooperate with two of the BEST ETAs. One of her favorite things to waste time with is thinking about deep stuff and therefore creating messes in her head. Aside of that she loves art and hopes to one day make a living out of it. For now, she’ll study design in the UK, trying to improve her skills and make her life more interesting. According to her, speech and debate has definitely helped her grow up and develop her personality. Now that she no longer has the chance to compete, she will try to help BEST with more cool designs and ideas, so that participants can have an even more memorable time. Not unlike the rest of the competitors, she finds BEST as one of the greatest things that can have an impact on one’s life. That’s why she’s honored to be part of its community.