Get to know your college advisors! Use the dropdown below or skip ahead and read our bios.



Academic Advising:


Alexis Kowalsky

Alexis worked with the Art & Design department and then the Design department as an Academic Coordinator for 7 years before joining the College Advising Center as an Assistant Director.  She earned an M.A. in Art History with a specialization in Material Culture and Decorative Arts from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  Prior to working in higher education she worked as a gallery and research assistant as well as an decorative arts appraiser at an auction house here in Chicago.  She loves working with creative students and helping them to find their path here at Columbia.

Assistant Director 312-369-3257


Becky Harlow Sass

Becky has been working with the students in the Music Department since 2012. She is a trumpet player and lover of show tunes and power ballads. Originally a downstate Illinois girl, Becky has been calling Chicagoland “home” for more than 10 years, after earning a BA in Communication from Millikin University and an MS.Ed. from Illinois State University. You’ll usually see her with a Starbucks in her hand, a new crockpot recipe in her planner, and a Pinterest board full of crafty projects she’ll never get around to doing. She can’t wait to meet you and help you navigate your college journey!

Assistant Director 312-369-7977


Cameron Carrara


Cameron received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Vocal Music Education from Augustana College in 2012. From there, he went on to pursue a Master’s degree in College Student Affairs at Eastern Illinois University, where he helped to guide and develop underrepresented populations on campus. Cameron comes to us with a variety of student-focused experiences, both in the U.S. and abroad. In the past, Cameron served as an Admissions Counselor and Student Support Counselor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP). He also served as the Admissions Assistant for The Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private arts high school here in Chicago. When he is not at work, you can typically find Cameron involved in a variety of musical endeavors, singing Tenor 1 with the Chicago Chamber Choir or Cor Cantiamo, a professional chamber ensemble based out of DeKalb, IL.

Academic Advisor 312-369-7649

ChrisChris Peak


Chris Garcia Peak has an MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University and a Bachelors in Theatre and Fashion Design from Texas Christian University.   He previously worked in Columbia’s Fashion Retail Management Department and has now created a unique niche for himself as an educator, artist and arts marketer.  He was the Executive Director for the national non-profit Theatre for Young Audience USA, and the marketing director for The Illinois Shakespeare Festival/ISU School of theatre.  Chris is the Producing Artistic Director and Costume Designer for Cock and Bull theatre since 2008. Before moving to Chicago in 2001,  Chris was a style entertainment reporter for British Sky Broadcasting covering red carpet events, fashion shows, and press junkets and interviewing an incredible amount of 1990’s celebrities.  He loves working with students and has taught at The Theatre School at DePaul, Columbia College and Illinois State University.  Chris is writer, director, costume designer, and self-proclaimed dog whisperer.


Academic Advisor 312-369-7494

Dave Sagehorn

Dave is a graduate of Northwestern University (Ph.D. and M.A. in Screen Cultures, emphasis on amateur/outsider film production) and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (B.A. in Film Studies, minor in Journalism/Mass Comm).  He has worked with students and higher education for over a decade.  He has taught courses at DePaul and Northwestern University, and has also worked in a campus library, writing center, fellowships office, and university housing.  When not working, he is a film enthusiast, fan of theater and live comedy, record collector, and consumer of too many podcasts.  

 Academic Advisor 312-369-7238

James Alford


Academic Advisor 312-369-8353


Jessica Horwitz


As the academic advisor for Business students, Jessica is continuously awed by the talent and commitment her students exhibit. She is passionate about helping her students reach their full potential while at Columbia. When not advising her students, Jessica likes to spend time reading, doing crossword puzzles, and trying new restaurants throughout the city. She is excited to welcome you to Columbia and looks forward to getting to know you.

Academic Advisor 312-369-7801

Jessica Socarras

Jessica Socarras


Jessica received her Bachelor's degree from DePaul University in Secondary Education with a History concentration and her Master's degree from Kansas State University in Academic Advising. After working in various roles in the education field as a teacher and tutor, she is excited to move into her new role at Columbia as an Academic Advisor and to be back in the city once again. Outside of advising, you can find Jessica playing tons of video games or trying out new recipes and crafts she found on Pinterest. She looks forward to working with such talented and creative students and being able to help them on their educational journey at Columbia. 

Academic Advisor 312-369-7858


Jill Sultz


Jill works with Cinema and Television Arts students. She has taught in Cinema and Television for 15 years. She is a filmmaker and passionate cinephile. Jill’s other interests include military history, baking and fashion.

Assistant Director 312-369-7372


Kamillah Ong


Kamillah is one of the academic advisors for Animation students. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from DePaul and a master’s degree in higher education from Loyola University, she’s spent years studying, working, dreaming and exploring in Chicago. She strongly believes college is a catalyst, an opportunity to challenge yourself to discover what you love and what you do well, and define how you will use your creativity to impact your community. Her favorite part of her job is helping students figure out how to do that and more.

Academic Advisor 312-369-3233


Karen Smith


Karen earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale and then completed a double Master of Education degree program in Human Development and Learning at DePaul University and The Institute for Psychoanalysis – Chicago. She has been an Academic Advisor for 20 years at Columbia College Chicago.

Academic Advisor 312-369-7646


Keith Lusson


Director, and Interdisciplinary Advisor, Keith Lusson reads U.S. History and taught it, too. He also digs, hoops, golf, good movies, musicals, and being a dad. As the Director of Academic Advising, I encourage all Columbia undergraduates to work with their advisor to maximize their educational experience and create a clear and timely path to graduation.

Director 312-369-7283


Lauren Targ


Lauren is a certified Life Coach and an interdisciplinary artist whose passion is nurturing students. Lauren understands what her students are going through as they build good lives in the arts.  She is the quintessential collaborator. She has worked in theatre and film as an actor, director, and writer, and has co-authored a book called The Ever Loving Essence of You.  Stop in the College Advising Center to see her and share your vision of your future. You can work with her on making it a reality.

Assistant Director 312-369-8626


Meg Elliott

Meg Elliott

Meg is the advisor for Illustration and Photography students. She’s delighted to have the privilege of working with students pursuing their creative passions. She comes to advising as an experienced museum educator and holds an MAT in Museum Education from The George Washington University. She’s also a working actor and has an MFA from The Theatre School at DePaul. When she’s not teaming up with other artists to pursue world domination through art, she reads voraciously, plays guitar terribly, and is stealthily perfecting her rock-skipping skills
Academic Advisor 312-369-7113

Paula Brien


Paula has had two careers -- as a journalist and as a college advisor to media students. Both are rooted in a similar, and critical, set of skills: understanding the audience, asking the right questions, and finding the best answers. Paula is your source, from what classes to take to what connections to make. Paula's education background includes a Master of Science degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Policies & Public Issues (interdisciplinary major) from Mills College, Oakland, CA.

Academic Advisor 312-369-7935 


Ritch Barnes


Ritch Barnes is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago in Film & Video. He has worked on several Hollywood features, he is a passionate poet, fiction writer and Jazz enthusiast. Ritch enjoys meeting with students to share his knowledge and to hear their creative stories. According to Ritch, he lives in the best of both worlds because he can help young people find their dreams, while he pursues his own. Stop by the CAC and don’t hesitate to tell Ritch your story (or stories).

Academic Advisor 312-369-7932


Salena Tucker


Salena is the one of the College Advisors for Cinema and Television students. She is a Chicago native and Iowa will always be her second home. She attended Grinnell College and Iowa State University prior to joining the Columbia family. Outside of supporting your academic and graduation goals, Salena enjoys eating empanadas, watching YouTube videos, and attending concerts. She’s thrilled to meet and work with you!

Academic Advisor 312-369-7734

Stephanie Barnes

Stephanie Barnes

Stephanie (she/her) arrived in Chicago by way of Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. She sang opera until she realized she didn’t want to audition for a living, and now she loves to help students figure out what they want (or don’t want) to do with their lives. A musician, writer, improviser, and educator, Stephanie earned her Masters of Music in Music Theory, which in many ways is the math of music, which she promises is super fun once you get through all the boring and hard stuff. She’s passionate about curriculum, comedy, and composting, and she is thrilled to help you navigate your Columbia journey!
Academic Advisor 312-369-7648

Will Casey


Will Casey is a fellow lover of the theatre, and after many years as a professional actor, has the connections and insight that will guide you on your way to a life on stage. He’s also a wiz at the bbq (with a dry rub that will knock your socks off) and will be more than happy to help you find that killer monologue you’ve been looking for (and also give you a great toast, just in case.)

Academic Advisor 312-369-8623


Office of Student Persistence:


Bess Fuertes

Bess is the Coordinator of Student Persistence. She earned an M.A. in Art History with a concentration in contemporary African and African diaspora photography (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). After grad school, she began coursework in Adult & Higher Education and a rewarding career in academic advising. As a first-generation college student, she is keenly aware of the challenges related to navigating higher education. Bess looks forward to being part of your journey as you pursue your ambitions at Columbia!

Coordinator of Student Persistence, 312-369-7929,


Mary Rachel Fanning


Mary Rachel is the Associate Director of Student Persistence. She has worked all over the creative spectrum from photographing communities to digital storytelling in refugee camps to translating geek speak. She channels her love of tech, stories, and advocacy into advising tools and student communications. A southern ex-pat residing in Chicago, Mary Rachel is a fan of slow bike rides and urban agriculture.

Associate Director, 312-369-7344,


Rachel Horton Smith


Rachel Horton is the Director of Student Persistence. One of her greatest joys is helping students get back on track toward graduation, after they have experienced a personal or academic setback. Rachel earned her B.A. in Rhetoric at the University of Illinois, her M.A. in English from Loyola University Chicago and her M.F.A. in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago, where she has continued to work since graduation. Rachel has previously served Columbia as a graduate assistant, adjunct faculty and an academic advisor. Rachel's main creative passion is poetry and she hopes to release her first book in 2018.

Director, 312-369-7621,