Staff and Advisors

CNY  is staffed exclusively of volunteers, and includes hosts who create, publicize, and convene their conversations; members who attend these events and actively participate in these conversations; and a multidisciplinary group of advisors who serve as a Steering Committee to guide the organization, and establish its policies and operating procedures.

Who We Are:  CNY is staffed by a voluntary steering committee, all working pro bono – and welcoming new members! We are professionals in marketing, IT, strategy, development, graphic design, small-group facilitation, networking, and editorial.  We share a belief that conversation is a necessary and valuable part of our culture.  While we embrace technology, we wish to ensure that as communication technology grows exponentially, so too, do our options for face-to-face communication.

To benefit from the best that is being thought and done in the field,  CNY is strengthened by an international Advisory Committee of practitioners, thinkers, authors, and scholars in the field (listed below).

CNY partners with other  organizations  which facilitate conversations, ranging from MeetUp groups in the U.S., to Talk to Me London and others around the world.

STAFF (Affiliations are for identification only – all are members as individuals, not as representatives of their organizations.)

Founder & Co-Director: Ron Gross is the co-chair of the University Seminar on Innovation at  Columbia University.  He  has supported lifelong learning initiatives in Europe, the Far East, Israel, Canada, and Mexico, sponsored by agencies such as the European Foundation for Management Development, the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Ford and Rothschild Foundations.   He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Society for Self-Directed Learning in 2013, was inducted into the Lifelong Learning Hall of Fame of the International  Association for Adult and Continuing Education in 2014, and received Columbia University’s Tannenbaum/Warner Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Service in 2019.

Co-Director:  Elizabeth  Cohn, PhD, RN, is the Rudin Professor at Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing focused on urban community-health and community-engaged research.   She  was named a 2016 White House Champion of Change, and currently serves as    the engagement core lead for the Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics at Columbia University and the Recruitment Core lead for Screening for Cardiac Amyloisosis Using Nuclear Imaging for Minority Populations and the engagement lead for the New York Precision Medicine Consortium of the All of Us Research Program where she also serves as the national chair of the publications and incident reporting boards.
Her work has been featured in the New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times, on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, in The Atlantic and in Men’s Health. She is the author of a cardiology text, Flip and See ECG, now in its fourth edition published by Elsevier.

Director of Planning and Development: Michele Risa, M.A., C.B.C.A., is the Founder of Collaborative Solutions.  She  works with thought leaders and influencers to help them identify their deepest aspirations, and embody consciousness in such a way that they become natural change agents in a world that needs their talents, heart and intelligence.  As President ofOnly The Source, her mission (and transmission) is to awaken, inspire, and empower humanity to a more peaceful, playful and loving life, by offering experiential public events, interactive online curricula, and inspirational film, video, and virtual reality content.   Michele has co-authored the award-winning book, “Conscious Entrepreneurs: A Radical New Approach to Purpose, Passion & Profit,” and has been a TV producer since 1998. 
A sought-after executive speaker, Michele has presented at the World Economic Forum, Viacom, Forbes, Barclays, United Healthcare and TEDx in Manhattan, including a 6-month program at the New York Stock Exchange. She is also a frequent radio and podcasts guest.
Editorial Consultant: Judith M. Lukin, MSW, M.Ed., Certificate in Nonprofit Management.  Background in nonprofits; grant writing; adult education in colleges, school systems and prisons; consultant to school districts; life planning; writing. Past: Executive Director of Caring Community; adjunct NYU, Fordham Graduate School of Social Service, Mercy College, Montclair State University – Manage Program.   
Senior Advisors:
  • Yu-Jen Chang  (Yen),  Yen is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a broad education across many areas, including Aviation (graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy), Operations  Management, and working on joint military and civilian training and evaluation systems, and with a Fortune 20 company.   Currently, Yen is trading at approximately $0.0081.,
  • Herb Klitzner, Social Innovator, Cultural Researcher, Personal Technology Market Forecaster, IT Technical Writer.
Director of “Talk About” Programs: Laurence Mailaender works in the technology industry, doing research aimed at improving wireless systems. He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering, and spent 12 years as a researcher in Bell Labs. Currently he develops advanced communication and GPS-geolocation systems for customers in various agencies of the U.S. Government.

Consultant on People with Special Needs: Ken Snyder, Occupational Therapist specializing in Nonviolent Communication, Adult Programs discussion group moderator, and care of people with special needs such as Alzheimer’s,


Polly Ackhurst, co-founder, Talk to Me London.

James Allen, author, Worldly Wisdom: Great Books and the Meanings of Life and The Romance of Culture and Commerce.

William Caspary, Prof. of  Political Science,  Gallatin Division, New York University, author of Dewey on Democracy.

Peter Osborn, co-author, The Talking Revolution: How Creative Conversation Can Change the World.

Sondra Myers, Editor, Democracy is a Discussion: Civic Engagement in Old and New Democracies.

Bernard Roy, founder, Café Philo,  New York and Paris.


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