Executive Board

Ashten_Hughes_-_NLC_Oklahoma_.jpg Ashten Hughes – Co Director


Ashten Hughes graduated from the University of Nebraska - Omaha in 2012 with a degree in Political Science. During her undergrad, she volunteered with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, as an Advocacy and Organizing Intern. It was there that she was first introduced to the political sphere, while organizing volunteer phone banks for the organization. Shortly after graduating, Ashten began working with Senator Bob Kerrey's Senate campaign, as the deputy scheduler. After the election ended in 2012, she then went on to work as Deputy Field Director for the Mayor of Omaha's re-election campaign in 2013. After two campaigns, she began working in the non-profit sector as the Executive Administrator for the NorthStar Foundation in Omaha. While working there, she successfully, planned and executed all special events, and grew the annual fundraiser from 300 - 500 attendees and netted over $200,000 in donations. She also managed, branding, traditional and social media. In 2015, Ashten moved to Sacramento, CA where she worked at SEIU Local 1000, managing travel reservations for over 500 members and union staff, while helping to plan logistics for Member Actions, and meetings across the state. She is a graduate of Omaha's 2015 New Leaders Council Institute, where she was the Fellow's Fundraiser lead, and helped raise $40,000 during the inaugural year, after which, the Omaha Chapter was recognized by the NLC National, for fundraising. Currently, Ashten works as a general consultant for progressive campaigns in Oklahoma. She is the parent of two wonderful fur children, Eleanor and Shiva and is married to Justus Hughes.

Charise Walker, Co-Director                                             


Charise Walker is the CEO and Founder of Oklahoma-based non-profit, Helping Women Win. Helping Women Win began in 2015, as a response to a lack of programs and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) identifying survivors of domestic violence. Charise uses her experience to design and implement programs that create a coordinated, community response for all women and girls affected by violence. When she is not working to provide housing, education, and employment for under served populations, Charise is delivering media and management services for individuals and organizations with Walker & Page Consulting. She is committed to promoting diversity in leadership positions, including political representation. Because of this, Charise continues her work by elevating progressive women candidates running for office.

Chaunte Gilmore, Alumni Chair


Chaunte’ Gilmore is a 36-year-old transplant Oklahoma native from Ft. Worth, Texas. Ms. Gilmore majored in athletic training at Oklahoma State University and is currently is pursuing her masters of business administration at Mid-American Christian University. Professionally Ms. Gilmore is a physical therapy assistant at Valir PACE, a nonprofit organization for the underprivileged geriatric community in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, she active in her church, her sorority, and other community civic organizations. She prides herself on being a servant leader born to uplift and make her community better. Her life motto and how she has chosen to live her life is a quote by Deepak C. "I am here to SERVE. I am here to INSPIRE. I am here to LOVE. I am here to live my TRUTH."

Nikki West, Communications Chair


 Nikki is originally from Dallas, and made the journey across the Red River for college and completed my undergraduate studies in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University and then received my M.B.A. from Oklahoma Christian University. She has over five years of marketing and development experience in the non-profit sector. She is an avid volunteer involved in different leadership capacities within Oklahoma City.  Nikki is currently employed at the University of Oklahoma and work in fundraising. She hopes that her work with NLC will propel the progressive movement forward in Oklahoma and create positive, meaningful change for women and girls in this great state.

Mary Smith, Institute Chair   


Mary Smith is passionate creating continuous improvement within organizations and leadership development with young professionals. Mary currently is the Human Resource Specialist with the Military Engines division of Pratt & Whitney. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations for the HR department while establishing a new Share Services function for the business. Mary has a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus in Human Resources from the University of Central Oklahoma.

Prior to working at Pratt & Whitney, Mary spent five years of her professional career at TechnipFMC, formally known as FMC Technologies. She was able to work in areas such as onboarding, drug testing compliance, employment law, process improvement and business alignment. During her time at FMC Technologies, she was able to strengthen her knowledge in employment law working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Affirmative Action reporting, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and American Disability Act (ADA) compliance and processing. Mary was able to assist in an organizational alignment with four business units to include policy development and procedure placement. She managed and oversaw the local Health and Wellness Council while supporting Corporate Benefits objectives and initiatives. Mary continued on her expertise in HR and received her certification from the Society of Human Resource Management as a Certification Professional (SHRM-CP) in June 2016.

While Mary is passionate about employment law and being a resource in the workplace, her passion and love for people and culture is much deeper. In April 2017, Mary established an event planning business in Oklahoma City called A Pearl Event, LLC. She expresses her servant heart to assist couples and organizations in bring their dreams and goals to reality. A Pearl Event, LLC was established to not only plan and celebrate events throughout Oklahoma, but to bring more love and attention to those with cultural traditions that one may wish to include and showcase on their day.

With her full-time career in HR and operating a small business, Mary ensures to spend time within the community volunteering at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and local church. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, running half marathons and designing. She is the wife of a Texan, Jason Smith, and mother to two fur babies, Lady and Simba.



Sarah Rivin, Finance Chair


Sarah recently started her own political fundraising consulting business, raising funds for female candidates and Democratic organizations. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she has more than a decade of political experience, including in communications, fundraising, and political strategy. Sarah has raised millions of dollars across the country, including in Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma. She received a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from McGill University in Montreal, QC, Canada.

 As Finance Chair on the NLC OK Board, Sarah gets to share her knowledge of fundraising with the next generation of leaders. She's learned that the ability to ask your peers and members of the community to invest in your work is an invaluable skill, and is thrilled to have the opportunity to coach others to raise real dollars.

Bansari Mehta, Mentorship Chair  


Originally from Mumbai, India, Bansari Mehta is a multifaceted healthcare executive with experience in highly-skilled and competitive research, administrative and clinical positions with national and international health organizations. A respiratory therapist, she came to the United States of America to acquire her Master in Health Administration and Policy from the University of Oklahoma where she was conferred the Outstanding Multicultural Student award among seven colleges. She has been instrumental in meeting and exceeding operational goals for projects across varied healthcare administration specialties with strong program development, implementation, and performance improvement background skills.

Ms. Mehta works as a Medical Practice Administrator for Retina Vitreous Center (RVC) in Oklahoma City managing three physicians, five locations and a staff of 25. RVC is the state’s youngest and fastest growing retina practice where she is constantly setting and achieving goals for superior patient care, increased profitability and staff stability. She believes in training her employees to be excellent leaders who will take these leadership skills wherever they go. Ms. Mehta is the youngest professional to have conducted a teaching webinar for the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives on best practice methods. She is also the West South Central Regional Lead for four states; a feat reserved only for seasoned administrators.

Ms. Mehta is active in the community and serves on various nonprofit boards. She is the VP of Membership for United Nations Association-OKC which connects issues confronted by the UN from global health and human rights to the spread of democracy, equitable development and international justice. She is a board member for an organization called Suited for Success which helps women achieve self-sufficiency by providing professional clothing and career development services, at no charge, and that empowers women to find and keep jobs that provide them with economic independence. She also serves on the University of Oklahoma MHA Alumni Advisory Board. Ms. Mehta has served on the board of World Experiences Foundation that fights racism and bigotry through anti-bias education. Ms. Mehta mentors low income, first generation, minority students who are preparing for jobs in the real world- a cause for which she identifies as being an immigrant with similar issues.

In 2017, Ms. Mehta was selected from many global applicants to serve as a Youth Mentor for the United Nations Youth Assembly at UN headquarters, NYC. She helped mentees develop and present social ventures for sustainable development. She is also active with Shot@Life: Childhood Immunizations of the UN Foundation and lobbies in Washington DC.

Ms. Mehta has been awarded Oklahoma’s 30 under 30 award by NextGen. She also received The Business Times Top 20 under 40 award and furthermore the Oklahoma’s 40 under 40 award by The Gazette. She has received a formal citation for professional achievements and community service from the State and Governor of Oklahoma.

Ms. Mehta speaks seven languages and is an active member of Toastmasters International. She is well known for her avocations of adventure sports, archeology, astronomy and air flight.


James Connaughton, Secretary  


James Rowe Connaughton was born in Oklahoma City in 1979 to devoted parents Cynthia Louise Rowe Connaughton (Wilmington, Delaware native) and James Anthony Connaughton (Fort Smith, Arkansas native). James Rowe Connaughton worked in his youth for the Connaughton Landscaping company, a small business ran by his father and mother. Connaughton Landscaping worked under contract for the Veterans Administration in the lawn management of repossessed houses across the State of Oklahoma. This experience informed James the younger of the value of and need for hard work and cooperation among team members. James learned about leadership by watching his parents train and work with various lawn care professionals and clients throughout the years. James became further interested in business and employee management watching his father's career develop in the airline industry at Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines developed and blossomed as an employee-centric organization during the industry deregulation.After studying small business in action, James attended the University of Oklahoma to expand his world perspective and knowledge of the opportunities that exist in the art community of Oklahoma. James was offered a position upon graduation at the Norman, Oklahoma bronze foundry, the Crucible. At the Crucible, James was taught bronze statue production by national industry leaders and given the opportunity to work on the Oklahoma Land Run monument. During this time, James was blessed with the birth of his first son and found employment as a manager at Norman's favorite classic car themed restaurant, the Service Station. James managed the kitchen at the Service Station for seven years. He then became inspired to start his own medical courier service after a family member was diagnosed with cancer. This was the beginning of James's current company, Courier Wizard LLC. During the seven years James grew his courier service he realized the gap in his business knowledge was too great to successfully expand the company to employ the number of Oklahomans he had originally hoped. Seeking more knowledge and mentorship, James enrolled in the MBA program at Mid-America Christian University.


Chantel Hartman, Selections Chair


Chantel earned a master's degree in public administration, with a concentration in public health administration, from Troy University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Auburn University – Montgomery. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the American Public Health Association, and the Association of Certified Nonprofit Professionals.She currently serves as the Tobacco Use Prevention Program Coordinator for the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s (OSDH) Center for the Advancement of Wellness in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her areas of interest include improving health literacy in low-income communities and communities of color, addressing health equity issues, and learning how to advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

 Ceciley Thomason-Murphy  

Member At-Large

 Ceciley started out life in a rural Northeastern Oklahoma unincorporated area near West Siloam Springs. She went to Kansas High School before starting undergrad at the University of Tulsa, but ended it at Rogers State University with a Bachelors of Science in Sport Management and a minor in Business Administration. In 2014, she was hired to be the Tulsa Field Organizer for Joe Dorman For Oklahoma Governor, ending the campaign as Regional Field Director for Eastern Oklahoma. In late 2015, she accepted a position with Sally’s List as their Program Manager. When her husband got a job offer at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, she left Sally’s List, but continued work in local politics and nonprofits. In 2017, her friend Kendra Horn asked her to serve as the Chairperson for the Kendra Horn For Congress steering committee. Ceciley launched her own consulting business, Moseley Prairie Consulting in April 2018. Currently I serve on the boards of O.I.L. Foundation, the New Leaders Council, Young Democrats of America-Native American Caucus, as well as serving my tribe on the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board. I live in chaotic bliss with my husband Jake and our three furbabies Dakota, Mysti, and Ella. I enjoy mild to moderate physical activity, traveling, failing at video games, anything with cheese and frequents Netflix’s “Movies with a Strong Female Lead” recommendation que.