Our Team

Our Team

Donald J. Strankowski

Donald J. Strankowski

Founder and President, Executive Career Coach

Donald J. Strankowski is the founder and President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC, a career training and professional development firm for businesses, professionals, and executives. Since 2001, Ascend has helped hundreds of people land a better job, improve their level of performance, change careers, or start their own business.

Career Coaches

Bess Bunyak

Bess Bunyak

Career Coach

With over 15 years’ experience as a Career Coach, Bess has helped hundreds of job seekers find their passion and purpose.

Joan Runnheim Olson

Joan Runnheim Olson

Career Coach

Joan has been a career transition and coaching expert for more than 20 years. Over that time, she has been…

Linda Strauss

Linda Strauss

Career and Executive Coach

Linda is a Human Resources, Career and Executive Coaching professional with over 25 years of experience.

Linda Strauss

Career and Executive Coach

Linda is a Human Resources, Career and Executive Coaching professional with over 25 years of experience. She excels in assisting her coaching clients in devising an ideal career direction and then assembling a strategic and tactical action plan for getting results. In addition, Linda delivers soft skills training programs, such as interpersonal and communications skills, and emotional intelligence training, designed to enhance success and engagement in work and life.

Linda has been an esteemed and highly successful Career and Executive Coach for Ascend since 2017, assisting clients both in their job search and on-the-job matters such skills building, career progression, conflict resolution, and overall career advisement. Linda holds a B.A. from Florida International University and two Senior HR certifications, SHRM-SCP and SPHR, and is a Certified Mediator of Workplace Conflict. In addition, she is a certified trainer of Becoming the Totally Responsible Person (TRP®), and TRP® Managing Change and is also certified in Mental Health First Aid. Since 2012, she has been an instructor for University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management.

Bess Bunyak

Career Coach

With over 15 years’ experience as a Career Coach, Bess has helped hundreds of job seekers find their passion and purpose. Bess holds a B.A. in Communications from the University of Northern Colorado and has earned the credentials of GCDF (Global Career Development Facilitator). She is well-versed in the Myers-Briggs and Strong Interest Inventory assessments and is DISC Certified. She has been an esteemed Career Coach with Ascend Career and Life Strategies LLC since 2019, garnering solid results for both B2C and B2B coaching clients.

Bess previously worked in the Office of Economic Development/ Division of Workforce Development and has also acted as a College Graduate Advisor and independent business owner. Combined, Bess’ public sector, private sector, and entrepreneurial experience provide real advantages for her clients by offering them a real-world perspective and actionable ideas during her coaching sessions.

Through her training and certifications, she has developed the use of best practices, various assessment tools, and career development models, equipping each one of Bess’ coaching clients with the knowledge, tools, and skills to embark on their professional journey. For Bess, it’s not only about helping people find a great job, but also helping them find a great career.

Joan Runnheim Olson

Career Coach

Joan has been a career transition and coaching expert for more than 20 years. Over that time, she has been dedicated to her life’s work and passion of helping individuals gain clarity, confidence, focus, and momentum to achieve career success. Through her energy, optimism, and expert career acumen, she inspires others to set and achieve their desired career goals and provides them with a linear, real-world action plan for getting results. Joan has been with Ascend Career and Life Strategies since 2018 and has assisted many individuals in reaching their career aspirations. She has garnered outstanding feedback and reviews from Ascend clients and has established herself as a solid contributor to the Ascend team.

Joan has served as a career coach for two leading job boards, CareerBuilder and Monster, helping thousands of people successfully navigate their job search and manage their careers. Her professional credentials include a Master of Science degree in Vocational Rehabilitation from the University of Wisconsin – Stout and several (seven) coaching distinctions and certifications.

Richard (Dick) E. Augspurger, Ph.D.

Richard (Dick) E. Augspurger

Career and Executive Coach

Richard is a Business, Career, and Executive Coach with more than 20 years’ experience in talent management.

Eric C. Daly

Eric C. Daly

Executive Coach

Eric’s expertise includes training in the areas of diversity, supervision, management, cross-cultural communication…

Tracy Paukstys

Tracy Paukstys

Career and Executive Coach

Tracy is a seasoned executive, leadership and career coach, and experienced speaker and facilitator.

Tracy Paukstys

Career and Executive Coach

Tracy is a seasoned executive, leadership and career coach, and experienced speaker and facilitator. Tracy was the Vice President of Consumer Insights and Analytics at Yankee Candle ($1B) where she created and led a centralized team to deliver actionable insights to multiple business partner functions.

Tracy specializes in working with motivated professionals and executives helping them light their path to a thriving career. In her work she helps them in two key areas: (1) developing leadership and emotional intelligence abilities enabling them to lead themselves, their teams and their organizations to greater levels of performance (2) determining the best possible career path forward and successfully making that transition a reality.

Tracy holds a Bachelors in Marketing from University of Illinois, Chicago and has completed MBA coursework at Lake Forest Graduate School of Business. Her certifications include Energy Leadership™ Index Assessment, Leadership Circle Profile™, and EQi 2.0.

Eric C. Daly

Executive Coach

Eric holds a M. A. from the University of Denver in International and Intercultural Communication and B.A. in International Studies from The American University in Washington D.C. and has been involved in the field of training, consulting, and coaching for more than 25 years. Eric has worked as a staff member in the Organizational Development and Learning Department of the Employers Council, Team Leader in The National Civilian Community Corps, as a Trainer/Facilitator in the international organization Up with People, and conducted cross-cultural communication training for The Business Council for International Understanding.

He is a Certified Integral Coach with New Ventures West and has completed Newfield Network’s Coaches Foundations Course, Radical Collaboration Certification, The Human Element, People House Facilitator Training, 4 Gateways Coaches Training, 40-hour Mediation Training, and Coaches Training Institute. Eric is certified to administer the best-in-class PROFILOR® 360 Feedback assessment tool used in gathering feedback from key stakeholders on the competencies and behaviors critical for success in leadership and functional roles.

Eric’s expertise includes training in the areas of diversity, supervision, management, cross-cultural communication, leadership, conflict management, teamwork, team leadership, customer relations, listening skills, stress management, and presentation skills. He also works one on one in with business owners, executives, directors, managers and supervisors as a coach to enhance, leadership and interpersonal communication skills. He also mediates, and facilitates groups to increase workplace effectiveness.

Richard (Dick) E. Augspurger, Ph.D.

Career and Executive Coach

Richard is a Business, Career, and Executive Coach with more than 20 years’ experience in talent management. He is an intuitively-oriented thought-leader in the field of talent enhancement who has assisted more than 5500 professionals from a variety of industries.

As a valued member of the Ascend coaching team since 2016, Richard has an extensive background in executive assessment, career transition, talent management, executive coaching, career management, life planning, conflict resolution and organizational development. Throughout his distinguished and admirable career, he has worked with professionals in almost every major industry and levels of their profession, from recent graduates to C-level associates.

Richard holds a Ph. D., focusing in Psychology, Anthropology, Psychometrics and Religion, from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Science in Vocational Education from Ohio State University. He has completed five intensive post-doctoral certifications in Executive Coaching, Organizational Assessment and Design, Coaching High Performance Teams, Change Management and Faculty Development.

Briggs B. Cherry

Briggs B. Cherry

Senior Search Consultant

Briggs is a recruitment professional with over 15 years of agency and corporate experience placing permanent hires in…

Marcy Fletchall

Marcy Fletchall

Senior Career Coach

Marcy is an award-winning Human Resources professional with over 20 years of industry experience. She currently shares her…

Susie Nilevsky

Susie Nilevsky

Career Coach

With over 10 years of HR experience from small to large size organizations, Susie has a deep understanding of…

Briggs B. Cherry

Senior Search Consultant

Briggs is a recruitment professional with over 15 years of agency and corporate experience placing permanent hires in Construction, Engineering and Telecommunications among other fields. He has a proven track record of sourcing, qualifying and placing professionals at every level. He has interviewed thousands of prospective candidates while honing skills that enable him to find the right fit for each role. His passion lies in partnering with hiring managers to place long term employees.

Briggs has extensive experience partnering with hiring managers for small organizations and Fortune 500 companies nationwide. His recruitment skills include qualifying, screening, online sourcing, community outreach, job fairs, writing job offers and salary negotiations. Enthusiasm, a high level of business expertise, and excellent listening skills allow him to forge long term mutually beneficial business relationships. He has served on Boards of Directors and as an active member of a number of Denver-area business organizations.

Briggs studied English Literature at Miami University of Ohio and received his B.A. in Advertising from Michigan State University. He is a published book editor, blogger and content writer. He enjoys volunteering for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Denver Film Society, Denver Public Library and Beaver Creek Ski resort.

Susie Nilevsky

Career Coach

With over 10 years of HR experience from small to large size organizations, Susie has a deep understanding of all parts of the career cycle. Combined with her professional training in coaching, she is energized to support individuals to reach their career goals. Susie is passionate in helping people understand that anything is possible. Susie uses a framework with various tools to enable her clients to define a path forward that motivates and inspires individuals.

Susie holds a B.A. from the University of McMaster, Canada. She is a certified professional coach (Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching), certified ELI-Master practitioner. Susie is a member of the International Coaching Federation organization as she is committed and dedicated to providing excellence in coaching.

When she is not coaching, you can find her working out, cooking, travelling, and spending time with family and friends.

Marcy Fletchall

Senior Career Coach

Marcy is an award-winning Human Resources professional with over 20 years of industry experience. She currently shares her extensive knowledge as a Senior Career Coach for Ascend Career and Life Strategies.

Marcy’s personal experiences may offer her clients different perspectives on the world of work. Her portfolio includes outplacement management, job search strategies, executive and career coaching, career planning and transition coaching, training and development, and psychometric assessment.

Marcy served in senior executive and director roles in both the United States and abroad, where she was responsible for career and executive leadership development and human resources strategic advisor for a government entity in the Middle East.

Marcy holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration, certifications in HR and training from the Institute for Human Resources Management Education, and a Level 1 and 2 Certification from the British Psychological Society as a psychometric testing user in talent management.

She is known as a coach and mentor who cares, listens, and establishes a motivational climate. “When the hardest job you will ever have is finding a job,” Marcy makes it as easy as possible.

Lan Ta

Lan Ta

Career Coach

Lan has spent the past decade guiding individuals in their pursuit of a meaningful and rewarding career.

Lan Ta

Career Coach

Lan has spent the past decade guiding individuals in their pursuit of a meaningful and rewarding career. As a Career Coach, Lan has facilitated workshops and provided customized one-on-one career coaching to hundreds of individuals ranging from students to those currently in the workforce or seeking a career change. Through individualized coaching sessions, Lan assists clients by designing strategic action plans tailored to their specific needs.

Lan started her career in consulting and corporate strategy spending years working with internal and external corporate clients only to realize her passion was working with individuals to find fulfilling work that ultimately brings them happiness. She is able to leverage her own work experience to help clients secure opportunities at Fortune 500 companies, consulting firms, and startup ventures.

Lan received her B.S.B. from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and her M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson School of Management. She has been with Ascend Career and Life Strategies since 2018 and has assisted many individuals in reaching their career goals. She has also partnered with the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, and Macalester College to advise undergraduate and graduate students as they embark on their career journey.

Resume Specialists

Beth Sager

Beth Sager

Resume Specialist

A self-proclaimed “grammar nerd,” Beth has been writing resumes professionally since 2011 and joined…

Valarie Prince

Valarie Prince

Resume Specialist

Valarie utilizes her high-level resume and writing skills with clients specifically to rebuild their career resumes…

Frances Adragna-Hayes

Frances Adragna-Hayes

Resume Specialist

Frances is an HR executive and consultant that brings a tactical and vision-driven approach to her approach on…

Beth Sager

Resume Specialist

A self-proclaimed “grammar nerd,” Beth has been writing resumes professionally since 2011 and joined the Ascend Career and Life Strategies team in 2013 – recently completing her 335th resume project for Ascend. Beth has garnered many 5-star reviews on the quality and impact of her resume work and employs a very personable, friendly, and comprehensive approach when communicating with her clients.

Over the years, she has generated resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, and supporting documents for almost every industry and experience level, from the C-suite to entry level candidates. By asking the right questions, Beth helps her clients to identify the unique qualities and contributions that make them great at what they do, then distills the information into the most valuable aspects for hiring managers. Beth holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Music Education.

Valarie Prince

Resume Specialist

Valarie utilizes her high-level resume and writing skills with clients specifically to rebuild their career resumes to reflect targeted experience, unique skills, and transferable marketability in an ever-changing employment arena. She holds the two highly distinguished credentials: Certified Professional Resume Writer—CPRW and Magnetize Your Federal Resume—MYFR Certified Writer.

A member of the Ascend resume team since 2019, Valarie has developed a reputation of thoroughness, impact, and impeccably written client documents that play a key role in them landing a new position and/or career. She has demonstrated the willingness to go up-and-above in every instance – exceeding client expectations and always being available to answer questions and offer advisement.

Valarie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Script Writing from Northern Illinois University and a Master’s of Education from American InterContinental University.

Frances Adragna-Hayes

Resume Specialist

Frances is an HR executive and consultant that brings a tactical and vision-driven approach to her approach on developing winning resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles that generate solid results for her clients. She has extensive HR experience that spans multiple industries including government contracting, retail, manufacturing, Consumer Packaged Goods, IT, start-ups, and staffing.

Joining the Ascend resume team back in 2019, Frances uses strong business acumen, attention to detail, and current high-impact resume techniques to consistently drive results through the design of documents for clients of various backgrounds, industries, and career experience levels. She employs a very personable, relaxed, and friendly style in communicating with her clients and is a superstar in meeting tight deadlines and being available to consult with today’s busy professionals.

Frances holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Capella University and two professional HR certifications: Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). She is also a national member of the Society for Human Resources Management. Frances spends time giving back to the community by serving as a volunteer HR consultant for small business owners through Small Business Development (SBD).

Melissa Kelley

Melissa Kelley

Resume Specialist

Melissa is a TORI-nominated master resume specialist, writer, and career coach who offers more than 10 years…

Tessa Barlow

Tessa Barlow

Resume Specialist

As a willing and eager learner, Tessa graduated from the Writing Excellence program offered through the…

Pam Farone

Pam Farone

Resume Specialist

Pam Farone is a seasoned Career Coach with over 20 years of experience in human resources, staffing, coaching, and…

Melissa Kelley, CPRW

Resume Specialist

Melissa is a TORI-nominated master resume specialist, writer, and career coach who offers more than 10 years of successful resume and LinkedIn development on behalf of U.S. and international clients. She enjoys working with clients at all career levels—from students to C-suite executives—and has written successful resumes for a wide variety of job titles and industries. She particularly specializes in helping career-change, return-to-work, military, veteran, healthcare, and first responder clients.

Melissa also has unique expertise in federal, military, and military-to-civilian transition resumes, as well as curriculum vitae (CV).

Melissa’s own career background includes education, customer support, purchasing, automotive, project/program management, editing, writing, and entrepreneurship. She holds a B.A. in Psychology, English and Education from Alma College.

Tessa Barlow

Resume Specialist

A member of a resume-writing family, it’s no wonder that Tessa Barlow also “fell into the business.”

As a willing and eager learner, Tessa graduated from the Writing Excellence program offered through the National Resume Writers’ Association (NRWA). Under this rigorous program, Tessa gained extensive knowledge in the art of resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters.

An active member of the NRWA, Tessa served on several committees prior to being elected to the NRWA Board of Directors as a Director of Member Support (DOMS). She serves on the front lines, advocating for the value of the resume-writing profession by providing members with responses to inquiries, promoting career resources, and supporting future-focused initiatives.

A Texas native and California transplant, Tessa now lives in South Dakota with her husband, two children, and her brand-new bernedoodle puppy. When she is not writing, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her large extended family.

Pam Farone

Resume Specialist

Pam Farone is a seasoned Career Coach with over 20 years of experience in human resources, staffing, coaching, and creating selection systems for organizations. This extensive background has equipped her to guide professionals in discovering their ideal career path and landing their dream jobs.

As a graduate of Corporate Coach University, an ICF-certified program, Pam has been dedicated to career coaching for the past 16 years. She also holds a master’s degree (M.A.) in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, which provides her with a deep understanding of the science behind matching an individual’s personality with the right work and navigating the hiring process effectively. Pam is certified in resume writing (CPRW), interview skills training, and the Myers-Briggs and Indigo Assessments, enabling her to offer a comprehensive approach to career development.

With a keen eye for identifying strengths and matching them to job opportunities, Pam works closely with her clients to create personalized strategies that result in the attainment of their career goals and aspirations.

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

Resume Specialist

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish has written thousands of resumes for clients since 2008. Dr. Heather is a Certified…

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

Resume Specialist

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish has written thousands of resumes for clients since 2008. Dr. Heather is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and is also a Nationally Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE). Over the last 15+ years, she has worked with diverse clients throughout the United States and beyond.

She LOVES giving people confidence in themselves during the job search and enjoys finding the right words to describe their work history and experiences. Whether this is through a written resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile, she is always focused on the client objective and future career goals.

In addition to her membership in the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Dr. Heather is a member of the National Resume Writers’ Association and currently serves on the Board of Directors for that organization. Furthermore, Dr. Heather is a Teaching Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and currently teaches Business Writing and Business Presentations to undergraduate students.

Dr. Heather has a BBA in Management from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, an MBA from Lakeland University, and a Ph.D. in Organization and Management from Capella University.