Jacob James, Managing Director

Jacob A. James is Managing Director of the Waitt Foundation, where he creates and manages novel approaches to philanthropy and public-private partnerships around the world.  His varied areas of expertise include public affairs, philanthropy, ocean conservation, science and exploration, organizational development, sustainable economic development, and civic engagement. Joining the enterprise through Avalon Capital Group in 2009 as policy advisor and executive assistant to Waitt Foundation Chairman and Gateway, Inc. co-founder Mr. Ted Waitt, Jacob has served as the primary public liaison for Mr. Waitt’s global companies, staff, public policy, and philanthropic activities since that time.  Jacob manages a portfolio of relationships including over two dozen governments, and major non-profit and multi-lateral institutions ranging from the National Geographic Society and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, to the international work of the Clinton Foundation and the UN High Commission on Small Island Developing Sates (SIDS). Today, Jacob is a member of the Waitt Foundation & Institute Boards of Directors, having stewarded the business and strategic planning processes for the successful 2013 re-launch of the Waitt Institute. Drawing from his extensive public affairs experience in the U.S. and abroad, Jacob’s approach to philanthropy and public policy is rooted in pragmatism and results.  Previously, Jacob staffed Congresswoman Susan A. Davis (2006-2009), working both in-district in his home town of San Diego, and in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill.  Prior to the Congresswoman, he worked for the full service public affairs firm The San Diego Group, and volunteered on the front lines of several political campaigns. Jacob holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Point Loma Nazarene University and a master’s degree in government from Georgetown University.  He has also earned a certificate in organizational development from the Center on Creative Leadership, and a certificate in fundraising management from the Lilly School of Philanthropy at the Indiana University–Purdue University. On behalf of the Waitt Foundation, Jacob serves on the boards of The San Diego Foundation and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust.  In Winter 2015, Jacob was named Acting Managing Director of the Waitt Institute, resuming the role of Senior Advisor in 2017.  In this role, he focuses on Government Relations and Diplomacy.


Cherie Prothro, Director of Programs and Operations

Cherie Prothro joined the Waitt Foundation in 2004 and currently serves as the Director of Programs and Operations responsible for identifying appropriate programs, projects and organizations for funding and matches them with the interests of the foundation’s Board of Directors. She transitioned to the Waitt Foundation from Gateway, Inc. when co-founder, Mr. Ted Waitt, made the decision to focus full-time on his philanthropic work and activities. Cherie manages a diverse global portfolio with a specific regional focus on Latin America and Africa.  In addition to portfolio oversight, she also manages the day-to-day operations, reporting, and management of the foundation’s grants department. Cherie holds a bachelor’s degree in business operations, with a minor in accounting. Cherie is an avid scuba diver and enjoys any outdoor activity that puts her on or in the ocean.



Mark Dickey, General Counsel

Mark Dickey joined Avalon Capital Group, Inc., the Waitt Foundation, and Waitt Institute as General counsel in the fall of 2012.  Mr. Dickey has more than 20 years of legal experience, including 14 years in private practice. Before joining, Mr. Dickey served as General Counsel of Phoenix Solar US, a designer and builder of large-scale PV solar projects, and as Senior Vice President and General Counsel of VeraSun Energy, a leading producer and marketer of ethanol and distillers grains. Previously, he was Vice President, Assistant General Counsel and Assistant Secretary at Gateway, Inc., a world-wide leader in the PC industry. Prior to Gateway, Inc., Mr. Dickey was in private practice in North Carolina and Oklahoma, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, public offerings, private placements of equity and debt securities, tax planning, financing and commercial transactions, licensing and joint ventures. Mr. Dickey earned his law degree from the University of Oklahoma, his Masters of Business Administration from Wake Forest University, and his bachelor’s degree in finance from Oklahoma State University.


Michael Dessner, Director of Special Projects

Michael Dessner graduated High school in Decorah, Iowa, attended the University of Iowa and served in the United States Army from 1984-1988. He joined the Waitt Institute in 2005 after working for 12 years in all aspects of Alaskan commercial fisheries, primarily in the deep water ports of Homer and Seward, AK. He has participated in Waitt Expeditions in Panama, Turks and Caicos, Mexico, the South Pacific, North Atlantic and in the Arctic. He is a SCUBA diver, sonar analyst, and a submersible pilot.


Celina Laframboise, Office Administrator and Scheduler

Celina Laframboise was born and raised in San Diego, California. She joined the Waitt Institute in 2015 as an intern assisting in data entry, accounts reconciliation, and working with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. In 2016 she was hired on full time by the Waitt Foundation to coordinate and assist in all aspects administrative and scheduling. Celina received a bachelor of science from The Ohio State University in 2015 with a degree in Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability with a specialization in business and sustainability. While at Ohio State University Celina became a volunteer manager with the Zero Waste Initiative at Ohio Stadium; worked with Hexion to develop their 2014 sustainability report, maturity map, and materiality matrix; and she worked with the City of Columbus and the Mayor’s Green Team in calculating the reduction of greenhouse gases from an increase in public transportation for Columbus’ Climate Action Plan. Celina is an avid hiker and loves to snorkel in the La Jolla Cove. Twitter_logo_blueinsta

Joe Lepore, Dive Safety Officer

Joe Lepore, Special Projects Coordinator and Dive Safety Officer

Joseph Lepore serves as the Waitt Institute’s Dive Safety Officer and oversees all deck operations during missions of discovery. He grew up in Ronkonkoma, New York where he joined the US Navy in 1986. He served his country with distinction and honor for twenty years before retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver in 2006, after which he joined the Waitt Institute team. He completed the Navy’s schools for 2nd Class Diver and 1st Class Diver, as well as the schools for Salvage, Construction and Demolition Diving. During his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, 6 Meritorious Service Medals, 4 Navy Commendation Medals and 4 Navy Achievement Medals. In his spare time he enjoys boating, fishing and diving. He currently resides in North Carolina with his wife and two children.