VCNG Leadership

Current VCNG leadership for the term 1 July 2015 through 30 June 2017:

  • Chair: Debra Howell
  • Vice-Chair: Edgar J. Johnson
  • Executive Liaison: Mary George Opperman
  • Historian: Open
  • Members-At-Large: Emily Franco, Erich Diehl, Lisa Wible, Rick Roper
  • Community Liaison: Randi Rainbow
  • Public Relations : Cassandre Pierre Joseph
  • Community Service (Team RWB): Jase Baese


Debra Howell is the Director of Information Technology for Infrastructure Properties and Planning at Cornell University. She has over 18 years of experience providing strategic direction in all areas of information technology. She received her Master of Industrial and Labor Relations degree from Cornell University in 2006 and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). Debra served in the U.S. Army Reserves as a medic from 1993—2001 and is now an Office of the Secretary of Defense certified Master Trainer and spends her free time volunteering as an instructor for Army Reserves Family Programs and the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. She serves as Treasurer on the Cornell Club of Ithaca Board, the Vice Chair of Operations on the Board of the Friends of the Ithaca Youth Bureau, and is the Information Officer on the Board of the NYS ACE Women’s Network.


Edgar J. Johnson is currently a Staffing Consultant with Cornell’s Office of Workforce Recruitment and Retention, Division of Human Resources. His primary focus is proactive recruitment providing consulting services and assisting Cornell’s human resources community and hiring departments in the strategic development of talent pipelining with emphasis on increasing workforce compositional diversity to include military veterans. As a veteran of the US Army and Army Reserve, Edgar’s professional career in human resources span several sectors to include the military, healthcare, higher education, non-profit, and county and state government agencies. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial Relations from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Le Moyne College in Syracuse.

Executive Liaison:

Mary George Opperman serves as Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Cornell University, which employs approximately twenty thousand staff and faculty across several campuses, including Ithaca and Cornell Tech in New York City. Prior to joining Cornell in 1996, Mary spent 13 years in the human resource function at Harvard University.
At Cornell, Mary’s portfolio includes oversight of the Division of Human Resources, the Office of Diversity and Compliance, Title IX Compliance, and the Center for Regional Economic Advancement. She is co-chair of Commencement and served as co-chair of the Charter Day Operations committee for Cornell’s Sesquicentennial in April of 2015. Mary is a fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources. She is certified by the Society for Human Resource Management as a senior professional in human resources and is a graduate of SUNY Oneonta.
Cornell has received numerous workplace awards as a result of exceptional human resource programs under Mary’s leadership. These include being named AARP’s top U.S. employer for workers 50 and older two years in a row — making Cornell the first employer to receive this top billing more than once. Cornell has also been listed as a best employer for working mothers, prospective and adoptive parents, IT professionals, veterans, and women executives. In March 2015, Mary was selected by the editors of Human Resource Executive magazine as one of the 15 most influential women leaders in human resources.
Mary has also overseen development of Cornell’s innovative Center for Regional Economic Advancement, and partnered with Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College to found Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, a New York State-funded new business incubator in downtown Ithaca.
Mary describes her mission at Cornell as a commitment to promoting a values-driven culture that focuses on streamlined processes so that the university is socially, economically and environmentally responsive. She is particularly interested in creating meaningful growth opportunities for top talent, and advancing succession and development plans which address the retirement of key faculty and staff, while attracting and engaging employees who energize the university with new perspectives and expectations.
Mary is an active supporter of her community, and has served on numerous boards of local and national organizations, including the TIAA-CREF Advisory Council, Challenge Industries, the Tompkins Cortland Community College Foundation, the Community Dispute Resolution Center, the Workforce Investment Board, the Women’s Opportunity Center, and the United Way of Tompkins County. She served as the AAU-HR Institute Inaugural Board Chair. She is currently active on the boards of Kendal at Ithaca, Foodnet, Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, Tompkins County Area Development, the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, the Legacy Foundation of Tompkins County, the Paleontological Research Institution, as well as a member of the Governing Body for the New York HR Leadership Summit.


Members at Large:

Following her graduation from Cornell University in 1992, Emily Franco was commissioned in the Army Quartermaster Corps and, after her Officer Basic Course, became Rigger Certified. She served tours in Korea and Germany, coordinating the logistics of troop movement and managing supply and maintenance warehouses. She left the Army as a Captain and returned to the US to work with Deloitte and Touche, LLC, consulting on corporate relocations and economic development projects. In 1998, Emily returned to her hometown of Ithaca to become the General Manager of The Rose Inn, a luxurious country inn with 23 guest rooms and a restaurant. Then she was drawn back to Cornell and the logistics field as the Purchasing Manager for Campus Life. In addition to routine purchasing requirements, she managed procurement of furnishings for the new residence halls of the Cornell West Campus Initiative and the opening requirements for five new Cornell Dining units. In her current role she manages the relationship between The Culinary Institute of America and the School of Hotel Administration and promotes their joint collaborative degree program.

Captain Erich “Buzz” Diehl serves as Cornell University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Professor of Naval Science and Commanding Officer.  A native of Springfield, Virginia, he received his commission from the NROTC program at Virginia Military Institute in 1988.
Prior to joining Cornell Faculty, he was the Commander, Task Force SEVEN FIVE (CTF 75) / Commander, Naval Expeditionary Forces Command Pacific in Guam in charge of all Navy expeditionary forces operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.  At Cornell, CAPT Diehl’s portfolio includes Assistant Sprint Football Coach and Big Red Leadership Institute.
An experienced commander, his operational sea duty assignments include: USS CHARLES F. ADAMS (DDG 2), USS DALE (CG 19), USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66), USS CAPE ST. GEORGE (CG 71), USS MCFAUL (DDG 74), and  DESTROYER SQUADRON TWO EIGHT (CDS 28).  CAPT Diehl’s operational command tours include Mobile Security Squadron SEVEN home ported in Guam, Mobile Security Squadron TWELVE / Commander Task Group 56.7 forward deployed to CENTCOM, and Commander, Coastal Riverine Group TWO (CRG 2) in Norfolk, Virginia, and Commander, Task Force SEVEN FIVE (CTF 75) / Commander, Naval Expeditionary Forces Command Pacific in Guam.  His shore assignments include: U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) assigned to Strategy and Joint Requirements Directorate (J8), Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) assigned to Fleet Requirements (N8) as SEA SHIELD and SEA SHAPING requirements officer, and Director of Fleet Operations for Commander, U.S. SECOND FLEET.
CAPT Diehl is a 1994 graduate of the Naval Post Graduate School where he received a Master of Science degree in Management.  He received Joint Professional Military Education (JPME I) from the Air Command and Staff College, and JPME II from Joint Forces Staff College.
His awards include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various unit, campaign and service awards.  Diehl was presented the Black Beret for leadership by the Game Wardens Association and designated as an honorary Chief Petty Officer by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy on August 8, 2014.

Lisa Wible

Rick Roper served in the US Marine Corps from 1985-1994, as a Basic Field Electrician/Generator Mechanic. He met his wife, Jinhee, while serving at the American Embassy in Seoul South Korea, and received an Honorable Discharge after nine years of service, in March of 1994. His awards include the Navy Achievement Medal, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Somalia, Operation Restore Hope. After discharge, he received an Associate’s Degree from Herkimer Community College, and in 2006 he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Empire State College. Rick has been employed with Cornell University for thirteen years, and is currently the Training Program Manager & Safety Manager for the Facilities Management Training Group (FMTG), within Infrastructure, Properties & Planning (IPP).

Community Liaison:

Randi Rainbow has been the Director of Information Technology for the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University since 2006.  His focus is on the development and deployment of technology services supporting the unique nature of the human-involved physical and social sciences of the college and their instructional, research and outreach missions.  Prior to this, he was an Information Technology Area Manager in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, also at Cornell University.  His military service spans a decade, from 1986-1996, starting with Army National Guard service as a DAAS3 computer systems operator, followed by two active duty Air Force tours as an Applications Developer/Systems Administrator with the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) and Joint Analysis Center (JAC) in EUCOM.  He served one combat tour in Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of the NATO mission and IFOR/SFOR.  He followed military service with contract support for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and Army Special Operations Command (ASOC) prior to moving to New York and Cornell.  Randi is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), has an associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force in Information Systems and is working towards a bachelor’s degree in Science, Technology and Engineering from SUNY Empire.

Public Relations:

Cassandre Pierre Joseph is the Director for Diversity Engagement and Career/Life Programs at Cornell University. She works on the university’s diversity retention initiatives; in particular, the official university affinity/resource groups for faculty and staff, career/life programming, and child care center operations. She has a passion for supporting the vibrancy of diverse communities hence her interest in supporting the Cornell veteran community. She created and works very closely with the Veterans Colleague Network Group to advance initiatives across the university. Cassandre previously held positions as the Program Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at Cornell University; Program Manager for Work/Life Operations at Cornell University; and Work/Life Consultant at Workplace Options for the UAW-Ford Family Consultation & Referral Service in the metropolitan area of Detroit, MI. Cassandre received her Bachelor of Science in Family Community Services with a focus on Early Childhood Development from Michigan State University. She obtained her Master’s in Training & Development with a focus on Organizational Development from Oakland University. She is the advisor to the Cornell University Haitian Students Association and the Cornell University African Dance Repertoire. She was awarded the Outstanding Advisor Award in 2010 and again in 2012 for her exceptional commitment to the students.

Community Service (Team RWB):

Jase Baese was born and raised in New Braunfels, Texas. After graduating from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1994 with a B.S. in Business Administration, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Ordnance Branch of the U.S. Army. Jase served a three year assignment in Germany, including six months in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of IFOR/SFOR. Jase has worked at Cornell University and lived in Lansing since 1998, he is currently an Information Technology professional in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. Jase has been the captain for the Ithaca Team Red, White and Blue community since February of 2014 and encourages anyone interested in health and fitness, no matter what level you are at, to connect with Team RWB.