CureSearch is based in Bethesda, Maryland and has virtual staff located across the United States. We also benefit from the incredible experience and expertise of the volunteers who serve on our Board of Directors, Scientific Advisory Council, and Industry Advisory Council.
Learn more about the leadership team below, or visit curesearch.org/Employment to learn how you can join our team.
Laura S. Thrall
President and CEO
Laura S. Thrall began her role as President and CEO of CureSearch for Children’s Cancer in September, 2012. Since that time, CureSearch has been transformed from its prior role as the largest Federal grantee in childhood cancer, to a privately funded foundation advancing the most innovative cancer research, supporting clinical trials across the country, and providing resources and education to all those impacted by childhood cancer.
Prior to coming to CureSearch, Thrall was President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. There, she lead the region’s largest non-governmental funder of health and human services and focused on improving the organization’s fundraising strategies, increasing year-over-year earned revenue for the first time in two decades. She spearheaded the development and launch of Live United 20/20, United Way’s decade long strategy to serve people in Metro Chicago’s neediest communities.
Dedicated to advancing the broad interests of the health and human services sector, Thrall served as an appointed member on Governor Quinn’s Human Services Commission, chaired the Chicago Alliance for Collaborative Effort (“CACE”), and led the Donor’s Forum Public/Nonprofit Partnership Initiative Policy Forum. Thrall was a founding member of Illinois Partners for Human Services and served as an appointed member of the City of Chicago’s Volunteerism Advisory Board.
Ms. Thrall joined United Way in 2009 after serving as CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, a human service agency with 160 employees serving over 130,000 people annually through economic empowerment programs, early childhood and rape crisis services. As CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, she led its transformation, developing the concept for the “Model YWCA,” opening the first of three new centers, launching its first capital campaign in 40 years and creating an infrastructure for sustained legislative advocacy.
Prior to joining the YWCA, Thrall was a division director of Campbell & Company, a leading national consulting firm specializing in providing counsel to large nonprofits. There she worked with clients such as the University of Notre Dame, National PTA in Chicago, National Children’s Museum, and Children’s National Medical Center, both in Washington, D.C., among others. Before that she served as senior director at Los Angeles-based Starlight Children’s Foundation International.
Passionate about advancing healthcare through the provision of innovative medical care, Thrall was a three-term appointed member of the Visiting Committee for the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Most recently she was selected to serve on the Advisory Council for Northwestern University Medical Center’s Cerebrovascular Institute.
Laura holds a Master’s degree with distinction in Public Service Management from DePaul University in Chicago. A 29-year resident of Chicago, she relocated to the Annapolis, Maryland region in 2012. She and her partner Kevin Booth have five adult children between them, residing in New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
Chief Development Officer
Kay Koehler joined CureSearch in May 2017 as Chief Development Officer. In her current role, she oversees fundraising efforts for the organization, including Development Operations, Business Development and Leadership Giving & Foundations. Kay also leads the Marketing/Communications team to build awareness and engagement for CureSearch and its mission.
Prior to CureSearch, Kay held executive positions at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). As National Director of Philanthropy, she was a key contributor in building the major gifts department and driving revenue against a $125M campaign. During her tenure, she secured the organization’s largest gift in their 60-year history. Subsequently, she built and directed all efforts for planned giving, rolling out the inaugural program across the field organization and managing resources to secure $33M in planned gifts.
Prior to LLS, Kay managed fundraising and marketing teams at Trustbridge, a 1200-person healthcare organization, and as Vice President at the American Heart Association, Palm Beach & Martin Counties, where she led a distinguished team whose success was recognized nationally.
In the first half of her career, Kay led global strategic alliance teams and managed North American and international sales teams for B2B software companies, most recently Citrix Systems, Inc.
Kay holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, Humanities and Secondary Education from Augustana College, Rock Island, IL. She completed studies in philanthropy and holds a certificate from the National Institute of Charitable Giving. Since 2008, she has been a member of the American Marketing Association, and served as Chair of the Marketing Committee for Executive Women of the Palm Beaches. Kay currently resides in West Palm Beach, FL.
Katharine A. Burke, MBA
Vice President of Operations
Katharine A. Burke is Vice President of Operations at CureSearch for Children’s Cancer where she is responsible for internal operations, Human Resources, Finance, Information Technology and facilities. Before joining CureSearch, Burke was Vice President of Operations at Learning Tree International, a technical and management training company. At Learning Tree, she directed production, instructor relations, facilities and operational activities associated with delivering training classes. Prior to Learning Tree, Burke held progressive positions in operations and technical support at Sprint.
Burke holds a bachelor’s degree from Drexel University and an MBA from University of Maryland. She has completed additional studies at University of Virginia, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Northwestern University.
Ms. Burke currently serves as Board Secretary for the Washington Women’s Leadership Initiative, Board Secretary for BioPharma Global and Treasurer for the Alpha Sigma Alpha Foundation.
Director of HR & Employee Engagement
Mary Booth joined CureSearch in 2014 as an HR Generalist. In her current role as the Director of Human Resources and Employee Engagement Mary leads recruiting efforts, develops and revises company employment policies, creates wellness initiatives, oversees benefits and payroll, and works to build on a company culture equally supportive of Bethesda-based and virtual staff.
Prior to joining the CureSearch team, Mary worked in the biotech and hospitality industries. Her roles included Director of HR at Nabi Biopharmaceuticals and Director of HR at the Greenbrier Sporting Club. In these roles, as at CureSearch, Mary oversaw the successful creation of HR “departments of one” that fit the organizations’ changing structures and sizes.
Mary holds both SPHR and SHRM-SCP certifications and is a graduate of Columbia University.
Director of Communications
Tessa Gatz joins CureSearch as the Director of Communications where she directs the organization’s extensive marketing and communications strategies. Tessa leads direct marketing and digital campaigns to convey the mission and help achieve the goals of CureSearch.
Tessa has more than 10 years of communications and marketing experience in non-profit environments. Tessa’s previous roles include managing marketing for the American Academy of Periodontology where she rolled out a first-ever annual meeting integrated marketing strategy and brand, overseeing the marketing and communications program for the Department of Housing at DePaul University and growing the business partnership program at the University of Southern California Alumni Association. Along with experience in non-profits, she has agency and media relations experience. Tessa was recently named an honoree for the USAE and Association Forum Forty Under 40 Award.
Tessa holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and a Master’s in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. Residing in Chicago, Tessa is involved with a number of organizations such as the American Marketing Association, Association Forum, and the Ohio State Alumni Club where she serves as Vice President. Tessa is proud to work with a collaborative team to move forward the important work and mission of CureSearch.
National Director of Development Operations
Sean Gross joined CureSearch in May of 2013 as a Deputy Director of Community Development. In his current role as National Director of Development Operations, Sean leads a team of Regional Development Managers across the country to develop and execute our Superheroes Unite! events, Ultimate Hikes, youth fundraising, and third-party fundraising opportunities.
Prior to joining the CureSearch team, Sean worked as an Operations Director for HealthFair, the country’s largest mobile cardiovascular health screening company. In this role, Sean focused on hospital engagement, corporate partnerships and overall event logistics for 15 local communities around the country. Earlier in his career, Sean also spent two years working as a Community Representative for the American Cancer Society, engaging volunteers in fundraising efforts through Relay For Life. Sean holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from Rollins College and an MBA from the University of Florida. Sean is currently based in Orlando, FL.
Sarita K. Sastry, PhD
National Director, Research and Programs
Sarita K. Sastry, PhD, National Director, Research and Programs, oversees CureSearch’s pediatric cancer research grant portfolio, the $10M Acceleration Initiative and the Young Investigator’s Program. Dr. Sastry also administers the CureSearch Scientific Advisory Council and Scientific Review Committee and serves as a liaison between academic pediatric cancer researchers and key stakeholders: donors, advocates, strategic partners etc. She further oversees educational content, grants to support community hospitals, childhood cancer survivorship awareness and patient advocacy.
Before joining CureSearch in 2015, Dr. Sastry received a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois and completed post-doctoral research training in Cell Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Sastry spent several years as a faculty member at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX, where she was engaged in NCI-funded cancer research, teaching, publishing research and review articles and reviewing research grants. She brings her subject matter expertise to CureSearch to help find new cures for pediatric cancers.
National Director, Business Development
Kelli Wright, National Director of Business Development, leads an energetic team focused growing partnerships in the corporate and business world, and fostering collaboration with like-minded non-profits. Partners help end children’s cancer through corporate sponsorships, cause marketing/alliance campaigns, workplace giving and our fitness and wellness program, the CureSearch Challenge.
Kelli joined the CureSearch family on the event side, planning community events in the Northeast and recently celebrated six years with CureSearch. Prior to CureSearch, Kelli worked as the Development Director for her local New Jersey Boys & Girls Club. In this role, she planned and oversaw all aspects of the development department and special events fundraising, spearheading new fundraising events as well as the opening of a new branch of the Club.
As the sibling of a childhood cancer survivor, Kelli is extremely tied to the mission and knows first hand the importance of raising dollars to fund life-saving children’s cancer research. Kelli holds a Bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and currently resides with her family in Charleston, South Carolina.