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Who We Are

The Authentic Connections team is comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to maximizing well-being in schools, communities, and work settings.

Suniya S. Luthar - Founder and Executive Director

Founding Director of Authentic Connections, Dr. Suniya S. Luthar is Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and Professor Emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Luthar's research involves vulnerability and resilience among various populations including youth in poverty, children in families affected by mental illness, and teens in upper-middle class families. Her recent research has been focused on motherhood, exploring factors that best help mothers negotiate the challenges of motherhood. Luthar is the mother of two adult children. She lives in Tempe, AZ.

Nina Kumar - Vice President, Operations

Nina Kumar is committed to fostering the welfare of girls and women. She has volunteered for mentorship programs benefiting middle school, high school, and college students, and at "My Sisters’ Place", a non-profit organization that works to end violence in intimate relationships and to reduce ill effects of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Nina is a Product Manager at IBM Watson Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from Williams College with a BA in Computer Science and Psychology, and a concentration with Honors in Cognitive Science.

Nicole Zillmer - Director of Research

Nicole Zillmer is a researcher committed to studying, first, how children develop insight into their own and others’ mental processes and, second, the individual and interpersonal psychological benefits of that insight. Prior to joining Authentic Connections, Nicole served as a Visiting Scholar at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and as a graduate research assistant at Columbia University’s Education For Thinking Institute. She completed her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her M.A. in Philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, and her PhD in Human Development at Teachers College, Columbia University. Nicole is the founder of SibLink, Arizona’s chapter of the Sibling Leadership Network, which connects siblings of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Board of Directors

  • Susan Budinger - President
  • Nikhil Kumar - Vice President, Treasurer
  • Judith Benenson - Secretary
  • Suniya Luthar - Board Member
  • Nina Kumar - Board Member
  • Tom Benenson - Board Member

Additional Team Members

  • Jackie Humphreys, LICSW, MA - Group Facilitator
  • Alexandra Ingram - Graduate Student Group Facilitator
  • Katherine Mooney - Designer