CESJDS Staff Spotlight

CESJDS has top-notch educators! Learn more about the talented and passionate faculty and staff at CESJDS.

Rachel Burgess Van Gorden, Graphic Designer and Senior Development Associate

Rachel Burgess Van Gorden, Graphic Designer and Senior Development Associate, was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. Rachel grew up in a Southern Baptist household after her parents met while attending Bob Jones University. Rachel was involved in many activities during school, including basketball and swimming, and always had a passion for art. Throughout high school, she explored different media in advancedFine Art classes while searching for her niche, and keeping a career in the music industry in the back of her mind.
After high school, Rachel attended Converse College, where she entered a four-year residential military program. Rachel participated in ROTC, and Leadership Training, while pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Art in Studio Art with an emphasis on ceramics. Her focus became figural abstract ceramic pieces, which were fired in primitive and unique ways. During this time, Rachel also began writing music while taking up drums and guitar.
Two weeks after graduation, Rachel made the decision to move to Nashville. After taking some odd jobs, she began work with the Frist Art Museum as it prepared to open in 2001. Rachel stayed with Frist for nine years, where she managed shipping, receiving, retail stores, was involved in membership and guest services, and even dabbled in event photography. On the side, she continued her focus on songwriting and percussion, playing for other artists, at churches, and producing her own album, “The Art of Survival.”
After her work at Frist concluded, Rachel headed back to South Carolina for a year to spend time with her father at the end of his 17-year battle with cancer. Her path would then lead her to the D.C. area, where she took a job with the Artisphere Arts Center in Rosslyn as its gallery installation manager. It was at that point, in 2013, that Rachel was contacted about a job in the Development department at JDS doing database management, and other administrative projects. At first she was hesitant, not having expected a career in education, however, after joining the community Rachel immediately felt at home.
During the last seven years, Rachel’s position has evolved to taking on project management responsibilities for the Development team, and in the last six years as the Graphic Designer for the Marketing Team. Graphic design was not initially part of Rachel’s fine art background but, after some professional development and training, it was clear that it was a great use of her unique skill set, and the rest was history. “Graphic design was the perfect combination of my right brain and left brain,” Rachel said. “It was details meets creative and I couldn’t love it more. I feel indebted to the School and my managers for investing in me, and for the support I received in expanding my career.”
Being a part of the JDS community has become a foundation for Rachel during the last seven years. “I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of the JDS community,” Rachel said. “This is not like any other place I have experienced. For me, it felt like home pretty much immediately and I felt the warmth of the people around me.”
Common faith is another reason Rachel feels connected to JDS. Though she grew up with a different religious background, she feels a deep connection between her own faith and that of the Jewish people. “My faith is core to who I am,” Rachel said. “Though I have changed as a person over the years, that fact remains the same. I have always viewed Christianity and Judaism as more related than not, and how that unites us around a common, meaningful, and purposeful theme.” For Rachel, that connection is apparent at JDS through the taught values, and the “amazing human beings” that graduate from, and attend the School.
Above all, Rachel loves to marry her passion for design with her love of the School and its mission. “I truly care about each thing that goes on in the School, I care about our mission, and I want to show that through my work.”
Outside of school, Rachel’s main focus is family. Though her family is spread throughout the country she is able to foster a very special bond with her two nieces who live in South Carolina. Additionally, Rachel is into spending time with her pets, reimagining furniture, and doing projects related to architectural salvage.

Ryan Aqui, Director of Information Technology

Ryan Aqui, Director of Information Technology, grew up in Takoma Park, MD. Ryan attended Catholic school and became active in the church community, serving as an alter boy and participated in the church choir. After switching to public school for middle and high School, Ryan graduated and pursued accounting in college. Initially, he felt that accounting was a good fit due to his love of numbers but he found the coursework uninspiring.

After performing paralegal-related work at a law firm, Ryan would ultimately realize his current path after taking a Microsoft certification computer course at a local technology school. “I like IT because I am a problem solver,” he said. “I like to be faced with problems. Then, I like to research, investigate, and solve.”

Ryan secured a role as a contractor at the Securities & Exchange Commission where he began as a Tier 1 help desk technician. Through changing contracts, the SEC requested to retain him each time, and he would become a Tier 3 Technician prior the end of his tenure there.

Before ultimately coming to JDS, Ryan would hold one more position as an IT Technician at another small firm. He would then begin work with Dataprise in 2011, the company JDS once contracted with for our in-house IT department staff.

Ryan first came to work with JDS as the back-up help desk technician, the person who Dataprise would call if the usual technician called out or was at another site. After working very successfully at the School part-time it was requested that he become our full time help desk technician. Ryan worked at JDS by way of Dataprise for 7 years, supporting the School’s IT infrastructure, and managing help desk concerns for faculty, staff, students, and parents. Ultimately, Ryan’s position was brought in-house in 2019. Shortly after, the Director of IT position became available, Ryan who stepped up to the role, first as the Acting Director, then Director 6 months later.

Being a part of the JDS community and having strong IT staff around him is a professional highlight for Ryan. “From day one, I was welcomed with open arms,” he said. “Everyone here is supportive, collaborative, and extremely appreciative of the work my team and I do.”

In his position as the Director of IT, Ryan aims to take a new approach. “I am still a help desk technician heart, I will always like helping solve problems for people at the base level,” he said. “In my new position, I look at the big picture for the School, but I will never leave the technical side of IT. It helps me make sure I know everything that is going on with my department. ”Being resolution oriented, Ryan feels that he thrives in the complex IT environment at the School. “I like finding those resolutions; bringing joy to others brings joy to me,” he said. “What other job can you get a standing ovation from a room full of 8 year-olds for fixing their connection issues. Appreciation is the reward I get for working hard.”

Outside of school, Ryan enjoys spending time with his sons, Tyree (20), and Caleb (8), and his wife, Yvette. “I am really just a Dad,” he said. “That’s my main pastime. I want to make sure everything is running well. When work becomes chaotic, I find peace in spending time with my family at home.” Ryan is an avid sports fan, and ensures his sons stay active. He is also a former motorcycle enthusiast and hopes to rekindle that hobby soon.

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