SOLA Dean’s Advisory Board

The Dean’s Advisory Board for the School of Liberal Arts (SOLA) at Saint Mary’s College is a voluntary group of leaders assembled to support, enrich, and advocate for student and faculty achievement and success, academic distinction, and financial resources in SOLA. The board was launched in 2018.

 Wayne Billheimer (English ’94) is an accomplished producer of animated content. Early in his career, Billheimer was a freelance coordinator on several features shot in San Francisco including What Dreams May Come, James and the Giant Peach, and Flubber and worked as an assistant to director Barry Levinson. Wayne joined Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) Lucasfilm in 1999 and, over the next two decades, worked his way through the ranks to the role of Visual Effects Executive Producer, with production credits on such films as  Iron Man, the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series, the Avengers, the Mummy, Noah, and Downsizing. He credits his Saint Mary’s English major not only with teaching him about how to understand and tell stories effectively but also with equipping him to communicate and work effectively with highly diverse creative and technical teams. In January 2008, Wayne left ILM to take a new opportunity as Director of Engineering at Apple. He lives in Oakland, with his wife, Sally (’94).


Dickson Chu (Integral ’86) is a fintech innovator with more than 25 years experience who has provided executive leadership at PayPal, Yahoo!, Living Social, Wells Fargo, and Citi, among others. Currently, he serves as Global Head of Portfolio Management for BBVA, Spain’s second largest bank, which is “reinvent[ing] itself as a digital business” (The Economist). He has also provided board service and/or advising to leading companies including Bluefin, Ingo Money, Boomtown!, and, and to the non-profit’s PowerMyLearning initiative. A San Francisco native, Dickson earned a classical “Great Books” liberal arts education in Saint Mary’s Integral Program. A happenstance internship led him into the world of financial technology. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two teenaged children.


Ben Kacyra’s (Parent) career has included founding several corporations engaged in diverse businesses, including high technology manufacturing and software, consulting engineering and construction services, and real estate development and asset management. Currently, Ben is a principal in KGI Investments Inc, is a Founding Director and President of the Kacyra Family Foundation, and is a Founding Director of CyArk, whose mission is to digitally preserve world heritage sites using 3D laser scanning and other state of the art technologies (see his TedGlobal talk). CyArk's concept stemmed from Ben’s work as co-founder and CEO of Cyra Technologies, a San Francisco Bay Area technology company responsible for developing the first fully integrated laser 3D imaging, mapping, modeling, and CAD system which is currently used worldwide in the architectural, engineering and construction industries as well as in the automotive, entertainment and crime forensics fields. Prior to Cyra Technologies, Ben was CEO of Cygna Corporation, an engineering and construction management firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area which he co-founded in 1973. Under his leadership, Cygna became one of the top 80 engineering companies in the United States. Ben’s activities have also included serving on the University of Illinois President’s Council and on the Board of Trustees of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Ben and his wife, Barbara, have three grown children, two of whom are SMC alumnae, and four grandchildren.


Jeff Leslie (English ’91) is a communications and change management professional who spent more than a decade managing communications and World Wide Channel Sales for Autodesk before joining DocuSign in 2016, as Director of Field Communications/ Sales Enablement. Jeff has extensive experience in project management, strategic communications, training program development and delivery, change management program development and delivery.  He also serves on the board of the San Francisco chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and is passionate about the value of a liberal arts education to the business world. Jeff lives in Marin, where he was born and raised, with his wife and two daughters.


John Onoda is a highly regarded public relations consultant who has helped shape and protect the corporate brand of some of the world’s most visible corporations. He led all corporate communications at General Motors, Charles Schwab, Visa USA and Levi Strauss. Earlier, he directed global media relations for McDonalds, Holiday Inns and Harrah’s Casinos. He has served on the boards of  Business for Social Responsibility, the International Association of Business Communicators Foundation, the Bay Area United Way and the Arthur Page Society. He has received an integrity in public communications award from Penn State University, along with former Medtronic CEO Bill George and the late PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill. John is currently a director of the U.S.-Japan Council and is founder of the literature networking site Dozen Best Books. John, who began his career as a journalist, holds a BA in Communications from the University of Michigan, a JD degree from Indiana University, and a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern. He is a friend and neighbor of Saint Mary’s, and he and his wife, Teresa Onoda (former mayor and current vice-mayor of Moraga), are avid supporters of the Creative Writing MFA Program. They have two adult children.


Heidi Huynh Racherla (English ‘95) has over twenty years experience in the banking industry and joined Bank of America in 2001, where she currently serves as Senior Vice President, Enterprise Business & Community Engagement and Market manager for San Francisco and the East Bay. During her seventeen year tenure, she has held all Financial Center positions, including Financial Center Manager, and most recently Consumer Market Manager and Operations Market Manager, leading a team of over 30 direct reports and 300 associates. In 2014 and 2015, her market was recognized in the National Top 10% and Region  Top 3. In addition to strong revenue and partnership performance, Heidi led her team to all time high client satisfaction as well as employee engagement survey results 7-10% higher than national and local averages in key brand/pride metrics. She provides leadership to her organization related to responsible and sustainable growth, especially through Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives, community engagement, philanthropy, marketing & sponsorships, x-LOB business integration, influencer outreach with business, civic and non-profit leaders, employee development, engagement and volunteerism. Heidi, who originally planned to be a professor, channels her passion for teaching into community and employee engagement and influence. She enjoys international travel and photography with her husband, Sangam, and is an avid sports fan and athlete who recently completed her first two half marathons.


Tori Verber Salazar (Government ’87) rose through the ranks of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting gang related homicides, to become the first woman District Attorney elected to the office in 2015. She  has since instituted sweeping reform and innovation in prosecution for the county, including expansion of Victim-Witness services, establishment of the Family Justice Center, and creation of the first Political Integrity Unit. Tori is an executive member of the Community Correction Partnership, founded an educational program on date rape and domestic violence for high school students, serves as a member of the Ready to Work Program--a residential program for the homeless and previously incarcerated members of the county--and is co-creator of The Beyond Incarceration Program. She is also actively engaged with numerous community leaders in addressing the plight of the homeless and mentally ill in San Joaquin County. Her office was recipient of the 2015-16 Outstanding Law Enforcement Agency presented by the United States Attorney Eastern Division of California. Tori is married and has three children. Her son Lucca will enroll at Saint Mary’s this fall.


Christine Splichal (Parent ’19). Born and raised in France, Christine co-founded the Patina Group in 1989, one of Los Angeles’ most prolific culinary empires and home to nationally acclaimed restaurants Patina, Pinot, Nick & Stef’s as well as the premier Patina Catering. As Vice President, Christine oversaw corporate marketing, public relations, endorsements, investor relations, management training seminars, and philanthropy. Her commitments since have been focused in the non- profit world, including leadership and service to Pershing Square Management Association, the Los Angeles Library Council, Hillsides, a home for abused children in Pasadena, among others.  She has been honored with the Hollywood Women of Distinction Award as well as the Success in Creative Partnership Award by UCLA Extension. Christine earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Ecole Superiore de Commerce in Poitiers and a master’s in international business from the American Graduate School of International Management in 1983. She lives in Pasadena and adores spending time with her twin sons, Stephane (Global and Regional Studies ’18) and Nicolas.


Dan Whitehurst (Government ‘69) is an attorney/businessman whose career has also included stints in government, education, media and nonprofits. Eight years after graduating from Saint Mary's, he was elected mayor of Fresno, California, becoming the youngest mayor of a large city in the United States. He served on the board of directors of the National League of Cities and was president of the mayors department of the League of California Cities. He left office in 1985 and was a resident fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School. In his business life, he was CEO of funeral service companies with locations in California and Washington and a director of AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah since 1999. He was also a longtime television and radio commentator and wrote public policy articles for the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and California Journal. He has served as board chair of the Great Valley Center, Institute for Local Government and California Issues Forum and was Maddy Professor of Public Administration at Fresno State. In his time at Saint Mary's, he served as editor of the Collegian and student body president and led a student movement that successfully advocated the admission of women to the College and the initiation of the Jan Term program. He says one of his most influential life experiences was serving on the SMC Board of Trustees as the student representative. Dan and his wife Kathleen live in the Napa Valley and have two grown children and three grandchildren.


The SOLA Dean’s Advisory Board is currently chaired by Sheila Hassell Hughes, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts. Born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, she earned an Honors BA in English at the University of British Columbia, an MA in English from the University of Toronto, and an interdisciplinary PhD in Women’s Studies from Emory University. She spent her professorial career at the University of Dayton, a comprehensive Catholic and Marianist university in Ohio. Her research focuses on women, religion, and multi-ethnic American literatures and on pedagogical and theoretical questions in women’s and girls’ studies. Sheila joined Saint Mary’s College as Dean of Liberal Arts in 2015 and has since headed several new initiatives, including PIE: Planning for Inclusive Excellence, LAB: the Liberal Arts Bridge career development program, and a SOLA scholarly travel grant program. She launched the SOLA Advisory Board in 2018.  Sheila lives in Martinez with her spouse, Randy, and teenage daughter Sophie.

The Advisory Board is also supported by Heidi Stornetta Butler. Heidi joined  Saint Mary’s Development Office as a Major Gifts Officer in 2017. Previously, she had spent 17 years in development in the healthcare sector, including almost a decade with Sutter Health. Heidi lives in Moraga with her spouse and four young children.

Pictured:  Heidi Stornetta-Butler (SMC Advancement Office), Sheila Hassell Hughes (Dean), Christine Splichal, John Onoda, Jeff Leslie, Dickson Chu.