Educational Forum Moderator & Panelist Bios

Andre Dukes
Vice President, Family and Community Impact
Northside Achievement Zone

Andre Dukes is Vice President, Family and Community Impact at Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) and oversees the Early Childhood strategy, which focuses on ensuring that NAZ scholars are ready for kindergarten through access to quality early learning centers, scholarships, screening, parent support and education, and advocacy. Throughout his career, he has learned a great deal about how experiences shape child behavior, and how strong communities, environments, and supports can promote healthy development and prevent harmful behavior in children. 

Andre is also the Assistant Pastor at Shiloh Temple Church and has worked in partnership with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis on the issue of youth violence prevention. Andre holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Minnesota Graduate School of Theology and a Certificate in Infant Mental Health and Early Childhood at the University of Minnesota Center for Early Education Development. He serves on the board of Think Small and is a member of the MinneMinds executive committee.

NAZ’s mission is to end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis where all low-income children of color graduate from high school college- and career-ready. We accomplish this through collaboration with parents, community organizations, and schools.

Mary Brainerd
Former CEO

Mary Brainerd is former president and chief executive officer of Minnesota-based HealthPartners, the largest, consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the nation. 

Brainerd is cited for her strong business acumen and unwavering commitment to a healthy and thriving community. Honors include 100 Most Influential in Health Care by Modern Health Care (2015, 2013), Top 25 Most Influential Women in Healthcare (2015), a Leaders in Health Care Lifetime Achievement Award from Minnesota Business Magazine (2015), 130 Women Hospital and Health System Leaders to know by Becker’s Hospital Review (2016, 2015), Top 75 Most Influential People in the Twin Cities by Minnesota Monthly (2013), the Caux Roundtable Award for outstanding citizenship (2012), induction into the Twin Cities Business Hall of Fame (2011), induction into the Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest’s Business Hall of Fame by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal (2010); Executive of the Year from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; and the University of St. Thomas Award for Ethical Leadership. 

Prior to joining HealthPartners, Brainerd held senior level positions with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. She was also senior vice president and chief executive officer of Blue Plus. 

She holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas, and a bachelor-of-arts degree from the University of Minnesota. Brainerd grew up in St. Paul and has been actively involved in the Twin Cities community for several years. She is one of the founding CEOs and former Chair of the Itasca Project, a group of 40 government, civic and business leaders addressing the issues that impact long-term economic growth, including jobs, education, transportation, and economic disparities.  She is previous chair of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and currently serves on the boards of Minnesota Life/Securian, Bush Foundation and Stryker, Inc., Bremer Financial Corporation and Minnesota Public Radio. 

Chris Hilger
Chairman, President, and CEO
Securian Financial

Christopher M. Hilger

As Securian Financial’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, Chris is responsible for leading all aspects of the company, including strategy development and Securian’s insurance, investment and retirement businesses. Chris’ collaborative leadership style and broad management experience have contributed to Securian Financial’s consistently strong financial results. Securian Financial is the eighth largest insurance company based on total life insurance business in force. 

With over 30 years in corporate leadership positions, Chris has proven experience in distribution development, mergers and acquisitions, strategic planning and financial management.

Chris joined Securian Financial in 2004 when Securian acquired Allied Solutions, one of the largest independent distribution organizations serving the financial institution market. At that time, he became a member of our senior management team, progressively moving into positions of greater responsibility before being named president in 2012. He has served as chief executive officer since 2015 and was named chairman in 2017.

Hilger received a Bachelor’s degree in finance from Indiana University. Chris serves on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He is also co-chair of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance and is a member of the executive committee of the Minnesota Business Partnership. In addition, and in alignment with Securian Financial’s commitment to educational equality for all children, Chris participated on the Itasca Project’s First 1000 Days Task Force, which focuses on early childhood brain development.

Benito P. Matias
Ascension Catholic School

Benito Matias has worked in the field of education for over 25 years, the last thirteen of which have been as a school administrator. Benito’s educational work has included being a Dunwoody College of Technology Instructor, a Minneapolis Public School District teacher, and the Executive Director of MetroTech Career Academy. Benito was born and raised in Minneapolis; he’s a graduate of Patrick Henry high school, Dunwoody College of Technology, Bemidji State University, and Saint Mary’s University where he earned a Master of Education degree. Benito came to Ascension Catholic School in 2013 to serve as the Dean of Students and was named Principal of Ascension Catholic School in January of 2016.

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