Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas is the co-founder and CEO of EnCompass LLC, a 300-person consulting firm focused on evaluation, learning, leadership and organizational development, and gender and inclusive practice. Founded in 2000, EnCompass is headquartered in the Washington, DC, area and has offices in El Salvador, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, Senegal, and Ukraine.
Ms. Catsambas has created and implemented an appreciative, strengths-based model for management and evaluation, is co-author of the first text on this topic (Reframing Evaluation Through Appreciative Inquiry, Sage Publications, June 2006), and has continued to publish on the importance of incorporating an appreciative approach to management, learning, and evaluation. Her new book Evaluation Management: How to Commission and Conduct Evaluations that Matter with Dr. Jane Davidson is expected in early 2024 by Sage Publications.
Ms. Catsambas was president of the American Evaluation Association in 2019. In 2015, she received the International EvalPartners Award in recognition of her “leadership, creativity, and exceptional contributions to the global evaluation community.”
Ms. Catsambas holds a bachelor’s in economics and political science from the College of Wooster and a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is bilingual in Greek and English and fluent in French.
What are three enduring values Pierce has taught you?
Over my six years as a high-school student at Pierce, the school kept cultivating an awareness of a wider world, the needs of others, and the importance of service and higher purpose. The three enduring values I hold:
- Lead from all levels—leadership is not a title but an act; no matter where you sit, you can intervene to stimulate empathy and encourage constructive progress.
- Non-Ministrari sed Ministrare—a life of service is one of meaning and connection.
- To maintain is harder than to build (το φυλάξαι χαλεπώτερον του κτήσασθαι)—appreciate what you have and do not take it for granted, the grass is not greener on the other side, so keep cherishing your health, your family, your friendships, your work, and your talents.
Describe Pierce in three words.
Learning, Values, Community
Which is your fondest memory from your time at Pierce?
A glorious moment I remember is winning the Debate Cup for Pierce in 1978 at the Panhellenic Forensic Tournament. Mr. Don Henderson, our beloved English teacher and debate coach, had prepared the Pierce team methodically and patiently. We were hosting that year, and the “Pierce against American Community Schools (ACS)” debate finals session was the last competition, which took place in a packed auditorium. Pierce was recognized in many of the forensic competitive events, and my raising the coveted debate cup for the photo-op at the end was the crowning glory and a proud moment for the whole forensic team and Pierce.
What do you miss most from your days at Pierce?
I miss the exceptional learning environment, the mentorship from teachers and staff, and the easy friendships in an all-girls environment. I feel privileged to have had six years at Pierce.
If you could go back in time, is there anything that you would do differently?
As I sift through my memories from my time at Pierce, I cherish every one of them. While at Pierce, I lived my student life to the fullest, both in the classroom and outside. I am not one who longs for a chance to rewrite my life, and I am grateful that I had those years.
Where was your favorite spot on campus?
One year, my classroom was situated at the top tier of the building. During recess, my friends and I loved to sit on the rocks in the trees just above our classroom to read poetry, talk, laugh, and just be outside in nature. My second favorite spot was the library because I love everything about books—their content, their grammar, their ability to transport and transform me, and even their smell.
Who was your favorite teacher, and why?
Oh, this is a hard question because I truly loved all my teachers. I have kept in touch with many of them over the years, and I treasure their influence in my life. Here are just a few examples.
Mr. Henderson (English), the debate coach, helped us develop oration and performance skills we did not know we had and gave us challenges that increased our confidence along with our ability to think on our feet. Ms. Murphy (English) introduced us to Black literature, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, making these texts approachable, connecting them to their historical context, urging us to look for nuance, humor, and drama, and teaching us to appreciate and enjoy them.
In the humanities, Mrs. Argyraki (History), an eloquent and engaging speaker, used history to develop our minds, emphasizing context, perspective, and analysis, making connections between politics, economics, social change, and art. Mr. Baloumis (Modern Greek) held us spellbound, so even when the bell rang, no one moved, inspiring me to take a chance at writing beyond my comfort zone and teaching me new ways to appreciate theater and film.
In the sciences, Mr. Kalyvas (Math), beloved by all of us, taught with humor and made each of us feel seen and encouraged in every single class. Mr. Drakopoulos (Physics and Chemistry) was not only excellent but also one of the kindest teachers I ever encountered.
I kept in touch with many of my teachers for years and made sure they knew how important they were to me. Teaching is a vocation that can transform the world for the better, and I was blessed with many exemplary teachers at Pierce.
After graduation, have you maintained a relationship with your school and classmates?
Yes, I kept in touch with several classmates even though I moved to the United States after graduation. I also attended some class reunions when I traveled to Greece. Today, I still see several Pierce classmates when I have the opportunity.
My connection to Pierce and the ACG is, in fact, much bigger; it is really a family relationship, as my sister and two nieces attended Pierce and Deree. So, in 2016, when my eldest niece, Emmanouela (Emma) Vernikou, passed away from cancer, the ACG community was there for us. My sister led the founding of PAMEMMAZI (2016-2021), a nonprofit organization inspired by Emma’s vision to bring creative patient-centered activities to hospitals caring for cancer patients. The ACG has hosted the PAMEMMAZI annual forums where experts from the United States, healthcare professionals, psychologists, and patients spoke frankly about the importance and positive impact of psycho-social support for cancer patients and their families. The ACG has since honored Emma by establishing the Emmanouela Vernikou Award for Inspirational Spirit.
Then, a few years ago, President Horner invited me to serve on an alums advisory group, which I did for four years. This gave me a deep appreciation of how much Pierce and the ACG have grown with President Horner’s leadership and the staff’s invaluable contributions.
Looking back, how did your time at Pierce help you become the person you are today?
Pierce gave me a love for learning, self-reflection, meaningful relationships, and durable values. These are the best gifts an Alma Matter can provide, and they all had a significant impact on who I became and who I am today.
What advice would you give a new Pierce student?
Open your heart and your mind and invite all that Pierce can give you: lean into new learning opportunities, volunteer, invest in relationships with teachers and classmates, help out, engage in passionate exchanges of ideas, change your mind, try things out, push yourself, practice, and cherish every moment.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration is everywhere for me, starting with my family. I was inspired by my father’s heroism and his quiet and unwavering ethics as he helped build the Greek Air Force under challenging times. I was inspired by my mother’s steadfast demonstration of empathy for everyone around her and her consistent ability to find collaborative and peaceful solutions (something she passed on to my sister, Eleni). Most recently, I was inspired by my niece Emma, who accepted her life with cancer and made it count by all that she gave and created just before leaving us so early. Every day, I am inspired by family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and citizens who choose to serve others and not themselves.
What is your motto in life?
This is not a dress rehearsal; this is it. So, appreciate, question, grow, savor, and give. Live the best life you can.
ACG Alumni: We Stay Connected!