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Meet the Team
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Mary Ellen Simoni

Before founding Ivy Options, Mary Ellen Simoni worked in leadership roles at top-ranked universities in the United States and Europe. She directed Stanford University’s operations which included admissions recruitment in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for more than eight years. During this time, she interacted directly with other leaders of many of the top universities in North America and Europe, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge.


​Internationally, she has also worked closely with other U.K. universities; a number of Canadian universities, including the University of British Columbia, Simon Frasier University, and HEC Montréal; and for a consortium of eight top French business schools. Clients throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America seek Ms. Simoni’s expert advice based on her reputation for successful bespoke counseling services. Originally from California, she lived in France for thirteen years before moving to Dubai in 2010. She is a graduate of Cornell University.

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Katrina Lilly
Office Manager
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Laura Waft
Admissions Advisor

Katrina oversees Ivy Options’ administrative and accounting functions as well as assisting with communications and essay editing. Prior to joining Ivy Options, Katrina managed the H.R. departments of several mid-sized companies. Most recently, she worked as an independent benefits consultant for an international textile firm. Katrina is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in Psychology. 

With an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BBA from the University of Michigan, Laura has over twelve years’ experience in international banking. Following her banking career, she focused her efforts in the volunteer sector, where she was a popular storyteller in north London schools on behalf of a local charity. Laura, an American, brings her passion for reading and storytelling to Ivy Options as an essay specialist. 

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Stuart Grabia
SAT/ACT Instructor
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Ammarah Soofi
SAT/ACT Instructor

Stuart graduated from the University of Alberta and before coming to the UAE in 2016, he was a high school mathematics teacher in Alberta, Canada for more than 16 years. He then worked as a curriculum specialist for the Ministry of Education in Dubai. At Ivy Options, he helps students prepare for the SAT and ACT tests as a mathematics tutor. He is also proficient in the American and British curricula. Stuart thoroughly enjoys helping students reach their academic goals.

An educator for eight years in Canada, the US, China, and the UAE, Ammarah has taught AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and Calculus AB, as well as serving as the head of the science departments at several international schools. A Canadian citizen, Ammarah has a BSE in Chemistry and Biology from Brock University and an MS in Neurochemistry from McMaster University. 

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Daniel Cho
Admissions Advisor

Daniel comes in with experience in highly selective university admissions and business consulting. He holds a bachelor degree from Swarthmore College and previously worked as an admissions counselor at Yale-NUS (acceptance rate 3-7%), a new liberal arts college started by Yale University and the National University of Singapore. Prior to joining Ivy Options, Daniel worked in business analytics for Unilever in New York City and is fluent in English as well as Korean.

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Carole Laugier
Admissions Advisor

Prior to joining Ivy Options, Carole worked in the US, UK, and UAE as a creative director, foundation trustee, and university lecturer. She manages Ivy Options' communications and works with students applying for a variety of programs including those preparing their art, architecture, design, and maker portfolios. Carole received her BFA from the University of Notre Dame and her MA from UAL: Central Saint Martins and has returned to London to work from and manage the UK office.

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Maya Fernández
Admissions Advisor
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Anna Manafova
Admissions Advisor

A graduate of Cornell University, Maya has worked as an Admissions Counselor in the Undergraduate Admissions Departments at New York University and Cornell University. Through her time teaching Mathematics and working in the Special Education Department at Dubai American Academy, Maya has become skilled at working with students of all learning styles both in and outside the classroom, adapting her approach to each child. She is fluent in Spanish and French and is looking forward to helping students work towards their university goals.

Anna is an Ivy Options counselor who also contributes to our social media and marketing. Anna speaks Russian, Arabic, and French and has studied and worked in Europe, the US, and the Middle East. Anna graduated from Stanford University with a Masters's Degree in International Relations. Prior to joining Ivy Options, Anna worked on the intersection of research and journalism and wrote a book about the Middle Eastern energy sector. Anna is eager to work with students and help them identify good fit majors and find meaningful careers.

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Riwa Dabbagh
Admissions Advisor
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Nadine Brits
Office Accounts and Billing

Riwa was born and raised in Washington D.C. and graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She is trilingual and initially pursued a career in IT in the UAE and the UK. Riwa joined our counseling team after spending many years as an applicant interviewer for Georgetown University and completing the University of Pennsylvania's rigorous US university admissions course. Riwa is very excited to be helping students realize their dreams.

Nadine Brits joined the Ivy Options team in 2021. She assists with our billing and administrative functions. Nadine is originally from South Africa and has been a resident of Dubai for 12 years. Nadine's previous roles include administrative and accounting support and working as a teaching assistant. 

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