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Board of Directors

Chairman Douglas Nicholls, Yuma Mayor, Founder of Core Engineering Group

Elevate Southwest Chairman and Yuma County Mayor, Douglas Nicholls

Douglas J. Nicholls is the 27th Mayor of the City of Yuma, Arizona. Mayor Nicholls is a civil engineer, a business owner, the head of several organizations and events aimed to spearhead economic development in the region and is committed to serve the people of Yuma. His greatest joy is being a husband to Danette and a father to their children.

Mayor Nicholls served as a City of Yuma Councilmember (2009) before being elected to the Mayoral seat (2014). He has been re-elected twice and is currently serving his third term as Mayor of Yuma (2023).

Mayor Nicholls founded 4FrontED, a Governing Board of mayors and city leaders from Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja California. The 4FrontED Board collaborates to maximize impacts at the global forefront through strategic initiatives for their collective population of nearly two million people.

Mayor Nicholls spearheaded the launch of the Elevate Southwest initiative and serves as its Chairman of the Board. Elevate Southwest focuses on bringing higher education to Yuma, along with greater collaboration between higher education and existing/future workforce needs. He believes a community with more accessible higher education opportunities and quality jobs will make for a more robust quality of life for all Yuma residents.

Mayor Nicholls is President of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, an organization that includes all 91 municipalities in Arizona and represents the interests of cities and towns before legislature. He serves on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Local Government Advisory Council (appointed in 2021), on the Arizona Commerce Authority Board of Directors, the Governor’s Interagency and Community Council on Homelessness and Housing, the Arizona Military Affairs Council, the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area Board of Directors, and the Amberly’s Place Board of Directors.

Vice-Chair Buna George, Executive Director, Greater Yuma Port Authority

Secretary/Treasurer Buna George, Executive Director for the Greater Yuma Port Authority

Buna George was elected to the Elevate Southwest (ESW) Board of Directors in July 2022. George has served as the Executive Director of the Greater Yuma Port Authority since 2018.

She earned her associate degree in business administration from Arizona Western College and her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in Urban Planning and Development and City/Urban, Community, and Regional Planning.  

She was recently accepted to the UA James E. Rogers School of Law and will begin her master’s in legal studies online this fall.

“I am truly honored to have been approached and selected to serve on the ESW board,” George stated. “Advanced technology platforms allowed me to explore higher education options not offered in Yuma. While there is great value in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, interacting in person with like-minded individuals allows for refining skills and meaningful interactions. I hope to integrate my leadership skills and experiences as a local and online student to refine the ESW initiative further and highlight the benefits higher education would bring to the local workforce in the Greater Yuma region.”

Dr. Daniel Corr, President, Arizona Western College

Dr. Daniel Corr, President, Arizona Western College




Joining Arizona Western College (AWC) in July 2016, Corr has focused his early efforts on facilitating student success, increasing access to higher education, creating a comprehensive strategic plan, and fostering a climate of innovation, collaboration and stewardship at AWC.

Prior to assuming the role of AWC’s President, Dr. Corr served as the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) from 2007-2016. Dr. Corr also held a variety of instructional and administrative positions at three different community colleges in Illinois. All told, he has over 24 years of experience at the community college level.

Paul Brierly, Director, Arizona Department of Agriculture

Paul Brierly, Director Arizona Department of Agriculture




Paul Brierley is currently Director for the Arizona Department of Agriculture and was previously Vice Chair for Elevate Southwest and the Executive Director of the University of Arizona Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture. 

As Executive Director for UA Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, based in Yuma, a public-private partnership between the college and the Arizona and California desert agriculture industry, Brierley was dedicated to addressing “on-the-ground” industry needs through collaboration and research. Brierley also led the effort at the University of Arizona on the Presidential Advisory Commission on the Future of Agriculture & Food Production in a Drying Climate.


Jon Jessen, Founder, Gowan Company

Jon Jessen, Founder, Gowan




Jon was raised in Dos Palos, Ca. where his father taught school and had a small dairy.  After graduating from U.C. Davis, Jon served the United States military in Korea. Upon return stateside, he secured a crop advisor job for a local farmer co-op in Yuma, Arizona.

Jon learned to fly and earned an MBA at Peter Drucker on the G.I. Bill. After over 50 years of service to the industry, he is still keenly interested in agriculture, traveling the world to explore its crops, meet its people and renew old friendships.

Russell McCloud, Owner, Accurate Automotive Attention

Russell McCloud, Owner, Accurate Automotive Attention




Previous Chairman for Elevate Southwest. Russell has owned and operated Accurate Automotive Attention for over 30 years. The business has thrived with three locations throughout the Yuma area. He attended Rapport Leadership International’s leadership program and became a master's Graduate.

He graduated from Project CENTRL in 2003, a two-year rural leadership program administered by the University of Arizona. Russell served for 16 years (2005-2020) on the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, including several terms as Yuma County Board Chair and Vice-Chair.

Shelley Mellon, Owner, RL Jones Insurance and Mellon Farms

Shelley Mellon, Owner RL Jones Insurance, Mellon Farms


Upon graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in Business Administration, Shelley became the 4th generation to follow in her family’s business, RL Jones Insurance. Shelley owns and operates the three locations of RL Jones Insurance & MVD Services.

Shelley serves in many state and local boards currently as Chair of the Southwest Arizona Town Hall, the Yuma Education Advocacy Council, Education Forward Arizona Board of Directors, Board of Trustees for the Foundation of Yuma Regional Medical Center, member of the Foundation of Yuma Regional Medical Center Pediatric Oncology Fund Committee, Yellow Ribbon-Suicide Awareness Committee, Arizona House of Representatives Teen Mental Health AD HOC Committee, Chair, Board Member and Governance Committee of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area Corporation, Board Member Arizona Business & Education Coalition, Yuma Union High School District Governing Board Member and many other important boards.


Tony Reyes, Board of Supervisors, Yuma County

Tony Reyes, Yuma County Board of Supervisors



A resident of San Luis, Arizona, Marco “Tony” Reyes serves as Chairman of the Yuma County Board of Supervisors. Reyes attended the Gadsden Elementary School, and Kofa High School in Yuma and has received multiple Certificates from among others; the ALETA Police Academy for AZ Police Officer Certification, UTI Universal Training Institute for A/C Solar Heating Technician certification, Arizona Advanced Real Estate Institute for AZ Real Estate license, Arizona State University, Tempe, for Non-Profit Management Certification, the BOA Development Leadership Institute and multiple Community and Economic Development courses. 

He served the citizens of San Luis for many years including 10 years as Mayor. He also has served as Executive Director of Comite De Bien Estar, a Community Development Non-Profit Organization focused on Housing and quality of life issues in South Yuma County for the last 35 years.