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Board of Directors

Stefanie Etienne MD

President and CEO

Stefanie Etienne MD

Dr. Stefanie Etienne is passionate about uplifting youth in the community. It is her mission to help ensure that all youth have the tools and opportunity to be successful, regardless of their background. All three of Dr. Etienne’s children are strings musicians and have flourished due to their experiences with The United Strings of Color. She is excited about continuing to support USC’s efforts to increase the representation of children of color in classical music.

Dr. Etienne is a Board - Certified Family Physician who has been practicing in the Raleigh area for over 17 yrs. She has a passion for caring for underserved communities and has demonstrated this by practicing in these communities her entire career.  Dr. Etienne is married and is the proud mother of two daughters and a son who attend public school.  She serves on the board for Project Hope Community which provides valuable services such as educational enrichment, food support and economic empowerment to children and families in South East Raleigh.  In her spare time, she likes to travel, read and volunteer in her community.

Margaret Partridge

Artistic Director

Margaret Partridge

Margaret brings her wealth of experience as the former Executive Director of the Philharmonic Association (2005 -2020) to United Strings of Color. During her tenure, the non-profit Philharmonic Association tripled in the size of its programming and budget. She began United Strings of Color in 2018 as a project to address racial disparity in classical music. Knowing the importance of this work, she continued to direct United Strings of Color after she stepped down as Executive Director of the Philharmonic Association in June 2020.


Margaret is a respected freelance violinist, having served as Concertmaster for the Carolina Ballet, Capital Opera, North Carolina Opera, Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, Tar River Orchestra, North Carolina Master Chorale and Durham Chorale. From 1990 – 2006 she performed regularly with the North Carolina Symphony and currently plays with the North Carolina Opera and the Carolina Ballet. She has taught violin at Huddersfield Technical College (England), Arkansas Tech University and Hendrix College. She is also passionate about environmental issues and has been a Chapter Chair of the North Carolina Native Plant Society for over twenty years. She lives with her husband, Hugh, and hound, Hoo, in Cary.

Candace Thomas


Candace Thomas

Candace Thomas is a certified CNA and is a mom and wife for 18 years. Candace has 2 group homes that she circulates out of and volunteers in various clubs and organizations that help underserved communities

Katie Gailes

Katie Gailes

At Large

Katie is a proud native North Carolinian who was born in Granville County, grew up in Forsyth County, attended college in Guilford and Durham Counties, and now lives in Wake County. A graduate of  Bennett College for Women and the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, she has devoted most of her professional life to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs. She spent six years as a marketing and business strategy consultant for small businesses, then three years as counselor in the Growing America Through Entrepreneurship (GATE) program at the NC Rural Economic Development Center, before joining Wake Tech.  


As the Director of Entrepreneurships at Wake Tech, Katie co-founded the LaunchMyCity community-based economic development model.  Before she left Wake Tech, the program had trained approximately 600 small business owners and entrepreneurs across nine towns in Wake County; 70% of them were African American and/or women.  The LaunchMyCity model is now gaining traction nationally and internationally with programs in Johnston County, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro, and Durham, NC, Denver, CO, Lenawee County, Michigan and Reading, England.  


Katie also co-founded OUR STORIES: Brave Conversations on Race, a nonprofit aimed at bringing racial peace to America through conversations and understanding.  Katie serves on several Boards, including the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce, the NC Women Business Owners Hall of Fame, the NC Sustainable Business Council, the United Strings of Color, and the Carolina Community Impact CDFI Board.  She serves in an advisory capacity to LaunchHollySprings and the Wake Tech Business Administration Advisory Group.  Katie belongs to the Rotary Club of Holly Springs and is also the co-chair of the Rotary District 7710 DEI Council.  However, in entrepreneurship circles, Katie is known as The Entrepreneur Whisperer.


Director of Community Engagement

Heather Elliott

As Diversity Awareness Representative for IBM from 1998 – 2009, Heather developed and deployed Diversity Awareness events for multiple Customer Fulfillment Organizations. A graduate of Francis Marion University with a Bachelor in Political Science, she was active as a student in the Academic Cultural Enrichment Counselors Program that ensured minority students were engaged and included in campus life. Heather is enthusiastic about helping United Strings of Color as she manages her new status as disabled.

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