2022 HEI Presidents Conference
Reinventing and Reenergizing Higher Education in the Covid Age and Beyond
October 10-11, 2022
Dr. Mary Landon Darden
President of Higher Education Innovation, LLC
Dr. Mary Landon Darden is President of Higher Education Innovation, LLC (HEI) and author of “Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America” and “Entrepreneuring the Future of Higher Education: Radical Transformation in Times of Profound Change.” She earned a doctorate in higher education administration from Baylor University, has nearly three decades of experience in college and university leadership, research, teaching, writing, and speaking. Darden served for five years as a university campus dean and currently offers higher education leadership/entrepreneurship workshops through HEI for college and university presidents and administrators.
Dr. Jay Box
Chief Leadership Innovation Officer
Dr. Jay K. Box, Higher Education Innovation; Chief Leadership Innovation Officer will serve as conference master of ceremonies. He has more than 30 years of outstanding community college leadership, including as President of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) – one of the top 10 systems in the country. He served on the White House’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, the national board for Rebuilding America’s Middle Class and the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board. Dr. Box was also a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s National Advisory Group, the American Association of Community Colleges’ Sustainability Education and Economic Task Force, the Southern Regional Education Board’s Commission on Career and Technical Education, and the Aspen Institute’s Innovation in Higher Education Working Group. Dr. Box is the 2020 recipient of the Lifetime Leadership Award from Higher Education Innovation (HEI). He now serves as an HEI consultant for colleges across the nation and as a leadership coach for college presidents and administrators.
Mayor of the City of Waco
Mayor Dillon Meek was elected Mayor of Waco on November 3, 2020. He served on the Waco City Council from 2015-2020, representing Council District IV, which includes parts of downtown and Central Waco. While on City Council, he learned the importance of listening, fostering collaboration, and building consensus.
Mayor Meek’s greatest joys in his life are his faith and his family, that includes his wife Lindsey and his two children Mabry and Davis. He is a graduate of Baylor University and Baylor Law School, after which he has worked as an attorney and in business specializing in real estate. He currently serves as the general counsel for First Title Company in Waco.
Dr. Johnette McKown
President, McLennan Community College, Waco, Texas
McKown was named president of MCC in 2009 after serving 28-years as Vice President of Business Services and Executive Vice President. At MCC she provided leadership in commitment to student scholarships, the sustainability movement, bringing more than $117 million in improvements, and incorporating “access with success” initiatives.
She taught for 10 years at Baylor University in Higher Education Business and Finance in the Scholars of Practice doctoral program. McKown serves on the board of the Waco Family Practice Foundation, KWBU Public Radio. She was named recipient of the Nelson Award for Community College Administrative Leadership from the Texas Association of Community Colleges and received the Distinguished Alumni Citation from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
McKown has served on accreditation teams for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges where she is now on the Board of Trustees. She also served on the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Association of Community College Trustees and is the Chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. In Fall 2013, she was selected as one of 20 higher education administrators to participate in the Fulbright Seminar for U.S. Administrators in Germany.
McKown received her doctorate in education, secondary and higher education in curriculum and instruction, both from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Chancellor and CEO, Texas State Technical College System, Waco, Texas
The TSTC System is a statewide 2-year technical college system with 10 campuses across Texas. TSTC provides programs that lead to high-tech/-demand jobs for highly skilled technicians. Under Reeser’s leadership, TSTC has become well-known as an innovator in higher education operations. Two recognitions are the Returned-Value Funding Formula, a public college funding method based on student employment outcomes and not on enrollment, and the Money-Back Employment Guarantee, an employment assurance program that refunds tuition to students who can’t find a job after earning a TSTC degree.
Prior to being appointed Chancellor in 2010, Reeser served TSTC as chief financial officer, college president, and dean of instruction. During his early career, Reeser was a banker in Waco and Houston with his final role in banking as president of a $200 million institution. Reeser has served as past Chairman of the Workforce Development Committee, the Board of Directors of Salvation Army, appointee to the Texas Governor’s T-STEM Advisory Council, appointee to the Texas Lt. Governor’s P-Tech Council and an invited participant in the White House State-Federal STEM Education Summit. He holds an MBA from The University of Texas at Arlington, and other professional certificates.
Dr. James Hurley
President, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas
Hurley became Tarleton’s President in 2019. Under his leadership, the university implemented “Tarleton Forward 2030: Our Future-Focused Strategic Plan” and launched the largest-ever capital campaign in Tarleton's history, which eclipsed $100 million in philanthropic support.
Tarleton is designated as a Doctoral University with High Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Hurley established and secured funding to launch three major research initiatives – the President's Excellence in Research Scholars (PERS), the Center for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, and the Texas Rural Research and Innovation Alliance.
The “Tarleton Promise” provides funds to students who exhaust federal and state financial aid. Hurley spearheads efforts to address the state's growing educational and workforce needs by serving on several governing boards pertaining to higher education affordability, economic development and public policy. In 2019 he advanced Tarleton to NCAA Division I status in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and was instrumental in the league's expansion. Dr. Hurley is a first-generation college graduate, grandson of coal miners and son to parents who taught him education is the key to a brighter future. He holds a doctorate in education from Morehead State University. He completed the Institute for Presidential Leadership at Harvard.
Dr. Roger Parrott
President, Belhaven University, Jackson, Mississippi
Dr. Parrott is one of America’s most experienced university presidents as he leads Belhaven University, a doctoral level institution highly regarded as one of only 36 schools in the world working at the highest level of collegiate arts programs. Belhaven was named in 2021 to “Best University to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education and he was recognized as one of the “10 Most Visionary Education Leaders of 2021” by Education Magazine. For a quarter-century he served in board leadership roles with the Lausanne Movement and The Mission America Coalition and was chairman of the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization. He is the author of “Opportunity Leadership: Stop Planning and Start Getting Results” and “The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders.”
He has been a sought-after consultant to more than 100 different ministries and has experience serving on boards of international, national, and local ministries and non-profits, as well as higher education leadership organizations.
Dr. Monique Umphrey
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Austin Community College
Dr. Monique Umphrey, Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor of Austin Community College made her date with destiny when she solidified her love for data, earning her B.B.A. in computer information systems at Middle Tennessee State University in the 1990s. With more than 20 years of experience in Corporate America at companies including Bridgestone/Firestone and ACS (Xerox), Dr. Umphrey knew she wanted to be a champion for change in higher education. With her master of science degree in hand, she earned her doctoral degree in management from the University of Maryland University College with a focus in community college policy and administration.
Her lifelong commitment to innovation, equity, and systemic change is evidenced by her initiatives as the former President at Houston Community College Northeast in Houston, TX, where she led the launch of the District’s first interdisciplinary Center of Excellence and the design of the Regional Resilience Operations Center (RROC). She also launched HCC Northeast’s Honor College in the Fall of 2021. Previously, she served as Vice President of Workforce Innovation and Dean of the Information Technology Center of Excellence at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Cleveland, Ohio. Bridging the digital divide through innovative programs like the Bridge to Bachelor pathway and creating partnerships with Apple and IBM to prepare students for Blockchain, she is a passionate and insightful change facilitator.
Dr. Umphrey was selected as an Aspen Presidential Fellow for Community College Excellence and holds numerous professional certifications.
Dr. Myk Garn
Assistant Chancellor for New Learning Models, University System of Georgia
Garn is an academic innovator and strategist. He has worked at colleges, state systems, regional collaboratives and an Internet start-up. In addition to his role at the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, he holds appointments as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is a Senior Associate at the Georgia Research Alliance, and is Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute for Adult Learning and Online Education.
Garn focuses on the New Learning Models that occur in the opportunity spaces where teaching and learning are catalyzed by technology including competency-based education (CBE), adaptive courseware, learning analytics, and AI assistance. These include Precision Academics and Digital Forward instructional design and development of highly instrumented and personalized courses informed by learning analytics, as well as AI and the 21st Century Workforce.
Previously Garn served as Vice President for Academic Strategies for StraighterLine; Director of the Educational Technology Cooperative at the Southern Regional Education Board; founding Chief Academic Officer and later Executive Director of the Kentucky Virtual Campus; Associate Vice President for eLearning at the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education; Director of Distance Education Policy and Planning for the University System of Georgia, and Executive Director of the Instructional Technology Development Center at Lamar
Garn developed the SREB/iNACOL National Online Teacher of the Year program. He co-authored the landmark “Virtual College and University Consortia: A National Study.” He is a former, founding board member of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) and serves on the Executive Advisory and Accessibility Advisory Boards for Desire 2 Learn (D2L). Garn holds a Ph.D. in educational policy and evaluation from the University of Kentucky.
Dr. William Wainwright
Chancellor, Northshore Technical Community College, Madisonville, Louisiana
Dr. William Wainwright was appointed Chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College in 2011. He began his higher education career as a faculty member and grant writer. He later served as Campus Dean and Dean of Workforce Development within the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and Vice President of Business Services for the Safety Council.
Career highlights include Institute for Citizens & Scholars Higher Education Policy Fellowship, Harvard Institute for Educational Management Fellow. He was recognized as the 2014 St. Tammany Economic Development Innovator of the Year, 2015 Partner of the Year, and 2017 St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership award recipient.
His college was distinguished as the Louisiana ACT Exemplar for College and Career Readiness for 2015, recognized nationally in the December 2015 Community College Week publication for growth, ranked top in the nation by the Brookings Institute for greatest economic value of graduates in 2015, ranked 3rd in the nation for fastest growth by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2018, and has been distinguished as a 2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021 Top Workplace by NOLA.com. He completed his doctoral studies at the University of New Orleans in higher education administration.
Dr. Paul Illich
President, Southeast Community College, Nebraska
Illich was named president of Southeast Community College in 2014. He served at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, for 17 years, most recently as vice president of research, planning and information technology and senior director of institutional effectiveness and planning.
Illich led Southeast Community College to a number of significant accomplishments, including the development of the College’s 2015-19 Strategic Plan, which provided clear direction for program development, enrollment, student success, financial management, facilities planning, and program and partnership development. The College also completed its first comprehensive Facilities Master Plan in 2016, to expand the College’s capacity to provide a qualified skilled workforce and affordable access to higher education.
Under his leadership the College opened six learning centers throughout the 15-county service area and completed successful accreditation review and the Lincoln Campus Career Academy that enrolls high school students in dual credit courses. Illich served as president of the Joint Board of The Career Academy, a collaborative partnership with Lincoln Public Schools, and chairperson of the Nebraska Community College Association Chief Executive Officers, comprised of presidents from five of the state’s six community colleges.
Illich has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Texas A&M University in College Station.
Russell A. Kavalhuna J.D.
Henry Ford College, Dearborn, Michigan
Russell A. Kavalhuna, J.D., joined Henry Ford College as the institution’s sixth president in 2018. The role unites his passions for public service, education, and institutional leadership. As the son of an immigrant who attended a Michigan community college, he believes the community college model of education and service is the gateway to the American Dream. Before becoming president at Henry Ford College, Mr. Kavalhuna was the Executive Director of Flight Operations at the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, the nation’s third-largest collegiate aviation program. Prior to his position at WMU, Mr. Kavalhuna was a federal prosecutor and a commercial airline captain.
He has been appointed by three Michigan governors of both parties to multiple statewide boards and commissions, including the Michigan Workforce Development Board and the Michigan Aeronautics Commission. He is a graduate of the Aspen Fellowship on Community College Excellence and the leadership training program hosted by Presidents William J. Clinton and George W. Bush, the President Leadership Scholars.
Mr. Kavalhuna is currently serving a fourth term on the Michigan Aeronautics Commission. Previous experience includes service as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and senior lawyer for the Michigan Supreme Court. He also taught at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. He earned his undergraduate degree in aviation science from Western Michigan University and his juris doctor from WMU Cooley Law School.
Dr. Brad Johnson
President, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri
Dr. Johnson began service as president of College of the Ozarks on June 1, 2022, after having served more than 26 years in private Christian higher education in Texas. Originally from the small West Texas town of Lazbuddie, Brad learned the value of work and the importance of relationships and community by working with his dad, granddad and uncles on the family farm.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Baylor University, where he was a member of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce and the Baylor Religious Hour Choir. He went on to pursue a master's degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in marriage/family counseling and religious education. Later he returned to Baylor to earn his doctorate in education administration with a concentration in higher education.
Brad is a values-driven educator and influencer, licensed professional counselor and a licensed Baptist minister. Johnson is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and raised more than $57 million in cash gifts.
Dr. Michael Fischer
President, York County Community College, Wells, Maine
Michael Fischer is president of York County Community College in Wells, Maine. Previously, he held leadership positions at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, NH, at Hesser College in Manchester, NH and at Notre Dame College in Manchester, NH. Positions held include Dean of Students, Associate Vice President for Economic and Workforce Development, Vice President for Enrollment Services, and Director of Athletics.
In addition to his experience in higher education, he has started and run two small businesses and served in leadership roles on several local, regional, and national boards, including The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, TAP, and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
As a first-generation college student, Fischer is passionate about the role higher education plays in creating socio-economic opportunities for students and communities.
D. Thanos Smith
Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Paragon VTOL Aerospace
D. Thanos Smith is a Jamaican-born American citizen. He and his family migrated to America when Smith was an adolescent. He started his collegiate career at Purdue University as a chemistry/pre-med student, but eventually switched to marine biology because of his love for the planet.
Smith has always had a passion for aquatic life and aviation which inspired the design and functions of Paragon VTOL aircraft. Prior to Paragon VTOL, Smith invented the patented diversion chemicals used to enhance the recovery rate of oil and gas chemicals.
Smith had numerous patents filed while founding Paragon VTOL and managed global consulting teams to build the company from inception. In 2019 Paragon created small- and mid-scale working prototypes to establish proof of concept. Smith established a partnership with Siemens to leverage their predictable analysis IT, established a partnership with the co-developer of Amazon Web Services to build Paragon’s virtual highway operating software and established a partnership with Rolls Royce and S&C Electric to co-build micro-grid energy systems. In 2022 he created a partnership with Virginia Union University to develop a research and innovation center for sustainable job creation.
Smith developed a partnership with the city of Brownsville in Texas to create a manufacturing facility, VTOL domestic and international terminals, and a space port at the Brownsville International Airport to establish proof of concept and eventually commercialize its business models.
Smith is an avid golfer, baby whisperer volunteer at his church, mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs and founder of Paragon for Life - a S.T.E.M. program for children in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Dr. Amanda “Mandi” Lee
President of Bladen Community College, Dublin, North Carolina
Dr. Amanda Lee has been president at Bladen Community College since 2019. Previously she was chief of staff and vice president of academic affairs for Union College and president at Cape Fear Community College. She is on the Bladen County Regional Leadership team, was director of the North Carolina Community College Leadership Program and active with the North Carolina Community College Presidents Association. She has worked cooperatively with Bladen County Schools and been involved with SACS-COC annual meetings and small college initiative. She has also been involved with the Lumber River Workforce Development Board and the North Carolina State Ethics Commission.
Dr. Lee holds both bachelor and master’s degrees from Baylor University and received her doctoral degree in communications arts from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA.
Dr. Devin Stephenson
President, Northwest Florida State College, Niceville, Florida
An Alabama native Dr. Stephenson has extensive experience in community college executive administration, having served in President/CEO positions in Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky. He is currently President of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida and serves as a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and School Board of Trustees, is a visiting committee chair with the Commission and was recently appointed a chair of the SACS-COC Compliance and Report Committee.
He serves as a member of the Florida State College System Council of Presidents and is a noted speaker on leadership, organizational change and professional/personal development. Stephenson led the development of the College’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan, characterized by an aggressive agenda to place the College at the forefront of regional transformation in the areas of economic, community and workforce development.
Stephenson is a fierce advocate for the College in the Florida Legislature and ha experience much success in state appropriations for new construction, renovation and general operations. He earned an associate degree in science from Walker Junior College, with a bachelor of arts in business administration from Birmingham-Southern College and both master and doctoral degrees in the administration of higher education from the University of Alabama.
Dr. Cristie Kedroski
Senior Vice President, Northwest Florida State College
Dr. Cristie Kedroski has worked at Northwest Florida State College for 11 years and currently serves as Senior Vice President, responsible for leadership and oversight of Academic Affairs, Student Success, Grants Development, and the NWFSC Foundation divisions. During Kedroski’s management of the NWFSC Foundation, the organization’s total assets have grown more than 70%, advancing to more than $62 million. In addition, the institution has received more than $43 million in grants during the last four academic years.
She previously served as the Interim Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Marketing for Florida’s Great Northwest, a regional economic development organization representing 16 counties in Northwest Florida. Preceding her tenure at Florida’s Great Northwest she worked at Office Depot’s Corporate Headquarters in Delray Beach as the Marketing Manager. Kedroski earned her bachelor of science degree in business administration from the University of Florida, her master of business administration from the University of West Florida, and the doctorate in education, higher education administration, from the University of Florida.
Dr. Deidre Price
Vice President, Academic Affairs, Northwest Florida State College
Before being named Vice President, Dr. Price served as Dean of Academic Strategies, Innovation, and Support, as well as Director of Learning Technologies at NWFSC, following more than 15 years in the college classroom. Throughout her career, Dr. Price has worked alongside faculty to develop quality online courses and led the development of policies that foster student engagement and success in NWFSC courses, paving the way for the launch of NWF Online and NWFSC's achievement of a Blackboard Catalyst Award for innovative strategies in student support. Her background in new media studies and online communication is paired with her extensive experience in online learning environments and she has led technology workshops, online webinars, and faculty training locally and nationally for events hosted by D2L and Blackboard, The National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development, and Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
Dr. Price’s research and writing focuses on building learning environments that create the same level of engagement and potential for peer-to-peer interaction as the face-to-face classroom. She is certified as a Quality Matters Reviewer and holds a Ph.D. in literature and new media studies from Florida State College.
Chief Communications Officer, Northwest Florida State College, Niceville, Florida
Bryan Brooks currently serves as the Chief Communications Officer at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida. Highly focused on the congruence of institutional strategy, marketing, and communications, Bryan is an executive leader with proven success in building and cultivating high-performance teams in the areas of marketing and communications that serve institutions of higher education. Bryan has extensive experience building and nurturing partnerships with university presidents, foundation boards, government affairs, enrollment, advancement, and other vital areas in a higher education context. He is a proven developer of educational leadership development programs resulting in the graduation and job placement of students in business and non-profit contexts. He holds an MBA with a specialization in marketing and finance from Washington State University.
Dr. Jonathan Fuentes
Vice President of Academic Partnerships at Odessa College
Dr. Jonathan Fuentes serves as the Vice President of Academic Partnerships at Odessa College. Before his current position, Dr. Fuentes held previous positions at Odessa College, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District, the University of Michigan, the University of Houston, and state and local government. He received his B.A. from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. His degrees are in political science with an emphasis in public policy. He previously served as an elected official on the Reeves County Hospital Board of Trustees, president and member of the Pecos Downtown Lions Club, and director on the Board of Directors for the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce. Both in his professional work and as his personal passion, Dr. Fuentes spends much of his time thinking about college and career readiness for PK-20 students.
Business Development Coordinator at Odessa College
Leroy is the Business Development Coordinator at Odessa College. Prior to joining Odessa College, he worked in The Success Center at UTPB as a Lead Mentor and Coordinator. As a graduate of University of Texas Permian Basin, he received two bachelor's and a master's degree and will pursue his Doctor of Business Administration in Leadership from Liberty University in spring 2023. Recently, Leroy joined the Odessa City Chamber of Commerce. His main objective at Odessa College is to build, strengthen, and develop relationships with local, regional, and state representatives to ensure Odessa College's success. This includes connecting students with employers, expanding the alumni network, and building the Career Fair for students. During Leroy's free time he enjoys working out, reading, and playing chess.
Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Northern New Mexico College
Dr. Lori Baca
Chairperson and Associate Professor of Business Administration at Northern New Mexico College
Dr. Lori M. Baca began her higher education career 21 years ago in the Department of Business Administration where she has taught most of the courses. Today, she is the Chairperson and Associate Professor of Business Administration at Northern New Mexico College. Under her direction, all the programs in the Department became accredited in 2015. Dr. Baca collaborates with other institutions to provide shared courses and to facilitate students in bachelor’s programs matriculating to master’s programs.
Career Services Director, Northern New Mexico College
Sara McCormick is currently serving as the Director of Admissions, Recruitment, and Career Services, at Northern New Mexico College. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she has over a decade of experience in Higher Education in a variety of capacities, including Education Abroad, Recruitment and Retention, Enrollment Management, Curriculum Development, Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL), and Program Development. Sara has her M.A. degree from the SIT (School for International Training) Graduate Institute, in the field of International Education.
President, GoEducate, Austin, Texas
Gordon Freedman is president of GoEducate, a leading web-scale education-to-employment platfrom. Freedman is also founder and vice chair of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation, www.NLET.org, a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to transforming education access, equity and pathways to sustainable employment. Freedman founded NLET as an organization that looks three to five years into the future, acting as a broad social, research and organizational platform for the alignment of education and training with the technology of the knowledge economy and youth culture. The non-profit has received federal and foundation grants in partnerships with universities, community colleges, school districts and research institutes.
Chief Marketing Officer, GoEducate, Austin, Texas
Tim Johnson is a marketing, design and creative strategist who built his career in Seoul, South Korea. Through continuous learning, listening and leaning into the needs of the Asian market, Tim led award-winning marketing, brand and global advertising initiatives for brands including Samsung, Hyundai, Google, YouTube Red, Porsche, HP, Microsoft, Gore-Tex and Oakley.
Prior to joining GoEducate, Johnson served as the Creative Operations Director for Compass, real estate’s premier and tech-focused brokerage that went public in June 2021.
Dr. Joanna Kile
Vice President of Instruction, Texas Southmost College, Brownsville, Texas
Dr. Kile is currently Vice President of Instruction at Texas Southmost College. She previously served as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Workforce Instruction, Executive Director of Transformation, and Executive Director of the Global Energy Training Institute at Houston Community College. She holds a doctorate in higher education administration from Baylor University and a master’s degree in human genetics from the University of North Texas. With more than twenty-five years of community college administration experience, her focus is on the transformation of and innovation in higher education and her expertise is in workforce development.