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Conference Plenary Speakers

Monday, September 16

Conference Welcome Plenary

Gisele Garraway, President and CEO, Starfish Initiative  

Gisele Garraway, formerly a Senior Vice President at Devonshire Investors, the private equity affiliate of Fidelity Investments, is joining Starfish Initiative as its third President and CEO.    

At Fidelity, Gisele identified and evaluated new asset classes and business ventures as well as advised senior management teams of portfolio companies on the creation and implementation of strategic and operating plans.  Much of her work focused on the Building Supply & Housing investment platform. Prior to joining Fidelity, Gisele held several positions at Staples Inc including Vice President and General Manager of Canadian Small Business Delivery, and Vice President of Corporate Strategy.  One of the first Staples.com leaders, she was responsible for developing profitable growth opportunities; leading the marketing, merchandising and operations for the Canadian online/catalog business; and providing strategic analytics to the heads of Staples’ global ecommerce and retail business units.  Prior to her Staples tenure, Gisele was a consultant at Boston-based Bain & Company for several years, where she consulted numerous Fortune 500 companies on strategic, marketing and operational issues.   

Outside of commercial pursuits, Gisele has dedicated efforts to various youth-related community causes in Greater Boston. She recently taught operations management at Babson College.  Additionally, she worked as an advocate for families with children experiencing homelessness as a board leader of Brookview House in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.  A believer in empowering youth with tools for life, Gisele spent over a decade teaching Sunday school at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton, MA.   

Originally from Petersburg, Virginia, Gisele received an MBA from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA and a Bachelor of Business Administration summa cum laude from Howard University in Washington DC.  Gisele is married to Levi Garraway, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President Global Development and Medical Affairs, Oncology at Eli Lilly.  Gisele and Levi live in Indianapolis with their two children, Dwight and Darena.  

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Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO, Lumina Foundation, Recipient of the 2019 Bob Craves Champion of College Access Award 


Jamie Merisotis is a globally recognized leader in philanthropy, education, and public policy. Since 2008, he has served as president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina Foundation was one of NCAN's most important early supporters, providing more than $5.5 million in grants since 2002. Jamie served on the NCAN board from 2007-08 before joining Lumina. He is a first-generation college graduate and Pell Grant recipient.   

Jamie previously served as co-founder and president of the nonpartisan Institute for Higher Education Policy and as executive director of the bipartisan Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance appointed by the president and congressional leaders. He also helped create the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps), serving as an adviser to senior management on issues related to the quality and effectiveness of national service initiatives.    

Jamie is the author of the widely acclaimed book “America Needs Talent,” named a Top 10 Business book of 2016 by Booklist. His writing has appeared The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, Politico, Roll Call and other publications.   

Jamie is the recipient of numerous awards and holds honorary degrees from several colleges and universities. He chairs the board of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest museum for children, and is chair-elect of the Council on Foundations. Jamie also holds leadership positions on the boards of his alma mater, Bates College in Maine; the UK-based European Access Network; and the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project on national service. Previously, he was chair of the board of Scholarship America, the nation’s largest private-sector scholarship organization and one of NCAN’s largest members 

 
Tuesday, September 17

Breakfast Plenary: The Future and Vision of Federal Student Aid

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Major General (Retired) Mark A. Brown, Office of Federal Student Aid, US Department of Education 

Major General (Retired) Mark A. Brown was appointed the 8th Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA) on March 4, 2019.  Previously he served as a Senior Advisor in the Department of Education focusing on the human capital readiness and development needed to support approximately 42 million student loan borrowing clients and administrators in the $1.5T Federal Student Aid Program.   

 General Brown retired from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) where he served over 32 years as an active duty Air Force Officer.   Most recently, he served as the Deputy Commander for Air Education and Training Command, where he was responsible for Air Force education, as well as basic and technical training.  Prior to that, he served in a series of roles across the USAF, including Commander of the Second Air Force which is the technical training and certification process for 90% of Air Force specialties.   He served as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) twice.  The latest of these was as the CFO for the Air Force’s Materiel Command where he was charged with overseeing a $67 billion portfolio, with budget and financial responsibilities that provided vital services to support and command units around the world.  He also served as a Congressional Liaison to the House and Senate Appropriations Military Sub-Committees.   

General Brown holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Tuskegee University, a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Troy State University, a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the Air Command and Staff College, and a Master’s degree of National Security Strategy from the National Defense University.  He has completed professional development with Darden School of Business, Harvard JFK School of Business, and University of Tennessee.   

General Brown makes his home in Virginia with his wife, Gwendolyn.  They have two young adult sons. 


Afternoon Plenary: Achieving Equity in College Access and Success: Three Lightning Talks

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Alexandra Bernadotte, Founder and CEO, Beyond 12 

Alexandra (Alex) Bernadotte is the founder and chief executive officer of Beyond 12, a high-tech, high-touch nonprofit that integrates personalized coaching with mobile technology to increase the number of traditionally underserved students who graduate from college. She has more than 18 years of executive management and strategic development experience in the nonprofit and private sectors. Immediately before launching Beyond 12, Alex was an entrepreneur in residence at NewSchools Venture Fund where she developed the business plan for Beyond 12.   

Alex's previous professional experience includes serving as executive director of The Princeton Review's Silicon Valley office; executive director of Foundation for a College Education, a nonprofit college access program; co-founder and vice president of marketing at educational travel startup Explorica; director of operations at EF Education; and operations manager at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, where she coordinated the efforts of an international youth substance abuse prevention foundation. Alex currently serves on the board of directors of Great Oakland Public Schools and the board of advisors of the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College.  

Alex received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and earned a master's degree with a concentration in policy and organizational leadership from Stanford. She is an Ashoka Fellow, a recipient of the 2011 NewSchools Venture Fund Entrepreneur of the Year award, a 2012 Jefferson Award for Public Service winner, a Fellow of the 22nd class of the Pahara - Aspen Education Fellowship, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. In addition, Beyond 12 was named one of the world's 10 most innovative education companies by Fast Company and the organization’s MyCoach mobile app won the 2016 Xammy Award for best social impact app from Xamarin, a Microsoft- owned mobile development platform. 

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Steve Colon, Chief Executive Officer, Bottom Line 

Steve’s lifelong advocacy for educational equity comes from personal experience. He grew up in Brentwood, New York, a majority LatinX community and was the first in his family to earn a college degree. This experience helped to solidify his belief in the transformative impact a bachelor’s degree can have on a family for generations.   

Prior to joining Bottom Line, Steve was the Senior Vice President of Organization-Wide Learning and Strategy for Teach For America (TFA). His work focused on catalyzing TFA’s growth into a world-class learning organization.   

Before TFA, Steve spent 12 years with the College Board where he led strategic, analytic, and operational teams for large national programs including, Advanced Placement (AP), SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and BigFuture.org. His last three years at College Board focused on managing their portfolio of college access programs and services and finding innovative ways to improve the college-going and completion rates of low-income and first-generation students on a national level.  

Steve currently serves on the Board of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a membership organization focused on strengthening and empowering communities committed to college access and success. He spent three years on the board of St. HOPE Leadership Academy and two years as a member of Univision Communications’ Educational Advisory Board. Additionally, Steve spent 13 years as an adjunct political science instructor, teaching courses on mass media, political and civil rights, the civil rights movement, race and ethnic relations, and Hispanic culture and community.  

Steve holds a master’s degree in political science, with a focus on political psychology and quantitative methods, from SUNY Stony Brook. He also has a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy and a bachelor’s degree in comparative government, with a minor in secondary education, both from St. John’s University. He currently lives in Queens, New York with his wife, Danielle, and their two sons.


Wednesday, September 18

Closing Plenary: Taking Stock of the College Access and Success Movement: A Conversation with Grantmakers

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Caroline Altman Smith, Deputy Director, Education Kresge Foundation – Panel Moderator 
Caroline Altman Smith is deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program. She supports the team’s domestic grantmaking, which funds higher education institutions and national nonprofit organizations that work to help more underserved students enter and succeed in postsecondary education. 
 
Before joining Kresge in 2008, Caroline served for five years as a program officer at the Lumina Foundation in Indianapolis where she worked to create opportunities for low-income, minority and first-generation students to enter college and complete their undergraduate degrees. 
A graduate of the University of Virginia, Caroline holds a master’s degree in philanthropic studies and a certificate in nonprofit management from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. She is an instructor for The Grantmaking School at Grand Valley State University, previously chaired the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy National Board of Advisors, and currently serves on the boards of the Council of Michigan Foundations and Grantmakers for Education. 

Danette Howard, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Lumina Foundation 

Danette Gerald Howard, Ph.D. is senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing student access and success in postsecondary education. Howard oversees several of Lumina’s key strategies to increase Americans’ attainment of high-quality postsecondary degrees and credentials, including strategic work in both state and federal policy. She also leads the Foundation’s efforts to mobilize and engage employers, metropolitan areas, higher education institutions and other key actors with a stake in postsecondary attainment.  

Prior to joining Lumina, Howard served as Secretary of Higher Education in Maryland, leading the state’s postsecondary education coordinating agency, the Maryland Higher Education Commission.  As secretary she oversaw Maryland’s statewide financial aid program, approved new academic programs and institutions seeking to operate in the state, and advised the governor and legislators on higher education policies and initiatives.  

A nationally regarded analyst and thought leader, Howard previously served as director of research and policy analysis at the Maryland Higher Education Commission.  She also held positions as the assistant director of higher education policy at the Education Trust in Washington, D.C., as a researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park, and as a student affairs administrator and admissions counselor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  

Howard earned her bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Howard University. She also received her master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her Ph.D. in higher education policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2015, she was honored for her outstanding success and national distinction in the fields of education and policy with Howard University's Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.


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Amy Kerwin, Vice President–Education Philanthropy at Ascendium
In her role, she leads the implementation of Ascendium’s philanthropic strategy to elevate opportunities and outcomes for learners from low-income backgrounds so they can better achieve the postsecondary education and career goals that matter most to them. Prior to joining Ascendium in 1994, Amy spent four years as an auditor at EY. She is both a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor. Amy received her Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. She serves on the boards of Grantmakers for Education and the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network and is a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy.

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Paul Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation
Paul J. Luna is a nationally recognized leader in philanthropy, education, and community development.  Since 2006, he has served as President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, where he has led the foundation in its efforts to create opportunities for individuals to succeed in postsecondary education.  In this role, he is responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the organization, cultivating strong community relationships, and initiating strategic partnerships in Arizona and Florida.  He brings more than 25 years of public and private professional experience to leadership of Helios.   A native of Miami, Arizona, Mr. Luna graduated from Miami High School, and as a first-generation college student, attended Stanford University, where he earned a degree in Civil Engineering.  In addition to his role at Helios, Mr. Luna currently serves as a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the National College Access Network Board of Directors, the America's Promise Alliance Board of Directors, the Center for the Future of Arizona Board of Directors, the Partnership for Economic Innovation Board of Directors, and the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities President’s Council; and he was Founding Chair of the Expect More Arizona Board of Directors. 

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Bill Tucker, Senior Advisor, K-12 Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill leads the K-12 team’s pathways work, focused on ensuring that students successfully navigate from high school into – and through – postsecondary education. Bill has served in leadership roles on both the K-12 and US Policy & Advocacy grantmaking teams, led the development and review of major strategy components, and managed the prioritization, budgeting, allocation, and evaluation of multi-million dollar grantmaking portfolios. Before joining the Foundation, he served seven years as Managing Director at Education Sector, where he built and led all aspects of organizational management and growth – from start-up to mature organization – of a nationally prominent education policy think tank. At Education Sector, he also served as a nationally recognized policy expert, writer, speaker, and source on a wide-range of educational issues including technology, innovation, data use, and student assessment. Throughout his career, as both a founder and board member, he’s helped to launch and grow many nonprofit and for-profit entities focused on improving education, civil society, and community engagement. Bill is a graduate of Duke University and earned both an MBA and a Master's of Education from Stanford University.