Featured Speakers

ALL IN National Summit 2024: Promoting the Value of Adult Literacy

Alisa Belzer – Professor, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education

Alisa Belzer is a Professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education and program coordinator for the online EdM in Adult and Continuing Education. Widely published in peer-reviewed journals and edited books, the research topics she investigates include adult foundational education policy, professional development, and adult learner experiences.  She co-edits Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy and is the co-editor of the recently released text Understanding the Adult Learner (Routledge).


Katie Brown, PhD – Founder & Chief Education Officer, EnGen

Katie has dedicated her career to making high-quality language learning more accessible. She has a PhD in Second Language Acquisition from the University of Maryland, where her research focused on cognition and language learning. She is an expert on workplace-based language programs and has helped dozens of organizations create successful pathways to career mobility for both incumbent workers and job seekers. She has spent years evaluating and analyzing language learning products, and she has conducted extensive empirical research on how to design online language programs that are efficient and effective. After authoring ten patents on the technology she designed to deliver AI-driven language learning at scale, she founded EnGen, a Certified B Corporation, and her current goal is to leverage this technology to deliver high-quality, needs-based English instruction to immigrants and refugees, rapidly giving them the tools they need to advocate for themselves and their families and improve their economic outcomes.


Sharon Bonney – Chief Executive Officer, Coalition on Adult Basic Education

Sharon Bonney began her career with COABE as a part-time administrator in 2009, moving up in the organization as she showed an unparalleled commitment to the field of adult education. Sharon has helped advance the organization on a number of fronts, including managing efforts to move it from a 1,300 member group in 2009 to 50,000 active members in 2024. She was the guiding force behind designing and implementing a new national conference model, developing new state, national, and workforce partnerships with more than 100 organizations, rebranding the COABE research journal and a related research-to-practice initiative, and designing all new professional development offerings, including webinars that have engaged more than 50,000 participants. Bonney spearheaded the development of the internationally acclaimed, six-time award-winning Educate and Elevate public awareness campaign, which brought much-needed visibility to the value of adult education and prompted more than 250,000 contacts with legislators at the local, state, and federal levels. These efforts staved off $200 million in funding cuts and added a $108 million increase in funding for adult education. In addition, Bonney successfully promoted a national two-time award winning campaign, Move Ahead with Adult Ed, to increase enrollments in local adult education programs that were hard hit by the pandemic. Moreover, she has diversified and increased revenue streams for the organization by envisioning, designing, and implementing many innovative strategies.


Sarah Cacicio – Director, Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network

Sarah Cacicio is the Director of Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN), convened by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Sarah has more than 10 years of experience working to advance social mobility for older youth and adult learners through equity-centered research, teacher education, adult education programming, and wraparound services. From assessment design to workforce development, much of Sarah’s work has focused on the impact of digital tools and technologies on adult learners. Sarah earned her M.A. in Bilingual & Bicultural Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.A. in Spanish Language & Literature from the University of Massachusetts Boston as a first-generation college student.


James Condon – Managing Director, Strategic Communications, FTI Consulting

James Condon is a data strategist who leads extensive primary research projects that measure the opinion, perception, and expectation of multistakeholder groups to help inform client engagement strategies and communication campaigns. James leads the FTI Consulting’s team of research and data experts and is based in New York.

With more than a decade of experience, James has conducted research projects utilizing bespoke methodologies to understand the global opinion of client stakeholders in times of corporate change, transactions, crises, market or societal disruptions, and has helped clients effectively adapt their messaging and communications to mitigate reputational issues.


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith – President and Chief Executive Officer, National Center for Families Learning

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Smith’s career in education spans nearly three decades, where she has served in various leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofits, and philanthropy. Her career has allowed her to experience leading systems to develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory. She is driven by her commitment to equity and excellence for every learner. 

Before joining NCFL, Smith was the senior director of Global Delivery at the National Geographic Society, where she oversaw the implementation and programming of domestic and global education strategies focused on transforming the classroom and family experiences. Smith served as assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning in the 27th largest urban district in Louisville, Kentucky, as a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and as associate commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education. She began her career as an elementary classroom teacher and has taught at the University of Kentucky, where she led the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development, which is legislatively required to provide professional development and conduct research in literacy for preschool through adult learners. Recognized as an Aspen-Pahara education fellow, she serves on several national and local boards. Smith serves as Vice Chair of the Southern Regional Education Board and was appointed by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear to chair the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council. At the forefront of centering equity in education through inclusive programming, in 2021, participated in The Equity Lab’s prestigious year-long Nexus Fellowship. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on literacy development.


Melissa Hauber-Özer – Assistant Professor of Qualitative Inquiry, College of Education and Human Development, University of Missouri

Melissa Hauber-Özer is an Assistant Professor of Qualitative Inquiry in the University of Missouri’s College of Education and Human Development, where she instructs qualitative research methods courses for graduate students. She previously taught adult literacy and English as a second language for over 15 years in both non-formal and university settings in Philadelphia and Northern Virginia. Her research focuses on language and literacy education in migration contexts and employs critical participatory methodology to examine issues of equity and access for linguistically and culturally diverse learners. Dr. Hauber-Özer received her PhD in International Education from George Mason University and her MEd in World Language Education from Temple University.


Jeff Hutcheson – Director, Advocacy and Public Policy, TESOL 

With over 25 years of experience in the field of English teaching and learning, Jeff is a passionate advocate for the rights and needs of TESOL professionals and students worldwide. As the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at TESOL International Association, he leads the association’s efforts to influence local, state, and global policies that affect the TESOL community and advance the interests of its members and affiliates. Jeff is committed to promoting the values of diversity, inclusion, and excellence in TESOL, and to fostering collaborations and partnerships across the field and beyond. 

In addition to his role at TESOL, Jeff is also a founding partner at Global Ed Professionals, a consultancy firm that provides solutions for internationalizing the campus and preparing students for the global community. In this role, Jeff leverages his extensive experience and expertise in ESL and higher education partnerships, as well as cross-border business development, to help clients achieve their goals and enhance their outcomes. Some of the skills that he brings into this role are policy advocacy, immigration, staff mentoring, and corporate training. 


Deborah Kennedy – Executive Director, National Coalition for Literacy

Deborah has worked at NCL for over 7 years, previously working at TESOL. She is an expert in adult second language acquisition and provides professional development for teachers of adult English language learners. As the executive director for NCL, she is an advocate for adult learners, adult basic skills programs, and teachers in the field of adult basic education and English as a second language.


Mike King – State Adult Education Director, South Carolina Department of Education, Office of Adult Education

Mr. Michael King currently works at the South Carolina Department of Education where he serves as State Director for Adult Education and the State Administrator for the High School Equivalency Diploma program. He is responsible for the leadership and coordination of all adult education activities in the state. Although he serves on many advisory boards, he is proudest to serve as a member of the State Workforce Development Board.

 He received his bachelor’s degree from Winthrop University and has earned two master’s degrees. He has a master’s degree in education from Columbia College, and a business administration degree from Webster University. He is currently working towards a doctoral degree in education. He has been married to his best friend and wife Sherri for 30 years.


Dr. Jungeun Lee, PhD – Assistant Teaching Professor, Pennsylvania State University, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy

Dr. Lee is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Penn State University and affiliated with the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy and Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy. Her research interests encompass adult foundational education, family literacy programming, parent involvement, and program evaluation using mixed methods. She is currently serving as the Co-Project Director for Evidence-based Adult Education System (E-BAES) Return-on-investment Pilot research with Dr. Patterson.


Dr. Amy Loyd – Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Amy Loyd, Ed.L.D., is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. In this role, she oversees national programs related to career and technical education, community colleges, adult education and literacy, and correctional education.

Prior to joining the Biden-Harris Administration, Dr. Loyd was a Vice President at Jobs for the Future (JFF), where she designed and led programs across the United States that improve education and workforce outcomes. Her work at JFF focused on state and regional policies, practices, and cross-sector partnerships that engaged K-12 education, community colleges, adult education, workforce development, economic development, and employers to build systems of college and career pathways, leveraging career and technical education. She also oversaw JFF’s work in workforce development with a lens on economic advancement, state and federal policy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She previously was the Director of Education at Cook Inlet Tribal Council, leading a network of schools providing culturally responsive education, training, and wraparound services to the Alaska Native and Native American communities.

Dr. Loyd attended Santa Fe Community College and Northern New Mexico Community College, and holds a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s College and a doctorate in education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was an adjunct lecturer on building career pathways to increase opportunity and equity. 


Brooke Machado – Senior Program Manager for Adult Education, City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office

Brooke Machado is the Senior Program Manager for Adult Education in the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Worker Empowerment Cabinet. In this role, she serves as the agency’s technical authority and subject-matter expert for adult education programming and policy development. She coordinates the City’s Adult Literacy Initiative (ALI), a network of 29 Boston-area adult education providers and supports capacity-building initiatives for adult education providers throughout Boston. Before joining the Worker Empowerment Cabinet, she worked for 20 years as an adult education specialist serving as an instructor, curriculum writer, and teacher trainer. Brooke received a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.


Margaret Becker Patterson, PhD – Senior Researcher, Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

Dr. Patterson, Senior Researcher with Research Allies for Lifelong Learning, partners with non-profit organizations, postsecondary institutions, and state agencies to apply research that supports adult educators and learners. She is currently serving as the Co-Project Director for Evidenced-based Adult Education System (E-BAES) Return-on-investment Pilot research. Previously, she served as Research Director at GED Testing Service in American Council on Education and as Associate Director of Adult Education in Kansas. She has administered and taught in adult foundation education programs in Nebraska, Nevada, Kansas, and Virginia, and provides professional learning on research and evaluation throughout the USA. 


Andrew Roberts – Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy

Andrew Roberts has been helping mission-driven organizations develop impactful strategy and translate it into everyday operations for the entire course of his career. He currently serves as the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, an organization dedicated to creating an America in which all adults have the opportunity to read, write, and comprehend in order to navigate the world with dignity. Prior to stepping into his current position, Andrew served as the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer for more than three years. In 2023, Andrew was honored as a Top 100 Chief Operating Officer by the OnCon Icon Awards. Previously, Andrew served in a number of different management roles at AARP. During his tenure as AARP’s Vice President of Enterprise Strategy, he developed a Malcolm Baldrige award-winning best practice strategic planning process for the organization’s $250M social impact portfolio. As Director of Organizational Effectiveness, he helped build and execute against a comprehensive operational improvement plan for the entire 2,600-employee nonprofit organization.


Gabby Salado – Student Services and Leadership Coordinator, Briya Public Charter School, Washington, DC

Alma Gabriela Salado (Gabby) is the Student Services and Leadership Coordinator of Briya Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Her work is focused on supporting students in building essential skills that help parents secure social and economic mobility for the entire family. She is a facilitator of  Briya Voices for All (BVFA), an adult leadership class that focuses on civic engagement and finding students’ natural leadership skills. Gabby started at Briya as an adult learner for 3 years, going from ESL to obtaining her high school diploma which allowed her to start her journey to higher education.


Federico Salas-Isnardi – Director, Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy, Houston, TX

Federico was named the first Director of the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy in Houston, Texas. This was announced on September 17, 2019 by Mayor Turner at the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library, where the MOAL is now housed. The Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy envisions a Houston where every individual can obtain the skills necessary to prosper and reach their full potential and where low literacy no longer keeps families in poverty. The Office builds partnerships, advocates for adult learners and families, enhances Houston’s response to the need for adult literacy services, and educates the community at large on literacy’s impact on our economy, communities, families, and individuals. Federico has been in this position for about 4 and a half years and hopes to tap into the knowledge and expertise of individuals in the world of literacy nationwide.


Priyanka Sharma – Vice President, World Education

As VP of World Education, Priyanka Sharma oversees the organization’s U.S.-based projects and centers of expertise, including the EdTech Center, National College Transition Network, New England Literacy Resource Center, and SABES Program Support Center. Priyanka leads projects on post-secondary career readiness, technology integration, digital transformation, and digital skills development. She co-leads Digital US, a national initiative with a cross-sector approach to design a learn and work ecosystem that fosters digital resilience for all learner workers. She also directs the New England Literacy Resource Center, leading projects that emerge from collaboration among policymakers, professional developers, and practitioners.


Dr. Ashley Simpson Baird – Founder and Principal, Merit Research, Policy, and Evaluation

Dr. Ashley Simpson Baird is the founder and principal of Merit Research, Policy, and Evaluation where she provides customized, equity-focused solutions to schools and educational organizations. She is an experienced mixed-methods researcher with expertise in multilingual learners, language and literacy development, and family engagement. Prior to starting her own company, she was a Senior Researcher at American Institutes for Research. She is a former English Learner and bilingual education teacher. Her work has been published in the Coalition of Adult Basic Education Journal, TESOL Quarterly, Linguistics and Education, Language Learning, The School Community Journal, New America, DC Policy Center, and The 74 Million.

 Dr. Simpson Baird currently serves as a member of her local School Board. She holds degrees from the Pennsylvania State University (B.A.), the School for International Training (M.A.T.), and the University of Virginia (Ph.D.). She began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia and is bilingual in English and Spanish. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and three children.


Kevin Strowder – Director, Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, American Library Association

Kevin came into the role of Director of the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services for the American Libraries Association in June of 2021. Prior to that, he spent almost 6 years at Embarc, the nation’s only teacher-led organization that achieves student academic success through systematic, long-term social and cultural exposure. With extended experience in the public sector, his efforts create pathways for talent to enhance skills, realign with the company mission, and carve out a plan for collective upward mobility. 


Shaketta Thomas – President, Coalition on Adult Basic Education 

Shaketta Thomas is an experienced education specialist with a demonstrated history of working in Correctional Education. She is skilled in adult education, curriculum development, public speaking, management, and program development. Shaketta is a strong professional with a Master of Education focused in Curriculum and Instruction and Education Specialists in Education Psychology from Regent University. She has worked at COABE since July 2019, previously working at the Virginia Association for Adult and Continuing Education. 


Denine Torr – Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy, Dollar General 

Denine leads strategic development and execution of national, regional and local philanthropic-related programs and initiatives for Dollar General’s 19,000+ store communities, distribution centers, and corporate headquarters. In addition to her philanthropic responsibilities, she also leads Dollar General’s social responsibility activities and initiatives, as well as the company’s environmental, social, and governance report on sustainability and other related disclosures. Denine brings more than 20 years of Dollar General and corporate philanthropy experience to this position. She currently serves as chairperson of the board for Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation and on the board of directors for the American Indian College Fund and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.


Jen Vanek – Director of Digital Learning and Research, EdTech Center at World Education

Jen Vanek, PhD, is a researcher, teacher educator, and professional learning facilitator who focuses on digital literacy, online learning, classroom technology integration, and English literacy and language learning. She directs communities of practice that support adult education researchers, practitioners, and administrators as they develop educational opportunities for adult learners. Jen has collaborated in research and technical assistance projects with a diverse range of scholars and policy leaders. She is co-principal investigator on US Department of Education/Institute for Education Sciences research projects exploring technology use in adult education and a long-time partner of the Literacy, and Technology Research Group at Portland State University, exploring characteristics of effective 21C workplace learning. 


Mark Vineis – President and Chief Executive Officer, ProLiteracy 

Mark has been the President and Chief Executive Officer since October 2021 and is responsible for the continued scaling of ProLiteracy into its next chapter of impact in adult literacy. He is dedicated to working with stakeholders across the sector to rethink and shape student centered learning and how professional learning and technology can help educators and students to their highest potential. Prior to working at ProLiteracy, Mark founded Mondo Education in 1986. What began as a professional development organization, Mondo evolved into a creator of ELA supplemental, core, intervention, and digital schools. Over the years, Mark has been able to work closely with renowned literacy and school improvement experts, authors, and researchers, as well as collaborate with an impressive team who is passionate about supporting educators and students. 


Jason Zdunich – Assistant Manager, Learning and Development, Education, Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America

Jason Zdunich retired from the Army on August 1st, 2023 as a Lieutenant Colonel with 37+ years of experience. He served as both an enlisted Soldier and commissioned officer and held multiple leadership and staff positions throughout his career. He has a Master’s Degree in higher education administration from the University of Louisville. Ret. Lt. Col Zdunich started his new career with HMGMA on May 15th, 2023 while on transition leave from the Army. He is an assistant manager in the Learning and Development Department with a focus on educational partnerships.


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