Lindsay Athamanah

Lindsay S. Athamanah is a professor, researcher, and inclusive educator. Her research is influenced by her experience as a speech-language pathologist in the Chicago Public Schools. She aims to develop a more inclusive society by building those without disabilities’ capacity towork and learn alongside individuals with disabilities in inclusive spaces.

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Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ed Prep and Leadership, UMSL

Alex Bacon

Alex has over eight years of voluntary experience working with local non-profit organizations aimed at inclusion and access in varying communities across the world. Their experience ranges from coordination and logistics to direct leadership roles in voluntary, public sector and social enterprise spaces. With over 5 years of qualitative research experience, Alex has established a reputation in producing influential and persuasive reports to inform meaningful change and impact on the student experience and international conflict communities. As a course representative during their BA and MA study, they were an advocate for the student voice, working toward a more representative and inclusive course structure and in doing so, ensured true reflection of current student opinion and inherent need. Prior to their work with Diversity & Ability, Alex achieved a BA in Media and International Development and a MA in Gender, Violence and Conflict. As Vice President of Friends of Médecins Sans Frontières (FoMSF) and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) of which they co-founded, they have led creation, delivery and presentation of workshops and fundraising events across critical international social justice projects. They have over eight years of voluntary experience working with local charities aimed at inclusion and access in varying communities across the globe. They are committed to being a voice for queer, disabled folk and advocating for a more inclusive and accessible world for all.


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T&I Coordination and Logistics Lead, Training and Innovations Team, Diversity and Ability (D&A)

Dr. Angie Besendorfer

Dr. Angie Besendorfer is known as an innovative educator who paves new ways to impact the future opportunities of individuals and families. Angie currently serves as Executive Vice President for KC Scholars. Previously, she served as Chancellor and Regional Vice President for Western Governors University. Angie served K-12 students for over twenty years as teacher, principal, and superintendent. Noteably, Angie served as Assistant Superintendent for Joplin Schools after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the city. Her honors include the National Milken Educator Award, John C. Maxwell Leadership Top 100 Award, and being names as one of the 50 Missourians You Should Know. Angie holds a Bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern State University, a Master’s degree from University of Central Missouri, and an Educational Doctorate from University of Missouri Columbia.

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Executive Vice President, KC Scholars

Dachia Busch

Dachia has enjoyed being a valuable member of the counseling department at MCC-Penn Valley since 2007. She is a Kansas native credited with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work and a Master of Education degree in Sports Administration from Wichita State University. She later achieved a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from Avila University.

Students affectionately call her “Ms. Dachia” and always offers honesty, hardworking and straightforward advice. She challenges students to go beyond their immediate knowledge and experience – to think beyond current situations and realities. “All students have a purpose and an opportunity to be great – even beyond their mishaps, shortcomings, and negative experiences.”

Dachia’s passion for diversity and inclusion has directed her towards membership and chairing many of the district’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. She enjoys finding ways to give voice to those who don’t have an opportunity. She credits her work ethic and resiliency to life experience, college education, and being a former student-athlete.

“The best parts to my job are lifelong learning, being accessible to students, advocacy for colleagues, and focusing on my personal and career development – it’s the only way I can prepare students, serve communities and create opportunities for all.”

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Career Counselor, MCC – Penn Valley

Bill DeBaun

Bill DeBaun is NCAN’s senior director of data and strategic initiatives. In that role he researches and writes about college access and success programming that demonstrates significant results for students’ college enrollment and graduation rates while additionally providing technical assistance to other initiatives. Mr. DeBaun has a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a minor in education studies, from American University and a master’s degree in public policy from the George Washington University.

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Senior Director of Data and Strategic Initiatives,  NCAN

Gabriela Flores

Gabriela (Gaby) Flores has over twenty-five years of experience working in the area of health and human services, specifically with refugee and immigrant populations in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Her area of emphasis has been in language access, diversity and health equity. Ms. Flores currently serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer of Metropolitan Community College. Her role is to create and implement an organizational framework across the college system focusing on educational equity, diversity and inclusion, which includes strategies specifically related to community engagement. In addition, she founded Flores Advisors, LLC, which serves as a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy consulting organization. Previously she served as the Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. In addition, Ms. Flores served as the Director of Interpreter Services for Truman Medical Centers (TMC), a Level I trauma center and safety net hospital for Kansas City, Missouri. In addition, Ms. Flores has served as adjunct faculty at Johnson County Community College for the Healthcare Interpreting Program for Spanish Interpreters as well as in a similar adjunct capacity at the Metropolitan Community Colleges. Ms. Flores served as a Commissioner for the national Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters from 2012 to 2018. Ms. Flores holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, a Master’s in Business Management, and has completed the American Hospital Association’s Cultural Competency Leadership Fellowship (2006). Ms. Flores is also a KC Chamber Centurion Alumni. Currently, Ms. Flores serves on the board of directors for Girls on the Run KC, Gilda’s Club KC, Samuel Rodgers Health Center, Wyandotte Health Foundation and KCUR Community Advisory Board.

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Assistant Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer, MCCKC

Jessica Gamarra

Jessica has been part of Metropolitan Community College since 2014. Native to Kansas City, Missouri she earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Theater from Kansas State University and a Master of Counseling and Guidance from University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her current role as Dual Credit Coordinator helps high school students have opportunity to earn college credit while in high school. Jessica has also been an adjunct instructor in psychology for Northwest Missouri State University since 2017. Jessica has a passion for helping students navigate their educational journey while using the resources available to reach their career goals. Her career experience has given her the opportunity to live her purpose by working with first generation, low income, adult & traditional aged, military, and special population students in the areas of enrollment. In her current position she has a unique opportunity to give students a start towards their goals. Many believe they are not “good enough” for college or that college is only taught in a traditional classroom. She loves being able to support students and give them the chance to know they can earn what they need to start their career.

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Student Service Specialist, MCCKC

Goldie Gildehaus

Goldie Gildehaus is the Career Services Assistant Director of Employer Relations at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). Within her role, she works with employers to develop, expand, and connect their experiential learning opportunities to UMKC students. Career Services has recently expanded its experiential learning definition to include micro-internships. By promoting micro-internships to the campus all students can be competitive in gaining skills for their future careers.

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Employer Relations Assistant Director, UMKC

Celia Hancock

Celia Hancock is the MCC Latinx Affinity Group Co-Chair and Disability Services Coordinator with MCC-Penn Valley since 2013. First generation college student graduating from MCC-Maple Woods with an AA degree, a B.S. degree from MWSU, and an M.A. degree in Counseling from UALR.

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Disability Service Coordinator, MCC – Penn Valley

Marlo Hode

Dr. Marlo Goldstein Hode currently serves as the Senior Manager of Strategic Diversity Initiatives in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Staff Ombuds for the University of Missouri St. Louis. In addition to professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, she leads UMSL’s Equity Advisor initiative to support the recruitment and retention of faculty from diverse backgrounds. She holds a courtesy faculty position in the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She is the co-author of DEI 2.0 – A Toolkit for Building Your Own Online Diversity Course. She also has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters on various topics including sexual harassment, neurodiversity, racial issues on campus, and the effectiveness of online professional development courses. She also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

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Senior Manager,  Strategic Diversity Initiatives, UMSL 

Andrew Kliethermes

Andrew Kliethermes is the Assistant Director of UMSL Succeed. With over 10 years of experience in business management, employee training, and sales, Andrew applies his experience building strong relationships with SUCCEED Partners. Prior to joining SUCCEED; Andrew was an Employment Advisor with St Louis Arc.

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Assistant Director, Student Support Services, UMSL

Sarah Leassner

Sarah Leassner, currently serves as the Vice President of Student Development, working with the following areas: Advising and Counseling, Athletics, Campus Life and Leadership, Early College and Admissions, Enrollment Services, Falcon Career Center, Financial Aid, Public Safety, and the Registrar. Her educational and professional background includes, a Bachelors in Communications from Missouri State University, a Masters in Higher Education Administration from Saint Louis University, and is working to completing her Doctorate in Management and Leadership from Webster University. A professional passion over the years is working with special populations particularly the LGBTQ+ community. She has been through the Safe Zone 1.0 and 2.0 certification, served as a campus ally in a yearlong educational fellowship, and actively works to promote a safe environment on all of the campuses she has served.

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Vice President, Student Development, East Central College

Natalie Lewis

Natalie is a servant leader highly regarded for her unwavering “can-do” belief and expertise in tackling complex systemic challenges in a landscape of historical failure and conflicting agendas. In 2003, Natalie transitioned from a successful corporate career to fulfil her true calling…fighting to radically improve the education and safety of all children. Natalie was elected to and served on the Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors for three years. Prior to that, Natalie spent seven years as an Education Coach with Kauffman Scholars, Inc. and five years as a classroom teacher. These are the experiences that fuel Natalie’s passion and commitment to fight for systemic change where ALL means ALL. Natalie has a BS in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin, and earned her Missouri Teaching Certification from Northwest Missouri University.

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COO, KC Scholars

Jonathan Lidgus

Jonathan Lidgus is the Director of UMSL Succeed, a two-year certificate program for students with disabilities. He has worked in higher education for over 20 years and is currently pursuing his doctorate with a focus on inclusive campus housing.

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Director of SUCCEED Program, UMSL

Brian Lutchmiah

Brian has 20 years’ experience working across statutory, further and higher education. His extensive experience has ranged from teaching and co-ordination through to operational and strategic management of direct services to students, and as a senior leader in UK and European organizations. He also has direct lived experience of disability throughout his education and career. Brian is an award-winning former Chair of the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP, UK) from 2018 – 2021, and is also a former Chair of the Learning Inclusively Network (LINK, Europe), serving as national and European leaders of research and practice on disability, inclusion and equality. With a core passion in inclusion and widening participation, Brian has maintained a determination in ensuring that all have the opportunity to aspire in realizing their potential and has represented the education sector in directly influencing national policy decision making at UK government level. With his in-depth knowledge of inclusion and relating services aspects including safeguarding and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), he continues to strive toward ensuring opportunities to achieve are equitably maintained for all, and is currently the Chair of the UCAS English Policy Group.

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Manager, Diversity and Ability (D&A)

Thomas Meyer

Thomas W. Meyer, Ph.D., is the President of Metropolitan Community College’s Blue River Campus and Online Campus and has over 30 years of experience in higher education.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Meyer served in various academic roles. He began his career as an English professor at the University of Miami. He later became Department Chairperson of English as a Second Language and Foreign Languages at Miami Dade College where he also served as an Associate Dean He then was appointed Dean at both Miami Dade College and Broward College. Just before coming to Kansas City, he was the Vice President for Academic Services and Student Development at Lehigh Carbon Community College. In addition, Dr. Meyer has experience in the private sector as a management consultant in the area of organizational development and leadership training for Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), as well as in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

In the community, Dr. Meyer currently serves on the board of directors for the Truman Heartland Community Foundation, for the Englewood Arts, and for the Mattie Rhodes Center. He also currently serves on the Independence Mayor’s Advisory Commission on the Arts, holds ex-officio seats on the Independence Chamber of Commerce, the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce, Oak Grove Chamber, and actively participates in the Rotary Club of Eastern Independence.

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President, MCC – Blue River & MCC Online

Davlon Miller

Davlon is the Director of Career Services at the University of Missouri Kansas City. In his role, he focuses on providing every student with integrated, compressive, and equitable career development with supportive, experiential learning opportunities. Previously, Davlon has served in higher education for approximately 14 years in various areas besides career services, including student activities, student leadership, diversity, and student development. Outside of work, he also enjoys being a part of his community. He is known to be a part of community-focused originations like United Way, Toledo Sister Cities International, and the Kansas City Centurions.

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Director, Career Services, UMKC

Matt Newlin

Matt Newlin, Ed.D., is a higher education consultant, practitioner, and faculty member who has been engaged in postsecondary access and equity for 15 years. Matt has worked at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, Washington University, College Advising Corps, and NASPA’s Center for First-generation Student Success. He is a first-generation student from a low-income family which has driven his passion for educational equity. He lives in St. Louis.

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Matt Newlin Consulting

April Regester

April Regester is an administrator, researcher, and inclusive educator. April’s introduction to inclusive education was in high school, where she had the privilege of participating in programs designed to include students with and without disabilities. The benefits of inclusive experiences led to her own career pathway and values that informed the development of UMSL Succeed.

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Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ed Prep and Leadership, UMSL

Evan Rhinesmith

Evan Rhinesmith, PhD, is the executive director of the Policy Research in Missouri Education (PRiME) Center at the Saint Louis University School of Education. Rhinesmith’s research focuses on postsecondary access and outcomes, college remediation, and teacher quality and evaluation. He holds a doctorate in education policy from the University of Arkansas and previously taught 3rd and 4th grade at Sacred Heart School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC.

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Director of Research and Evaluation, St. Louis University

Jan Rog

Having taught at Metropolitan Community College since 1996, Jan Rog enjoys serving the wide-ranging students and watching them grow and achieve their goals. Like many of our scholars, she grew up here in Greater Kansas City and attended a local school, Rockhurst University, where she earned her BA in Psychology and BA in Spanish. While a student at Rockhurst, she was able to study in Madrid (in partnership with Saint Louis University) and to volunteer at the White Buffalo Calf Society in South Dakota (in partnership with Rosebud Indian Reservation and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps). Just as many MCC graduates do, she continued her studies and earned her MATESL at Arizona State University in Tempe, where she served in student leadership for the organization then named “Hispanic Graduate Student Alliance.” Actively pursuing her professional development, she has been active with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project and Prairie Lands Writing Project as well as the Latinx Education Collaborative. Through these organizations, she has volunteered in local schools and has presented much of her ongoing professional work.

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English Instructor, MCCKC

Dr. Magen Rooney-Kron

Dr. Magen Rooney-Kron is an assistant professor of inclusive education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Her research focuses on promoting the employment of people with disabilities with an emphasis on the inclusion of students with significant support needs in work-based learning experiences.

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Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ed Prep and Leadership, UMSL

Kristin Schrader

Kristin Schrader is the Director of Partnerships for Parker Dewey where she collaborates with over 500 colleges and universities and nonprofit organizations across the country who are interested in supporting students, employers, and alumni in Micro-Internship opportunities. Kristin has career services experience at four universities and has also worked in human resources, corporate recruiting, and training and development. A proud military spouse, Kristin personally understands the challenges of career transitions and is particularly passionate about the career development of nontraditional students and military veterans. She has facilitated career development workshops to transitioning service members around the world; taught college level career and college success courses; and presented at local, state and national career development conferences.

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Director of Partnerships, Parker Dewey

Misha Smith

Misha Smith (They/Them) is the Missouri Refugee Resettlement Activities Coordinator with Missouri Office of Refugee Administration where they oversee and create programming to address barriers in the areas of legal services, housing, documentation, and safety and belonging for refugees who are a part of the LGBTQI+ community. Misha’s background is in Social Work and they are completing their Master’s in Public Administration, with a non-profit and community management concentration. Misha also worked in the Ryan White System where they provided support and education for pregnant people living with HIV/AIDS. Misha is currently working on the creation of a pilot program in Missouri to provide education and cultural awareness to community partners and stakeholders on the topic of safety and belonging for LGBTQI+ refugees.

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MO Refugee Resettlement Coordinator, Missouri Office of Refugee Administration

Dr. Joel Snyder

Dr. Joel Snyder is known internationally as one of the world’s first “audio describers,” a pioneer in the field of Audio Description, a translation of visual images to vivid language for the benefit, primarily, of people who are blind or have a vision impairment. Since 1981, he has introduced audio description techniques in over 40 states and 64 countries and has made thousands of live events, media projects and museums accessible. Most recently, Dr. Snyder was named a Fulbright Scholar to train audio describers in Greece over a four-week period in 2019.

In 2014, the American Council of the Blind published Dr. Snyder’s book, The Visual Made Verbal – A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description, now available as an audio book and in Braille from the Library of Congress, in screen reader accessible formats, and in English, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Chinese print editions; a version in Italian is planned for 2022. His PhD is from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona with a focus on audiovisual translation/audio description. Dr. Snyder is the President of Audio Description Associates, LLC (www.audiodescribe.com) and he serves as the Founder/Senior Consultant of the Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind.

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President, Audio Description Associates

Dr. Nick Sproull

Nick Sproull serves as Senior Consultant at Resultant, a data, technology, and management consulting firm where he works with local, state, and national leaders on efforts supporting students’ postsecondary transitions. Nick earned his B.A. in Music from Butler University, his M.A. in K-12 and Postsecondary Educational Leadership from Michigan State University, and his Ed.D., with a concentration in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University

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Senior Education Consultant, Resultant

Leigh Anne Taylor-Knight

Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight is a resourceful, future-focused leader who serves as the Executive Director and COO of The DeBruce Foundation, a foundation whose mission is to expand pathways to economic growth and opportunity. At the Foundation, Dr. Taylor Knight leads a team who develops innovative solutions to positively impact the way youth and adults might become more agile in the ever-changing world of work. A teacher at heart, Dr. Taylor Knight has also served as a K-12 assistant superintendent, advised learning institutions across the nation, and led a bi-state consortium providing powerful tools for data-driven educational research to inform practice and policy. Today, in addition to her leadership role at The DeBruce Foundation, she also serves on several boards and as a mentor to many.

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Executive Director and COO, DeBruce Foundation

Prof. Dr. Jojanneke van der Toorn

Prof. Dr. Jojanneke van der Toorn studies diversity and inclusion at work, in particular with regard to LGBT+ employees. On the one hand, she focuses on organizational programs and practices: what are blind spots in diversity and inclusion policy, what is their influence on job seekers, employees and organizations as a whole, and in which way can these patterns be broken? On the other hand, she examines the psychological processes through which majority and minority group members contribute to the maintenance of group-based inequalities at work and in society. In her work, she takes efforts to bridge science and society with the aim of contributing to effective and evidence-based diversity policy.

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Associate Professor, University of Utrect, the Netherlands

Alice Whalen

Alice Whalen has been the Adult Education and Literacy Program Director at East Central College for eight years. She is the Public Information Chair for the Missouri Association for Workforce Development and serves as the volunteer executive director for the East Central Area Literacy Council. She has an MBA and is a certified Beegle Poverty Coach. Along with a team from East Central College, she attended the first MDHEWD Student Journey Mapping workshop. Student Journey Mapping was first used at East Central College to integrate adult education and literacy students into the same enrollment processes and system referrals as credit students with a goal to ease their transition to college.

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Director, Adult Education and Literacy Program, East Central College

Piers Wilkinson

Piers Wilkinson was the last National Union of Students Disabled Students’ Officer, and now supports D&A’s work as their Higher Education Policy and Campaigns Lead. Piers has been deeply involved in disabled student representation across the UK for over 7 years, culminating in their election to national representative positions, and in March 2020 was publicly appointed to the UK’s Disabled Students’ Commission as a Student Voice Commissioner. Prior to the NUS, Piers studied an undergraduate MSci in Physical Oceanography at Bangor University and worked as an access consultant specializing in inclusive design within education, digital accessibility, user design learning, and inclusive campaigns. Piers’ previous work includes the 2016 UNCRPD inquiry, as a commissioner for the Arriving at Thriving report on disabled student experiences, and providing expert advice on various liberation and social justice projects such as Student Minds’ Mental Health Charter, and the 2019 Phase-out of Plastic Pollution Bill.

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Policy and Campaigns Lead, Inclusive Education Team, Diversity and Ability (D&A)

Wen Zeng

Wen Zeng is the research and grant coordinator of a TPSID grant focusing on the expansion of the UMSL Succeed. She has been working with students with IDD in an inclusive postsecondary education program since 2015. Her research interests include secondary transition, self-determination, parent involvement.

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Senior Program / Project Support Coordinator, Dept. of Ed. Prep and Leadership, UMSL