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Speaker Biographies

Darian Blue, a native of Gainesville, Florida and graduate of Florida A&M University, has served as senior pastor of the Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church since February 2012. Under his leadership, the church membership has grown from 60 members to over 350. He currently serves on the At Worship Workgroup for LiveWell Greenville, the Board Planning Committee Faith Based Round Table of the United Way of Greenville and the Student Improvement Council of Sterling School. He has recently been appointed as executive director of the historic Phillis Wheatley Association and is committed to raising awareness and community funds to keep this historic landmark and its programs alive.

Dr. Erik Ching is a professor of Latin American and African history. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University in History and Biology in 1990. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of California Santa Barbara in 1997, where he conducted research on peasant uprisings and military regimes in 20th century El Salvador. His dissertation won an award from the Pacific Coast Council of Latin American Studies. Among his numerous achievements are two Fulbright grants to travel to El Salvador in 1994 and 2005. Dr. Ching also won the 2013 Alfred Thomas Award for the best book in Latin American Studies by a member the Southeastern Conference of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS) for Modernizing Minds in El Salvador (University of New Mexico Press, 2012). His most recent work is Authoritarian El Salvador: Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes, 1880-1940 (Notre Dame University Press, 2013). He has led/co-led ten Furman study abroad programs to Africa and Latin America. He and his wife Cathy Stevens live in Greenville with their sons, Anders (6) and Evan (2), and their daughter, Halle (5).

Rep. Chandra Dillard is Director of Community Relations for Furman University. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Winthrop University and a Masters in Public Administration from Walden University. She is also a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Furman’s Riley Institute Diversity Leadership Initiative, and Leadership South Carolina. After a distinguished service record on Greenville City Council for nine years as the first woman to represent her district, in November 2008 she was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives. In the House she serves on the Agriculture Committee and Chairs the Environmental Affairs subcommittee.—making her the first women to hold this position. She was elected by her colleagues to serve on the House Ethics Committee. Chandra is also Chairman of the South Carolina General Assembly Women’s Caucus.  Rep. Dillard has been recognized for her work on behalf of young children by the South Carolina Institute for Child Success. Currently she is chairing a taskforce to bring early learning to over 300 children under the age of five in her district. Additionally she was selected by the SC Independent Colleges and Universities as their Legislative Champion of the Year and is a Green Tie honoree by the South Carolina Conservation Voters. Chandra is a consummate hands-on advocate for her constituents. Over the course of her public service she has secured more than $100 million dollars to address community development and infrastructure needs in her neighborhoods.

Rep. Dillard keeps her pulse on her local community by serving on several boards and committees such as Community Works Carolina, Bank of Travelers Rest Advisory board, the Peace Center board and Ten at the Top- just to name a few.   She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc and John Wesley United Methodist Church.  Miss. Dillard’s efforts to improve her community have not gone unnoticed but have been recognized by the many awards and honors she has received. Most recently she was named one of Greenville’s 50 most influential and she was awarded the Leadership Greenville Distinguished Alumni Award by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

Megan Dodgens grew up in the Upstate of South Carolina and attended Shannon Forest Christian School from K5 through 12th grade. She attended Clemson University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English in 2005. Upon graduation from Clemson, Megan accepted a position in sales at FTZ Industries in Simpsonville. There she became the Inside Sales Manager and Customer Service Manager. In 2011, Megan joined the staff of the Riley Institute at Furman as the Administrative Assistant. She accepted the position of Manager of Diversity Leadership Programs in September of 2012 and oversees a variety of diversity efforts at the Riley Institute, including the Diversity Leaders Initiative and the annual Diversity Awards Dinner. Megan currently lives in Simpsonville with her husband Wes, a teacher at Mauldin High School.

Amy Ryberg Doyle has served as a member of the Greenville City Council since November 2007. A graduate of Aiken High School and Boston College, she has lived in Boston, New York and Europe. While in New York City, she was a member of the launch team of the ground-breaking internet start-up ivillage.com, Inc., which went public in 1999 and was purchased by NBC Universal in 2006. Ryberg Doyle then launched Fidelity Investments online sites. She then successfully launched her own business, beauty e-tailer site ingredients.com, Inc. by raising over $7mm in venture capital. The site successfully manufactured and sold a line of bath and beauty care products. Ryberg Doyle has been an active civic member. While in New York, she served as a mentor to young girls through the "I Have a Dream" Foundation and she taught English as a second language. She currently serves as a Sunday School Teacher at St. Mary's Catholic Church, is on the Board of Directors for The Children's Museum of Greenville and is a Member of the Board of Directors for the Peace Center and the Appalachian Council of Governments. She is a member of Junior League of Greenville where she delivers Meals on Wheels weekly. She has coached Girls on the Run. Ryberg Doyle is married and a mother of four children. She is passionate about building healthy communities, while focusing on improving infrastructure to make the community more livable, walkable, bikeable and sustainable. She is a marathon runner.

Harriett Green is the Visual Arts Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. She received her B.A. degree in art history from the University of South Carolina in Columbia in 1980. In her role as Visual Arts Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, Green has curated numerous exhibitions, facilitated public art processes, and served on fellowship panels for North Carolina Arts Council, Kentucky Arts Council Nevada Arts Council and the Idaho Commission on the Arts. She also served on the City of Columbia, SC Advisory Committee for Accommodations Tax and the Advisory Committee for Hospitality Tax.

Green was appointed to the National Register of Peer Professionals by the General Services Administration in Washington, DC for its Art – in - Architecture Program and has worked on projects in Jacksonville, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia and Columbia, SC. Green served on the Charlotte Area Transit System's Art-in-Transit program as a member of the advisory oversight committee and on the selection committee for its public art commissions, the selection panel for the North Carolina Freedom Monument project and is a former member of the board of Trustees for Penland School of Crafts.

Green has served and continues to serve on the advisory committees for the City Gallery at Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC and the 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia.

Sara June Goldstein is Senior Coordinator for Statewide Partnerships and Literary Arts Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. A graduate of Columbia College, she has been a member of the Arts Commission staff since l987.  Sara June has developed and worked with many statewide collaborative activities, programs and partnerships that promote the arts and the notion that artists are important resources to their communities and the state. Her position supports the Commission’s three priority areas: education, community development, and artist development.

In 2007 Sara June initiated the inaugural South Carolina First Novel Prize, which was judged by native South Carolinian, Percival Everett, a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, and author of more than 25 novels and collections of poetry.  Founding literary partners include the Hub City Press, an award-winning independent publisher in Spartanburg, SC, the South Carolina State Library, and South Carolina Humanities. The First Novel Prize was offered for the fifth time in 2015: the winner will be selected this summer by nationally recognized author Bridgett M. Davis. The contest highlights the importance of creativity and free expression while launching careers for some of South Carolina’s most talented writers. Hub City publishes 1,500 copies of each novel, including a book for every public library branch in the state. The current First Novel Prize winner’s book, Minnow, was named to Kirkus Review's “Best Books of 2015.”

Sara June is an active member of the management committee of the Commission’s Arts in Basic Curriculum Project and is co-director of the agency’s partnership with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission that serves the coastal region of four states, from North Carolina to Florida. She recently joined the national advisory committee for a new Arts Commission initiative called The Art of Community: Rural S.C. which was developed in partnership with South Carolina’s rural Promise Zone, a six county region.

Since 2010 Sara June has co-directed the South Carolina Arts Commission’s partnership with the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative. She has seen firsthand that authentic partnerships strengthen organizations and communities by supporting diversity and dialogue.

A native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Sara June is a trustee for Write to Change, a family foundation that promotes community-based arts and literacy projects that encourage youth leadership and advocacy.

Dr. Donald L. Gordon has been the Executive Director of the Riley Institute since its inception in 1999. Dr. Gordon is a Professor of Political Science at Furman where he specializes in African and Middle Eastern Politics. Under his direction the Riley Institute has grown to include the Centers for Education Policy and Leadership, Diversity Strategies, and Crucial Issues all designed to address issues critical to  the future of South Carolina. On leave from Furman, he served as a Chief of Staff and Committee Counsel in the US House of Representatives. Dr. Gordon received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Florida.

Victoria Kirby, a co-founder and managing principal for a leading network integration company in the southeastern United States negotiated the profitable acquisition and transition of the company to a publicly held communications and data services provider. As Vice President of Integrated Services, she was instrumental in achieving market launches and company development across the southeast. Victoria has worked with top leaders from companies such as General Electric Global, ScanSource, Inc., Draexlmaier, Michelin, Lockheed Martin, Bausch & Lomb, Velux USA, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, Greenville Health System, TD Bank, Kohler, Michelin USA and American Airlines. She has also worked with foreign diplomats to enhance international trade relations, and as an international facilitator has led seminars and coached individuals representing countries including Germany, Russia, Canada, Austria, Italy, France, Australia, China, Japan, and Spain. Victoria is a graduate of Furman University and The Protocol School of Washington. She is a seasoned international traveler who enjoys cycling and holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Jacki Martin is Director of Operations at the Riley Institute at Furman University, where she assists the Executive Director in developing and funding the spectrum of the Institute’s programs and in supporting the staff who are managing them. Jacki also serves as the leader of the Riley Institute’s Center for Education Policy and Leadership. Her background is primarily in policy and program management around community development issues, with an emphasis on management of large-scale, multi-county, multi-sector outreach initiatives. She has an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of South Carolina.

Ross McClain began teaching graphic design courses at Furman University in the fall of 1999. He currently is an Associate Professor of Art and Chair of the Art Department at Furman. He did His undergraduate work at Western Kentucky University where he received a BA in Advertising and Graphic Design in 1993. He received his MA and MFA in Design from the University of Iowa in the spring of 1999.

Ross maintains an active professional presence. He is an advocate of design as a medium/tool to tell stories through the mindset of empathy. He believes empathy is the centerpiece to a human-centered design process. His view is that people should provide the inspiration and direction for ideas, rather than simply utilizing the latest trend or absolute reliance on expertise, possibly excluding the empathetic connection. Responding to human feelings and concerns allows one to create designs that are truly powerful, useful and meaningful to people and society.

His work mainly consists of identity design, branding, web design and facilitating large and small scale collaborations to solve complex problems. He serves as a consultant for Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Carolina. He has also been a guest writer and lecturer on type/design/branding and the teaching of design on websites as well as national conferences.

George Patrick (GP) McLeer, Jr has recently been named the Executive Director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, the only statewide arts advocacy organization. GP leads the organization in efforts to ensure that all South Carolinians have access to quality arts experiences and arts education at the state and federal level through public policy initiatives, public awareness, and advocating for public funding of the arts. He also works on leadership development within the sector for artists and arts administrators and collaborates with partners across sectors and the state to strengthen the arts in South Carolina. GP will begin his new role with the SCAA on July 1.

Most recently, GP served as the Administrator of the Office of Cultural Affairs for the City of Mauldin, SC, where he was responsible for leveraging the cultural and artistic assets within the community for the purposes of economic development and quality of life improvement as well as managing all city-wide marketing. Most notably, GP was responsible for managing the Mauldin Cultural Center, a 1937 school building repurposed for the arts; starting the Railroad Concert Series, an annual free concert series featuring national and local acts; managing the Mauldin BBQ Cook-Off, the signature community event for Mauldin; and creating the Mauldin Public Art Trail, a 10-year continuous cycle of public artwork installations in the community.  A new office within the city’s government, GP was responsible for developing the framework for the Office of Cultural Affairs, along with its mission and vision.

GP is currently on the Board of Trustees for St. Joseph’s Catholic School (Greenville, SC), and a member of the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts Council; both of which are his alma maters. He has previously served as a board member of the Mauldin Cultural Council, a community arts organization, as secretary/treasurer; as president of the Alumni Board for St. Joseph’s Catholic School; a member of the 2014/15 SC Arts Commission’s “Arts Education Task Force”; a member of Upstate International‘s Advisory Board; and was vice chair of Art Wall Music Hall, a small collective dedicated to fostering emerging artists.

Scott McPherson joined the Riley Institute in 2012 as the Project Coordinator/New Tech Network liaison with the Center for Education Policy and Leadership at the Riley Institute. Scott is a 2005 Furman University graduate, with degrees in History and Political Science, and a 2009 University of Florida graduate, with a M.A. in African History. Scott is responsible for helping to coordinate the implementation of transformative New Tech High Schools in high-poverty, historically low-performing schools in South Carolina between the Riley Institute, KnowledgeWorks, the New Tech Network, and two new STEM high schools. In addition, he coordinates the WhatWorksSC web resource and the associated Dick & Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence, which honors innovative education programs across the state.

Adela Mendoza is an international professional skilled at building strategic collaborative partnerships, facilitating cross-cultural relationships and leading diverse teams and coalitions. Her background is primarily in project management, program design and community outreach and development. Before joining the Alliance, Adela worked for SE Consulting Inc., where she continues to serve as a team affiliate and was Statewide Program Manager for the SC Immigrant Victim Network, where she helped establish international cooperative relations among foreign consulates and local, statewide and national organizations.

She is a native of Veracruz, Mexico, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Journalism from Universidad del Valle. She worked for a leading radio group and was responsible for directing media relations, planning and managing large-scale event logistics attended annually by over 12,000 people and coordinating communications with international recording companies.

Adela is an active community volunteer, and her passion is to promote cultural diversity in the Upstate and help address the needs of the Hispanic and Latino families that live in this area. Her community work has been recognized by the YWCA and Greenville Forward, and she was selected by Greenville Business Magazine as one of the Best and Brightest 35 and Under. Since she moved to Greenville in 2005, she has been selected to participate in Leadership Greenville Class 35 and the Diversity Leaders Institute. In 2013, Adela was selected as an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar among 60 action-oriented leaders from all over the United States and around the world chosen for their work and accomplishments and for their ability to transform ideas into action.

She has served on multiple community boards and committees, including the USC Medical School-Greenville’s Board, South Carolina Diversity Leaders Initiative’s (SCDLI) Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, MedEx Academy’s Board, Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina’s Board, Greenville Forward’s Board, Vision 2025’s Inclusion & International Task Forces, TEDxGreenville, Greenville Technical College’s Diversity & ESL Advisory Boards, United Way of Greenville’s Community Impact Cabinet, Community Foundation of Greenville’s Board, International Center of the Upstate’s Board, and Upstate International’s Steering Committee.

Sally Morris is a Research Associate in the Center for Education Policy and Leadership. Sally graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Furman University. She is completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she already has received an M.A. in Sociology and a Certificate in Survey Methodology. As Qualtrics Technical Consultant for the H.W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science, Sally worked extensively with students and faculty to design and implement small and large-scale survey research on a variety of topics. She also has significant experience in qualitative research, particularly in designing and fielding in-depth interviews in a wide range of settings. Sally’s work history includes the following projects: UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Single Fathers Due to Cancer study; the Survey of International and U.S. Nurses out of UNC’s Department of Health Care Environments; and Research Triangle International’s study on food security, with funding from a grant provided by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA.

Dr. Steve O’Neill is a native of Charleston, South Carolina. He studied with scholar and activist Paul Gaston at the University of Virginia. O’Neill’s scholarly focus is the American South, South Carolina history, and public history. He has served as a consultant in fields of museum and exhibit design, organized conferences designed for the general public, and is interested in how ordinary southerners make sense of their past. He has worked to help his students and the public understand the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina and the way that the weight of the past is borne by the present generation, whether the present generation realizes it or not. Currently, he is co-chairing a committee at Furman to commemorate the 50th anniversary of desegregation at the university. The commemoration events will span the 2014-2015 academic year

Dr. Beth Pontari is a social psychologist whose research interests address the reality that how people present themselves to others during social interaction has critical repercussions for their personal and professional life. She was drawn to this area of psychology because of the implications that coming across well to others has on intra- and inter-personal outcomes.

She began her career in psychology at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York where she graduated with a B.A. in psychology. She was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct independent research with two faculty members there: Dr. Anne Fontana and Dr. Carrie Keating. These experiences led her to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology.

Beth then attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and completed her M.S. and Ph.D. under the tutelage of Barry Schlenker. The Florida program prepared her well for a career in academics. Dr. Pontari's goal was to teach at a university similar to Colgate and provide students with some of the experiences she obtained as an undergraduate. Landing at Furman was the perfect fit to pursue this goal. She has been at Furman since she graduated from Florida in 2001.

Dr. Donald R. Raber II (“Don”) is Provost and Professor of Political Science at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC. He is a 1995 graduate of Furman University, and he received both his Masters and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University. While at PC, Don has taught classes on political parties, public administration, public policy, Congress, Southern politics, and classical political thought, and from 2008 to 2012 he served as editor of the Journal of Political Science for the South Carolina Political Science Association. As Chief Academic Officer at PC since January 2013, Don works with faculty, staff, and trustees to guide the development of classes, the selection of faculty, the operation of academic departments, and the maintenance of accreditation in both the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Pharmacy.

Richard W. Riley, for whom the Riley Institute at Furman is named, is the former U. S. Secretary of Education (1993–2001) and former Governor of South Carolina (1979–1987). Secretary Riley currently is a senior partner in the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and its affiliate, EducationCounsel, with offices in South and North Carolina, Georgia, Boston, Chicago, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. He has been appointed distinguished professor at Furman, and serves as Advisory Board chair of the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Public Leadership. Riley earned his bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in political science from Furman in 1954 and received a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1959. In 2008, Riley was named one of the Top 10 Cabinet Members of the 20th Century by Time magazine.

Liz Seman, a native of Chicago, Illinois, Liz has lived in Greenville, South Carolina since 1999. Her nonprofit career has included leadership roles with the American Red Cross, Hands on Greenville and Meals on Wheels. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of Corporate Engagement for Furman University. She is a member of the board of directors of the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SC-TAC) and the Meals on Wheels Association of America. She is an active member of the Greenville Professional Women’s Forum and Greenville Women Giving. Liz is also a member of Greenville County Council, first elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 to represent District 24. She currently chairs the Public Safety Committee. Liz has served on the board of directors of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Greenville Forward, the Junior League of Greenville, the Leadership Greenville Alumni Association, the Palmetto Bank Community Board, Greenville County Redevelopment Authority Board, Community Works Carolina and the Advisory Board of the American Red Cross. Liz is a graduate of Leadership Greenville Class XXVII and Diversity Leadership Academy Class IV. She was one of the YWCA Dream Achievers in 2006 and was named one of Greenville's Top 25 under 35 in 2003. She is also an Elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Liz received her B.S. in Marketing from Miami of Ohio. She is married to Steve and has one son, Walker, who is in the 12th grade.

Jessica Sharp is the Diversity Coordinator for Greenville Health System and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. As Diversity Coordinator, Jessica works closely with the Chief Diversity Officer to implement a strategic plan that enhances the quality of services to Greenville Health System patients, improves the work life for system mployees and enhances the learning environment within the School of Medicine. Before coming to GHS, she served as the Teen Achievers and Youth in Government State Program Director for the YMCA of Greenville. 

Jessica is dedicated to advancing the rights of our community’s women and youth. After earning a marketing degree in 2011 from the University of South Carolina, she pursued her passion through Teach for America—an organization that places recent graduates in classrooms in underserved communities. 

Jessica holds leadership positions in the Junior League of Greenville, LeadHER Greenville and the Urban League’s Upstate Network. She serves on the board of the Better Business Bureau and is a member of PULSE and the United Way’s YP20 and African American Leadership Greenville. She is currently a member of Leadership Greenville and is a Diversity Fellow with the Riley Institute. Jessica has been named a Best and Brightest under 35 and a Talented Tenth Top 10 Young Professionals through the Upstate Talented Tenth conference, a program through the Urban League’s Upstate Network. Jessica is an active member of Newspring Church, where she volunteers with the church’s teen ministry, providing leadership and support to volunteers who work with a small group of students. 

In her free time, Jessica enjoys reading, watching college football and spending time with friends and family. Jessica is also an active blogger for GenTwenty, a website for millennial women.

Dr. Elizabeth S. Smith currently serves as chair of the Political Science department.  Dr. Smith received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota where she was a National Science Foundation fellow. She received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill graduating with highest distinction as a Morehead Scholar. In 2007, Dr. Smith was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award by the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. She does research on women and politics, political socialization, and public opinion and political science education. She and her colleague, Akan Malici, recently published a book with Routledge Press entitled "Political Science Research in Practice." She has also published articles in such journals as Polity, the Journal of Political Science Education and Political Psychology. She has been a professor at Furman for 15 years and she works actively to engage students in the critical political questions of our time and in considering their role as citizens in a democracy.

Cathy Stevens is the Program Director for the White-Riley-Peterson Afterschool Policy Fellowship, focused on improving policy in support of afterschool and summer learning across the country. She is also working on the development of a new teacher certification in project-based learning for South Carolina's teachers. Cathy assists in developing the overall strategic direction for the Center for Education Policy and Leadership (CEPL). From 2005 to 2007, she helped direct the Riley Institute's Hewlett Foundation financed research project on public education, the most comprehensive systematic study of public education ever done in South Carolina. She has a B.A. from Furman and an M.Ed from Clemson University. 

Shannon W. Wilson is a 1993 graduate of Furman University and served as Furman’s Alumni Director from 1998 – 2002. During her time at Furman, Shannon was a psychology major, active in Greek life, worked as a Resident Assistant in Chiles Hall, and served on student government for four years, elected the third-ever female student body president in 1992 – 19963. She holds a business etiquette certificate from the Protocol School of Washington and now manages her own consulting business, specializing in the areas of business etiquette and international protocol. She regularly conducts seminars for companies, civic organizations, and universities such as Sonoco Products Company, the Family Learning Resource Center, the Wyche Law Firm, Safe Harbor, Inc., General Electric, and Furman University. Shannon believes that proper business etiquette is an invaluable component in building and maintaining strong business and personal relationships. Her mission in each seminar is to provide relevant information on business etiquette topics to encourage a deeper sense of personal confidence while calling participants to a greater respect for and genuine interest in others. While teaching business etiquette seminars is a passion for Shannon, her true loves are found at home where she is a busy wife and mother of four young children!