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Speaker Biographies EPL 2017

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Melanie Armstrong is the Director and Fundraiser for the Emerging Public Leaders program. Melanie is a 1994 graduate of Furman with a B.A. in Psychology. She has worked for Furman’s Alumni Association from 2001 – 2013. During that time she focused on projects ranging from Homecoming to alumni events across the country. Prior to Furman, she enjoyed coordinating logistics for the Sundance Film Festival. She has a Master of Science from the University of Utah.

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.

Dawn Dowden, college educated, was raised in a middle class family. Due to her husband’s mental illness, Dawn and her three children experienced poverty and eventual homelessness. Over the past 6 years, Dawn and her three boys have risen out of poverty and homelessness to rejoin the middle class. Dawn’s own experience fuels her work as the Vice President of Operations for Homes of Hope, a not for profit organization based in Greenville that rebuilds communities and rebuilds lives throughout South Carolina.

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.

Elliott Epps was born in Raleigh, NC but grew up in Aiken, SC. He attended Wofford College,where he majored in History and Government. At Wofford, he ran Cross Country and served as both Vice President and President of the Student Body. After Wofford he was accepted to be a part of the first full year of AmeriCorps and was part of first City year Columbia full year corps serving on a housing and homelessness team working at the Family Shelter. After serving two more years in City Year (with service in Columbia, SC, Columbus, OH,and Boston, MA) as a fundraiser, event planner and team leader in an elementary school and surrounding neighborhood in South Boston; he returned to graduate school. Elliott earned a Masters in Public Administration in 1999 with internships at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Executive Institute, and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission. After receiving his M.P.A., Elliott worked two years for the Palmetto Project traveling around supporting individual, groups, and communities working on improving race relations in South Carolina. In 2001, he entered the USC School of Law and earned is law degree and passed the SC bar in 2004. During law school he interned and clerked for the Charleston solicitor's office, a federal judge, and for SC Appleseed. After graduation he worked for Motley Rice, LLC in Charleston. He this worked for both the Aiken and Charleston
Solicitor's offices prosecuting drunk driv ing offenses,criminal domestic violence, and juveniles. He returned to the Palmetto Project to lead an anti-bullying pilot project called Challenge Day and then was hired as Executive Director for City Year Columbia. He served 5 years as executive director before leaving to become a stay at home dad for his 3 sons for the past two years. Elliott now is active leading a Cub Scout Den; assisting with the coaching of multiple sports teams; assisting with homework; driving his children around; serving on community boards ( SC Appleseed and the Community Relations Council); and most recently has started a manners and ballroom dancing program for 6th and 7th graders called Columbia Social Dance. Elliott is married to Dr. Amy Rawl Epps, a cardiologist at Lexington Cardiologist and they have three sons (John Elliott, 12; Thomas, 9; and Sullivan, 6). 

Kim Keefer, Director of the Shucker Center for Leadership Development at Furman has twenty three years of experience as a leadership educator. In her role at Furman, she coordinates a comprehensive leadership development program for Furman students and serves as the staff advisor for Furman's Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society. As a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, she helps individuals and teams discover, understand and apply their unique talents for greater success in everyday life. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Masters degree in Higher Education  Administration from the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Cynthia King received her BA and MA in Communication at Auburn University, and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has taught in the Department of Communication Studies at Furman University since 2006. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2009 and is the current chair of the department. Prior to Furman Dr. King taught in the School of Communication, Public Communication Division at American University.

Dr. King teaches in the areas of strategic public discourse, public speaking, U.S. Public Address, African American rhetoric, and media studies. Her current research explores the rhetoric of African American political thought. In 2015, she was awarded Furman’s Meritorious Teaching Award.

Beyond her work in the academy, Dr. King has led communication workshops for organizations that include the Hope Leadership Program sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Albania American Council in Pristina Kosovo, the Academy for Educational Development (AED), and the McNair Scholars Programs at the University of Maryland and American University.

Jil Littlejohn was born and raised in inner-city Atlanta, Georgia, Jil has a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Webster University and a Bachelors of Arts in Intercultural Studies for Business from Wofford College (2001) with studies at the Universidad de Sevilla in Seville, Spain. Jil is fluent in Spanish and studied Japanese. She served as the Executive Director/CEO for the YWCA of Greenville for nearly 4 years. She has been an Urban Leaguer for the past 10 years serving as Young Professionals Chapter President, NULYP Southern Region Vice President, and NULYP Treasurer. She currently serves at the first female President & CEO of the Urban League of the Upstate. The Urban League of the Upstate is a $2 million dollar organization with over 20 staff and contractors spanning across 10 counties. Her role allows her to combine her passion for people and community into a job she loves! 

On January 20, 2009, she was elected to serve on Greenville City Council. In the summer of 2011 she was re-elected to a full four year term. She is the youngest member on council
and one of two minorities. Jil has been recognized by as a Women Making History Honoree, Greenville Magazine Top 50 Most Influential People, Ebony Magazine Top Young Leader under 30, Greenville Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year Finalist, Greenville Link Magazine's Top 50, and Greenville's Best & Brightest Under 35. Jil has
participated in Leadership South Carolina, Diversity Leadership Academy, Leadership Greenville, Leadership Spartanburg, Connections: Women's Leadership Program, and the Women's Campaign School at Yale University. Jil is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and actively involved with numerous nonprofits. She is also the founder of the Talented Tenth Greenville Leadership Conference.

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.

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.

Glenis Redmond’s love of words has carried her across the country for two decades. She logs over 35,000 miles a year bringing poetry to the masses. This Road Warrior Poet though steeped in Afro-Carolininan roots, speaks a universal tongue of love, loss, celebration, sorrow and hope. Her verse uplifts family, culture and community. Glenis is a gentle pen pusher as she encourages others at diverse venues across the country from prisons, universities, festivals, conferences, camps, keynotes, rallies, to schools.

She is a 2005-2006 NC Literary Award recipient and a Denny C. Plattner Award winner for Outstanding Poetry awarded by the Journal, Appalachian Heritage. She has been inducted in the Mt. Xpress’ Hall of Fame for Best Poet in Western North Carolina after winning for over a decade.

She is a Workshop Leader with the Kennedy Center’s Partnership in Education Program in Washington, D.C. Glenis’ work has aired on National Public Radio. She is a past winner of the Southern Fried Poetry Slam twice and a top ten finalist in the National Poetry Slam.

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.

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!

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