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Dr. Z Nicolazzo | Courtney O'Connell | Dr. Laura Rendón | Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn | Thomas E. Miller

Dr. Z Nicolazzo
Dr. Z Nicolazzo (pronouns: ze/hir) is an assistant professor in the adult and higher education program and Faculty Associate in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Northern Illinois University. Ze graduated with hir Ph.D. from the Student Affairs in Higher Education program, which a graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, from Miami University in 2015. Z’s research interests focus on mapping gender across college contexts as well as intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and disability. Z has published work in various higher education journals, has co-edited a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly regarding trans* identities and subjectivities in educational contexts, and is guest editing a forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education titled "What’s Transgressive About Trans* Studies in Education Now?” set to come out in 2017. Z’s first book, Trans* In College: Transgender Students’ Strategies for Navigating Campus Life and the Institutional Politics of Inclusion, is set to come out at the end of 2016 from Stylus Publishers. You can follow Z’s latest antics on Twitter at @trans_killjoy


Courtney O’Connell Named a change agent in the U.S. education system by MeetingsNet Magazine, The Huffington Post and RuleBreaker Magazine,Courtney O’Connell is inspiring people to think differently about learning and leadership, by fusing ideas around disruption and innovation with education. With an extensive background in higher education, her popular TEDx talk, “Go All In on Education” and widely read Huffington Post columns empower educators to harness and apply an entrepreneurial spirit to education.

Currently, she leads the global training and development strategy for APCO Worldwide. She has worked with best-selling author Erik Qualman, to develop digital leadership content to educate and evoke the startup spirit within individuals—from CEOs to school teachers to college students.

Previously, O’Connell served as a professor of leadership and the Associate Director of Leadership & Training at Rutgers University, where she co-founded The Jersey Alliance, an organization dedicated to transforming higher education. She also developed The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference, which was the catalyst for the growing movement promoting innovation and collaboration in higher education and related fields.

A leader on the American College Personnel Association’s Presidential Task Force on Digital Technology in Higher Education, O’Connell works with individuals and organizations to help them better understand and utilize evolving digital trends. This includes maintaining awareness of online reputations, which she discusses in What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube, a book she co-authored.

At the nexus of innovation and education, O’Connell inspires audiences to expand their thinking with insights into the education system’s challenges and the power in applying ideas and techniques from other industries to develop innovative solutions to elevate learning.

Dr. Laura Rendón
Laura Rendón is nationally recognized as an education theorist, activist and researcher who specializes in college preparation, persistence and graduation of low-income, first-generation students.

A native of Laredo, Texas, Rendón's passion is assisting students who, like her, grew up in poverty with hopes and dreams but not knowing how to realize them. Rendón is credited with developing the theory of validation, which colleges and researchers have employed as a framework for working with and affirming low-income students.
Rendón is a teaching and learning philosopher and thought leader. She developed a pedagogic framework called Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy that emphasizes intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual student development along with social activism.

Rendón is an active scholar whose research has been published in key education research journals. She is also the author of Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation. Moreover, she is co-editor of books and monographs including: Transforming the First Year of College for Students of Color; Educating a New Majority; Introduction to American Higher Education; and Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education ASHE Reader.

She is co-director of the Center for Research and Policy in Education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas in San Antonio, which engages in research that informs the education community about critical factors that affect the academic success of key student groups.

She is also one of the founders and former Board Chair of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (Washington, DC) focused on providing access to college for low-income students. She has served on the Board of Trustees for Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Further, Rendón has designed and coordinated the yearly Latino/a Student Success Institute for the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, the nation's premier scholarly organization focusing on higher education issues impacting Latinos.

As a leader in the field of college access and achievement, Rendón's research has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the PBS documentary, "The College Track." Rendón is a frequent speaker at colleges and universities throughout the nation on topics related to improving persistence and completion.


Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn
Terrell L. Strayhorn, PhD is Professor of Higher Education at The Ohio State University (OSU), where he also serves as Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE). Strayhorn is Faculty Affiliate in the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity, the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male and the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State as well as the Penn GSE Center for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). He has several faculty appointments in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Department of African American and African Studies, and Education Policy, Engineering Education, and Sexuality Studies programs. He also served as founding director of the Center for Inclusion, Diversity & Academic Success (iDEAS) within the College of Education and Human Ecology. Prior to joining the faculty at OSU, Strayhorn served as Special Assistant to the Provost at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) and founding director of the UTK Center for Higher Education Research & Policy (CHERP).

An acclaimed student success scholar and respected expert on issues of diversity, Professor Strayhorn is an award-winning author of 10 books, including The Evolving Challenges of Black College Students (2010), College Students’ Sense of Belonging (2012), Living at the Intersections (2013), and Theoretical Frameworks in College Student Research (2013), to name a few. He has published more than 200 refereed journal articles and book chapters and more than 150 papers at international and national conferences. External grants totaling over $2.5 million from agencies such as the US Department of Education, National Science Foundation (NSF), and American College Personnel Association (ACPA) support his research program. Named "one of the most highly visible scholars in his field," by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Strayhorn has won numerous awards and in 2011, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education named him one of the nation’s "Top Emerging Scholars.” Strayhorn has been named "Who’s Who in Columbus,” "20 to Know in Education” in 2013 and "Forty Under 40” in 2015 by Columbus Business First magazine, and one of the most prolific young scholars in the country by several news sources. In October 2015, Strayhorn was initiated in to The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

Dr. Strayhorn received a bachelor’s degree (BA) from the University of Virginia (UVA), a masters degree (MEd) in educational policy from the Curry School of Education at UVA, and doctorate (PhD) in higher education from Virginia Tech. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia.


Thomas E. Miller
Thomas E. Miller is the vice president for student affairs at the Tampa Campus of the University of South Florida.  He is also an associate professor in the College of Education at the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.  He previously held student affairs positions at Eckerd College, Canisius College, Indiana University, and Shippensburg University.  His scholarly work has been focused on the themes of student expectations and persistence in higher education.

Miller holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College and master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.  He received the Scott Goodnight Award for Outstanding Performance as a Dean from NASPA in 2002, was chosen as a Pillar of the Profession in 2004, and received the Robert H. Shaffer Award for Academic Excellence as a Graduate Faculty Member in 2015.  He has been on more than a dozen institutional accreditation teams and NCAA Certification review teams.

He received the Elizabeth Greenleaf Distinguished Alumnus Award from Indiana University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Program in 1989.  Miller has served as a member of the boards of directors of NASPA, and of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.

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