Featured Speakers

Scott Chazdon is an Evaluation and Research Specialist with the Extension Center for Community Vitality, University of Minnesota. Dr. Chazdon has over thirty years of experience in both qualitative and quantitative methodology and analysis, participatory research and evaluation strategies, building evaluation capacity and conducting research in diverse settings ranging from the squatter settlements of Arequipa, Peru to the offices of bank community reinvestment officials. For the past eleven years with the Extension Center for Community Vitality, he has led efforts to measure program outcomes and community-level impacts, and to build evaluation and applied research capacity among the staff. His research with Extension has focused on community social capital assessment, community readiness, as well as use of the community capitals framework to conduct impact studies of Extension programs. Before coming to Extension, Chazdon worked for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where he developed a highly respected system for county performance measurement in Minnesota’s welfare-to-work program and conducted a major longitudinal study that was influential in policy changes to improve the program. Chazdon received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Denver, and his Masters in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.


Andrew Furco, Associate Vice President for Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota, where he also serves as Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Dr. Furco  oversees the advancement and institutionalization of various forms of public engagement across the five campuses of the University. In addition to this role, he is an Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the Twin Cities campus, and is Director of the International Center for Research on Community Engagement, which investigates the impacts, implementation, and institutionalization of public engagement initiatives in primary, secondary, and higher education in the U.S. and abroad. His publications include the books Service-Learning: The Essence of the Pedagogy and Service-Learning Through A Multidisciplinary Lens (with S. Billig) as well as more than two dozen journal articles and book chapters, some of which have been translated into several languages including German, Spanish, and Catalan. He is the recipient of the 2003 International Award for Outstanding Contributions to Service-Learning Research and recipient of the National Society for Experiential Education’s 2006 Researcher of the Year Award. He is a member of the National Review Board for the Scholarship of Education and the Civic Engagement Network for Research One Universities. Prior to arriving to the University of Minnesota in January 2008, he worked for 13 years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education and as the founding director of the International Center for Research on Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (established 1994).


Gayle Hilleke, Executive Director, Kentucky Campus Compact. Gayle  has over twenty-five years of experience in strengthening communities through work in nonprofits, educational institutions, and government agencies. Her focus is on using strength-based strategies in promoting organizational and community change. She has developed expertise in several dialogue and social technology strategies such as Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), Six Conversations that Matter, Narrative Practices, the Art of Hosting, What’s Next, Kentucky?, and National Issues Forums. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Gayle has a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in Organization Development from American University in Washington, D.C.



Laurel Hirt, Director of the Center for Community-Engaged Learning at the University of Minnesota. Laurel joined the University of Minnesota in July 1997 as the Student Programs Coordinator for Community Involvement Programs. Laurel has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Gender and Women’s Studies from Luther College and a Masters of Arts in Higher Education and Student Development from the Ohio State University. She is a recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Service to the University and the staff recipient of the Outstanding Community Service Award. Laurel has served on several community boards and is currently one of the University representatives to the Board for the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA). She lives in North Minneapolis with her dog and enjoys gardening and various artistic pursuits.


Kirsten Johnson, Director of Community Engagement and Systems Change,  Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. Kirsten manages a portfolio of community-driven projects aimed at creating equity. Her work focuses on engagement, collaboration and systems change addressing complex challenges impacting the communities that Wilder serves. Kirsten brings the lenses of emotional intelligence, intercultural competence, and network weaving to all of her work. She studied Political Science and Women’s Studies at the University of Minnesota and has worked in the nonprofit sector on collaboration and community development for over fifteen years. Prior to coming to the Wilder Foundation, Kirsten’s work supported a variety of nonprofit organizations including the StreetWorks Collaborative, VEAP, and Arc Greater Twin Cities.


Dan Joyner, Facilitation Consultant. Dan is a management consultant and facilitator based in the Cincinnati area. His expertise is in the criminal justice system, government and non-profit management/frontline leadership, community and organizational change management, building collaborations, and strategic planning. He is active with Cincinnati’s A Small Group, a citizen-created initiative that seeks to build a restorative and reconciled community. He has been a leader and practitioner of powerful questions for over 12 years in schools and nonprofits in the Cincinnati area and throughout the U.S.



Isabel Lopez, PhD student in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota.



Sindy Morales Garcia, Senior Program Associate, Community Initiatives, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. Driven by a commitment to equity and wholeness, Sindy works with the Wilder Foundation’s Community Initiatives team to catalyze the cultural shifts needed to co-create transformational and sustainable change. Her work is informed by a rich tapestry of experiences in higher-education advocacy, community collaborations, and faith-based activism in the Twin Cities and New York City. As a facilitator, Sindy enjoys cultivating spaces of meaningful reflection and dialogue that enable participants to strategically advance new thinking and action in their lives and work. Her educational training includes a B.A in Reconciliation Studies from Bethel University, an MSW from the Silberman School of Social Work, and an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary.


Verdis Robinson directs The Democracy Commitment (TDC) initiative as part of his portfolio and continues the work he began two years ago as the national director of TDC, expanding membership, resources, and programming opportunities for community colleges. Before becoming national director of TDC, Robinson was a tenured Assistant Professor of History and African-American Studies at Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, NY, where he taught web-enhanced, writing-intensive, service learning history courses for ten years. Additionally, Robinson is a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Faculty Seminar on Citizenship and the American and Global Polity, and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Faculty Seminar on Rethinking Black Freedom Studies: The Jim Crow North and West. He is also a Public Scholar of Humanities New York. Robinson also serves on the advisory boards for the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, Bringing Theory to Practice, Students Learn Students Vote coalition, and the Reacting Consortium Board of Reacting to the Past (RTTP). He holds a B.M. in Voice Performance from Boston University, a B.S. cum laude and M.A. in History from SUNY College at Brockport, and an M.A. in African-American Studies from SUNY University at Buffalo.

Dr. Cristina Santamaría Graff is a former bilingual education and bilingual special education teacher who is currently interested in the ways in which culture, language, and ability intersect in school systems. Her experiences as an educator in California, Arizona, and Washington States have strongly guided her toward research centered on Latinx immigrant families of children with disabilities. Specifically, Dr. Santamaría Graff is concerned with how educational policy and practice marginalize non-dominant or minoritized families who attempt, with little support or encouragement, to navigate complex systems embedded within settings coined inclusive. Of particular interest to Dr. Santamaría Graff are models of critical inquiry and pedagogy that aim to radically transform the lives of children with disabilities and their families through applying compassionate action and raising sociopolitical consciousness among all stakeholders who interact with our students.

Nancy L. Thomas, DirectorInstitute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. IDHE is an applied research center that studies higher education’s role in American democracy and supports college and university student political learning and participation. The Institute’s signature initiative, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) examines student voting rates, patterns, and conditions. Through NSLVE, nearly 1,200 U.S. colleges and universities receive tailored reports containing their students’ aggregate voting rates following each federal election. Dr. Thomas’s work and scholarship interests include college student civic learning and participation in democracy, campus climates for political engagement, deliberative democracy, political equity and inclusion, and campus free speech and academic freedom. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a law degree from Case Western Research University’s School of Law. She is also an associate editor at the Journal of Public Deliberation, a senior associate with Everyday Democracy, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Dr. Kiesha Warren-Gordon is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Ball State University. She received her Ph.D. from Western Michigan University. Her substantive areas include criminology, race and ethnicity. Her research explores the intersection of race and class in the miscarriage of justice, violence, and intercultural conflict. Her teaching interests are victimology, multiculturalism, the death penalty, and criminal justice process.