Featured Speakers

Keynote Speaker: Michael Benitez

A leading national social justice educator, and activist-scholar with extensive experience in education and diversity issues, Michael is known for his down-to-earth insightful commentary and critical perspectives on social and cultural issues. Benitez integrates multifaceted pedagogies, scholarly inquiry, and personal narrative to provide multi-context and -issue frameworks for empowerment and transformation. Benitez has served higher education in different capacities for the last fifteen years, including academic affairs, student affairs, diversity and inclusion, and teaching.

He is co-editor of the anthology, Crash Course: Reflections on the Film “Crash” for Critical Dialogues About Race, Power and Privilege, a collection of essays by some of the country’s most prominent anti-racism writers, scholars and activists and has contributed to Being Latino On-Line Magazine (2009), the American Mosaic Online Database (2012), Culture Centers in Higher Education: Perspectives on Identity, Theory, and Practice (2010), Rebel Music: Resistance through Hip Hop and Punk (2015), and has been featured in educational documentaries, including Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity (2012) and The ‘N’ Word: Is There a Message to the Madness (2013).

Benitez completed both- his Bachelor and Master degrees- at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) where he also worked with and helped revive and strengthen the University’s College Assistance Migrant Program. As Director of Diversity Initiatives and Social Justice at Dickinson College, he established the “Diversity Monologues,” an ongoing annual program aimed at highlighting the creative talents of students while addressing diversity and social justice- a program he has helped implement and shape at multiple institutions.

Currently, Benitez is Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Puget Sound.

Keynote Panel


Dr. Tonya Drake Galen Herz Cole Hoover Dr. Stacey Robertson

Dr. Tonya Drake
serves as the Vice President for College Relations and Advancement at Edmonds Community College. She has 20 years of experience as a dynamic and engaged higher education leader. Dr. Drake states, "I have a strong commitment to learning and student success guided by deep convictions rooted in equity and inclusion and the belief that higher learning transforms lives." Her experience includes working for the University of Washington in a TRiO program, Arizona State University in scholar recruitment, Gateway Community College in a TRIO program, Arizona Board of Regents in state higher education policy, Maricopa Community College in student affairs administration, Shoreline Community College as the chief student affairs officer, and most recently at Edmonds Community College in equity and inclusion. She holds a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University, Master's from ASU, Bachelor's in Business from University of Washington, and Associate's from Lower Columbia College.

Galen Herz
is a senior at Western Washington University studying Biochemistry and Anthropology. He is in the fight for climate justice and has been involved with the fossil fuel divestment campaign at WWU for three years. He has also been involved in resistance against the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal, a colonial project that infringes on the rights of the sovereign Lummi Nation. He is working towards more student autonomy and power within the university system. 

Cole Hoover
is the Administrative Coordinator for Social Entrepreneurship and a lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell. As a passionate social enterprise practitioner for the past 10 years Cole pulls from his day-to-day experience in the field to infuse the course with a relevant perspective. As an entrepreneur Cole's experience spans technology, activism, international development and new approaches to education. Cole has guest lectured around the world on the topics of social enterprise and microfinance and enjoys engaging Millenials around building meaningful careers in the social impact space. Cole currently serves as a board member of the Whidbey Institute, the Central Coop and as a World Economic Forum "Global Shaper" (Cole is also a workshop presenter).

Dr. Stacey Robertson earned her B.A. from Whittier College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Central Washington University. She is the author of four books: Betsy Mix Cowles: Champion of Equality (Westview Press, 2014), Hearts Beating for Liberty: Women Abolitionists in the Old Northwest (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist (Cornell University Press, 2000), and Antebellum Women: Private, Public, and Political, co-authored with Carol Lasser (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010). She is the recipient of many teaching awards and research fellowships and has lectured at more than 150 different venues nationally and internationally. She is the co-director of the national non-profit Historians Against Slavery (HistoriansAgainstSlavery.org), and co-edits a book series entitled Perspectives on Early America with Routledge. She recently appeared as an historical expert on the popular national television show Who Do You Think You Are? featuring actress Zooey Deschanel.


Welcome Speaker:


Marilyn Levine
was appointed to the position Senior Vice-President for External Initiatives for Central Washington University in Fall 2015 after serving almost 5 years as Provost. Dr. Levine was trained as a historian of Asia (China and Southeast Asia), with graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Hawaii. She has published two books, over four dozen articles, and created a dozen Web sites for research, teaching, professional, and community service. Dr. Levine’s research interests have focused on Chinese political party formation in Europe and exploring new approaches to the field of life history. Dr. Levine has led the effort to integrate Academic and Student Life units to create a new structure for student success, initiated the delivery of the first CWU online programs, and after several international visits in 2011 expanded the Office of International Student Programs. In terms of new programs and initiatives, several have been created and expanded by the wonderful faculty and staff during the past five years that includes innovative institutes such as the International Sustainable Development Institute, extraordinary success in serving underrepresented minorities in STEM and college completion.


Workshop Presenters:


Dr. Kenneth Cohen
is the Director of the International Sustainable Development Institute at Central Washington University. He leads international experiential learning courses focusing on sustainable development in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Thailand, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Israel. His international immersion courses are designed to heighten global awareness and ignite students’ passion to affect positive change at home and abroad. HIs research focuses on the confluence of culture, environmental conservation, and economic prosperity. Currently he is conducting research in the Serengeti on the ecological and economic impacts of safari crowding on flagship species, and he is designing a course in Israel’s Arava Valley focusing on building students’ capacity to import state of the art permaculture practices to their own communities. Dr. Cohen has twenty years of upper level management experience in the public and not-for-profit sector. He served as a leadership coach on the Nez Perce Indian reservation in Northern Idaho, was an executive fundraiser for an international fundraising agency, and was the principle of a consulting firm specializing in not-for-profit organizational development.  Now as the Director of the ISDI, Dr. Cohen has the privilege of cogenerating learning with communities in destinations around the world and creating opportunities for students to have transformative international experiences.

Heather Davidson is a postgraduate from Western Washington University, with a focus in adult education and experience in nonprofit development, grassroots community advocacy and fundraising, she uses civic engagement as a foundation for each of her multiple Communication Studies courses. In her first year at WWU she facilitated over 2,100 hours of service-learning connecting student teams to over 50 community and campus partners, and students in her Communication in Fundraising course developed an accessible philanthropy campaign which raised $9,000 in scholarship fund support in its inaugural pitch. The result is an annual award to be given to multiple students and funded through the student-driven initiative in her courses. She also serves as a Community Engagement Faculty Fellow with the Center for Service-Learning. This year she was recognized by the Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment’s Innovative Teaching Showcase for her use of empathy to infuse diverse perspectives in her curriculum. Her innovative thinking, interdisciplinary approach, and pursuit of meaningful learning experiences for her students have created and reinforced a number of fruitful, meaningful relationships for Western, for Whatcom County, and, most importantly, her students. Heather was recently published in WWU's Center for Instructional Innovation and Assesment's annual teaching showcase themed "Infusing Multicultural Perspectives into the Curriculum." In Septermber 2015, she received the Carl H. Simpson Briding Award for community building on and off campus. Heather is also a workshop facilitator for WWU's new, campus-wide Equity and Inclusion Forum.

Daniel Griesbach aims to support the success of reading and writing students through the incorporation of learning community pedagogy, service-learning, and undergraduate research.  His students see their reading, writing, and research skills contextualized within civic-engagement projects such as recording oral histories for community partners, contributing to local, environmentally sustainable food sources, and conducting research for campus student success programs.  He has been a faculty leader in service-learning at Edmonds Community College and has recently co-coordinated the "Tunnel of Intersections," a project of our college's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.  Professor Griesbach holds a BA in literature and politics from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a PhD in English from the University of Washington.

Cole Hoover is the Administrative Coordinator for Social Entrepreneurship and a lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell. As a passionate social enterprise practitioner for the past 10 years Cole pulls from his day-to-day experience in the field to infuse the course with a relevant perspective. As an entrepreneur Cole's experience spans technology, activism, international development and new approaches to education. Cole has guest lectured around the world on the topics of social enterprise and microfinance and enjoys engaging Millenials around building meaningful careers in the social impact space. Cole currently serves as a board member of the Whidbey Institute, the Central Coop and as a World Economic Forum "Global Shaper".

Matt Munson is the Wellness and Health Promotion Project Coordinator at Edmonds Community College and has been doing health education with college, high school, and middle school students since 2003.  Matt is a passionate educator and most recently trained new faculty on how to be an ally and create safe spaces for LGBTQ students and staff.  He believes in the transformational power of experiential education, and first walked through  the Tunnel of Oppression while working as the Health Educator at Pacific Lutheran University.  He brought and adapted the event to Edmonds Community College, and is excited to share about how to create a similar successful event at your campus. 

Dan Purdy specializes in innovating practical ways to succeed at knowledge work. Through his courses, workshops, and speaking, Purdy helps us understand and implement best practices from the world of lean startup, lean manufacturing, science, psychology, management and marketing. Spanning the world of practice and research, Purdy teaches Marketing, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Western College of Business and Economics as well as being the Director of Western’s Community Development office; The Front Door to Discovery. Purdy has more than 20 years of Management, Marketing and Project Management experience including 6 years as Associate Director of the Western MBA Program. Prior to his MBA Purdy worked in the Electrical Power Industry, both in civilian power plants, as well as a submarine-based Nuclear Reactor Operator for the United States Navy.His most recent project, Real Symple, helps knowledge workers employ principles from the sciences, arts, and humanities to their everyday work and what it takes to reduce stress and increase results. In Purdy’s words, “We know what is wrong and we know how to fix it but it isn’t widely taught”.

Francene Watson is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Education at Washington State University (Pullman Campus) with a focus in secondary pre-service teacher education. Francene also works collaboratively with educators in the College of Education’s Clearinghouse on Native Teaching & Learning furthering initiatives related to the state’s Sovereignty Curriculum (Since Time Immemorial) and teacher training. Drawing from experience as a former high school English and Humanities teacher, Francene’s teaching, community engagement, and research is tethered to sustainability and environmental education from a place-based learning framework. Pre-service and in-service professional development themes center on the critical need to establish culturally responsive, socially just, and enlivened learning spaces in our schools. Using participatory and community-based action research models, project foci connect food, water (namely the Snake and Columbia Rivers) and community, bringing these intersections into a K-12 curricular platform such as interdisciplinary, garden-based learning.

Melody Schneiderstarted teaching in 1985 in New York City. Her practice is rooted in social justice education. She has taught in Community Based Organizations, Community Colleges, libraries, correctional institutions, homeless shelters, union halls and wherever the work takes her. She has taught math, writing, reading, US History, current issues, ESL, life skills, college success classes, science, and whatever people wanted to learn. In addition, Melody has engaged in teacher education and faculty development work across the country. She has designed and facilitated workshops and directed FPD programs for faculty in 25 states. Melody currently teaches at Edmonds Community College and is Co-Coordinator for Faculty Professional Development at EdCC.