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Access, Persistence and Completion - Speakers

Keynote and Workshop Speakers

All keynote and workshop speakers have proven expertise skills in the area of higher education, and proven service to the communities with which they have been involved. Our speakers will provide relevant and practical information on strategies for participants to implement and use as we address issues of access, persistence and completion on our respective campuses.

Invited Speakers

Tyrone Bledsoe

Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe is the founder of Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB), a national organization established to enhance the experiences of and instill a spirit of care in African American males in high schools, colleges and universities around the country. Dr. Bledsoe served as Vice President for Student Life and Special Assistant to the President at The University of Toledo as well as various other positions for institutions of higher education.

After leaving the position of Vice President for Student Life and Special Assistant to the President at The University of Toledo, he transitioned to the role of Executive Director of the SAAB National Headquarters.

Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe resides in Toledo, Ohio. He was born and raised in Grenada, Mississippi. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree and Masters of Education degree from Mississippi State University. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia; and was chosen as the Outstanding Doctoral Student in the State of Georgia and was most recently recognized as the Outstanding Doctoral Alumnus by the University of Georgia. He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and is very active in the arena of higher education. Dr. Bledsoe is highly recognized by several professional associations for his research, publications, presentations and scholarly work.

  • He is a contributing author to African American Men in College, Jossey-Bass Publisher.
  • In 1999, Dr. Bledsoe was invited to Oxford, England to serve as a guest lecturer to discuss his work with African American males at the Oxford University Roundtable Institute, which is sponsored by the British Council.
  • Dr. Bledsoe was invited to join an international research team to address issues around men of color in Europe, Trinidad, Barbados and the Bahamas.
  • Has appeared on talk shows such as Perfect Union hosted by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. to discuss his work involving African American and Latino Males. He is deemed as one of the most gifted and dynamic motivational speakers by the thousands who have heard him speak.
  • Chosen as one of the most outstanding social innovators in the world by the Ashoka International Organization. He is a very spiritual and thought-provoking lecturer.
  • Most importantly to him, he is the father of three adult sons, Tyrone Jr., Exon and Ronnie.


A seasoned enrollment and higher education professional, Amber Williams is responsible for the development, implementation and evaluation of enrollment management and financial aid strategies, Amber works to attract and retain a talented and diverse student body. She goes beyond the numbers to see students as individuals, creating programs and policies that support each students unique story and enabling them to prepare not just for graduation, but to make a difference in the world.

Amber collaborates with the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor, Business and Finance, the academic colleges, Student Affairs, and the Office of Graduate Studies to develop research-based recruitment and enrollment strategies that support academic and budget planning.

Additionally, Amber provides leadership to the Offices of Admissions, Scholarships and Financial Aid, the University Registrar, Nebraska College Preparatory Academy and other college access programs that support the recruitment and academic success of low-income, first generation and underrepresented students.

She came to UNL in 2002 from the University of Kansas Office of Admissions and Scholarships as the assistant director for diversity recruitment. Williams also had responsibilities in freshman and high ability recruitment, events and campus visits and several UNL retention programs. Her work has been an integral part of UNLs increase in enrollment. The fall 2017 freshman class was the largest and most diverse in UNLs history.

In 2006, Williams was named the director for the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy (NCPA), program for first generation and low-income students.  NCPA boasts a 90% freshman to sophomore retention rate and an 80% five-year graduation rate.  She was named the director of admissions and associate dean for enrollment management in July 2011. In April 2017, Williams was named the assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management.

She has been recognized by several organizations as a rising star in enrollment management and leadership including the Omaha World-Herald, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, and UNLs Chancellors Office.  She will be inducted into the African American Leadership Hall of Fame by the Urban League of Nebraska last June.

Williams earned her bachelor's in communication studies from the University of Kansas and a master's in leadership education and a doctorate in educational administration from Nebraska.

D. Elston

Dr. Dhanfu E. Elston (pronounced: dah-nee-foo) serves as Complete College Americas Vice President for Strategy where he utilizes his national and campus expertise for practical application, implementation, and scaling of CCA strategies at institutions throughout the United States. He provides oversight of pathways initiatives, the Purpose First career choice grant, 15 To Finish national campaign, technology Seal of Approval, and scaling standards to close achievement gaps. Previously, he coordinated relationships with Governors Offices and higher education state-wide systems in their college completion efforts. Recently, he launched a national initiative with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to amplify completion efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Over two decades of his higher education career in academic and student affairs, Elston has created and implemented comprehensive success and retention programs that have garnered national attention. He has been recognized as an expert in college completion policy initiatives at institutions that educate highly diverse and underrepresented student populations.

Prior to his current role with CCA, Dr. Elston held the position of Executive Director of Student Success and Transition at Purdue University Calumet (now Purdue Northwest). Under Elstons leadership, Purdue Calumet experienced exponential gains in first-year retention, graduation rates, and enrolled credit hours. In addition, enhancements made to campus-wide academic advisement processes led to the receipt of the Education Advisory Boards inaugural Data-Driven Impact Award for utilization of predictive analytics.

Elston has also served Georgia State University, which is nationally recognized as a model for collegiate academic success, as the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies. Earlier in his career, he held positions in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Georgia State and Clark Atlanta University where he led Greek Life, student activities, and leadership development functional areas. During his tenure at each institution, Dr. Elston held faculty appointments and was responsible for teaching and the development of first-year experience course curricula.

Dr. Elston earned a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University where he conducted research in student retention, intercultural relations, learning communities, leadership development, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He earned both an M.A. in Educational Leadership and B.S. in Biology from Clark Atlanta University.

Elston is a member of and has held leadership roles in numerous professional associations, including NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (past Chairperson of the African American Knowledge Community), Association of Fraternal & Leadership Values (Board Member), NACADA: The Global Advising Community, LeaderShape, Inc., American Educational Research Association, Golden Key International Honour Society, Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. He is a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

 M.GasmanMarybeth Gasman is the Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of expertise include the history of American higher education, Minority Serving Institutions (with an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities), racism and diversity, fundraising and philanthropy, and higher education leadership. Marybeth is the founding director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), which works to amplify the contributions, strengthen, and support MSIs and those scholars interested in them.  She holds secondary appointments in history, Africana Studies, and the School of Social Policy and Practice.

Marybeth is the author or editor of 25 books, including Educating a Diverse Nation (Harvard University Press, 2015 with Clif Conrad), Envisioning Black Colleges (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), and Academics Going Public (Routledge Press, 2016). She has written over 200 peer-reviewed articles, scholarly essays, and book chapters. Marybeth has penned over 350 opinion articles for the nations newspapers and magazines and is ranked by Education Week as one of the 10 most influential education scholars in the nation. She has raised over $22 million in grant funding to support her research and that of her students, mentees, and MSI partners.

Marybeth serves on the board of trustees of The College Board as well as Paul Quinn College, a small, urban, historically Black College in Dallas, Texas. She considers her proudest accomplishment to be receiving the University of Pennsylvanias Provost Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring, serving as the dissertation chair for over 75 doctoral students since 2003.

 EMErnesto Mejia, the proud son of Mexican immigrants, is a true example of the American dream. Diagnosed with the rare disease of Guillain-Barr Syndrome at the age of 16 that left him temporarily paralyzed, he was not supposed to be a successful student, much less a College Dean of Students. Through his hardships, Ernesto learned to never give up on life, he now speaks to students, parents and teachers about overcoming obstacles and never giving up on the American dream: education.

Note: Due to the abnormal schedule of legislative session, Congressman Cleaver is tentatively scheduled to appear. If congress is in session he may not be able to attend and a designee from his respective office will be in attendance.

Last Modified: 6/20/18