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Kristen Soares

President, AICCU

Kristen Soares is the fourth president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU). Soares works in partnership with leaders around the state to shape policy for California’s independent colleges and universities. Under her leadership to advance new policy initiatives to address the needs of today’s students, AICCU adopted an agreement with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to adopt the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway, a groundbreaking program to improve community college transfer for students. Soares has an extensive background in higher education, policy, administration, and governmental advocacy. Before coming to AICCU, Soares spent nearly 25 years at the University of Southern California (USC). She served as the senior associate vice president for government relations and civic engagement, where she provided strategic direction and leadership for USC’s government and community relations offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C.

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Alex Graves

Vice President for Government Relations, AICCU

Alex Graves is the chief lobbyist and is responsible for legislative advocacy and public policy leadership in support of independent higher education. Graves serves as the liaison between AICCU and the Governor’s Office, the California Legislature, California Student Aid Commission, and other public bodies. Prior to joining AICCU, he worked as the legislative advocate at the California State University Office of Advocacy & State Relations, where he staffed legislation pertaining to admissions, financial aid, K-12 and teacher preparation, student basic needs, and transfer. He has also worked as a legislative assistant at the Alzheimer’s Association, and as a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy. In 2016-17 he completed the California Education Policy Fellowship Program, a year-long program designed to help equip education leaders address the state’s unique education policy needs.


Thomas Vu

Vice President for Policy, AICCU

Thomas Vu develops and manages the execution of AICCU’s agenda on state and federal policy. This includes outreach and engagement responsibilities with federal and state policymakers; providing original policy development; and cultivating and managing the internal and external stakeholders required for successful policy development and implementation. He also staffs the AICCU Deans and Directors of Education group and liaisons with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Vu’s career has been spent in government relations and public policy. Prior to joining AICCU, he worked at the California Chamber of Commerce as a policy advocate with a portfolio that included transportation and infrastructure, workers’ compensation, and international relations and trade. Vu was the legislative director for the California Special Districts Association, where he lobbied on local government-related legislation. He also has policy experience in healthcare, land use, and economic development. Vu graduated from UC San Diego with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Economics, and a minor in Literature and has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.

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Ann McElaney-Johnson

President, Mount Saint Mary's University Los Angeles

Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson is the 12th president of Mount Saint Mary’s University, the only women’s university in Los Angeles and one of the most diverse in the nation. She has over 30 years of experience and is recognized as a thought leader for the advancement of women and a champion for innovative teaching and learning. Since her appointment in 2011, Dr. McElaney-Johnson led and implemented a strategic vision for the University that fosters a culture of inclusiveness and excellence, preparing students to be global leaders and pursue purpose-filled lives. Her vision is rooted in the traditions and heritage of the University’s founding Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, as well as the University’s institutional mission. She serves on several executive boards including: Chair of the Board for the Women’s College Coalition, Advisory Board Member of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s, Chair of the Board of the AICCU Executive Committee, Member of the Board of St. Joseph Center, and Member of the Executive Committee of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

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Devorah Lieberman

President Emerita, University of La Verne

Dr. Devorah Lieberman, President Emerita-University of La Verne, is a distinguished executive, scholar, and changemaker with a passion for leadership and service. A dedicated advocate for inclusivity and diversity, Lieberman was the first female president of the 133-year-old University of La Verne. She has a reputation as an influencer in education, business, and health care sectors. 

Throughout her career, Lieberman has been recognized for her leadership. This includes being named Woman of the Year by Assemblymember Holden (2023); Woman of Distinction by Senator Portantino (2023), CEO of the Year by the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership (2021), and, the Ellis Island Award (2016). She has also received honorary doctorates from Wagner College, I-Shou University (Taiwan), and, the Western University of Health Sciences. Lieberman has published extensively on leadership, diversity, institutional transformation, and issues affecting education. These include five books and monographs, 16 book chapters, 30 articles and editorials, at least 50 scholarly presentations, and, 20 federal and foundation grants.

Ted Mitchell

President, American Council on Education 

Ted Mitchell has served as president of the American Council on Education (ACE), the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, since 2017. Mitchell and his team work closely with Congress, the executive branch, and the private sector to develop policies and innovative practices that serve our country’s postsecondary learners. Mitchell served in the Obama administration as U.S. under secretary of education from 2014 to 2017 and was responsible for all postsecondary education policies, such as initiatives focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, minority serving institutions, and federal student aid. Mitchell and his team at the Department of Education (ED) reinstated Pell Grants for incarcerated adults, created the College Scorecard, and restored millions of dollars to students who were defrauded by their institutions. Before joining ED, Mitchell served in a variety of higher education leadership roles, including as president of Occidental College; vice chancellor and dean at the University of California, Los Angeles; professor and department chair at Dartmouth College; and a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees.

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Mary Lomax-Ghirarduzzi

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, University of the Pacific

Mary J. Lomax-Ghirarduzzi joined Pacific in 2021 as the university’s inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and chief diversity officer. She is also a professor in the Communications Department. A leader on race, leadership and faith-informed social justice, she is guiding the university through a transformative framework designed to integrate DEI into all aspects of campus life and operations. Prior to Pacific, Lomax-Ghirarduzzi served as dean of students and vice provost of diversity and community engagement at University of San Francisco, where she led diversity initiatives that resulted in one of the most ethnically diverse student bodies and faculty in the nation. She is an affiliate faculty member at the Race and Equity Center at University of Southern California and president of the Northern California chapter of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. Lomax-Ghirarduzzi’s awards include the Black History Month Legacy Award of Excellence; Human Rights Defender for Gender Equality in San Francisco; and being named one of the Bay Area’s Most Influential Women by the San Francisco Business Times.

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Mitchell Chang

Associate Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UCLA

Mitchell Chang has nearly 30 years experience on the UCLA campus, as a graduate student and a School of Education and Information Studies faculty member, as well as his professorial appointment in UCLA’s Department of Asian American Studies. In 2022, he became the third person to serve as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UCLA. Chang, who is a faculty member in the division of Higher Education and Organizational Change, has been helping to strategize how the University can further diversify its faculty. His research focuses on the educational efficacy of diversity-related initiatives on college campuses and how to apply those best practices toward advancing student learning and democratizing institutions. Chang has written over 90 publications, some of which were cited in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Grutter v. Bollinger, one of two cases involving the use of race-sensitive admissions practices at the University of Michigan.


Natasha J. Baker

Managing Attorney, Novus Law Firm

Building on years of experience advising higher education clients and California employers, Natasha Baker founded Novus Law Firm in 2020 to provide high quality legal counsel for clients. Baker’s practice includes: Advising on California employment law; advising on employment law in the higher education context and seeking legislative change where necessary to adapt the Labor Code to the uniqueness of academia; serving as outside general counsel to institutions; and labor negotiations. Baker serves as legal counsel to administrators at both private and public institutions, whom she advises on matters including labor, employment, student affairs, and compliance issues. She counsels boards of trustees on the negotiation of presidential contracts and the termination of high-level administrators. She also assists with the higher education accreditation process, including appeals and revocation hearings. Baker’s practice also includes conducting preventative training and providing practical advice on a wide range of legal issues, including Title IX compliance, performance management and termination strategies that minimize risk, and labor relations issues.

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Kimberly Rodriguez

Policy Director, California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins

Kimberly Rodriguez has over 20 years of working in public policy for and with the California State Legislature. She spent over 10 years working on education policy and as a fiscal consultant for the Assembly Education Committee, Assembly Budget Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. In 2014, she moved to the California State Senate to work for Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon as his chief education advisory. Rodriguez advised Senator De Leon on all K-12, higher education, and child care budget and policy issues. In 2017, Rodriguez became Policy Director for State Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins. In this role, she oversees the policy agenda of the pro Tem and the Senate Democratic Caucus, which includes supervising a staff of 12 policy consultants.

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Lynn Alvarez

Vice President of Programs and Strategy, ECMC Foundation

Lynn Alvarez is vice president of programs and strategy for the Los Angeles-based ECMC Foundation, a national foundation working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds. Alvarez has nearly two decades of experience in the philanthropic sector focused on improving the lives of communities through systemic transformations in education, health, housing, family services and the arts. She also practiced public interest law for several years advocating for immigrant and refugee rights and was a lecturer for many years at both UCLA and USC law schools. Alvarez served as a Commissioner for the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department for 12 years and served on the boards of Human Rights Watch and Para Los Ninos and is currently on the Board of Governors for The Huntington. She received her Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley and her Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley School of Law.

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Greg Maw

Policy Director, California Senate Republican Caucus

Greg Maw has been the policy director for the Senate Republican Caucus since 2006, where he oversees a team of consultants who collectively analyze all of the bills that go through the Senate. Maw graduated from California Lutheran University (CLU) in 1990, where he majored in political science and was the Academic All-American placekicker for the football team. While attending CLU, he had an internship with Ronald Reagan in his post-presidency office in Los Angeles. The contacts he made working with the Reagans led to his first paid position in politics, when he worked for the local State Assemblyman for three years before moving to Sacramento. In the Capitol, Maw previously served as a chief of staff in both the Senate and Assembly.

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Lyndsay Mitchell

Senior Consultant, Assembly Republican Caucus Office of Policy and Budget

Lyndsay Mitchell is a senior consultant with the Assembly Republican Caucus Office of Policy and Budget. She had her start in the caucus in 2019 and serves as the caucus consultant for the Higher Education Committee, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Budget Public Safety Subcommittee. Prior to joining the caucus, Mitchell worked in both the Assembly and the Senate for nearly 15 years and served as a legislative director to Assembly Members Chavez, Hadley, and Senator Vidak. In her tenure, she has mentored seven legislative fellows through the California Assembly and Senate fellowship programs. Mitchell received her undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College, PA, a member of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania. She graduated with a double major in Political Science and Globalization Studies.


Sara Gast

Deputy Executive Director, Carnegie Classifications, American Council on Education 

Sara Gast is the deputy executive director for the Carnegie Classifications, supporting the redesign and development of the Basic and Social & Economic classifications. She joined ACE in May 2022, and prior to that served as the chief of staff and executive director of strategic communications at the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), a K-12 nonprofit that works to ensure every student is taught by an effective educator. Prior to joining NIET, Gast worked at the Tennessee Department of Education and served as the director of communications for Commissioner Candice McQueen under Gov. Bill Haslam. In that position, she led a variety of public-facing initiatives as well as served as the primary spokesperson for the agency, which handled more than 1,000 media requests each year. Before returning to Tennessee, Gast worked for Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). During her time at ED, she helped oversee a number of rollouts and key policy announcements from the Obama White House, including new regulations on for-profit colleges and additional programs and policies to make college more affordable.

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Jesús Andrade

Senior Director of Policy and School Partnerships, Improve Your Tomorrow

Jesús Andrade is currently serving as the senior director of policy and school partnerships for Improve Your Tomorrow, an organization founded in 2013 with the mission to increase the number of young men of color to attend and graduate from colleges and universities. At the end of 2020, Jesus completed his term serving on the Stockton City Council. During his four years on the Council, Andrade helped co-found and lead the Stockton Schools Initiative and serve as the chief executive officer for the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. While CEO of the Chamber, he partnered with members of the Board and colleagues on the City Council to fund the creation of a food business incubator program for women and BIPOC aspiring entrepreneurs. He also worked with the Mayor’s Office to develop a city-wide initiative focused on developing an “inclusive economy” blueprint for small businesses, financial institutions, and community groups. Before winning a seat on the Stockton City Council, Andrade worked for state and national organizations like StudentsFirst, California Charter School Association, UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza), and the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign in Colorado.

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Todd Taylor

Principal of Strategic Development for Higher Education, Adobe

Todd Taylor is an award-winning teacher and scholar in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he used to direct the first-year writing program. He also works as a Pedagogical Evangelist for Adobe. Taylor’s research, teaching, and administration have examined how literacy continues to evolve in response to emerging digital, information, networked, and (now) artificial intelligence technologies. He currently focuses on digital literacy, curricular administration, and faculty development, especially in terms of multimodal academic modes that promote student success through digital storytelling, service learning, and inclusion. Taylor most recently published Becoming a College Writer: a Multimedia Text and Adobe Creative Cloud Across the Curriculum: A Guide for Students and Teachers.

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Erika Bustamante

Assistant Vice President of State Government Affairs, Stanford University

Dr. Erika Bustamante is Assistant Vice President of State Government Affairs at Stanford University where she oversees the activities and relationships with state governmental bodies related to regulatory and legislative issues impacting Stanford’s mission and operations. Previous to joining Stanford, Bustamante worked as a legislative aid and legislative director for Assemblymember Luis Alejo in the California Legislature. Bustamante was a 2012 California Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST). Bustamante earned her Ph.D. in Developmental Biology from Stanford University and a BS in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology from UCLA. She serves in the CCST Board and is the Co-Chair of the Latino Leadership Alliance Board, a nonprofit with the mission of empowering and expanding the voice of Latino leadership and representation in the Bay Area.

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Barbara Mistick

President, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

Barbara Mistick has led the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) as president since September 2019. Coming out of the pandemic, she helped organize the higher education community and spearheaded efforts to double the Pell Grant maximum award to $13,000. NAICU advocacy efforts also helped secure substantial increases in each of the core student and institutional aid programs in the 2023 omnibus spending package. Mistick expanded NAICU’s mission to secure institutional aid, along with student aid, to ensure private, nonprofit colleges and universities were equitably treated when Congress distributed $77 billion in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds in each of the three stimulus rounds. She enhanced NAICU’s communication efforts and virtual tools to keep members informed of federal efforts and opportunities for assistance. These efforts were critical to ensuring the health and safety for our nation’s campuses and the communities they serve.


Lori Varlotta

President, California Lutheran University

The first female president since Cal Lutheran was founded in 1959, Dr. Lori E. Varlotta is an established leader in higher education. Varlotta took the helm at Cal Lutheran when a global pandemic and racial and social inequities were dramatically impacting higher education in general and Cal Lutheran in particular. Amid these challenges, she committed to leading a campus-wide effort to make the University an even more vibrant and positive community for those who work, study, live, and learn here. As part of these early efforts, Varlotta spearheaded the development and implementation of a new and highly coordinated DEI structure. She tells first-generation students like herself that her university degrees have opened many doors, and for that, she is grateful. She is quick to add, however, that the life lessons she learned from her working-class family in Pittsburgh, PA have substantially shaped her personal and professional life. For this reason, she never underestimates where a student comes from and what they bring with them from home.

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Mark Martin

Principal Consultant, State Assembly Budget Committee

Mark Martin has worked on higher education issues for the state Assembly Budget Committee for over 10 years. He staffs Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education Finance and advises Subcommittee Chairman Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Budget Committee Chairman Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), on funding and policy decisions regarding the California public higher education system and state financial aid programs. Martin previously worked for the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review and was a journalist for 12 years, including five years covering the Governor and Legislature for the San Francisco Chronicle.


Jamienne Studley

President, Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Jamienne Studley has worked across higher education, public service, civil rights and non-profit management to advance equity, student success, and public engagement. While serving as deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education (2013-2016) she helped guide its work to advance student success and accountability through the College Scorecard, accreditor policy and dashboards, the “engines of opportunity” initiative, and K-16 community partnerships. During this time, she also served as acting undersecretary and assistant secretary for postsecondary education. She was associate dean and a lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, where she helped create a model public interest loan forgiveness program; professor of practice at Mills College; and adjunct faculty at UC Berkeley and Stanford Law Schools. She also served on the Association of American Colleges & Universities board and the Harvard Law School Visiting Committee.


Harry Elam, Jr.

President, Occidental College

Elam came to Occidental in 2020 from Stanford University, where he served as vice provost for undergraduate education for a decade and was responsible for nearly all policies and programs relating to the university’s 7,200 undergraduate students. He helped lead a major rethinking of Stanford’s undergraduate curriculum as well as a separate effort to create a new vision for the university’s student residences. Elam is a leader on issues of diversity and inclusion. Among his many efforts at Stanford, he created the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, initiated a summer bridge program for first-year students from under-resourced high schools, and designed a program to increase the number of students of color pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields.


Hans Johnson

Senior Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California

Hans Johnson is a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California's (PPIC) Higher Education Center. His research focuses on improving college access and completion. He frequently presents his work to policymakers and higher education officials, and he serves as a technical advisor to many organizations seeking to improve college graduation rates, address workforce needs, and engage in long-term capacity planning. His other areas of expertise include international and domestic migration, housing in California, and population projections. Previously, he served as research director at PPIC. Before joining PPIC, he worked as a demographer at the California Research Bureau and at the California Department of Finance. He holds a PhD in demography and a master’s degree in biostatistics from the University of California, Berkeley.


Emma Jones

Executive Vice President / Owner, Credo Higher Education Consulting

Emma Jones is passionate about changing the prevailing narratives about higher education by inspiring innovation and action within Credo's client institutions and associations. With more than 20 years of experience working in and for colleges and universities, Jones helps clients build their leadership benches for the future with an emphasis on empowering women. Jones oversees Credo’s brand, marketing, and sales teams, and plays a key role in developing business strategy, culture, and diversity and inclusion efforts. As the Executive Editor for Credo Press, Jones worked closely with Credo co-founder Joanne Soliday on publications including Surviving to Thriving (2014) and Pivot: A Vision for the New University (2019). She also leads Credo’s Women in Leadership Initiative, which helps to develop cabinet-level and presidential leaders in both in-person and virtual settings. Jones was recognized in 2022 by the Women's Resource Center of Alamance County as a Leading the Way Honoree for her work with developing leaders nationally. 


Allison Ash

Associate Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Student Success & Senior Consultant, Credo Higher Education Consulting

Allison Ash plays a crucial dual role within Credo and their clients. She devotes the skills and knowledge she’s gained from leadership experiences inside and outside of higher education to help make Credo's work—particularly the Moving the Needle program—more efficient and scalable. As a Senior Consultant for Student Success, Ash oversees a senior project manager and three associate consultants engaged in the Moving the Needle program, all while engaging in client-facing work of her own. Those experiences inform her role as Credo’s Associate Vice President of Strategy and Operations, in which she coordinates the installation and use of tools, such as the Success Intelligence Platform, that facilitate the work of the Moving the Needle program. Her efforts are vital in ensuring Credo continues to meet clients’ varied needs. 

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Mary Ann Bates

Executive Director, Office of Cradle-to-Career Data

Mary Ann Bates is Executive Director of the California Cradle-to-Career Data System. This statewide data system provides tools to help students reach their goals and delivers information on education and workforce outcomes. Its vision is to foster evidence-based decision-making to help Californians build more equitable futures and empower individuals to reach their full potential. With a focus on improving equity outcomes utilizing science-based evidence, Bates’ career spans addressing policy issues across the education spectrum, ranging from prenatal and early childhood care, to K-12 equity and technology, to transitions to college, and extending to labor market opportunities. She is passionate about leveraging structures of government to make progress. Bates previously served as a senior fellow at the White House Office of Management and Budget and as the Executive Director of J-PAL North America at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She began her life in Ohio's Amish community and started her college experience via dual enrollment at Kent State University Tuscarawas. She holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Additional Speakers to Be Announced

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