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Speaker Bios

Beth André serves as a coordinator for Student Emergency Services at the University of Texas at Austin, working with college students in crisis situations, including financial crisis.  She earned her bachelors at Florida State University in political science and international affairs, and her masters in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia.  Beth has worked in academic advising, university housing, and diversity programs. Beth has done research in the areas of the use of social media in higher education, the impact of secondary trauma, and resiliency. When not at work, Beth is active in her community, focusing her time in the areas of women’s rights and social justice.

Lori Beaty serves Tarleton State University as Assistant Vice President for Finance and Administration and University Controller.  In this role, she oversees all budget and accounting functions of the university, including Student Account Services, Payroll, Accounts Payable, Financial Reporting and Budget Services.  Lori obtained her accounting degree from Texas A&M University Commerce in 1997, became a licensed CPA in 2008, and earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Tarleton State University in 2016.  Prior to joining the staff of Tarleton, she worked in small business management, income tax accounting, and banking.  Ms. Beaty finds higher education extremely rewarding and especially enjoys seeing first generation students and their families celebrate at graduation ceremonies.

Jason Briseno has been in higher education for nearly 18 years. Jason started his career as a work-study and worked his way up to Associate Director of Financial Aid at Austin community College. Jason is not only an administrator but an educator and serves in the capacity of an Associate Professor of History for nearly 10 years. Jason has spent his entire career in the community college sector helping first generation students achieve an education. Jason holds two Baccalaureate degrees in History and Anthropology as well as a M.L.A. in History. Jason is an avid collector of military artifacts from all eras and active in Archaeology field work.  

Omari Burnside serves as the director of strategic initiatives at NASPA, where he researches and develops tools on effective student success practices, including the effective use of emergency aid resources. Prior to joining NASPA, he worked at a non-profit where he helped campus leaders plan, scale, and implement strategies designed to increase student success and close equity gaps. Omari holds a Master’s in Organizational Management from the George Washington University and a Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Bachelor’s from the University of Maryland.

Ben Dobner serves as a Director of Education Grantmaking at Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation. Great Lakes’ philanthropic initiatives strive to increase college access and success for students from low-income households, students of color, and first generation students. These initiatives include grants to community-based organizations, colleges, and universities through competitive opportunities to learn from experts in the field, and grants for research and scaling projects nationwide.  Ben has dedicated his career to college access and success through his current role and through his experience as a financial aid director at both a two-year public and a four-year private college.  Over the years, Ben has been actively involved at the state, local, and national level regarding college access and success, financial literacy and financial aid administration.  Ben holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and an M.S. in Student Personnel Administration from Concordia University – Wisconsin.

David W. Gardner is the Deputy Commissioner for Academic Planning and Policy and Chief Academic Officer, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Gardner leads the Board’s Academic Quality and Workforce Division, College Readiness and Success Division, Strategic Planning and Funding Division, and Innovation and Policy Development Division. His primary responsibilities have included coordination of the Board’s efforts toward Closing the Gaps by 2015 through academic excellence and research at Texas institutions of higher education. His continuing responsibilities will include coordination of the Board’s efforts toward meeting the goals of the new Texas higher education plan, 60x30TX.

Previously, Gardner served the agency as the Associate Commissioner for Academic Excellence and Research and as the Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Information Resources. Gardner provided leadership for statewide initiatives such as Texas’ higher education plan Closing the Gaps by 2015; the college and university electronic library resource sharing consortium; the Texas Accountability System for Higher Education; and the Texas Public Education Information Resource, which includes information on all students enrolled in Texas public schools, as well as both public and private higher education institutions in Texas. He served as an affiliate for Columbia University’s Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE), and currently is a member of the Texas Workforce Commission’s Jobs & Education for Texans (JET) Advisory Board and the Texas Space Grant Consortium.

Prior to joining the Coordinating Board staff in 1985, Gardner was on the faculty at Hofstra University where he taught in the master's and doctoral programs in the Administration and Policy Studies Department. While at Hofstra, he was director of the master's program, chaired the university's planning committee, and served on the graduate council and the scholarships committee. He also has been a visiting professor at Texas A&M University and an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Austin.  

Gardner earned his Ph.D. and master's degree from Texas A&M University and his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Houston.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology at Temple University, and Founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation's only translational research laboratory seeking ways to make college more affordable. She is the recipient of the William T. Grant Foundation's Faculty Scholars Award and the American Educational Research Association's Early Career Award, and in 2016 POLITICO magazine named her one of the top 50 people shaping American politics. Her latest book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, is an Amazon best-seller, and has been featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, the New York Review of Books, and CSPAN's Book TV, among other venues. 

Ted Gonder is the co-founding CEO of Moneythink, the nation's only national technology nonprofit tackling the college affordability crisis through financial coaching. Since 2009, Moneythink has trained over 2,000 college leaders to serve as financial mentors and college role models to over 12,000 teenagers across 10 states, and has built award-winning blended-learning tools that have advanced the field of financial education. From March 2014 until June 2015, Ted served as the youngest member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In 2015, Ted was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 list as the youngest in Finance.  

Prior to Moneythink, Ted served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advising the Obama Administration on immigration policy for foreign entrepreneurs. Previously, he worked with the Kauffman Foundation and the Chilean government, research immigrant entrepreneurship and publishing through MIT Press and McKinsey 

Ted got his start in social entrepreneurship working on climate change, and notably being appointed and serving as the student advisor to The Climate Project, an organization founded by Al Gore.  

Ted has also played an active role as a community builder, founding the World Economic Forum's Chicago Global Shapers Hub, as well as the University of Chicago Entrepreneurship Society.   

His work has been featured in MTV, WSJ, and Crain’s; he has spoken at the White House, U.S. Senate, NYSE, TEDx, and at top companies such as PwC, IDEO, Dell, and Allstate.   

Besides work, Ted enjoys spending time with his wife and son, practicing martial arts, admiring wild animals, and writing on his blog.

Brad Hershbein is an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a labor studies research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a non-resident fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. His research focuses on labor economics and economics of education, including transitions into the workforce. Hershbein’s recent work includes investigating how the distribution of student debt has changed for college graduates over time, studying the effects of the Kalamazoo Promise, a universal place-based college scholarship, and examining how and why employers changed posted skill requirements for jobs during and after the Great Recession. In addition to developing a new index that tracks the earnings potential of newly hired workers, he is helping evaluate the Kansas City Scholars college scholarship and advising program. He has also consulted for the U.S. Department of Education. He earned his BA in economics from Harvard College, and his PhD, also in economics, from the University of Michigan.

Twitter: @UpjohnInstitute
Facebook: @Upjohn.Institute

Russell Lowery-Hart currently serves as President for Amarillo College.  His leadership is focused on improving student success through systemic and cultural change. In his career, he created several institution-wide initiatives targeting a systemic approach to poverty, a common reader program, international travel programs for first year students, curricular reform, instructional improvement, advising and academic orientation expansions, first year seminars, service-learning across the curriculum, and partnership development across campus “silos.” Dr. Lowery-Hart previously served as Vice-President of Academic Affairs for Amarillo College.

While his calling is education reform, his passion is family.  His wife, Tara Lowery-Hart, is the Director of Service-Learning for St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. His eldest son, Christopher, is a professional, working actor. His teenage son, Campbell, desires to be a professional basketball and Oboe player. His youngest daughter, Cadence, is following her older brother’s footsteps on the stage as a performer and musician. Their dog, Sadie, fills their lives with beauty and joy.

Dr. Lowery-Hart received his Ph.D. in Gender and Diversity in Communication from Ohio University in 1996. He received his MA in Communication Studies from Texas Tech in 1993, and his BS in Speech from West Texas State University in 1991.

Amelia Parnell is the vice president for research and policy at NASPA. She directs the Research and Policy Institute (RPI), which links research, policy, and effective student affairs practice in support of student success. Prior to her arrival at NASPA, Amelia was director of research initiatives at the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), where she conducted two national studies related to future directions of the institutional research function. Amelia holds a Ph.D. in higher education from Florida State University and masters and bachelor’s degrees in business administration from Florida A & M University.


Timothy Renick is Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, Vice Provost, and Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University.  He has served as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Director of the Honors Program.  Since 2008, he has directed the student success and enrollment efforts of the university, overseeing among the fastest improving graduation rates in the nation and the elimination of all achievement gaps based on students' race, ethnicity or income level.  Dr. Renick has testified on strategies for helping university students succeed before the U.S. Senate and has twice been invited to speak at the White House.  His work has been covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN and cited by President Obama. He was named one of 2016’s Most Innovative People in Higher Education by Washington Monthly and was the recipient of the 2015-16 Award for National Leadership in Student Success Innovation from the University Innovation Alliance.  He currently is principal investigator for a $9 million U.S. Department of Education grant to study the impact of proactive, predictive-analytics-based advisement on ten-thousand low-income and first-generation students nationally. A summa cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College, Dr. Renick holds his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University.  

Tracy Robinson currently serves as Director of Innovative Academic Initiatives at the University of Memphis coordinating credit for prior learning activities and directing the Finish Line Program, a degree completion initiative that re-recruits students who earned 90 or more credit hours but left the university before earning their degree. Under her leadership, the Finish Line Program has been recognized for numerous awards including Outstanding Advising Program by National Academic Advising Association, Turning Points Award by Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and the Credit Program Award by Tennessee Alliance for Continuing Education.

In 2017, Ms. Robinson received a Veteran Reconnect Grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to enhance prior learning pathways for military connected students. She also serves on the THEC Veteran Prior Learning taskforce. Prior to her current role, Ms. Robinson served as an instructor and academic advisor. She was selected as Distinguished Advisor in 2010.

Zachary Wayne Taylor is a 2nd year PhD student and a sociolinguist studying higher education at UT-Austin. He holds a BA in English Education, an MA in English, and an MS in Educational Leadership.

His work related to the readability and translation of higher education-related materials has recently been published in the International Journal of Higher Education, the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, and the Successful Registrar. He has papers in press for 2018 in the Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, and the Journal of College Orientation and Transition.

His scholarly interests include examining the intersection of informatics and sociolinguistics as they pertain to postsecondary communication. His research focuses on first-generation students, students in poverty, and other minoritized groups.

Evan Weissman is a Senior Associate at MDRC, an education and social policy research firm. Weissman has over 15 years of experience directing projects, providing technical assistance, conducting qualitative research, and disseminating findings in a wide range of policy settings. His current work is focused in the area of postsecondary education, illuminating ways to improve college access, persistence, and success for low-income and underprepared students. Weissman is currently leading Aid Like A Paycheck, a project testing the impacts of innovative changes to financial aid disbursements. His work on developmental education includes a key role on the evaluation of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways in Texas, and having played a vital role in the National Center for Postsecondary Research, working on the Learning Communities Demonstration and the Texas Developmental Summer Bridge Study. Weissman has also provided technical assistance, designed and launched evaluations, and conducted qualitative research in a range of other social policy areas, including early childhood education, maternal and infant well-being, job training and parenting programs for noncustodial parents, public housing, and welfare employment programs.

Monique Lee Whitley is the Program Coordinator for the Emergency Aid Network, Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Academic Planning and Policy, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Before joining the THECB staff in Austin, Texas, Mrs. Whitley lived and worked in Houston, Texas. She was a College Access and Success Advisor and Program Coordinator for Project GRAD Houston until February 2017, helping students by connecting them with available campus services and giving guidance on balancing the demands of college, work, and family life. Monique spent almost six years in the Office of Financial Aid at Lone Star College-Tomball (LSC-TB), where she successfully coordinated the Scholarship, Hazlewood, and Financial Aid Outreach programs for the Tomball campus and trained other LSC campus leads on program best practices. She received her Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from Lone Star College, and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of North Texas. Mrs. Whitley brings over 30 years of experience in management, administration, and customer service to her current role at the THECB.







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