July 5, 2022: USDLA July 2022 National Conference: You will love meeting these speakers!

A Note from USDLA Executive Director Pat Cassella: Our 35th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville is just around the corner from July 18-21 and by now you have your tickets and are ready to meet friends old and new at Tennessee State University’s Avon Williams Campus. We haven’t all been together since our last physical gathering in Nashville in the Spring of 2019, and those live in-person interactions and priceless.

To make this the best gathering possible, our Conference and Events committee has been hard at work planning details that include:

  • Opening Keynote Address
  • Live Music Kickoff Party
  • Pre-Conference Sessions
  • 60+ Concurrent Sessions
  • Virtual Option for ALL Sessions
  • Main Keynote Address by bestselling author and motivational speaker Will Bowen, scroll down for more
  • International Awards Dinner for our 2021 and 2022 Winners featuring Pap Gyete Williams, Ghana’s Central Region New Artist of the Year, pictured right
  • Bill Jackson Memorial Walk/Run
  • Downtown Nashville Night on the Town (transportation courtesy of USDLA)
  • Public Policy Forum
  • Closing Keynote Address

Tracks that are in high demand: As we all navigate remote and in-person learning strategies, you’ll want to attend the sessions that include:

Online Teaching and Training, HyFlex Strategies for Success, Student Engagement Techniques, Micro-certifications, Professional Development, Leadership and A Look Ahead – Educational Environment Five Years Out.

Our incredible speakers are always a highlight. Scroll down to learn a little more about the folks we’ll all be learning from.

I can’t wait to see you in Nashville! Pat

USDLA 2022: National Conference Speakers

Keynote speaker Will Bowen, bestselling author and founder of the Complaint Free Movement: After decades of sales success in insurance, broadcasting, and advertising in July 2006 Will Bowen’s life changed forever when he invited 250 people to break the negative habit of complaining by going 21 consecutive days without uttering a gripe. Participants received a purple bracelet to be used as a mindfulness tool because, “I wanted them to switch the bracelet from wrist-to-wrist with each spoken complaint and keep switching.” This year, more than 15 million have joined the movement, and Will’s 21-Day Complaint Free challenge has been promoted by Oprah and Maya Angelou, and the phenomenon has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, NBC’s Today Show, the ABC Evening News, and NPR. Will travels the world motivating businesses and organizations of every size to understand the causes and embrace the cures of complaining. By the end of his speech, we know every USDLA member will, too!

Dr. Jack Thomas, president, Central State University: In July 2020, Dr. Jack Thomas joined Central State University as president, bringing a track record of success from previous roles as a Senior Fellow with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, president of Western Illinois University (WIU), and in several roles at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, including interim president, executive vice president, and associate vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. During his tenure, he enhanced fundraising, implemented new academic programs, and drove increased enrollment. A native of Lowndes County, Alabama, Dr. Thomas holds a Ph.D. in English (Literature and Criticism) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a Master of English Education from Virginia State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Alabama A & M University. He is a noted scholar and lecturer, as well as a highly sought-after keynote speaker presenting his research and inspirational messages locally, nationally, and internationally.

Dr. Makola Abdullah, Virginia State University: A leader and academic visionary committed to excellence, on February 1, 2016, Makola became the 14th President of Virginia State University. Under his leadership, the University has been recognized as one of the nation’s top 20 “Best Colleges for African Americans” by ESSENCE magazine. He has established partnerships with local public-school systems wherein VSU students tutor students in mathematics and reading. And he established the University’s Advisory Board for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning Intersex Ally+ (LGBTQIA+) Inclusion to investigate ways for the institution to be a more affirming learning environment for all students, faculty and staff within the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2019, Virginia State was ranked No. 19 of historically black college or university by U.S. News & World Report. This is up 12 spots from the 2018 rankings. The University was ranked as the No. 8 public HBCU.

Dr. Robbie Melton, Associate Vice Chancellor for Mobilization-Emerging Technologies for the Tennessee Board of Regents: A tenured full professor at Tennessee State University, Robbie earned the moniker as an Appologist thanks to her extensive research of the pedagogy and best teaching practices with mobile devices (smart phone, tablets, wearable, and virtual augmented reality). serves on the Board for the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), WCET Executive Board, MERLOT Project Director, Apple Distinguished Educator (2013), and more. Check it out www.appapedia.org.

Gerry Hanley, Ph.D., executive director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) and SkillsCommons. These free and open digital libraries of academic and workforce development teaching, learning, and training resources are administered at California State University Long Beach where the project was created in 1997. Gerry received his BA, MA, and PhD from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in Experimental/Cognitive Psychology.

Cheryl Dowd, Senior Director of the State Authorization Network & WCET Policy Innovations: Cheryl joined WCET in August of 2015 as the director of the State Authorization Network. She currently serves as the senior director, policy innovations. She directs the overall activities of WCET’s State Authorization Network (SAN), including coordination of staff addressing interstate policy and compliance, along with other ancillary compliance issues. As senior director, Cheryl also serves the overall WCET membership in addressing emerging and special regulatory issues related to digital learning in postsecondary education. She brings extensive experience in education and compliance to the WCET team and is a contributing author for State Authorization of Colleges and Universities, a guidebook for understanding the legal basis for State and Federal compliance for activities of postsecondary institutions. Cheryl holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Richmond, a master’s degree in criminal justice from Bowling Green State University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from James Madison University. She is the mother of four kids, all of whom have been instrumental in helping her develop new interests in theatre, hockey, and figure skating.