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Conference Speakers

Deann Cook

Executive Director, United Ways of Iowa

Deann is the executive director of United Ways of Iowa. UWI is the statewide association of 24 Iowa United Ways and focuses on public policy, training and networking. Deann has more than 20 years of nonprofit experience as both staff and board member at the local, state and national levels. She currently serves on the United Way Council of States Executive Committee, the Association of Junior Leagues International Board of Directors, the Iowa Literacy Council and the Diocese of Des Moines Board of Education.


Veronica Creech
Chief Programs Officer, EveryoneOn

Veronica has over 15 years of experience in leading public and nonprofit social enterprise initiatives.  Prior to joining EveryoneOn, she lead a global partnership outreach and engagement progam for First Book, and led new business development and program replication for Nurse Family Partnership. 

An imigrant from Guyana, South America, Veronica is a first generation college student, earning her M.S.W. from UNC-Chapel Hill  and a M.P.A. from Saint Louis University.  Veronica credits education as the springboard that lifted her family out of poverty and as the catalyst that redirected her otherwise predetermined life trajectory.


Dr. Jill Friestad-Tate
Professor, Des Moines Area Community College

Jill is a professor in the Business Administration program at Des Moines Area Community College as well as Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Information Technology at Kaplan University. She has over 25 years of experience working in real estate, small business, training, and education. She has published two editions of a textbook, Introduction to the World of Business, in addition to academic research in online learning and organizational change and presents regularly about active learning pedagogy.



Alex Harris

Administrative Consultant, Department of Education

Alex Harris has been the State Director for Adult Education in Iowa since January 2012. As the director and state administrator for the HiSET™, Alex leads the Department’s efforts in adult education and achieving a High School Equivalency Diploma.

Iowa’s Adult Education and Literacy mission is to provide accessible, quality instruction that develops life, work and literacy skills.

From 1996 to 2001, Alex Harris worked with the Australian Department of Training and Workforce Development to provide training and job placement services for non-English speaking job seekers and under skilled workers in Sydney, Australia.

Prior to joining the Department, Alex Harris worked from 2002-2010 with a school district assisting special needs students successfully transitioning to college, work and life. Under his leadership the program served several hundred students making significant life changes.

In his role as state director, he has led extensive strategic planning and policy initiatives to craft a blueprint for Iowa’s adult education and literacy reform in order to transform service delivery and begin to build career pathways for Iowa adults. Alex Harris has established collaborative partnerships with the private sector and other public agencies to increase awareness of the needs for adult education participants.   


Marcela Hermosillo-Tarin

Education Consultant, Department of Education

Marcela is the Adult English Language Acquisition consultant for the Iowa Department of Education.  Previously, Marcela was the Community Engagement Consultant  at the Iowa College Student Aid Commission and adjunct faculty at Des Moines Area Community College.  Marcela is currently finishing work  on a  master’s degree in counseling  from Drake University, is a published author for Spanish journals, and brings experience with ESL instruction and outreach to the underrepresented communities.  In Marcela’s position with the Iowa Department of Education, she provides leadership to the state-funded ESL grant, the federally funded EL/Civics grant, and the professional development needs of the state’s adult education programs as enrollment and outreach efforts continue to grow in serving English language acquisition participants. Marcela is a part of the Leadership Institute for a New Century (LINC) class of 2016. In her free time, she enjoys playing chess, soccer, and spending time with her husband, 15-year-old son, and her three year- old lab, Coco.

Kim Karwal
Rural Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Coordinator, Easter Seals

Kim is a Rural Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Center Coordinator for Easter Seals Iowa. She supports farm family members with disabilities and provides assistive technology support statewide for children and adults with disabilities and persons with special needs. Kim holds a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University and is currently pursuing her Masters of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling at Drake University.



Marcel Kielkucki

Director of High School Programs, Kirkwood Community College

Marcel is the director of high school completion programs for Kirkwood Community College.  He has worked for the college since 2006 in adult education program and leads Kirkwood's efforts to help adults improve their basic skills, learn the English language, and earn a high school diploma.  With his team of instructors and staff, Marcel leads the college's efforts in adult basic education, non-credit ESL courses, ABE/HSED courses, correctional education, high school distance learning and alternative high school programming.  He has a bachelor's degree in secondary education and social science from Mount Mercy University, and a master's degree in educational administration from the University of South Dakota.   


Katie Lanius

Adult Education Educator, Iowa Valley Community College

Katie earned her B.S.B.A. from Valparaiso University, J.D. from the University of Missouri, and M.A. in ESL from Arizona State University. Katie teaches at Iowa Valley Education & Training Center, Coe College, & Kirkwood Community College.



Branka Marceta

Coordinator, Outreach & Technical Asstance Network

Since 2006, Branka has held the position of a Technology Projects Coordinator with the Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN), a leadership project funded by the California Department of Education to provide electronic collaboration, information and support for instructional technology and distance learning to literacy and adult education providers throughout the state. In this role Branka has been planning, delivering and facilitating professional development as well as supporting the process of technology and online delivery planning by adult education providers. Before coming to OTAN, she taught ESL, family literacy and CTE courses at Milpitas Adult Education Program. Branka enjoys the camaraderie and collegiality of professional organizations as proven by her decade-long active participation in California and Nevada Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL) professional organization and current position as the Region 8 Representative on the Coalition on Adult and Basic Education Board (COABE). or


Brandy Parsons

High School Distance Learning, Kirkwood Community College

Brandi currently serves the High School Distance Learning (HSDL) program at Kirkwood Community College. Brandi earned her ELL endorsement from William Penn University in the spring of 2010, her master’s in educational technology from MidAmerica Nazarene University in 2008 and her bachelor of arts from Central College in 2003. The Kirkwood HSDL program serves over 1,000 enrollments annually and had a completion rate of 75% in academic year 2015-16. Her presentation will focus on the best distance learning programs for adult education and literacy programs.     


Tara Plouff

English Language Learner (ELL) Educator, Hawkeye Community College

Tara has been an adult ELL educator for nine years. She has taught in Japan, South Korea, and the United States. She is currently the Lead ELL Instructor at Hawkeye Community College Metro Center where she teaches computer skills, writing, and advanced hybrid ELL classes with a bridge-to-college focus.



Wendy Arnold Rodriguez

SubstituteTeacher, College Community and Cedar Rapids Public Schools

Wendy has a B.A from the University of Iowa, and an M.A. in TESOL from the University of Northern Iowa..  She worked in Japan for 6 years where she taught ESL to students ranging in age from 3-85.  In addition, Wendy worked with refugee and immigrants for 10 years in the US.



John Romeo

Workforce Development Specialist, Southeastern Community College

John Romeo has been a member of the AEL team at Southeastern Community College for 4 years. He has a passion for teaching math and enjoys introducing new ways to present math concepts. John embraces technology and facilitates distance learning courses that incorporate all forms of technology. He encourages students to become digitally fluent because he is aware technology is key to employment success. Fun fact: John's passion for math is fueled by coffee!!!"   


Marty Ropog

Director, Ohio Literacy Resource Center

Marty Ropog is the director of the Ohio Literacy Resource Center, located at Kent State University.  She has been with the Center since 1996 and has served as director since 2001.  Her areas of specialty include accountability; technology integration to teaching and learning; and program management.       



Jayne Smith photo

Jayne Smith

Educational Consultant, Department of Education

Jayne is an Education Program Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education (IDOE). Previously Jayne served as Director of Sponsored Programs and Grant Management at Drake University.  Prior to Drake, Jayne served at DMACC for 18 years in various roles, including Director of Grants, Contracts, & Federal Relations. Jayne has a Juris Doctor from Drake University Law School, a Master’s degree in Library Media from the University of South Dakota, and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa. She has extensive experience with Grants Management, is a licensed secondary teacher, and has a passion for the mission of community colleges. In her position with the  IDOE, Jayne provides leadership for the implementation of key elements of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) for Adult Education and literacy programs, grant and fiscal management, and professional development for programs and directors. She also serves as chair of the state’s High School Equivalency Diploma Task Force.;


Jason Walker
Lead Teacher, Muscatine Community College

Jason earned a BA in International Relations and French from Morningside College and an MA in Public Administration from Western Illinois University.  He taught English in Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer and has experience working as a community organizer and as a supervisor in corrections and human services settings.  He has been the Lead Teacher for ABE/HSE/ELL at Muscatine Community College for three years.  While waiting for test results to come back from students, he enjoys running, biking, Crossfit and spending time with his wife, 2 1/2 year-old son and his 8-month old border collie, Benji.”   or



Dr. Sarah Wilkins

Director of Adult Education & Workforce Training, KET

Sarah was recently named KET Director of Adult Education and Workforce training,  In this position, she is charged with overseeing the development, management, evaluation, and the propmotion of KET's adult educatin endeavors, both in Kentucky and nationally.  Previously, she served as the KET Adult Education Specialist. She provides professional development training to adult educators, publishes the monthly Tech Teaching Tips newsletter, and works with the GED®/adult education team at KET to provide curriculum and instructional materials for adlt educators and learners. Before joining KET, Sarah spent over 20 years as a teacher and administrator in postsecondary institutions. She holds a bachelor's and master's degrees in elementrary education and a doctorate from the University of Kentucky in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation.