Speakers & Youth Emcees

Keynote Speakers

Check back frequently as More Powerful Together speakers are added.


Kelita Bak, Chief Executive Officer, NYLC
NYLC values youth and believes that all kids should be called upon to lead.  All of our programs and services work to create positive change in the world.  For more than 30 years, NYLC has transformed classrooms, empowered teachers, and captivated students by leading the way in providing high quality, dynamic, service-learning content to school districts, out-of-school youth programs, and everything in between. Our programs accelerate student achievement by strengthening academic, civic, and character outcomes through service-learning.

A strong advocate for youth, prior to becoming CEO at NYLC in 2011, Bak worked in youth development and public policy in Washington, D.C. for more than 15 years. She has held a range of leadership positions in national nonprofit organizations, including serving as National Vice President of Advancement for Camp Fire USA. Throughout her career, Bak has built and managed key relationships, including numerous partnerships and coalitions. Among those, she served as a lead convener of Service-Learning United and worked to secure agreement among service-learning leaders on provisions in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.


William C. Basl, AmeriCorps
Basl was appointed as the Director of AmeriCorps in June 2012 at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Prior to this appointment, during the past 40 years, he worked in a variety of capacities for the state of Washington.  He served as the initial Executive Director of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service established by Governor Mike Lowry in 1994 to implement and expand volunteerism and national service initiatives including AmeriCorps.  In 1983, prior to being named to this position, Basl founded the Washington Service Corps which was the first statewide youth service initiative in the nation designed to address priority local education and human service’s needs. 


Cathryn Berger Kaye, CBK Associates and ABCD Books
Kaye is delighted to return to the National Service-Learning Conference. Kaye travels the world providing professional development, conference keynotes, and exceptional education resources on topics including service-learning, 21st century skills, engaging teaching methods, social and emotional development, demystifying Common Core Standards, curriculum development, environmental issues, and literature connections. Kaye is the author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning (Revised & Updated Second Edition), and Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands and Make A Splash! A Teen Guide to Saving our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands both written with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International, along with numerous articles and blogs.

Andrea Cahn, Project UNIFY, Special Olympics, Inc. and NYLC Board Secretary
Cahn has spent the last 40 years divided between the for-profit and non-profit worlds. She is currently Principal Investigator of Project UNIFY at Special Olympics, Inc. She served with Special Olympics for the past 25 years and also held other leadership roles in communications, program strategy and development and government relations. A special focus of her work has been to expand Special Olympics programs in urban schools and to promote social inclusion through sports and youth leadership as critical to student success and positive school climate. Prior to her involvement in Special Olympics, Cahn spent 12 years as a programming executive and on-air talent in the television, news and entertainment industries in Thailand. She also has a long career in amateur theater as an actor, producer director and fundraiser for numerous productions of all genres. She has served on boards of various community and non-profit theater groups. She holds a degree in special education, and has worked as a volunteer with children with intellectual disabilities since she was an adolescent.

Kyle Caldwell, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Caldwell is the Director of the Pathways Out of Poverty program at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan.  Previous to this, he was the president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, a statewide membership nonprofit focused on serving nonprofits to advance their missions. Prior to leading MNA, Caldwell served as the president and CEO of the ConnectMichigan Alliance, a statewide organization focused on promoting and strengthening a lifelong ethic of service and civic engagement through the support of community-building initiatives.

Jill Farina, New Foundation Charter School, Philadelphia, PA
Farina is in 11th grade and has been dancing since she was 2 years old. Along with dancing, she has been a strong supporter of service-learning through her participation in many service- learning activities including The Service Learning Ambassadors and Mentors program at her school. This is her 5th time attending the National Service Learning Conference and is she excited to perform a jazz routine she choreographed to "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.


Rev. Jay Gibson, Vice President, Shinnyo-en Foundation
Rev. Gibson is Vice President of Shinnyo-en Foundation, which is a philanthropic arm of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order. Gibson has been the Vice President since November 2014, but has been a strong ally in the Foundation’s work, promoting Family Service Events in Southern California and Nevada, presenting at the National Service-Learning Conference in 2014, and now stepping up to carry out the Foundation’s mission to promote global peace through service by nurturing future generations. Since 2001, he has been serving as a Shinnyo-en spiritual teacher and guide, and he became an ordained Dharma teacher in 2007. Gibson continues to also serve as Temple Manager of the Shinnyo-en LA Temple in Orange County, CA and splits his time between the Foundation and Temple.

Alexandra (Allie) Gould, Special Olympics
Gould is 17 years old and from Rhode Island. She first became involved with Special Olympics in eighth grade when she attended her state’s Winter Games to cheer on the athletes as a part of a community service project. On that day she knew she wanted to devote her life to Special Olympics. Gould currently participates in Unified Basketball and Volleyball with her high school and serves as a member of both the State and National Youth Activation Committee.  Gould is also a goalie for her high school’s women’s ice hockey team. She hopes to encourage the world over to participate in Special Olympics.

Abhijit Madhugiri, Vice President, International Business Development for Echo360 Inc. and NYLC Board Chair
Madhugiri manages the international business, revenues, and operations for Asia, Middle East, and Latin America for Echo 360 Inc., an education company that partners with over 500 University clients in more than 30 countries.  He leads business strategy development for emerging markets, worldwide partner management, and is the brand ambassador for Echo360 at education events across the globe. Previously, Madhugir worked as Vice President at DB Consulting Group, Inc., a Top 25 Federal consulting firm where he developed new business for opportunities totaling over $1 billion. Madhugiri has served on the NYLC board for the past two years and became Board Chair in January of 2015.

Mike O'Keeffe, Plays Well With Others
O’Keeffe has been performing and teaching improv comedy professionally for over 25 years. After graduating from Villanova University in 1989, he worked in Orlando, Florida with the Sak Theatre Comedy Lab, where troupe-mates included cast members of "Whose Line is it Anyway?", “Castle” and "The Office" . He received his MA in Education from Monmouth University in 1996, and before leaving the classroom to pursue other opportunities, he had been a public school teacher for 20 years. He has done regional improv touring shows with former troupe mate Wayne Brady, and has traveled across the country performing corporate comedy and team-building. He has developed programs to assist medical, education, and corporate professionals in their communication skills. He also works with many schools to help eradicate bullying, and to become better leaders. Recently, he presented a TED Talk on the concept of “Play” called “Using Improv to Become a Better Human”.  He now also works for TED Ed as a facilitator, hired by school districts to teach students to develop their own TED talks. 

Jessie Oliveira, Special Olympics
Oliveira is 17 years old and from Rhode Island. He has been involved with Special Olympics for two years and first became involved in ninth grade when he started playing Unified Sports (a program that pairs students with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same sports team). Oliveira plays Unified Basketball and Volleyball for his high school. He also recently joined his State and National Youth Activation Committees.


Project Ignition Student Leaders
The National Youth Leadership Council’s Project Ignition empowers young people to educate other teens about the importance of seatbelt usage through service-learning. The schools work with students around the country to identify best practices to increase seatbelt usage in their community. Project Ignition is operated in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to effectively and specifically work to increase seatbelt usage among teens.

Andy Rabens, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues
Rabens serves as the Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He focuses on helping the U.S. Government better engage young people internationally to help solve the pressing challenges of today while also building greater global connectivity and networks to shape a more secure and prosperous future. He serves as the principal representative on youth issues for the U.S. Department of State and leads efforts to coordinate and amplify global youth policy and initiatives. Rabens previously served at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs as the Special Advisor for Youth Engagement in the Middle East and North Africa and as the Public Diplomacy Desk Officer for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs. He has also served in the Bureau of African Affairs; the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; and in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Stacey D. Stewart, U.S. President, United Way Worldwide
Stewart is currently responsible for leading 1,200 local and state United Ways in collective impact, strategic partnership development, diversity and inclusion, business model transformation, and policy and advocacy.  Before becoming President, Stewart served as Executive Vice President for Community Impact Leadership and Learning, where she led the transformation of communities in the areas of education, financial stability and health.  Prior to joining United Way Worldwide, Stewart held several positions at Fannie Mae, including Senior Vice President of Community and Charitable Giving and Chief Diversity Officer.  Stewart was also President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fannie Mae Foundation.

Jamienne S. Studley, Deputy Under Secretary of Education
Studley’s focus is on higher education issues including quality, access, accountability, completion and student information. She served as deputy and acting general counsel of the Department in the Clinton Administration from 1993-99. In March 2010, Secretary Duncan appointed her to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which she chaired in 2012-13. Her federal service also includes membership on the Jacob Javits Fellowship Commission and as special assistant to HEW Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris in the Carter Administration. She has served as board member and treasurer of the American Association of Colleges and Universities; vice chair of The Annapolis Group; scholar in residence at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; policy committee member with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Campus Compact and the New York State Council of Independent Colleges and Universities, and as a member and chair of the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Mohamed Tarawneh, Professor, Yarmouk University, Jordan
His areas of interests are social change and displacement, development and international corporations, field techniques, ethnography of the Middle East, economic anthropology and ethno-archaeology.  He has worked as consultant with the WB, IFAD, FAO, UNDP, USAID, and as visiting researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies/Jordan University, in addition to many national and international agencies. Tarawneh was a National Program Manager at the International Labour Organization- International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and recently worked as General Director of the Hashemite Fund for the development of Jordan Badia.

William M. Timpson, Ph.D, Professor, School of Education, Colorado State University
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in American History from Harvard University, Timpson went on to teach junior and senior high school in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio before completing a doctoral degree in educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Along with numerous articles, chapters, and grants, he has written or co-authored ten other books including Stepping Up: College Learning and Community for a Sustainable Future (2001) and 147 Tips for Teaching Diversity (2005). Timpson has also had direct experience working for peace in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Guatemala, India, Nepal, and Australia, and in 2006 he served as a Fulbright Senior Specialist on peace and reconciliation studies at the UNESCO Centre in Northern Ireland.


James Toole, Senior Fellow, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development
Toole is an ongoing consultant for the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the President of Compass Institute. He has taught at every level from pre-school and kindergarten to graduate school. He is also the co-founder (with his wife) of NYLC’s Professional Development Department. Over the past 10 years, he has worked with over 200 innovative global youth leaders from 50 countries. His curriculum on social innovation and entrepreneurship for IYF is translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and Arabic and used in 19 countries. 


Susan Valdés, Chief Learning Officer
Dr. Valdés is a career-shifter who has made the lifelong commitment to support exceptional educational experiences for students, and those who support students. Valdés leads the efforts to expand youth leadership initiatives and professional development for educators. She approaches this work through an educator’s lens, having been a teacher, principal and district superintendent. She has also led national teams to develop eLearning curricula, help districts transition to Common Core State Standards, and design and deliver professional development on a wide variety of K-12 topics. A strong advocate for student responsibility and empowerment, she uses NYLC’s national platform to effect dramatic impact that drives student achievement through leadership and service-learning.

Shaun Verma, Student, Johns Hopkins University, NYLC Youth Advisory Council Member
Shaun Verma of Milton, GA, graduated from Milton High School and is currently a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. A social entrepreneur, Verma founded MDJunior at age 15. MDJunior's mission is to inspire selfless service through mentorship. It is dedicated to bringing together healthcare professionals with middle and high school students - all with a special focus on the underserved communities. Verma has raised more than $100,000 to support the organization, which today has 30 chapters in 7 states with thousands of students participating in programs locally within the US and globally in Honduras and India as part of MDJunior’s Global Medical-Mentor Mission.

Wat Thai Nathasin Dance Group
Wat Thai Nathasin Dance Group preserves Thai tradition dance and culture in the United States by performing at different events across the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Wolf Trap, the Natural History Museum, and the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Based in Silver Spring, MD, the group includes members of all ages with diverse experience in the performing arts.    

Shira Woolf Cohen, K-8 Principal, New Foundations Charter School
Woolf Cohen is an educator, community organizer, and leader. Over the past decade, Woolf Cohen has been involved in a wide variety of community and educational programs, and the statewide charter school coalition of Pennsylvania. She is a former teacher, afterschool coordinator, Vice Principal, and Dean at New Foundations Charter School, and the founding camp director at Girard College. As the current Principal she is serving 1.370 students in K-12. Her areas of focus within the school are instruction, service-learning, college and career development, family engagement, interdisciplinary curriculum, and out of school time learning.

Tiffany Searles, Program Director, New Foundations Charter School
Searles has a degree in Sociology from Lehigh University and did two years of AmeriCorps through City Year Philadelphia before joining the staff of NFCS. She loves her dynamic role that includes grant writing, running summer programs, bringing healthy living, and gardening initiatives to campus, and helping students find their talents and passions while preparing them for their future. In her free time, she enjoys crafting, baking, and volunteering at local organizations. Her favorite place to visit and volunteer is Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a mosaic museum that celebrates the work of artist Isaiah Zagar.

Youth Emcees

Katy Dolan
Katy Dolan is a freshman at Harvard University. Three years ago she and a friend founded a non-profit organization called LETEM Play, which aims to make music accessible to low-income students in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. Since it was founded, her organization has been able to circulate approximately $16,000 worth of musical equipment and raise more than $15,000.

Chetana Guthikonda
Chetana grew up in Hyderabad, India and moved to Edina, Minnesota in 4th grade. She is part of the class of 2015 at Edina High School. She is an aspiring social entrpeneur, pre-med student, and service leader.

Will Lourcey
Will Lourcey is an 11 year old youth activist who founded Friends Reaching Our Goals, which raises awareness and money to fight hunger. FROGs has provided over 120,000 meals and helped pack over 40,000 backpacks with food for hungry kids.

Hannah Porter
Hannah Porter is a junior at New Foundations Charter School in Philadelphia. She has attended the National Service-Learning Conference twice before and serves as the Co-Chair of the Youth Committee. Hannah participates in her school’s service-learning program, plays basketball and soccer, and performs in NFCS plays.

Samantha Rizzuto
Samantha is a senior at the Academy for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering. She is the founder of STEM-CAM, an organization dedicated to instilling a passion for STEM in young students. She was also Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen 2014.

Soua Thao, NYLC Youth Advisory Council Member and Board Member
Thao is a first year student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She graduated from Johnson Senior High School in Saint Paul, Minn., where she was a part of the Link Crew, Art Club, and created her own service-learning project for 9th grade students to find summer programs that fit their interests. Thao attended the National Youth Leadership Training in 2013 and is currently serving her second term on NYLC’s Youth Advisory Council. She currently works for the University YMCA as a Literacy Mentor, is a part of the First-Year Leadership Institute, Students Today Leaders Forever, and University YMCA at the U.

Meet the Presenters

Check out this year's lineup of speakers and workshop sessions.

» Meet the Presenters