Rural Education Summit 2023 Speaker Bios

Dr. Catharine Biddle

Dr. Biddle’s research focuses on ways in which rural schools and communities respond to social and economic change in the 21st century. She is particularly interested in how schools can more effectively leverage partnerships with external organizations or groups to address issues of social inequality and how non-traditional leaders—such as youth, parents and other community members—may lead or serve as partners in these efforts. Her interests are driven by her professional background in community development that leverages schools. Prior to joining the faculty at UMaine, she spent five years as a research affiliate with the Center on Rural Education and Communities at the Pennsylvania State University and two years as the managing editor of the Journal of Research in Rural Education. Dr. Biddle also served as the executive director of the Nanubhai Education Foundation, an international education nonprofit working in rural India, and as an out of school time educator for the national nonprofit organization Citizen Schools. She is currently program chair for the American Educational Research Association’s rural education special interest group.

Dr. Maria Coady

Dr. Maria Coady is the Goodnight Distinguished Professor in Educational Equity and a Professor of Multilingual Education at North Carolina State University. She received her doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she studied bilingualism and bilingual education. Using a lens of equity and place, Dr. Coady examines multilingualism and bilingual education, rural education, teacher-leader preparation, and language policies. Her books include The Coral Way Bilingual Program (2020), Connecting School and the Multilingual Home: Theory and Practice for Rural Educators (2019), Why TESOL (5th ed., 2018, with E. W. Ariza). Her edited books are Early Language Learning Policies in the 21st Century (with S. Zein, 2021) and Educating Multilingual Students in Rural Schools: Illuminating Diversity in Rural Communities in the United States (with P. Golombek and N. Marichal, 2023). Dr. Coady consults with the US Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights on language and educational rights for multilingual learners and families. In 2020 she was awarded the AERA for Exemplary Contributions to Practice-Engaged Research. In Fall 2021 she served as Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland with the US Fulbright Commission

Dr. Loni Crumb

Dr. Loni Crumb is an Assistant Professor in the Counselor Education Program in the Department of Interdisciplinary Professions at East Carolina University and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Dr. Crumb has authored over 80 scholarly publications and professional presentations related to student affairs in higher education, counseling and wellness, and holistic college student development. Her research interests include counseling in rural areas, rural education, promoting retention and persistence of underserved students in higher education, college student mental health, and social justice and multicultural training.

Dr. Sophie Wenzel

Dr. Sophie Wenzel conducts community-engaged research throughout Southwest and Southside Virginia and beyond, with a focus on rural and health disparate populations. She specializes in qualitative and applied participatory research methods. The goal of her practice-based research is to identify mechanisms for sustained behavior change, considering the social determinants of health that affect these behaviors. Her research addresses a wide range of public health topics including adolescent health, sexual and reproductive health, and substance use. She founded the New River Academic Health Department and serves as its coordinator. Dr. Wenzel has over 20 years of experience in public health practice and research, including internationally. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, and the Associate Director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research. Dr. Wenzel holds a DrPH in Public Health Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an MPH in International Health from Emory University, and a BS in Linguistics and Spanish from Georgetown University.

Joshua Olinger

Joshua Olinger, he/him pronouns, founded and has directed Diversity Camp since it began in 2014, when it was a Roanoke Diversity Center event. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Old Dominion University and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from George Mason University. He has ten years of experience volunteering and working for LGBTQ+ organizations and ten years of experience working and volunteering for Summer camp programs. Diversity Camp is a true passion of his. He enjoys bringing communities together, organizing events and programs, being outdoors, civil rights advocacy, and music, all of which he brings to the Diversity Camp atmosphere.

Brandon McGhee, LCSW

Brandon McGhee, LCSW, he/ him pronouns, is a resident of Roanoke, VA where he lives with his husband and dogs. He received his Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) in 2007 from Ferrum College and received his Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from University of New England in 2018. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). His work background is with the Department of Social Services in Foster Care, Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, and Prevention as well as counseling for youth and families. He currently works as a counselor, and is the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Diversity Camp, Inc.

Kristi Murray, JD

Kristi Murray has her Doctor of Jurisprudence from the Appalachian School of Law. She is an attorney for the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society and was previously an attorney for Legal Aid of East Tennessee since 2012. Through her legal work she has over ten years of experience working with marginalized communities. She has managed cases involving domestic violence, Orders of Protection, Divorce matters, the elderly population, landlord-tenant, consumer and collection matters. She has negotiated and drafted complex contracts, including Martial Dissolution Agreements, Parenting Plans, and Reaffirmation Agreements. She has also provided in-person trainings for court personnel, attorneys, law enforcement and victims’ advocates in the area of domestic violence law. She has been volunteering for Diversity Camp since 2018 and brings legal oversight assistance in the governance of Diversity Camp Inc., and provides educational workshops to youth who attend our programs.

Susan Dalrymple, MSW

Susan Dalrymple, MSW, is a Coordinator of The Rural Opioid Technical Assistance Project with VT Cooperative Extension. She provides services in 5 counties in SWVA. She holds a Master’s of Social Work degree. Past experience includes being a director of a United Way and Big Brothers/Big Sisters organizations. Her experience includes working in organizations specializing in mental health counseling, specialized foster care, child sexual assault and substance abuse group facilitation and teaching adjunct at a community college. She also holds several certifications. Susan is a native of Pulaski County and lives in Draper VA.

Amelia Bandy, MBA

Amelia Bandy, MBA is the Project Coordinator for the Rural Opioids Technical Assistance (ROTA) Project of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. As the Rural Opiods Project Coordinator for Extension, Amelia coordinates regional efforts to provide training on Botvin LifeSkills curriculum to teachers, counselors and community partners for them to implement prevention education and life skills to elementary, middle and high school aged students, their parents and caregivers in Russell, Tazewell, Dickenson, Wise and Buchanan counties. She also attends coalition and community stakeholder meetings, committees and task forces in Russell, Tazewell, Dickenson, Wise and Buchanan counties

Jon Dance

Meet Jon Dance, a resilient individual who has embraced a life of recovery for over five years, triumphantly overcoming alcohol and illicit substances since September 14, 2020. Through his journey of healing, Jon found the strength to return to Virginia Tech, where he successfully completed his degree in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Science, majoring in Human Development and Family Science in May 2023.

Jon’s commitment to personal growth and academic excellence led him to pursue a dual enrollment in the prestigious Virginia Tech accelerated Masters of Public Health Program, with an expected graduation date in May 2024. His vision is to forge a career path where he can extend a helping hand to others, both within the Virginia Tech community and the New River Valley (NRV) region.

Presently, Jon holds multiple significant roles on campus, including serving as a Campus Partner Initiatives Assistant with Cook Counseling. He is also making valuable contributions as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Human Development, and a Graduate Research Assistant with the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. Notably, Jon is actively involved in a USDA-funded research project titled, “Empowering rural communities for action through evidence-based community engagement: Applying the SEED Method to the opioid epidemic.”

Jon’s dedication to making a positive impact extends beyond the academic realm. He is registered with the Board of Counseling in Virginia as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and a QMHP trainee. Moreover, Jon is a VA DBHDS Certified Trainer for Peer Recovery Specialists, a REVIVE Trainer for the Commonwealth of Virginia Opioid Response program, and a Certified Substance Use Specialist.

Balancing his passion for helping others and personal interests, Jon indulges in various activities during his free time. He delights in the art of cooking, exploring the great outdoors through hiking, maintaining fitness and nutrition, cheering for sports events, and cherishing moments with his beloved wife, Kyla, and their loyal companion, a dog named Kobe.

Jon Dance embodies resilience, academic excellence, and an unwavering commitment to fostering positive change in the lives of others, making him an inspiring force within the Virginia Tech community and beyond.

Dr. Allen Pratt

Dr. Allen Pratt is the executive director of the National Rural Education Association. He has served in this role for six years. His work focuses on providing a unified voice for rural schools and communities. Dr. Pratt’s past work has been in workforce development, school reform, professional learning communities, and rural education initiatives.

Dr. Devon Brenner

Dr. Devon Brenner, director of the SSRC and professor of teacher education in the College of Education. Brenner’s research focuses on rural teacher recruitment and retention and rural education policy. Brenner is PI on the NSF-funded collaborative research grant Teacher Preparation for Rural Teacher Persistence and Retention (TPR)2, a collaboration with 14 rural serving institutions across the US, and recently co-authored the rural teacher education textbook,Teaching in Rural Places: Thriving in Classrooms, Schools and Communities. Brenner coordinates the Mississippi Education Policy Fellowship Program, a state chapter of a national program that trains education leaders to engage in education policy and advocacy and co-edits The Rural Educator, journal of the National Rural Education Association.

Dr. Amy Price Azano

Amy Price Azano, Director of the Virginia Tech Center for Rural Education, is a professor of rural education and adolescent literacy in the School of Education. She serves as principal investigator for multiple rural education grants, including the Appalachian Rural Talent Initiative and SEE VT. A product of rural schools herself, Dr. Azano grew up in beautiful Luray, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley and taught high school English and creative writing before pursuing her doctorate in education from the University of Virginia. Currently, Dr. Azano is co-editor of The Rural Educatorand former chair of the AERA’s Rural Education SIG. She has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, is the co-editor of The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States and Gifted Education in Rural Schools: Developing Place-Based Interventions and is the co-author of Teaching in Rural Places: Thriving in Classrooms, Schools, and Communities. In 2021, Dr. Azano received the E. Stanley A. Brzezinski Memorial Rural Education Research Award from the National Rural Education Association, an award that honors educational research that addresses significant rural issues and makes notable contributions to the knowledge base of rural education. She was honored in 2022 by receiving the Rural Renewal Research Prize, an award given to a global leader in rural renewal research, education, and engagement, by the Rural Renewal Initiative at Oklahoma State University. At Virginia Tech, Dr. Azano has received the Land Grant Scholar and Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship awards from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Jody Russon

Jody Russon is an assistant professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech. She joined the Department of Human Development and Family Science after completing a three-year postdoctoral research fellowship in family intervention science in Philadelphia. She has focused her career on adaptation, implementation, and dissemination science in family psychotherapy. Her research is dedicated to vulnerable youth, particularly LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults struggling with suicide, depression, trauma, and disordered eating.

Her teaching and supervisory experience is focused on applied skills for family therapy researchers and practitioners. Russon is a certified trainer and supervisor in one of the only empirically supported youth suicide treatment models, attachment-based family therapy. She is also a person-of-the-therapist (POTT) instructor and clinical supervisor.

Dolly Davis

Ms. Dolly Davis, a local architect and business owner, has been a pioneer in establishing transgender support, education and outreach programs in southwest Virginia and throughout the state. She is president of and co-founded “Ladies and Gents of the Blue Ridge – Transgender Alliance, LLC (501.c3)”established in 2005. Vice Chair for “Diversity Camp, Inc, LLC”, Vice Chair for Multi Cultural Alumni Advisor Board – Virginia Tech, 2014- Present, VT-SOM Diversity Board Member. Working closely with the transgender and LGB communities, she helped create and foster successful relationships, programs and events to advance transgender issues with many local universities, colleges, state and private organizations as well as healthcare and government officials. She is an accomplished public speaker, diversity trainer, transgender advocate and community resource.

Dr. Matthew Fullen

Matthew Fullen is an associate professor of Counselor Education at Virginia Tech, as well as an affiliate faculty for the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology.  He has worked with older adults since 2005, first in the affordable senior housing industry, and then as a licensed professional clinical counselor.  He has worked as a mental health professional in diverse settings, including long-term care, adult day, and private practice contexts.  Fullen is one of those most active gerontology scholars within the counseling profession, and his work has been funded by federal, private non-profit, and university-based grants.  Dr. Fullen’s research agenda focuses on three distinct areas: 1) Developing and implementing counseling interventions that focus on wellness and resilience in older adulthood, 2) Expanding older adults’ access to mental health services, specifically through expansion of Medicare-eligible services, and 3) Preventing suicide through community-based prevention frameworks.  He has contributed to more than 90 peer-reviewed or invited conference presentations and published numerous scholarly publications in academic journals across the counseling and gerontology disciplines. 

Dr. Tameka Grimes

Tameka O. Grimes is an assistant professor of Counselor Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She received her Ph.D. from the CACREP-accredited Counseling and Student Personnel Services, P-16 program at The University of Georgia. She completed her M.A. in Counseling from Wake Forest University and her B.A. in Psychology and Communication Studies from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Prior to completing her doctoral degree, Dr. Grimes worked as a middle school English teacher and as a high school counselor. She also served as Co-Director of Student Support Services at Foothills Charter School in Athens, GA. Her experiences in education fueled her current research interests, which include school counselor professional identity construction, development of comprehensive school counseling programs, the experiences of school counselors in rural communities, and school counselor self-efficacy for supporting students with emotional and behavioral differences. Dr. Grimes has had the opportunity to present on these topics at state, regional, and national conferences. Areas of Expertise School counseling School counseling in rural communities School counselor professional identity

Bethany Lackey

Dr. Bethany Lackey is a licensed professional counselor and the director of A Tree Planted Counseling Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to finding creative solutions to bridging gaps in mental healthcare. She works collaboratively with many local and state organizations to advocate for refugee populations, mental health parity, and underserved communities. Dr. Lackey is also the co-founder and director of Roanoke Refugee Partnership, a nonprofit which provides assistance and education to local refugee communities. She is passionate about finding trauma-informed and community-minded approaches to breaking down systemic barriers through collaboration.

Elizabeth Stringer-Nunley

Elizabeth Stringer-Nunley taught English Learners for over twenty years at Galax High School, where 30% of students speak languages other than English.  Elizabeth now serves as the EL Lead for Galax City Public Schools.  She is passionate about student success and whole family education.  She is a community bridge builder who connects community resources to school programs to ensure that students and their families are welcome, comfortable and successful in the rural public school system environment.

Dr. Brett Shadle

Brett Shadle is Professor of History and Associate Director for Outreach at the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies at V T.  He is also the K-12 Education Coordinator for Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, serves as advisor to Elimisha Kakuma (a college access program for individuals in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya), and is involved in projects linking VT students with ELLs in Montgomery County Public Schools and Galax City High School.  His research concerns the history of Ethiopian refugees in the 1930s.

Deirdre Hand

Deirdre Hand is the Community Engagement Specialist for the Center for Rural Education and the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies, is a two-time graduate from Virginia Tech and is an educator with a Master’s in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction, with a concentration in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She grew up in Radford, Virginia, and moved to Floyd County as a teenager, and calls Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains home. Deirdre has more than 14 years of experience teaching English to speakers of other languages around the world, with highlights including serving as an English Language Fellow through the U.S. State Department in Indonesia, an ESL teacher in Washington D.C. Public Schools, a teaching and research instructor at Virginia Tech, an EFL teacher in the Czech Republic and Ireland, serving as Lead Teacher of a Scholarship Program in Rwanda, working as the English Department Coordinator of a non-profit school in Guatemala, and most recently co-founding Elimisha Kakuma, a university-access program in Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Kenya. Her passion is promoting educational access to all, especially immigrants, refugees, and other forcibly displaced people.

Eva Melendez

Eva Melendez earned her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Old Dominion University and is currently working towards her doctorate’s degree in Counselor Education and Supervision at Virginia Tech. Her clinical experience includes working with those experiencing eating disorders, healing from the impacts of trauma, substance use recovery, grief/loss, and more severe mental health illnesses. Her passions reside in addressing and improving access to healthcare for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as, furthering the understanding of trauma and its treatment across domains.

Saudamini Agarwal

Saudamini Agarwal holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in addition to a Certificate of Graduate Study in Trauma Informed Counseling. She is a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at Virginia Tech and a Nationally Certified Counselor.

Saudamini’s clinical work includes adolescents, children, and young adults. Most of her practice focuses specifically on adjustment difficulties, giftedness, cultural identity, depression, and anxiety among gifted and talented adolescents. In addition, she has experience in working with autism, ADHD, and body image issues with the same population. Her research interests include refugees and immigrants, gifted and talented youth, multicultural identity development, and alternative modalities like creative and expressive arts in counseling and supervision.

“It’s the relationship that heals” – Yalom

Dr. Sara Lohrman Hartman

Sara L. Hartman, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education in The Patton College of Education at Ohio University. Her research focuses on school-community-university partnerships, particularly in examining how partnerships impact access and opportunity in rural educational settings. Dr. Hartman is a co-author on the last two editions of Why Rural Matters, reports that highlight the challenges and successes of rural schools across the United States, and a co-developer of the National Rural Education Association Research Agenda–2022-2027. Most recently, she is the co-editor of The Middle of Somewhere: Rural Education Partnerships and Innovation. She is the co-founder of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery and is a Faculty Coordinator for a Professional Development School partnership. Before working with teacher candidates, she was a classroom teacher.

Dr. Scott Weimer

Dr. Scott Weimer is the Executive Director of the Roanoke Regional Initiatives at Virginia Tech.