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Educated to Lead. Inspired to Achieve.

Executive Sessions

Dave Collins, Mark Phariss, and Vic Holmes

Accidental Activists  Dave Collins    David Collins taught English at Westminster College for forty years. He began as a writer publishing scholarly essays, shifted in the second half of his career to creative nonfiction. Three of his personal essays won awards in various contests; a chapter from the manuscript for Accidental Activists took first place at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction conference in the summer of 2016. He met Mark Phariss first as a student in 1978; their friendship grew over the years and led eventually to a book chronicling Mark and Vic’s struggle for equal rights in Texas.

On graduating from Westminster, Mark Phariss (’82) enrolled in the Vanderbilt University School of Law from which he graduated in 1985. He is currently Deputy General Counsel at Alorica in Plano, Texas.

Vic Holmes served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly twenty-three years, retiring as a major in 2010. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies and a clinician at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas.


Eryn Wise

Eryn Wise    Eryn Wise is a young Native American activist known for her focus on Native American rights and, most recently, her advocacy for the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock. Her talk will focus on her role and the events and advocacy at Standing Rock.





Dr. Leah Gunning Francis

Leah Gunning FrancisDr. Leah Gunning Francis is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Gunning Francis is also the author of book Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015). She interviewed more than two dozen clergy and young activists who were actively involved in the movement for racial justice in Ferguson and beyond.  Dr. Gunning Francis researched and wrote Ferguson and Faith while serving as the Associate Dean for Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ferguson and Faith is a collection of stories of courage and hope. Dr. Gunning Francis gleaned from these stories seeds of possibilities that, if nurtured, could serve us well into the future. These are the stories that were rarely imaged on television, yet they are integral to the fight for justice in Ferguson and resonate with the struggle for human dignity around the country. Dr. Gunning Francis’ additional research interests focus on transformative education as reflected in her doctoral dissertation, Beyond “Band-Aids” and Bootstraps: Toward a Womanist Vision of Christian Education as Social Transformation.  Her writing reflects her commitment to the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of women, men and children; and highlights her particular interest in underserved and minority communities. To learn more about Dr. Gunning Francis visit www.leahgunningfrancis.com.


Fereshteh Forough

Fereshteh Forough    Fereshteh Forough was born an Afghan refugee in Iran during the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. One year after the Taliban regime collapsed, her family moved back to Herat, Afghanistan. After returning to Herat, she earned her bachelor's degree in computer science from Herat University and later her Master's degree from Technical University of Berlin in Germany. She taught as a professor in the Computer Science Faculty of Herat University for almost three years. In January 2015, she founded the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan with the mission of educating Afghan women with in-demand programming skills; empowering them to add unique value to their communities; and inspiring them to strive for financial and social independence.


Special Session: Dr. Max Abrahms

Max AbrahmsDr. Max Abrahms is an assistant professor at Northeastern University with a research focus in international security and terrorism. His research and publications revolve around the strategy and consequences of terrorism, as well as the current strategies for counterterrorism. Dr. Abrahms' talk will focus on the history of terrorism.

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