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National Character & Leadership Symposium


Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz, Ph.D.

Sanford N. McDonnell Professor of Character Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Berkowitz is the inaugural Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Character Education, Co-Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and founding co-editor of the Journal for Research in Character Education. He will examine in his presentation the virtues of effective character education and achieving the ultimate goal of building a moral world by nurturing the moral growth of individuals.

Mr. Steve Birdine

President, Affirmations In ACTION!

Birdine will discuss “Taking Responsibility for Our Own Success,” a powerful, humorous, motivational, and thought-provoking discussion addressing issues such as leadership development, motivation, personal excellence, diversity, unity, male-female relationships, discipline, goal setting, and respect.

Lieutenant General Gregory Biscone, US Air Force (ret), USAFA ‘81

President, Strat Leadership Solutions

Biscone served 35 years in the US Air Force, including as US Central Command Deputy Director of Operations, Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review Director, and Air Force Inspector General. He also commanded strike forces and flew combat sorties in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. He will share from his experience, lessons central to leadership and the power derived from an ethical foundation in decision-making.

Ms. Leanne Caret

President and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security

Caret oversees the $30 billion Boeing Defense, Space & Security business that provides integrated solutions to meet the needs of defense, government, space, intelligence and security customers around the world. She serves on the Association of the United States Army council of trustees; the Center for a New American Security board of directors; and the Business-Higher Education Forum board of directors. In 2017 she was added to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list. Caret will speak on the ethical decisions affecting integrated solutions to meet the needs of defense, government, space, intelligence and security customers around the world.

Mrs. Jessa Dillow Crisp

Motivational Speaker, Co-founder and Executive Director at BridgeHope

Crisp is a human trafficking survivor and now travels both nationally and internationally to speak and provide training to Homeland Security and the FBI as an expert in domestic sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Ms. Fiona Dawson

Director, TransMilitary

Dawson is an Emmy nominated director, producer and writer. She directed Transgender, at War and in Love, and created the media project TransMilitary, which follows the lives of American transgender service members. She will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Mr. Mark “Oz” Geist

Geist was a member of the Annex Security Team that fought the Battle of Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. During the ensuing clash, he and his team were credited with saving more than 25 Americans. Geist will share thoughts about making the right decisions at the right time and the importance of training and pre-planning.

Mrs. Dyan Gibbens, USAFA ‘04

Chief Executive Officer, Trumbull Unmanned

Gibbens founded Trumbull Unmanned, a Forbes Top 25 Veteran-Founded company of UAV operators, pilots, and engineers, focusing on data processing and UAS integration for large enterprises. She is a 2004 graduate of the US Air Force Academy and served as an acquisitions officer and managed Air Force One and Global Hawk UAS engineering and logistics. Harvard Business Review 2017 published her article, “Grounded: How to Integrate Ethics Into Your Drone Strategy.” Gibbens will discuss the ethics of using autonomous drones and the necessity building digital ethics in unmanned aircraft strategy.

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III

President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Chairman of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans

Hrabowski is a prominent American educator, advocate, mathematician, and President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was named one of world’s most influential people in 2012 by Time magazine, and was appointed in 2012 to chair President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He will share his thoughts on the challenges of increasing minority participation and performance in STEM fields.

Corporal Laila Ireland, US Army, Retired

Membership Director of SPART*A

Ireland is a retired Healthcare Management Administration Specialist and served for 12 years in the United States Army. She served two combat tours in Iraq and her final duty station was at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii where she was honorably discharged and medically retired in November 2015. On June 4, 2015 Laila and her then fiancé, SSgt Logan Ireland, courageously came out as transgender service members by sharing their story in the Emmy®-nominated New York Times short film “Transgender, at War and in Love.” She will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, US Air Force

Security Forces Base Defense Operations Center Controller

Ireland enlisted in the Air Force in 2010 and has served guarding the B-2 stealth bomber and in Oklahoma, providing base security and law enforcement duties. He deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2014 as a lead convoy driver for outside-the-wire counter intelligence missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Throughout his deployment, he was treated as male in all respects, meeting or exceeding Air Force standards. In 2014 he was the first service member in the US Armed Forces to have his gender marker legally changed. He is married to former Army Corporal Laila Ireland. He will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Mr. Charlie Kim

Co-Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Next Jump

Kim, founder and CEO of Next Jump, started the company in 1994 as a college coupon business. Next Jump proves the combination of caring for your employees and helping them grow as human beings is possible while making money and helping the world become a better place. Charlie will share the stage with Meghan Messenger to discuss culture and focus on human capital.

Dr. Tom Kolditz, Brigadier General, US Army (ret)

Director, Ann & John Doerr Institute for New Leaders

Kolditz is an internationally recognized expert on crisis leadership and leadership in extreme contexts, and in the development of programs to inculcate leadership and leader development. He is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. Kolditz will discuss the unique demands of leading in conditions where followers believe that leader behavior will increase their physical well-being or survival.

Major Colin Merrin, US Air Force, USAFA ‘06

Member of USAF Seven Summit Everest Team

After graduating from US Air Force Academy in 2006, Merrin traveled the world climbing some of the tallest peaks. In 2013, he joined the USAF 7 Summits Challenge during their climb of Mount Everest. Merrin will share his captivating story of bonding with the Sherpa of Nepal during his 57 days of climbing into the Death Zone to include photos and near-death experiences.

Ms. Meghan Messenger

Co-Chief Executive Officer of Next Jump

Messenger serves as Co-Chief Executive Officer, Chief of Staff and Director at Next Jump Inc. Next Jump has a unique approach to FEEDBACK and deliberate development. Messenger will share the stage with Charlie Kim to discuss culture and focus on human capital.

Mr. David Nelson

I’m ME Chief Executive Officer and former NFL Player

Former New York Jets wide receiver Nelson discusses his life-changing experience going to Haiti and how it inspired him to start the foundation, “i’m ME.” Nelson will share his transformative story of caring for the lives of orphaned children in Haiti.

Ms. Virginia Prodan, Esq.

International Human Rights Attorney and Author

Prodan is an International Human Rights attorney and author. Denouncing one of the most powerful and brutal communist dictators of the time, Virginia dared to defend Human Rights cases in communist Romania while fearlessly declaring freedom. For this, she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, placed under house arrest, and came within seconds of being executed under the orders of Ceausescu himself. Prodan will share her extraordinary story of courage, faith, compassion for human rights, and determination to fight for freedom in the face of intimidation and even death, on behalf of others.

Dr. Erroll G. Southers

Professor of Homeland Security and Public Policy, University of Southern California

Southers is an internationally recognized expert on counterterrorism, public safety, infrastructure protection, and homeland security. The author of Homegrown Violent Extremism, Southers will share his thoughts on how today’s community safety and national security challenges will require unprecedented and ongoing education and awareness to keep America safe. We are the solution we are looking for.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

President Emerita, Spelman College; Author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

Tatum is a best-selling author and a clinical psychologist, widely known for her expertise on race relations and as a thought leader in higher education. Her visionary leadership as president of Spelman College (2002-2015) was recognized in 2013 with the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award.

Ms. Brenda Tracy

Survivor and Activist

In 1998, Tracy was the woman at the center of an explosive gang rape investigation involving four Oregon State football players. After 16 years of silence, she revealed her alleged attackers in a bombshell interview. In 2016, Tracy received the Special Courage Award at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony in Washington, DC. Tracy will share her gripping story and why she believes men are the solution to ending sexual violence.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew J. Vedder, US Air Force, USAFA ‘01

Commander, 63rd Fighter Squadron

Vedder was commissioned in 2001 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has deployed and flown combat missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. He has over 2,000 flight hours in the F-35A, A-10A/C, T-38, and T-37. He will join a panel exploring moral decision making and leadership while flying combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Major General Timothy Zadalis, US Air Force (ret)

Former Vice Commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa

Zadalis served Command in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, US Southern Command in support of Haiti earthquake relief, and culminating as the Vice Commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. He will share his experiences of traveling throughout Iraq and Afghanistan in order to investigate bombings where there were accusations of civilian deaths, and then meeting with village leaders and families of the deceased.