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2024 Keynote Speakers

Kenneth Adams, Ed.D.

President, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY)

Kenneth Adams is president of LaGuardia Community College. LaGuardia is located in Long Island City, Queens, and is part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Since taking the helm in 2020, President Adams has led the college’s efforts to improve student success, strengthen its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and increase government and philanthropic support. In 2021, he launched a bold fundraising campaign to raise $15 million to help LaGuardia students and Queens residents rise and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. President Adams was previously dean of workforce and economic development at Bronx Community College/CUNY.

Edward Bonahue, Ph.D.

President, Suffolk County Community College

Dr. Ed Bonahue is the President of Suffolk County Community College, the largest community college in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. SUNY Suffolk is a comprehensive publicly-supported, two-year, open enrollment institution, with campuses in Selden, Riverhead and Brentwood, and downtown centers in Sayville and Riverhead. The college has a current enrollment of more than 23,000 credit students, 7,000 continuing education students, and more than 140,000 alumni.

Dr. Bonahue is a seasoned higher education executive with more than 20 years of experience in community college education, including service as a tenured faculty member and senior executive. Prior to joining the college on June 28, 2021, Dr. Bonahue served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. In that role, he provided leadership for planning, management, and assessment of all credit and non-credit instructional programming, and economic and workforce development initiatives. He successfully implemented nine new baccalaureate programs and multiple associate of science degree and certificate programs, as well as two deferred-admission partnerships with the University of Florida. In addition, he served as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; Chair, Department of Humanities and Foreign Languages; Co-chair, International Education Initiative, and he earned tenure as a professor of Humanities and Theatre.

In addition to his administrative experience, Dr. Bonahue’s scholarly research on Renaissance literature has appeared in Studies in Philology, Renaissance Papers, Studies in English Literature, and elsewhere, and his work on Stephen Sondheim has been reprinted and cited repeatedly since its first publication. His study on best practices in international education has been published by NASPA, and he has served as Managing Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In 2009, Dr. Bonahue was a Fulbright Scholar with the U.S. International Administrators Program in Germany, and in 2016-2017, he was an Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Presidential Fellow. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the HIA-LI (Hauppauge Industrial Association – Long Island).

Dr. Bonahue earned the Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in English literature at the University of North Carolina, and his B.A. in English literature from Wake Forest University. He is also a proud graduate of Ward Melville High School and the Three Village School District.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Ph.D.

Board Chair, LEAP Academy University Charter School, Camden, NJ
Founder and Director, Rutgers University Community Leadership Center
Distinguished Service Professor, Rutgers University

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor in Rutgers University’s Graduate Department of Public Policy and Administration. She also directs the Community Leadership Center and is overseer and Board Chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School. Throughout her academic career, she has coordinated large-scale programs and private and public ventures that bring together external and internal stakeholders from a range of organizations, including government, business, non-profits and philanthropic sectors at the local, national and international levels. A leading scholar, researcher, speaker and international cross-cultural training consultant, Dr. Santiago has over 25 years of experience in program development and innovation, social entrepreneurship, research, fundraising, grant writing, strategic planning, school development and leadership training. She writes and speaks widely on the areas of community development, public policy, migration, diversity management, organizational leadership, school leadership, and education.

Dr. Santiago’s record of service and its impact on poor children/families, minorities and community are exemplary. She is a passionate and enthusiastic educator who has focused her professional acumen on helping people become self-reliant citizens through education and professional development. Her work on behalf of children and families is pioneering, resulting in an international model for public schools for poor children. Her LEAP charter school in Camden City today serves 2,000+ students from infancy through college, using a pipeline she designed incorporating five schools on a single street (Cooper Street). These institutions range from ELRA (Early Research Academy) to LEAP STEAM, emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. She has a 100% graduation and college placement rate for all her graduates, and she has fundraised over $100 million to finance her projects, becoming known as the “Patron saint of Cooper Street” in the process.

Through the Rutgers-Community Leadership Center, Dr. Santiago spearheads a number of signature projects with local, national and international impact in areas of school leadership, innovation, school transformation, social entrepreneurship, diversity management, organizational behavior, leadership development and community development. Her research, teaching and service have tackled fundamental social problems, resulting in real policy strategies and the enactment of crucial legislation impacting women and the education of urban children.

Dr. Santiago is also the author of numerous articles and three books: The Miracle on Cooper Street, Lessons from an Inner City; Breaking Ground and Barriers: Hispanic Women Developing Effective Leadership; and Organizing Puerto Rican Migrant Farmworkers. She is also a blogger for US World News and The Huffington Post, and has served as a commentator on ABC, MSNBC, NBC, and CBS News on issues of education and community development.

View her complete bio.

Justin Fincher Ph.D.

Vice President for Advancement, Stony Brook University
Executive Director, Stony Brook Foundation

Justin Fincher, Ph.D. is vice president for advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation. Reporting directly to President McInnis and serving as a member of her senior management team, Fincher provides leadership for the University’s development and alumni relations operations and serves as executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation.

Since 2013, while at The Ohio State University (OSU), Fincher has been responsible for strategy, operations, and resources to mobilize multibillion-dollar campaigns effectively and engage hundreds of thousands of alumni and donors in developing philanthropic support for the institution’s mission and goals. In that role, he manages a team of 125 staff and cultivates philanthropic support for academic departments and medicine.

He led the successful conclusion of OSU’s previous $3 billion campaign, one that engaged 750,000 donors, and oversaw the planning and launch of its latest $4.5 billion campaign. He served as chief operating officer of the OSU Alumni Association and worked closely with its board, and is providing interim leadership for the 80-person fundraising team for Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and Health Science Colleges, which raises $200 million annually. Before his work at OSU, Fincher held leadership roles at Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University.

A higher education leader with a growing national reputation in the advancement profession, Fincher is an active volunteer leader in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). He also developed and leads the Advancement Leadership Lab, a joint venture of nine public research universities to accelerate the growth of senior leadership in their advancement organizations.

Patricia Ramsey, Ph.D.

President, Medgar Evers College (CUNY)

Dr. Patricia Ramsey, distinguished as a “National Role Model” by Minority Access, Inc., is the sixth president of CUNY’s Medgar Evers College. Dr. Ramsey, who officially took office on May 1, 2021, is the first woman and scientist to serve as president of the college.

After only six weeks at the helm, Dr. Ramsey submitted a proposal that resulted in a $20 million grant, the largest in the history of Medgar Evers College. Two programs, the Cultivating Holistic Academic Mindsets to Promote Student Success (CHAMPSS) and the Brooklyn Recovery Corps (BRC) programs were created. CHAMPSS provides up to a “full-ride” for freshmen who earn their bachelor’s degree in four years and transfer students who earn theirs in two. The BRC program provides experiential learning opportunities through paid internships and access to career support, while benefiting communities throughout Brooklyn.

After just three months, Dr. Ramsey participated in a press conference where Governor Kathy Hochul (then Lt. Governor) announced a $9.3 million grant to support the collaboration of Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn College, and Kingsborough Community College to form a healthcare hub in Central and South Brooklyn. As part of New York State’s Workforce Development Initiative, the hub is designed to prepare high school and college students for quality jobs in the healthcare field, while meeting the workforce needs of local businesses.

In her first year, Dr. Ramsey was invited to testify before the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor, where she represented Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) nationally. Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers, she requested more federal funding but also used that platform to advocate for change in the federal definition of retention and graduation rates, as the current definition presents a false narrative about the great work that Medgar Evers College and similar institutions do to positively impact social mobility.

Under Dr. Ramsey’s leadership, a B.S. Degree Program in Community Health Education, an A.S. Degree Program in Criminal Justice, an accelerated second-degree Nursing Program leading to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and a B.A. A degree in African Diaspora Literature have been approved by CUNY’s Board of Trustees. Additionally, a minor in Cannabis Education has been launched.

Dr. Ramsey was named to City and State’s Brooklyn Power 100 list in 2021, 2022, and 2023, as well as its 2022 and 2023 Higher Education Power 100 list of the most influential colleges and university leaders in the state. She was also named to the Schneps Media Brooklyn Power List 2023. She received a 2023 Historian Award from the African American Clergy and Elected Officials (AACEO); the 2023 Greater New York Chamber Black History Award from the Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI); the 2023 Leadership Award for Excellence in Education and Social Justice from the D.R.E.A.M Foundation; the Panamanian Day Parade 2023 Education and Community Award; The White House Lifetime Achievement Award from President Biden; inducted as Honorary Chaplain of the Worldwide Small Churches International and the NYPD; named to the “Top 10 Most Influential Woman Leaders Transforming Education 2024” by CIO Views, along with a magazine cover story; and named one of “The Ten Most Dominant HBCU Leaders” in 2024.

Prior to Medgar Evers College, Dr. Ramsey served as a Senior Executive Fellow with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF). Preceding that, she served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and for nearly 12 years she served in various capacities (Department Chair, Provost, and Interim President) at Bowie State University, a constituent institution of the University System of Maryland.

A biologist by training, Dr. Ramsey’s research interest is in the biological activity of plants used in folklore. She has collected 110 species of agave in the Sonoran Desert and traveled a 450-mile span of highway collecting sapium sebiferum (popcorn tree) leaves in the southeastern U.S. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology (Education) from Norfolk State University, a Master of Science in Botany from Howard University, a Master of Arts in Biology from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Biology from Georgetown University. Dr. Ramsey has also completed leadership programs in the Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI), Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management (IEM), and the CIVIC Leadership Institute.

Dr. Ramsey is married to Dr. Roscoe Ramsey Jr., a physician and a minister. They have three adult children.

Timothy E. Sams, Ph.D.

President, SUNY Old Westbury

Currently serving as the sixth President in the history of SUNY Old Westbury, Dr. Timothy E. Sams has spent the last 30 years driven by the principles of access, excellence, success, and impact. His trail of accomplishments attests to his unwavering commitment to delivering on higher education’s promise of using excellence to achieve student transformation and social progress. Dr. Sams’ impressive career has taken him to an array of selective institutions around the country and around the world. As he moved from learning the fundamentals of building student success programs to innovating new ones as a senior leader, Dr. Sams’ commitment to educational justice by inclusive excellence, praxis, and purpose-driven education, has come to characterize his work of elevating the student experience and transforming liberal arts education.

Dr. Sams never lost sight of his opportunity program roots as an Upward Bound and Educational Opportunity Program student. As a Higher Educational Opportunity Program Counselor early in his career, Dr. Sams held fast to the belief that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Prior to Old Westbury, he served as Vice President of Student Affairs for Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. His work there was built on past experiences at respected institutions across the country, which include Morehouse College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Raised by his paternal grandparents, Dr. Sams grew up on the south side of Syracuse, New York, where he was an avid Boy Scout, basketball player, and student activist. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Sociology from Union College in Schenectady, New York, and his Master of Arts degree in Africana Studies from the State University of New York at Albany. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University.

Birgit Smith Burton

Chair, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)’s Global Board
CEO/Founder, the African American Development Officers (AADO) Network

Birgit Smith Burton is the Chief Executive Officer of AADO, the African American Development Officers Network, which she founded at Georgia Tech in 1999 to provide professional development, education, employment support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for fundraisers of color. She is a well-regarded speaker on the topics of fundraising and diversity and has authored articles on diversity in the fundraising profession. Birgit co-authored the book, The Philanthropic Covenant with Black America, contributed to the book Five Minutes for Fundraising, A Collection of Expert Advice, and tells her personal story in the book Collecting Courage, which shares the lived experiences of Black women and men working in the nonprofit and charitable space (published fall 2020).

During her 26-year career at Georgia Tech she led her team in raising over $700M from private philanthropic foundations to support programs, scholarships, and capital projects. Birgit was selected to participate in the first cohort of Leading Women @ Tech and was a recipient of the team award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development for the Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing.

For nearly a decade, she has served on the global board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and has the distinction of being the first African American woman in AFP’s 62- year history to be voted chair of the AFP Global Board. Birgit received the Opportunity and Inclusion Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education which recognized her leadership in fostering inclusion and diversity within the fundraising profession. In 2020 the R.I.S.E. Fund was established in Birgit’s honor with a mission to advance women of color in fundraising by providing Resources, Inspiration, Support, and Education.

In addition to serving as chair of the A.E. Lowe Grice Scholarship Fund, which honors her grandmother, Birgit serves on the advisory council for Somos El Poder (A National Latinx Fundraising Institute) and the advisory committee for Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC). She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in media communications from Medaille University in Buffalo, New York – Birgit also serves on its board of Trustees.