Plenary Speakers

We are pleased to begin announcing our plenary speakers for the upcoming virtual 2021 National Student Success Conference!  Please check back soon for our full lineup or complete this form to receive updates when speakers are added, registration opens, and more.


Bryan Alexander photo

Bryan Alexander is an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of higher education’s future. He completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan in 1997 with a dissertation on doppelgangers in Romantic-era fiction and poetry. Then Bryan taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana. There he also pioneered multi-campus interdisciplinary classes while organizing an information literacy initiative.

From 2002 to 2014 Bryan worked with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), a non-profit working to help small colleges and universities best integrate digital technologies. With NITLE, he held several roles, including co-director of a regional education and technology center, director of emerging technologies, and senior fellow. Over those years Bryan helped develop and support the nonprofit, grew peer networks, consulted, and conducted a sustained research agenda. In 2013, Bryan launched a business, Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC, through which he consults in higher education in the United States and abroad.

Bryan speaks widely and publishes frequently, with articles appearing in venues including The Atlantic Monthly, Inside Higher Ed. He has been interviewed by and featured in the Washington Post, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, National Public Radio, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Atlantic Monthly, Reuters, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Pew Research, Campus Technology, The Hustle, and the Connected Learning Alliance.

He recently published Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education for Johns Hopkins University Press (January 2020) and has started work on Universities on Fire: Higher Education in the Age of Climate Crisis (2022).  His two other recent books are Gearing Up For Learning Beyond K-12 and The New Digital Storytelling (second edition). 

Bryan is currently a senior scholar at Georgetown University and teaches graduate seminars in their Learning, Design, and Technology program. 


photo of Tia Brown McNair

Dr. Tia Brown McNair is the Vice President in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and Executive Director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, DC. She oversees both funded projects and AAC&U’s continuing programs on equity, inclusive excellence, high-impact practices, and student success.

McNair also directs AAC&U’s Summer Institutes on High-Impact Practices and Student Success, and Truth, Racial Healing, & Transformation Campus Centers. McNair serves as the project director for several AAC&U initiatives: "Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Centers," "Strengthening Guided Pathways and Career Success by Ensuring Students are Learning," and “Purposeful Pathways: Faculty Planning and Curricular Coherence.” She also oversees AAC&U’s yearly thematic conferences.

McNair is the lead author of the books From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education (January 2020) and Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success (July 2016).

McNair earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and English at James Madison University, and holds an M.A. in English from Radford University and a doctorate in higher education administration from George Washington University.


Frances Contreras

Dr. Frances Contreras is an Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and a Professor in the Department of Education Studies at UC San Diego.

Contreras has over 15 years of administrative leadership both at UCSD and the University of Washington College of Education, where she directed their higher education program. Her research focuses on issues of equity and access for underrepresented students in the education pipeline and the role of public policy in ensuring student equity across a P-20 continuum. Her work has been published in leading education journals and presses, such as: the American Education Research Journal, Harvard Educational Review, Educational Policy, The International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Journal of Hispanics in Higher Education, Harvard University Press, and Teachers College Press. Contreras’ most recent books include: Achieving Equity for Latino Students, Expanding the Pathway to Higher Education through Public Policy and The Latino Education Crisis (with P. Gandara) and High Achieving African American Students and the College Choice Process: Applications of Critical Race Theory (with T. Chapman, E. Comeaux, E. Martinez, & G. Rodriguez).

She was honored as an “Emerging Scholar” and the “Top 25 to Watch” among academicians in the United States by Diverse Magazine. More recently, Contreras was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award by the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs for her work to address Latino student equity.

Contreras has served on the Boards of the ACLU of Washington, Harvard Journal for Hispanic Policy, the Journal of Advanced Academics, The Preuss School and Latino Education Achievement Project, and was a Gubernatorial Appointee to the Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee in Washington. She currently serves on the PUENTE Board, the Board of The Lupe Contreras Scholarship Fund in California and the WestEd Board of Directors.

Contreras earned her Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, Master’s degree from Harvard University and Ph.D. in Administration and Education Policy from Stanford University.


Jeff Selingo photo

Jeff Selingo is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, College (Un)Bound and There Is Life After College. For more than twenty years, his in-depth reporting and powerful storytelling has provided insight about the inner workings of universities and a practical roadmap for higher education’s future to students, parents, college leaders, and business executives.

Jeff’s next book, Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, will be published by Simon & Schuster in September 2020. It takes readers on a journey through the selection process from inside three admissions offices, revealing what really matters to the gatekeepers and how the ultimate decision is often based of a college’s priorities.

As both an observer of higher education and an insider with academic appointments at two prominent universities, Jeff occupies a unique position to explain this critical and influential sector of the world economy. He writes regularly for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and is co-host of the podcast, FUTURE U. His reporting and research focuses on the changing nature of work and its impact on education, paying for college, the financial sustainability of the residential campus, and shifting expectations for what the public wants from colleges.

Jeff is a special advisor for innovation to the president at Arizona State University, where he is the founding director of the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership. He is also a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. In addition, Jeff regularly counsels universities and organizations on their innovation strategy and storytelling.

Previously, Jeff was the top editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he worked for sixteen years in a variety of reporting and editing roles. His work has been honored with awards from the Education Writers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, and the Associated Press.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College and a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of the board of trustees at Ithaca College. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Washington, D.C.