A Federal TRIO Program

2018 Heartland Conference Speakers

2018 Speaker Bio's 


​Dr. Robin Walker has thirty years of successful program leadership experience spanning higher education, state government and the nonprofit sector. She is especially passionate about helping students think about their future – be it applying to graduate school, seeking fellowships or identifying the “soft” skills that are in demand by employers within and beyond the academy. While at Mizzou, Dr. Walker taught a leadership course, developed curriculum and mentored graduate students. She is probably best known for GRFP Essay Insights, a national resource site for students applying to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She also served as a GRFP panelist four times and has reviewed hundreds of GRFP applications.Dr. Walker earned a BS degree from the University of Illinois. Her MEd and PhD degrees are from the University of Missouri, where her dissertation research focused on the educational journeys of middle-age Latino undergraduates. As a first-generation student herself, Dr. Walker is highly committed to working with Ronald E. McNair Programs and their Scholars. 

Michael Heppler worked in Okla­homa State University’s gradu­ate school from 1997 to 2011. In 2004 he was promoted to Director of McNair Relations as a direct result of his work with McNair Research Schol­ars across the country. He has traveled throughout the United States speaking to students about successful graduate school application strategies. He is a nationally recognized speaker on Successful Graduate/Professional School Admission Strategies. The National Society of Black Engineers, Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars, and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program are among the list of organizations to which he has presented these strategies. Mr. Heppler has presented at many regional and national conferences. A few of his prior appearances are the National Society of Black Engineers Region V Conference, the University of Tennessee McNair Schol­ars Research Conference at the Knoxville, Tennessee, and Heartland McNair Scholars Research Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dr. Simone Savannah was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She earned her B.A. in English-Creative Writing from Ohio University in 2010, and a M.Ed. in Education from Ohio University in 2012. Her undergraduate research as a Ronald E. McNair scholar examined autobiographical texts by black women hip-hop artists and hip-hop feminists. In 2017, Dr. Savannah graduated from the University of Kansas with a Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing. When asked to describe her work, Dr. Savannah said, “My critical and creative dissertation considers the historical perceptions of black womanhood and the black female body. I discuss that history in connection with my current experiences, particularly the racial and sexual microaggressions that I confront in my daily life. In the collection of poems, details on my personal life merge with and juxtapose against those of other black women’s lives, including my mother's to create an oppositional narrative that explores the complexities of black womanhood and resistance. That is to say my confrontations with issues concerning race, sex, and class are encoded in discussions of anger, the erotic, and the personal. Framing this as an example of oppositional poetics, my intention is to offer a pathway within feminist literature and scholarship that builds upon and extends the quest for identity, survival, and autonomy.” Dr. Savannah’s collection of poems, Like Kansas (Big Lucks), grew out of her dissertation and was published in March 2018. Her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in several online and print journals, including The Fem, Ocean State Review, Puerto del Sol, Vinyl, Wus Good, and Apogee. She is currently a full-time writer, and a writing consultant for the KU McNair Scholars Program.


Dr. Tyjaun A. Lee serves as the campus president of Maple Woods and Penn Valley Campuses at Metropolitan Community College. She is responsible for all campus operations including the Heath Sciences Institute, which encompasses over thirteen health sciences programs. She is also responsible for all academic and student services on the Penn Valley Campus. Prior to arriving at MCC Penn Valley, she served as Vice President for Student Services at Prince George’s Community College. In that role, she was responsible for managing administrative units, programs and student services including recruitment, enrollment, student development, retention, marketing, athletics, and the coordination of the operational oversight of auxiliary services for students. Prior to her role at Prince George’s Community College, Lee served as Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Services at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, VA, where she provided strategic college-wide guidance and execution for all activities related to enrollment and student services. In addition, Lee served as director of the counseling department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland,
Ohio at the Metropolitan Campus where she designed programs for students at risk academically. She was also national director for the Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA), where she managed a performance-based NASA contract, monitored and established 15 SEMAA sites across the country, and conducted workshops for at-risk students for NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She also served as director of the Student Support Services Program at David N. Myers University in Cleveland, Ohio. Currently, she serves on the Broadway Westport Council, which oversees the community development projects around the campus. She also served as past President for the National Council on Student Development and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges – Pathways Commission. Prior to her arrival in Kansas City, Missouri, she was active in several community programs that are geared toward underrepresented young men and women, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (Prince George’s County branch), the Homeless Youth Work Group, and the state and local Action Advisory Group for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Lee has been nationally recognized with awards and appointments for her exceptional leadership capabilities and her work with underrepresented and underprivileged students. Lee considers this work near and dear to her heart as she is the product of a single parent home and a first-generation college student. In 1994, the city of New Orleans honored Lee for her outstanding recruitment efforts at Ohio University’s Athens’ campus. In 2003, Lee was awarded the Nsoroma Award from the National Technical Association for her commitment to higher education. Lee serves on the Academic, Student, and Community Development commission. She is also an active member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Lee, a Cleveland native, completed her undergraduate and graduate programs at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership, with an emphasis in higher education administration. Lee was appointed by Ohio University School of Education to be the Holmes Scholar for their institution. Her dissertation consisted of a phenomenological study of African-American women deans on predominately-white college campuses.

Dr. Ty-Ron M. O. Douglas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and an affiliate faculty member of the Black Studies program at the University of Missouri. Drawing on his international background, Dr. Douglas’ research explores the intersections between identity, community space, and the social and cultural foundations of leadership and education. Specifically, his research interests include Black Masculinity/Black Family/African Diaspora Studies, Critical Spirituality, and Community-based Pedagogical Spaces (e.g. barbershops, churches, sports venues). He earned a Ph.D. in Educational Studies/Curriculum and Teaching with a concentration in Cultural Studies and a Post-Master’s Certificate in School Administration at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a M.A. from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a B.A. from Oakwood University, and an A.S. from Bermuda College. He has taught in K-12 and post-secondary settings, founded and directed a GED Community School, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the SALT City Center. He was also awarded the 2013 Distinguished Dissertation Award by the Critical Educators for Social Justice Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) for his dissertation. The author of the award-winning book, Border Crossing Brothas: Black Males Navigating Race, Place and Complex Space and the recipient of a NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant to study Black male athletes, Dr. Douglas’ work has also appeared in outlets such as The Urban Review, Educational Studies, Teachers College Record, and Race, Ethnicity, and Education. He is a committed husband, father, leader, and international speaker who is living a life of purpose and inspiring others to do the same!