Literacy for Life Conference 2017 Presenter Biographies

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Keynote Speaker: 

Richard Negrin, Obermyayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hipel, LLP

Building the NexGen Workforce

Richard Negrin, Senior Counsel at Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, LLP, has worked as corporate general counsel, city managing director of Philadelphia, deputy mayor of Philadelphia, corporate litigator, former prosecutor of Philadelphia and even played two years in the NFL. At the age of thirteen, Mr. Negrin’s family fled to the United States after the murder of his father by terrorists in Cuba. Mr. Negrin’s varied professional work and personal experiences have made him keenly aware of the  literacy and job-readiness needs of 21st century communities.


Workshop presenters: 

Betsy Allen, UC Davis Extension

Online English Conversation Groups  

Betsy Allen currently works in the development of online classes in English and Spanish for the University of California, Davis Extension program. She is the former program director of LNJ- Gloucester County Programs, and has worked as an English instructor at Rutgers University- Camden and Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. She holds an M.A. in English from Rutgers University and an M.S. in Learning Technologies with a concentration in Instructional Design from Drexel University.


Kelly Ayala, US Citizenship and Immigration Services

Naturalization 101

Kelly Ayala is the Community Relations Officer (CRO) for US Citizenship and Immigration Services—Newark District. Ms. Ayala began building the district outreach program in 2010 and has been expanding outreach across the state of New Jersey ever since. From 2005 until 2010, Ms. Ayala worked as a District Adjudications Officer (DAO)—also within the Newark District—specializing in the adjudication of applications for permanent residence. Ms. Ayala graduated from Clark University in Worcester, MA with a BA in Spanish and an MA in International Development and Social Change.


Ronda Brown, Stockton University  

Best Practices for English Language Conversation Groups 

Dr. Ronda Brown has served as a volunteer with Literacy NJ- Gloucester County since 2015. She has dedicated her entire vocation to the field of education and has a committed purpose to teaching others. She began her career as a classroom teacher and holds a degree in Education Administraion and Leadership. Dr. Brown currently works at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ and volunteers with numerous charitable and non-profit groups in her community.


Ramon Casanova, Rutgers University 

Empowering the Adult ESL Learner

Ramon A. Casanova currently works for Rutgers Southern Referral Agency as a Family Child Coordinator, where he directly addresses the family dynamic in the modern home. After receiving his B.A. from Rutgers University, he worked for 10 years for the NJ department of children and families, where he gained in depth experience in working directly with immigrant families. Hailing from a bilingual Spanish/English background, Ramon understands firsthand the value of language and the struggles that arise when the adult learner cannot express themselves in English.


Fay Crooks, Literacy NJ—Gloucester County Programs

Phonological Awareness for Reading Success

Fay Crooks has been an educator for 24 years and is passionate about teaching to this day. She first became a tutor with LVA in 1992 and currently works as a tutor trainer for Literacy NJ, Gloucester County Programs. She holds a Masters in Education and a Reading Certificate from Rowan University. She also completed Dyslexia Teacher certification at Fairleigh Dickinson University.


Esther Dean, Literacy NJ—Burlington County Programs

Reading Groups for Everyone

Esther O. Dean is a literacy specialist for Literacy New Jersey, Burlington County Programs, Founder and Pastor of Agape International Deliverance Worship Center, the Director of the Agape International Bible Institute, and Executive Director of the Non-Profit Organization Agape International Missions Outreach. As an educator, she has served as owner and director of multiple childcare centers in Philadelphia, PA and New Jersey. She has also served as a consultant for teaching and designing learning materials and has been employed in both the private and public school sectors.


Matt Ford, Literacy NJ—Gloucester County Programs

Mindfulness in Tutoring 

Matt joined the staff as the Program Director for Literacy NJ-Gloucester County Programs after volunteering as an ESL conversation group leader and literacy tutor. Matt Ford recently completed his degree in Teaching French as a Foreign Language in Grenoble, France, where he also taught high school students English as a Foreign Language. He is currently enrolled at Rowan University, pursuing his degree in French and English studies. He plans to attend graduate school to study world languages and literature next year. 


Tamara Galoyan, Drexel University 

Game Jam for Literacy and Life

Tamara Galoyan is a doctoral student enrolled in the Educational Leadership Development and Learning Technologies program in the School of Education, Drexel University. Her broader research interests focus on educational technologies, online learning, and curriculum design. Prior to entering the program, Tamara earned a Master's degree in TEFL from the American University of Armenia and a Master's degree in Linguistics from the Yerevan State Linguistic University, Armenia.


Dawn Gelsi-Collins

Career Connections 

Working as an independent contractor in corporate training and organizational development, Dawn partners with organizations to increase employee engagement and effectiveness.   She has gained broad experience over the last fifteen years working in various industries, including healthcare, banking, food manufacturing, and logistics. She has taught countless leadership and management classes, led team building and retreats, and even teaches Microsoft Office. Dawn her Bachelor’s in Human Services from Villanova University and holds a Master’s in Administration, concentrating on Organizational Leadership, from the University of South Dakota. Her extensive background as a group facilitator enables her to create an engaging and relevant learning experience in a variety of settings.


Erik Jacobson, Montclair State University

Digital Movie Making in the Adult Basic Education Classrom 

Erik Jacobson is an Associate Professor in the Early Childhood, Elementary and Literacy Education Department of Montclair State University. He is also a board member of the New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning. Over the course of his career in adult education he has been an educator, a researcher and a professional development consultant. His book, Adult Education in the Age of New Literacies, addresses the ways adult education has been impacted by changes in technology and explores how learners and teachers can take advantage of newly developing resources.


Dina Jaffrey, Upwardly Global 

Upwardly Global's Job Seeker Training Program 

Dina Jaffary, an immigrant professional herself who moved to the U.S. 3 years ago bringing with her more than 9 years of experience in the international development field. Dina currently manages the community outreach for Upwardly Global in New York and the East Coast. Before coming to the U.S., Dina worked for the United Nations and served as the international coordinator for the UNFPA-pioneered human-rights-based youth network: Y-PEER.


Denise Keyser, Ballard Spahr

HR Toolkit for Nonprofits 

Denise M. Keyser, Partner at Ballard Spahr, has more than 30 years of experience representing national, regional, and locally based businesses in labor and employment matters, including traditional labor law (such as collective bargaining and arbitrations), OSHA, ERISA, wage and hour, employment-at-will, wrongful discharge, discrimination, management training, executive compensation, and affirmative action. Ms. Keyser has handled numerous labor arbitrations on disciplinary and contract issues. She has experience before the National Labor Relations Board and has litigated cases involving issues such as discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, wage and hour issues, breach of contract, and ERISA in both state and federal courts. In addition, she has worked closely with clients in drafting policies and handbooks, implementing reductions in force, resolving compliance issues, developing labor strategies, and day-to-day employment counseling. Most recently, Ms. Keyser has joing Literacy New Jersey, Gloucester County Programs as a volunteer literacy tutor.


Daniel Koelhoffer & Jeanmarie Kantor, LV-Monmouth County 

Preparing for the U.S. Citizenship Test 

Both Daniel and Jeanmarie team-teach two semesters of the Citizenship Preparation Course for Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County annually. They teach Conversational English in the summer. Daniel assisted in the development of the NJ Literacy Citizenship Short Course (8 session mandate). They are currently assisting in the development of an expanded ESL and Conversational English version of the Citizenship Course for LVMC. Jeanmarie is currently a Librarian with the Monmouth County Library and Daniel is the Operations Director for Ferragamo, USA, Inc.


Merle Margolese, Merle Margolese Presents

Career Connections for Adult Learners

Merle Margolese is the owner of Merle Margolese Presents…, a firm that specializes in customized business training. This includes but is not limited to individual business coaching, seminars, work shops, team building exercises, motivational speaking, key note speaking at corporate events and team motivation. Merle has multiple CEU classes approved in the state of New Jersey. In addition, Merle is the Educational Coordinator for the Greater Woodbury Chamber of Commerce in Gloucester County N.J. and a Continuing Education Trainer for Rowan College at Gloucester County. Merle has been featured in such publications as The Voice and Insight Magazine. Learn more at


Catherine Mitch, Literacy NJ-Mercer 

Overcoming the Fear Factor in Writing

Having lived, studied and worked in several different countries in several different languages, Catherine knows first hand how our non-native English speaking students feel here in our country. Further, because of all the compassionate help she received while living overseas, she wants to return the favor by helping immigrants struggling with English here. She has a Master's Degree in Multilingual Multicultural Education and a wide variety of experiences teaching in both formal and informal settings. Catherine has been involved in Literacy (Volunteers) organizations in NJ since 1994, first as a tutor, then tutor trainer, board member, master trainer and finally, staff member.


Perrine Robinson-Geller, Literacy New Jersey

Strategies for New Readers

Perrine Robinson-Geller has a Masters in Education from Kent State University and has worked in the field for over 25 years as an ESL teacher, Training Coordinator, Program Coordinator, Teacher and Research Assistant. Previously, she was a research assistant on a National Center for the Study of Adult Literacy and Learning project, where she contributed to a number of studies. Perrine recently completed a term as President of Literacy New Jersey and currently serves as a Master Trainer.


Susan A. Sodon, LV-Monmouth County 

Earning Digital Skills Certification 

Susan holds a B.A. in Art from Thomas Edison State College, a M.Ed. in e-Learning Technology and Design from Jones International University and a Graduate Certificate in Business Leadership Skills from Cornell University. Professionally, she is a Technical Writer and Graphic Designer for the DoD. When looking to utilize her M.Ed. in a volunteer capacity, she obtained ESL Tutor Training through Literacy Volunteers of NJ in February 2014. Upon completion of her training she went immediately into tutoring non-native professionals needing coaching with English pronunciation skills to improve their command of the language through accent reduction, understanding idiomatic and colloquial expressions, grammar use and appreciating the nuances of word selection. She is currently in the process of completing the TESOL Core Certificate Program (TCCP).


Mamta Shah, Drexel University

Game Jam for Literacy and Life

Mamta Shah is a postdoctoral scholar of Learning Technologies at Drexel University, USA. She teaches and conducts research on the theoretical and practical applications of teaching, learning, and assessing with digital environments such as games, in formal and informal learning settings. Through model development and testing, analysis of the cognitive and pedagogic affordances of digital environments, teacher professional development, and a focus on integrating immersive and interdisciplinary digital environments using an ecological approach, Mamta concentrates on supporting teaching and learning with digital environments across the K-adult education spectrum for developing interdisciplinary knowledge and skills and motivation to learn.


Dr. Allison Turner, West Chester University

Using Social Media to Drive Change

Allison H. Turner is Chair and Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration at West Chester University, teaching in the Master of Public Administration and Doctor of Public Administration programs. Her professional experience encompasses various roles within the nonprofit sector, including program development and evaluation; grant writing, and community economic development. Her research addresses the role of information literacy in graduate public administration curriculums, the role of nonprofit organizations in contemporary political economies, and the development and implementation of strategic management in the nonprofit sector.


Alexi Velez, ACLU-NJ

Outlook on Immigrant Rights and Discrimination Issues

Alexi Velez is an attorney working for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) as a Maida Law Fellow. Her fellowship work focuses on issues at the nexus of economic justice, civil rights, and debtors’ prisons. Prior to joining ACLU-NJ, Alexi was a law clerk to the Honorable George S. Leone of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. During law school, she worked with the Rutgers Immigrant Justice Clinic, where she represented undocumented minors seeking asylum and special immigrant juvenile status.


Joyce Wright-McAdoo, Literacy NJ-Gloucester

Activities for Beginning English Learners

Joyce Wright-McAdoo is an active ESOL tutor for conversation and beginning English groups for Literacy NJ- Gloucester County, where she also serves as a member of the Community Board. Additionally, Ms. Wright-McAdoo is a children's book author.


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