North Carolina’s Adult Promise Symposium:

The Higher Education and Workforce Imperative

WHEN:   February 13, 2020  |  9:00am – 1:00pm
WHERE:   Friday Center for Continuing Education  |  Chapel Hill, NC

Featured Speakers and Guests

Cecilia Holden serves as the first-ever President & CEO for myFutureNC, a statewide initiative focused on educational attainment. The organization is the result of cross-sector collaboration between North Carolina leaders in education, business, and government. In this role, Holden will advance the strategic direction and priorities for the organization; collaborate with cross-sector leaders; develop and drive policy that increases North Carolina’s level of education attainment; and build the overall capacity of the organization. Holden’s career includes extensive public and private sector experience.  Prior to joining the State Board of Education, she served as the Chief of Staff for the North Carolina Department of Commerce.  In addition, her North Carolina public service includes serving as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources and the Director of Networking Technologies for the Department of Public Instruction.  She has a proven track record of establishing and implementing creative strategies to optimize operations, return on investments and excellence in customer satisfaction.  Holden holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Duke University, a Bachelor of Science from UNC Wilmington and a Certification in Public Administration from UNC Chapel Hill. Holden also held positions at IBM, Guardian Capital Advisors and the Department of Public Instruction.

Sarah Ancel is the Founder and CEO of Student-Ready Strategies. She founded Student-Ready Strategies to accelerate the nation’s progress toward a more effective post-secondary system that serves all studentsSarah has a unique combination of local, state and national experience in higher education policy and practice and a proven record of successful student-focused reforms. She is a policy expert, a strategic and tactical implementer, and a keen analyst of data, environment, and opportunities. She is a leading national voice in serving non-traditional student populations more effectively. Previously, Sarah served as Vice President for State Policy with Complete College America. In that role, she works with state and system leaders to advance policies proven to increase college completion and close achievement gaps. Before joining CCA, Sarah served as Associate Commissioner for Strategic Planning and Policy for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. In that role, she was responsible for implementing the Commission’s strategic plan, including developing and advancing the Commission’s legislative priorities. She came to that role after spending nearly a decade contributing to the fiscal management and oversight of Indiana’s state and local governments.

Denise Pearson is the Vice President, Academic Affairs and Equity Initiatives for State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). As a member of the senior leadership team she strives to be a leading and impactful voice to advance states’ and SHEEO’s academic affairs and equity agendas.  Collaborating with chief academic officers at state agencies of higher education and other policy related entities, Denise produces research, analyses, recommendations, and reporting on relevant policy areas, including but not limited to educator preparation, equity-minded leadership, minority serving institutions, and student protections.  She is the principal investigator for Project Pipeline Repair: Restoring Minority Male Participation and Persistence in Educator Preparation Programs, a multi-year W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded collaboration with state higher education policy leaders and educator preparation program faculty at four HBCUs.  Prior to joining SHEEO, Pearson served in a variety of academic leadership capacities including professor of education, assistant provost for faculty affairs, interim dean of education, and senior associate dean.  As interim dean and a tenured member of the Department of Education faculty at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), Pearson successfully led the department through NCATE (now CAEP) reaffirmation of its educator preparation program with no cited areas for improvement or stipulations.  She currently serves as a CAEP Councilor (2015-2019).  Before leaving WSSU, Pearson guided the faculty of education through a complex merger of the School of Education with the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business.  Pearson earned her Ph.D., Education Supervision and Administration from Marquette University; M.A., Conflict Resolution from the University of Denver, M.S.; Education Administration from Concordia University Wisconsin; and B.A., Human Services from Pace University.  Pearson is the mother of three sons and has one granddaughter.  She maintains a plant-based diet (one of those pesky vegans) and enjoys exploring international vegan cuisine. 

Scott Jenkins serves as strategy director for Lumina Foundation. In that role, he leads development and advancement of the Foundation’s State Policy Agenda. Scott has a broad and extensive background in institutional, state, and federal policy development and execution.  A few of his career highlights include serving as the Education Policy Director to former Michigan Governor John Engler and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the Director of External Relations for Western Governors University, and as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the US Department of Education in the Bush administration.  Scott has a BS in Political Science from The University of Central Florida.

Dr. Marie A. Cini is currently the president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). Her academic career spans more than 25 years, and she has extensive experience as a C-level academic administrator in universities that predominantly serve adults. In addition to her work at CAEL, she serves on the Board of Directors at Bryant & Stratton College. Dr. Cini was inducted into the International Adult Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2016.  At CAEL, Dr. Cini is committed to helping colleges, universities, employers and workforce agencies find points of collaboration and connection. She believes that a robust 21st-century economy depends on the lifelong ability of adults to learn new skills that connect them to evolving job opportunities. At the same time, workforce development entities and employers stand to benefit greatly when they provide workers with opportunities to upskill and advance toward openings in high-skill occupations. Dr. Cini’s work advocates a shift in perspective that places adult learners directly in the center of these connections.

Hadass Sheffer is the Founder/President of The Graduate! Network, Inc. and her career centers on lifting up voiceless populations and opening doors to equity, opportunity, and economic mobility through postsecondary education. In 2005 she founded Graduate! Philadelphia (, the first ecosystem approach to increasing the number of adults with college degrees for social and economic gains. Building on the Philadelphia example, The Graduate! Network grew organically as cities and regions and states asked for guidance in replicating the model. The Graduate! Network now serves 41 communities across the country, including 8 states. Hadass also co-founded Talent Greater Philly, directed campus-community partnerships and postsecondary grants at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, taught adult students at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, and “traditional” students at Swarthmore College, and managed data teams at a translation software company.