Jackie C. Thomas Jr., PhD

Lonestar Community College-Tomball

Dr. Jackie C. Thomas, Jr., has over 18 years of progressively responsible higher education leadership experience during which he has established himself as a visionary and innovative leader with a proven ability to set, define, and accomplish the goals he sets for himself, a team, and an organization. Throughout his career, he has been actively involved with coaching and mentoring leaders, building high-performing teams, strengthening communities, and working to get more people access to higher education.

Thomas currently serves as the Chief Strategist/ Interim Vice President for Student Success at Lonestar Community College-Tomball, located just outside of Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he leads the Division of Strategy and Innovation which is comprised of the following areas: college relations, professional development, multimedia services, diversity and inclusion, grants, strategic planning, alumni relations and fundraising, community engagement, research and innovation, and institutional effectiveness.

Thomas is a graduate of the Aspen Institute Rising Presidents Fellowship, American Association of Community College’s Future Presidents Institute, and the Thomas Lakin Institute for Mentored Leadership.

BACHELOR’S: B.S. in Consumer Science and Merchandising, the University of Houston

MASTER’S: M.S. in Higher Education, Florida State University

DOCTORATE: Ph.D., Educational Psychology and Individual Differences, the University of Houston

Miguel Duenas, EdD

East Los Angeles College

Dr. Miguel Duenas is the Vice President of Student Services at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) in California.

Duenas is the oldest of six. He is a product of Los Angeles Unified School District, graduating from Bell High School. He then attended East Los Angeles College, where he attained his associate degree in Liberal Studies, then transferred to California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he received his bachelor’s degree in history, minored in political science, and attained a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. Duenas also received his master’s at California State University, Northridge, in educational administration along with his Administrative Services Credential. He recently graduated from the University of Southern California, where he earned his doctoral in educational organizational change and leadership.

Duenas worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for over 20 years as a teacher assistant, elementary school teacher, categorical coordinator, instructional coach, and district administrator. He transitioned to East Los Angeles College in 2015 as an associate dean and was promoted to dean four years later. In 2021, Duenas became Vice President of Student Services, where he oversees all programs related to student services.

ASSOCIATE: Liberal Studies, East Los Angeles College

BACHELOR’S: History and Political Science, California State University, Dominguez Hills

MASTER’S: Educational Administration and Administrative Services Credential, California State University, Northridge

DOCTORATE: Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership, University of Southern California

Tamika Duplessis, PhD

Delgado Community College

Dr. Tamika Tyson Duplessis is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, La. With a background in science, Duplessis has focused her attention on supporting the next generation of scientists by developing innovative scientific curriculum and advocating for two-year college/industry partnerships. In her role in Student Affairs, she has been heavily involved in supporting student basic needs, and promoting and designing programs that support first-generation students, adult scholars, and single mother learners.

Duplessis is an accomplished researcher in molecular and cellular biology. She has published over 30 different scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts in the field of breast cancer and the molecular mechanisms associated with cancer progression. While her research focused on the complex nature of cancer etiology, she has spent many years teaching in the basic sciences. Duplessis began her teaching career as a chemistry instructor at Delgado Community College and advanced to the level of an associate professor, department chair, and served the executive dean of the Delgado Community College-Sidney Collier site.

With aspirations to continue the work to focus on those who have been historically excluded from higher education, Duplessis endeavors to focus on the margins and assist all learners with finding their purpose and providing supports to enable them to realize their goals through the pursuit of higher education.

HOMETOWN: New Orleans, Louisiana

DOCTORATE: Ph.D in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Tulane University School of Medicine

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Matthew Morin, PhD

Chaffey College

Matthew Morin serves as the Assistant Dean of Intersegmental Partnerships at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he leads dual enrollment, work-based learning, and digital credentialing. Morin has spent most of his career working as an advocate for system change to create a more relevant and accountable form of public, post-secondary education.

His areas of expertise, gained over years as a faculty member and administrator, include general education reform, state policy development and implementation, learning outcomes assessment, process streamlining, and leveraging technology to accelerate change.

HOMETOWN: Boston, Massachusetts

BACHELOR’S: B.A. in Music and Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Boston

MASTER’S: M.A. in Ethnomusicology, Tufts University

DOCTORATE: Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, Florida State University

FAVORITE QUOTE: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Anne M. Kress, PhD

Northern Virginia Community College

Anne M. Kress is the President of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), which serves over 70,000 students across six campuses.

She is a passionate advocate for NOVA’s mission of providing equitable and affordable access to exceptional higher education and workforce programs, transforming the lives of students and advancing opportunity in the region. Kress serves on the boards of the American Council on Education, Generation Hope, Capital Area Food Bank, Northern Virginia Chamber, Northern Virginia Technology Council, and the Consortium of the Universities of the Washington Metro Area, among others.

Kress has testified before Congress on community colleges and workforce development and served as a negotiator on federal higher education regulations. She has been named to the Virginia Business 500 and Washington Business Journal Power 100; and been honored by organizations including the Virginia Community College System, Phi Theta Kappa, and her alma mater, the University of Florida.

Prior to moving into academic administration, Kress was a professor of English at Santa Fe College (Fla.). She has also taught graduate courses in higher education administration and serves on the community college leadership program advisory board for the University of Maryland Global Campus.

BACHELOR’S: B.A. in English and BSBW with honors in Finance, University of Florida

MASTER’S: M.A. in English, University of Florida

DOCTORATE: Ph.D., Higher Education Administration, University of Florida

Paula Dibley

Forsyth Technical Community College

Paula Dibley is the Chief Officer of Student Success & Strategic Innovation at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dibley started her career in Washington, D.C., working in media relations and communications with nonprofit clients, such as the Save Darfur Coalition and Pew Charitable Trusts. After relocating to North Carolina, she began working in higher education, first at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and now at Forsyth Technical Community College.

Today, Dibley serves as both the chief student success officer and chief of staff to the college’s president. She has been married to her partner, Troy, for nearly 15 years and they have two children, Brielle (9) and Cole (6). Dibley is passionate about her community, an advocate for social justice, and a believer that education can be the great equalizer. In her spare time, she loves to read, drink copious amounts of tea and water, exercise, and spend time relaxing with family and friends.

HOMETOWN: Pottstown, Pennsylvania

BACHELOR’S: Bachelor’s in Political Science and Public Communication, American University, Washington, D.C.

MASTER’S: Master of Public Administration, the University of North Carolina

DOCTORATE: Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation, New York University (In progress)

FAVORITE QUOTE: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Stephen Grellet

LaSha Norris

Associate Operations Specialist

LaSha is a goal-oriented talent & operations professional who will bring decision-making and sound judgment to the Lab in order to positively impact the organization’s hiring, team culture and internal operations. LaSha is excited to be joining the Lab as the Associate Operations Specialist, where she’ll be working with our People, Operations & Culture team. 

Prior to joining the Lab, LaSha spent the last 11 years working in Operations, with the last 9 specifically focusing on talent, project management and internal/external communications. In her previous position, LaSha provided technical & operational direction in Talent & Organizational Effectiveness project challenges, and worked closely with management teams to build employee-centric cultures promoting positive morale & optimizing productivity. LaSha is excited to join the Lab to help create and maintain streamlined systems and processes for talent & culture to continue to ensure the Lab is a great place to work.

HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.

EDUCATION: Full Sail University

BACHELOR’S: B.S. Sports Marketing & Media

MASTER’S: M.A. New Media Journalism (in Progress)

FAVORITE QUOTE: “The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow” – Stephen Richards

WHEN I’M NOT AT WORK I’M… spending my free time traveling the world with my husband Tristin and 3 children, Shante’, Darius & Skylar and posting it all on TikTok!

Kelly Palmer

Board Member

Kelly Palmer is a thought leader and advisor on the future of work and education and is the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Kelly focuses on business strategy and new product innovation, skills-based hiring and development, and pathways from education to jobs of the future. She is the co-author of the award-winning business book The Expertise Economy, which focuses on the urgent need to upskill the workforce.

Kelly has spent her entire career in Silicon Valley and was previously Chief Learning Officer at both LinkedIn and Degreed. She was Vice President of Learning at Yahoo! and held executive positions in learning, M&A, and product development at Sun Microsystems. Kelly speaks regularly at companies and conferences around the world and has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Barron’s, Financial Times, Fast Company, and Forbes, among others. Kelly has a bachelor’s degree in English/Communications and a master’s degree in learning science, education technology, and adult learning theory. She lives in Denver, Colo.

Lauren Conte

College Data Coach

As a College Data Coach and member of the Lab’s Digital Transformation team, Lauren Conte supports the work of the Community College Growth Engine and the Data Collaborative for a Skills-Based Economy. She partners with colleges to help strengthen their capacity to collect data crucial to understanding the impact of innovative micro-pathway programs on new majority learners.

Lauren comes to the Lab with extensive experience in the higher education sector and expertise in mixed-methods data collection, institutional data management, and data analysis. Her work is motivated by a fiery passion to improve access to higher education by removing barriers for traditionally underrepresented individuals. Before joining the Lab, Lauren worked in NORC at the University of Chicago’s Higher Education Analytics Center, where she specialized in web survey development and researched campus climate topics such as mental health and wellness, sexual assault prevention, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

HOMETOWN: Methuen, Massachusetts

EDUCATION: Wesleyan University 

BACHELOR’S: B.A. in Psychology with minors in Data Analysis and Education

MASTER’S: M.A. in Psychology

WHEN I’M NOT AT WORK I’M… playing in recreational sports leagues, trying out new recipes, and brewery hopping with my dog, Springer.

Caroline DeLeon

Education Designer

Caroline DeLeon serves as an Education Designer with the Community College Growth Engine team and brings over 10 years of higher education and student development experience in addition to policy work and advocacy for new majority learners.

As a first-generation college graduate, Latina, and daughter of immigrant parents, Caroline brings passion to her work by giving back to her community and uplifting the next generation of leaders. She thrives when working with learners who need assistance navigating their personal, academic, and career pathways to more opportunities.

Having a love for nonprofits, Caroline’s career began by assisting the greater Boston area with financial-aid literacy education and completion, which led her to complete her master’s degree in Higher Education and Human Development at the George Washington University. She has since worked with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and institutions including Georgetown Law, Northeastern University, and American University.

A native of Massachusetts, Caroline is a fan of all New England teams and can often be seen sipping on Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffees and displaying sports memorabilia with reminders of her BOSTON STRONG roots.