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Presenter Bios

Dr. Janelle Ashley, the 10th president of Worcester State College, became the first woman president in the school’s 133-year history when she assumed the helm in 2002. Worcester State College continues to flourish under her leadership. The Princeton Review designated Worcester State College a “Best Northeastern College” for the past three consecutive years and as an “America’s Best Value College” for the past two years in a row. Worcester State College continues to meet the needs of students through new program development including a new criminal justice major, a School Psychologist C.A.G.S. (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies), a new 3+ 3 agreement with Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) which allows WSC students to transfer to MCPHS after three years and complete a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in three additional years. Prior to her tenure at Worcester State College, she served as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) in Nacogdoches, Texas. She received a Ph.D. in management from the University of North Texas in Denton, as well as an M.A. in English and a B.B.A. in Business Administration from Stephen F. Austin State University.

First Lieutenant Mark A. Bennett is the Director of Education and Incentive Programs for the Massachusetts Army National Guard assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters located in Milford, Massachusetts. As State Director, he functions as the program administrator for all state and federal education programs for the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 6,000 soldiers. Lieutenant Bennett is an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran and is currently assigned through the National Guard to Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment (Air Ambulance) as a HH-60 Blackhawk Aeromedical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) Pilot.

Tom Coleman currently serves as the Education Liaison Representative for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His primary responsibility is to act as liaison to schools and colleges in the Commonwealth. Tom served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1970 to 1976. In 1985, he began his career with Veterans Affairs in the Compensation and Pension division. In 2005 he transitioned to his current position. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

James Crosby is an Operation Iraqi Freedom Marine Corps Veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart. James served a total of two years in the Marine Corps until he was medically retired due to wounds received in Iraq in 2004 from a rocket attack at Al Asad Airbase. James is now an employee of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services as the Director of Outreach. His primary responsibility is locating the Commonwealth’s returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans to welcome them home and assist them with claims and readjustment issues.

Dawn Distasio is Coordinator of Outreach and Administrative Support for Veterans Education for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Having family members that have served in the military, Dawn has always been a strong supporter of veterans. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 2004, she came directly to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education as an Administrative Assistant for Veterans Education. She became committed to outreach after hearing from many veterans that they were unaware of the education benefits to which they were entitled. In her current position, she ensures that veterans have access to information on the benefits owed to them for their service to the country.

John Ebuen is the Program Specialist for Veterans Education for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. His primary role is to assist in performing supervisory site visits at over 200 approved institutions of higher learning and non-college degree programs in Massachusetts. Prior to this position, he served on active duty for three years in the U.S. Air Force. As a Project Engineer at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, John managed various projects for the Missile Defense Agency. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of South Florida.

Samuel Hamm is Outreach Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was stationed onboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge. While on board the Kearsarge, Sam was part of Operation Deny Flight, Operation Guardian Retrieval, and Operation Noble Obelisk. After the Navy, Sam worked at the Greenwood School, where he taught mathematics, remedial reading, and remedial writing classes, followed by the Boston Language Institute and the Boston Academy of English, where he taught English.

William (Bill) Leamy currently works for the Department of Veterans’ Services as Training and Compliance and Authorizer. He is a Retired Air Force disabled, Vietnam veteran. He has held various positions as a veteran advocate, including a position with the Department of Employment and Training where he served as a Veterans’ Employment Representative. He is also a former Veterans’ Service Office for the City of Weymouth.

Gail Cavanaugh-McAuliffe is the paralegal for the Department of Veterans’ Services. She is a United States Army Signal Corps veteran who served stateside during the Persian Gulf War. She is a former employee of the Veterans’ Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill where she worked with homeless veterans. During her employment, she has worked to bring veterans’ education issues to the forefront. She is continuing her education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Kathleen Mack is Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development Division of Career Services. Her primary responsibility is to manage a Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program (VWIP) grant designed to offset the costs associated with training and/or education that will enable a veteran to obtain employment. She has a strong background in creating and delivering workshops with a focus on job search techniques, including transitioning military personnel at Hanscom Air Force Base and Fort Devens. She is a graduate of Lesley University and holds several designations which support the career-advising industry.

George O’Connor is the Director for Veterans Education for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. George began his career with Massachusetts Department of Higher Education in 2001, managing the No-Interest Loan Program for the Office of Student Financial Assistance. In 2004, he began his work with veterans as Associate Director for Veterans Education, and in 2008, he moved to the Director position. George received his B.S. in Business Administration from Northeastern University and his MBA from Suffolk University.

Marybeth O’Sullivan is a Registered Nurse by profession and a Commander in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps by commission. She is the Outreach Advisor for Veterans Upward Bound at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, a free, federally funded pre-collegiate program designed to prepare veterans to return to post-secondary education. As the Outreach Advisor, Marybeth met with many military personnel prior to their deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan and once again as they returned to the civilian sector. During this time, she observed specific behaviors and difficulties within the combat-veteran population, particularly as they returned to the classroom. She combined her clinical skills and knowledge base of PTSD and mTBI to show how these unseen wounds of war affect adult learning. She has spoken nationally on this subject, to educators, healthcare professionals, and the general public. Marybeth is a member of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and serves on several state veteran boards and many national and local organizations.

Charles Pace is the Department of Veterans Affairs Education Liaison Representative for the State of Rhode Island. He is a retired United States Navy veteran who served 20 years before retiring and moving on to the training and education fields. Prior to his position at the VA, Charley also served as the Director for Veterans Education for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education for several years. His leadership, skills and commitment to veterans established a high standard of services provided to Veterans within the state. Charley holds a Bachelor’s degree from Chaminade University of Honolulu and a Master’s degree in Human Resource Development and Management from Webster University.

Shelley Tinkham is the Associate Director for Academic Policy at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. She has special responsibility in the areas of K-16 coordination and planning, veterans’ education, and special projects and initiatives that support college readiness and success for traditionally unrepresented groups of students. She provides leadership for the Department’s School-to-College initiative and interacts with representatives from a cross-section of public K-12 and public higher education institutions and agencies to determine strategies for the development, dissemination and interpretation of the School-to-College Report. She holds an undergraduate degree from Kent State University and graduate degrees from Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Boston and is working towards a Ph.D. in Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


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