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2019 Keynote Speakers
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“Adult Education for Human Rights, Economic Empowerment, and Environmental Sustainability”

Laura Bierema, Wendy Griswold, Vanessa Sheared

Join us in St. Louis, Missouri from October 8-11 for the 68th Annual AAACE Conference, “Adult Education for Human Rights, Economic Empowerment, and Environmental Sustainability.”  Three dynamic adult education scholar-educators, Laura Bierema, Wendy Griswold, and Vanessa Sheared will lead the keynote session by sharing their perspectives on the intersectionality of the issues that frame the global agenda for the protection and advancement of people and planet set forth within the 2017 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The underlying themes of the UN global agenda over the years have been world peace, economic justice, addressing the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and protecting the environment.

The agenda for human rights is a central to the philosophy and practice of adult education, which has a long history of advocacy with and for learners in the United States and around the world.  Economic empowerment is part of our daily engagement in work and learning in such settings as for profit, non-profit, government, and higher education. The theme of environmental sustainability provides an important area of exploration regarding how we move through shared spaces of our world and the interdependency among health, economic sustainability, and human growth and development.

AAACE is poised to play a partnership role in advancing the agenda for the improvement of people and planet. Central to the global agenda is advocacy for members of vulnerable populations who labor to learn and to earn in environments that are not always equitable and just. As adult educators, we encounter members of these populations in our classrooms and in other daily interactions. They are a part of our world and we of theirs, and some of us are members of one or more of these vulnerable groups whose life conditions this agenda aims to address. Among these vulnerable populations include racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, the poor and disabled, sexual minorities and religious minorities, immigrants and refugees, veterans with disabilities, English language learners, incarcerated youths and adults, the homeless, among others.

Join us as we explore how we can continue our advocacy and advance the global agenda for human right, economic empowerment for the most vulnerable populations, and protecting the environment for current and future generations.

This year's Keynote Session will take place on Wednesday, October 9 from 11 am - 12:30 pm.

Dr. Laura Bierema

Professor, former associate dean, executive coach, company president, author, founder Lukas’ Fund, past faculty senate president, volunteer, avid runner sidelined by injury, ex-executive, cyclist, nonprofit board member, former dental assistant, disastrous waitress, rusty choral singer, failed pianist, aspiring potter, fumbling knitter, and a decent consensus builder on her good days.

Laura L. Bierema is Professor, University of Georgia, College of Education (COE). Her academic program is in Adult Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development. Prior to joining UGA, Dr. Bierema was Assistant Professor in the School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Michigan State University where she also worked in faculty development in the College of Human Medicine. Before her career in academia, Dr. Bierema held a variety of human resources management and executive positions in the automotive industry with AlliedSignal, Inc. (now Honeywell). From 2013- 1016 Dr. Bierema was the UGA COE Associate Dean for Academic Programs.

Dr. Bierema’s research interests include workplace learning, career development, women’s development, organization development, executive coaching, leadership, and critical human resource development. Dr. Bierema holds both bachelors and masters degrees from Michigan State University and a doctorate in adult education from the University of Georgia. She has published over 50 articles that have appeared in both research and professional publications. Dr. Bierema’s books include:

  • Women’s Career Development across the Lifespan: Insights and Strategies for Women, Organizations, and Adult Educators
  • Philosophy and Practice of Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change
  • Critical Issues in Human Resource Development
  • Implementing a Critical Approach to Organization Development
  • Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice
  • An Introduction to Organization Development 

Dr. Bierema is a Cyril O. Houle Scholar in Adult and Continuing Education and Lilly Fellow. She is the recipient of the Richard A. Swanson Excellence in Research Award and four Academy of Human Resource Development’s “Cutting Edge” Awards for best conference paper. She is the 2009 recipient of the Highly Commended Award by the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence; 2012 winner of the University of Georgia College of Education Russell H. Yeany, Jr. Research Award; 2012 recipient of the Sherpa Trailblazer of the Year Award in recognition of innovation application of the Sherpa Coaching Process; 2013 winner of the Academy of Human Resource Development’s Outstanding Scholar Award; 2014 winner of the Academy of Human Resource Development’s Book of the Year; 2015 winner of the University, Professional, and Continuing Education Association Phillip E. Frandson Award for Literature; 2017 recognition as a Master Executive Coach by Sherpa Coaching; and 2018 U.S. Fulbright Research Scholar.

Lest Dr. Bierema take herself too seriously, she balances her left brain by learning to knit, talking to her dogs, riding her bicycle around the world with her spouse Mark, tasting fine wines, collecting original art, cooking gourmet vegetarian meals, reading great literature and trashy novels, traveling to interesting places near and far, indulging in gastronomic adventures with friends, and hitting the beach whenever possible, preferably in Onekama, MI.


Dr. Wendy Griswold

Wendy Griswold is an assistant professor of Higher and Adult Education in the Department of Leadership at the University of Memphis (UofM). She is also director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education. Prior to joining UofM in 2015, she was a research assistant professor at the Center for Hazardous Substance Research at Kansas State University. She earned her Ph.D. in adult education from Kansas State University, in addition to MS and BA degrees in Women’s Studies from the University of Minnesota-Mankato and University of Kansas, respectively.

Prior to her academic appointment, she was primarily a community education practitioner for over 20 years, working with communities engaged in environmental, economic and social renewal. She began this work in 1994, helping local groups and organizations address hazardous waste, community redevelopment, and environmental justice issues in a variety of communities (rural, urban, African-American, Native American, Latinx, low-income). She also administered an educational program that created environmental research resources and opportunities for students and faculty at tribal community colleges and developed international exchange programs for indigenous scholars at universities in Kansas and the Russian Federation.

Her foundation as a community education practitioner informs her current role as a community-engaged scholar. Her goal is to explore and contribute to the development of processes that build leadership capacity for addressing social, environmental and economic inequity and injustice. One of her current projects is Shared Air/Shared Action (SA2): Community Empowerment through Low-cost Air Pollution Monitoring, for which she serves as lead principal investigator and social science researcher, leading a team of four local community organizations, two non-profits, and three universities. SA2 is a community-based participatory action research project in Chicago, Illinois. The project explores how communities interact with and learn to use emerging low-cost air pollution sensors to generate useable data to understand and document local air quality to support their advocacy to reduce air pollution locally and globally.

Currently, she has a research and teaching agenda that encompass participatory action research, education for sustainability, and contemplative education as frameworks for building leadership capacity for solving our current and future intractable problems. The aim of her work is to help others appreciate the role of education and research in addressing contemporary societal issues. We are living in a time when knowledge, information, and the ability to make informed decisions about the environment, society and economics are necessary ingredients for developing and sustaining an engaged and effective citizenry. Educators will play an increasingly vital role in helping our citizens develop the capacity to study issues, understand the role individuals and communities can play in developing responses, and work effectively to include diverse voices in decision-making and problem-solving.


Dr. Vanessa Sheared

Vanessa Sheared, EdD received a B.A. from Wheaton College (Sociology, 1977), an M.A. from Louisiana State University (Counselor Education, 1980), and an EdD from Northern Illinois University (Adult Education, 1992). Over the past 30 years Dr. Sheared has held positions as an administrator and counselor in universities, community and vocational colleges, and nonprofit agencies; has given presentations at international, national, state, and local conferences; and conducted research and taught in the areas of race, class, language and gender, policy and leadership, instructional and funding strategies, and Africentric womanist perspectives. She is currently on the Board of Directors for United Way, Capital Region – Sacramento and the Closing the Gap Foundation; and has served on the Board of Directors for Greater Sacramento Urban League, Mayor of Stockton’s Special Task Force on the Status of Women in Stockton, as well as served on several editorial boards.

Sheared’s contribution to this panel, will draw upon the Millennium Development Goals (September 2000) and the Sustainable Development Goals (September 2015) which were adopted by UNESCO world leaders who acknowledged the need to focus on our most vulnerable populations. Specifically, her presentation will focus on factors related to women living within the African Diaspora, and will focus on the role that Adult Education must play with regard to providing greater understanding about how poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy have often shaped, contributed and impacted the lived experiences of not only African American women across the diaspora, but also women in general. She will also discuss the fact that while these factors may or have contributed to the environmental degradation and discrimination and violence experienced by many women, with appropriate research and acknowledgement of these factors, it should not define their possibilities. Sheared will offer ways in which we as educators can use the data provided in this report to promote and create possibilities for women to move into positions of power across the educational and professional spectrum.

Most recently Sheared participated in an EdTalk presentation on Status of Women in Stockton on “Education: Finding our Voice and our Space,” was featured in Stockton Record and KCRA (NBC, Sacramento Stockton-Modesto) and National Public Radio (NPR), “Reading Report Card,” “Report on the status of Women in Stockton zeroes in on gender inequality,” and facilitated several panel presentations for the University of Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates initiative, on issues related to literacy, poverty on the local, state, and national level. She has also given international presentations focused on women across the spectrum.

Sheared has authored books and articles and given presentations focused on the experiences of women in the African Diaspora and their experiences with welfare reform, poverty, educational opportunities, and organizational leadership. Her publications include “Welfare Reform, Race, Class, and Gender: The Elusive Quest For Self-determination (Fall 1998), co-editor with Donna Amstutz of Adult Basic Education in the Urban Community in the Education and Urban Society Journal (2000), co-editor with P. Sissel of Making Space: Merging theory to Practice (2001), and co-editor (Sheared, V. Johnson-Bailey, J. Colin, III, S.A.J., Peterson, E. and Brookfield, S.) of The Handbook on Race in Adult Education: A Resource for Dialogue on Racism (2010), and she has authored several chapters on giving voice and teaching and learning strategies in the classroom, as well as within community and higher education practices.

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