Literacy for Life 2019 Presenter Bios

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Kelly Ayala

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.


Melissa Bernstein

Become a More Confident Student
A Student Roundtable: Tips & Tricks for Excelling at Learning

Melissa is the program director for Literacy NJ Middlesex County, where she oversees an adult literacy program that serves over 450 learners every year and provides over 10,000 hours of instruction in basic literacy and English as a Second language skills. Melissa manages, recruits and trains volunteer tutors; supervises and administers student assessments; oversees data collection and entry; develops and maintains partnerships in the community; advocates for literacy programs within the county; works with the CEO to develop the annual program budget, fundraising opportunities and grant reporting, among other responsibilities. Before joining Literacy NJ in 2010, Melissa worked in the customer service field for four years. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Rutgers University.


Maggie Bonanni Land

Identifying your Students' Marketable Skills 

Maggie Bonanni is a Career Counselor at Rutgers University – Camden and sits on the Community Board for Literacy NJ – Gloucester County. She received two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Public Relations and Advertising in 2013 and a Master in Arts in Higher Education Administration from Rowan University in 2015. She uses a holistic approach when assisting students with career decisions, industry exploration, job and internship searching, interview preparation, and creating meaningful connections to employers and professional opportunities. Maggie enjoys educating students about personal branding, creating innovative programming, and assisting students in realizing and achieving their professional goals.


Ronda Brown

Everyday English: Incorporating Real World Skills into Conversation Groups

Dr. Ronda Brown, Ed.d has dedicated her entire vocation to the field of education and has a committed purpose to teaching others. She currently teaches at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ, and has served as a volunteer ESL instructor with Literacy NJ Gloucester County since 2015, leading a conversation group that blends academic content with real world needs. She began her career as a classroom teacher, holds a doctoral degree in Education Administration and Leadership, and volunteers in many nonprofit and charitable organizations within her community. 


Pamela Smith Chambers

Cultural Literacy: Know Yourself First

Pamela Smith Chambers is the Training Director of the Beyond Diversity Resource Center, which uses an anti-racist framework to provide training and educational materials to individuals and organizations. Prior to joining the Center, Chambers was the Supervising Program Development Specialist in the New Jersey Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations. Chambers also previously served as Director of Counseling and Education Services at the YWCA of Trenton. 


Fay Crooks

Choose and Use Reading Levels that Work for your Students 

Fay Crooks holds a masters from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), and has worked in the public school system as a reading specialist and ESL instructor for both children and adults. Fay is also the tutor trainer for Literacy NJ Gloucester County, and has acted as a one on one tutor and large group instructor for many years. When teaching, Fay uses and individualized and co-operative approach to ensure that students always feel at ease, confident, and trusting of their classroom atmosphere.  


Todd Evans

Creative Workshop Designs Using ProLiteracy's New Tutor Training Materials 
Integrating Critical Thinking into Every Lesson

Todd Evans is the Program Manager for ProLiteracy and is in charge of developing and administering ProLiteracy’s training and other resources to help local literacy programs increase their capacity and improve the quality of their services. Todd has been with ProLiteracy since 1995. He has spent most of his time with ProLiteracy providing training to tutors, teachers, students, and program managers in a variety of subjects. Currently, he develops resources for ProLiteracy Education Network including tutor and program management training. Todd is a member of many literacy and training organizations, including the Literacy Roundtable, a consortium of literacy providers throughout the St. Louis-Metro East area.


Erik Jacobson

Using Free Technology to Increase Student Engagement

Erik Jacobson is an Associate Professor at Montclair State University and a board member of the New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning.  He has been involved in adult education as a teacher, researcher, and advocate.  He is currently a volunteer ESOL teacher at Make the Road New Jersey.


Barbara Hathaway 

An Easy Guide to Working with Small Groups 

Barbara Hathaway is a former actuarial consultant and ATT business analyst. She joined Literacy NJ as a Literacy Specialist and for the past three years has been Union Couny's Program Director. Barbara has been a tutor trainer for 5 years and a Master Trainer for the past 2 years. Barbara has also volunteered as a tutor for the past 10 years. Among her many contributions to the organization, Barbara has worked on improving tutor training and lesson planning to make it more practical and hands for tutors and students. Barbara has a BA in Mathematics from Montclair State University. 


Kathy Houghton

Literacy NY Online Tutor Training: Builds Capacity, Promotes Positive Outcomes 

Kathy Houghton is the Director of Program Services for Literacy New York, a statewide agency that provides training and technical assistance to a network of literacy programs serving thousands of adult learners every year. Her years of experience in adult education include teaching and training in reading, writing, learning disabilities and ESL. Her knowledge of “real world” adult education issues is a plus when training, and allows her to connect with participants looking for ways to improve teaching and learning. Kathy is a national trainer for LINCS, a national organization created to support adult education practitioners.


Nancy Lama

An Easy Guide to Working with Small Groups 

Nancy Lama has been the basic skills coordinator for Literacy New Jersey-Union County Programs since 2015. She began as an ESL tutor in 2013 and currently teaches HSE and basic skills students and trains new volunteer tutors.


Christine Larsen-Britt

Engaging Young Volunteers 

Christine Larsen-Britt is a Program Advisor in Rowan University’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences, where she works with populations in the Departments of: Foreign Languages & Literatures , American Studies, English, History, and Philosophy & Religion. Additionally, Christine acts as an Instructor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology where she teaches both Rowan 101: College Success and Applied Internship in Liberal Arts. A native of Philadelphia, Christine holds a B.S. in Sociology from Drexel University and an M.A. in Counseling in Educational Settings from Rowan University.  Her areas of interest outside advising and teaching include Social Problems & Social Class in America, Experiential Learning, Career Development, Popular Culture, and Punk Pop Music. Christine has also proudly served on Literacy NJ, Gloucester County’s Community Board since 2017.


Meenakshi Nalalagappan

A Student Roundtable: Tips & Tricks for Excelling at Learning

Meenakshi Nalalagappan has been with adult literacy for over 6 years. She is currently a Literacy Specialist at Literacy NJ Middlesex County. She is very passionate about the English language, and hence has been involved in literacy by working with ESL students, and also doing administrative work. Helping adults learn English as a Second Language to improve the quality of their living in a foreign country makes her happy.


Robin Parker

Cultural Literacy: Know Yourself First

Robin Parker is the Executive Director of the Beyond Diversity Resource Center. His work focuses on building a more inclusive society through anti-oppression education. He is a coauthor of The Anti-Racist Cookbook and The Great White Elephant. Prior to joining the Center, Parker was a Deputy Attorney General in the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, and Chief of the Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations.


Charlotte Perez

Culture as an Asset in Assessing Student Proficiency 

Charlotte Perez serves as the Basic Literacy Coordinator for Literacy Volunteers of Camden County. She is also a Clinical Faculty Member of the University of Notre Dame for Cultural Influences on Children’s Lives. She studied Special Education and Early Childhood Education at the University of Scranton and completed the teaching English as a New Language graduate program at the University of Notre Dame. She has presented at professional development conferences on ESL strategies including the National Catholic Education Association and for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She was also the guest speaker for the ENL podcast on assessing English Learners. 


Rebecca Powers

Steps for Success: Supporting your Basic Literacy Students 

Rebecca Powers has been teaching English language classes since 2002, and has been involved with literacy programs throughout South Jersey since 2006. She began teaching English at the International Institute of Akron in Akron, Ohio where she taught abroad in Strasbourg and in Dreux, France. Rebecca began working with Literacy Volunteers in 2006, and from 2013-2016 acted as Literacy Specialist for Literacy NJ, Gloucester County. Since 2016, Rebecca works as the Program Director at Literacy New Jersey, Burlington County where she continues to be of service to English Language Learners and Adult basic education students.


Laura Repsher

Engaging Young Volunteers  

Laura Repsher is the Internship Coordinator for Rowan University’s College of Humanities and Social Science’s CHSS Match Internship Program. She enjoys helping students prep for internships by refining their career skills through resume consultation, interviewing and professionalism in the work place. Prior to coming to Rowan, Laura was a school counselor in the Maryland Public School system for 8 years. During her time in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, she held the leadership roles of School Counseling Department Chair and Internship Supervisor for graduate students. Before becoming a school counselor, she was an Assistant Teacher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Laura is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a Master of Education focused in School Counseling from Loyola University, Maryland. She also holds a Bachelor of Science from Towson University, where she double majored in Psychology and Mass Communications: Public Relations.


Perla Rotemberg

Become a More Confident Student

Perla Rotemberg was born in Mexico, grew up in various countries throughout Latin American and immigrated as a young child to NYC where she became an ESL student. She consequently lived in Switzerland and Algeria hence becoming fluent in French. Perla graduated from Centenary University with a BS and holds a Masters in Health Care Administration from Seton Hall University. She brings 33 years of corporate experience working for multiple FORTUNE 500 companies. Throughout her corporate career, she has been the recipient of various leadership awards, including for her efforts in 'diversity'. For the past 5 years, Perla has been teaching ESL students grammar and self-confidence techniques through Literacy NJ Middlesex.


Robert Rowlett

Making Math Second Nature

Robert has been a teacher for 30 years, including teaching Social Studies, Mathematics and Physical Education in public schools, ESL overseas and in the USA. He has taught adult learners ESL in preparation for TOEFL and career advancement and Math Skills to adult learners in preparation in securing their GED Certificates and the TABE Exam. Currently, Robert is the coordinator of the Career Pathways Program at Prospect College in Washington D.C. Robert has a B.S. in Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University.


Diana Sefchik

Vocabulary Development Strategies Using Multiple Literacy Resources 

Retiring after 40 years in public education, Diana Sefchik now teaches at Seton Hall University in the Educational Studies Graduate Department Teacher Preparation for ESL Certification. Diana also is an adjunct at Raritan Valley Community College teaching all levels of ESL classes in all contents: Listening, Speaking, Pronunciation, and Grammar. In all the classes reading, writing, and vocabulary development strategies are infused.


Jon Shure

Harnessing the Power of Stories 

Senior Director, Taft Communications

Thanks to a career communicating about policy and public affairs, Jon has a knack for getting complex points across in clear, relatable language. The key: Meeting people where they are so you can get them where you want them to go. Jon started as a reporter for The Record of Bergen County and covered politics in the newspaper’s State House and Washington bureaus. He was communications director through Gov. Jim Florio’s term in office. Jon was founding president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, building it into an influential state research/advocacy organization, and was director of state communications at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. The Syracuse native has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in industrial and labor relations and a master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. Jon was a board member of the Center for Non-profits and chaired the Maryland Center on Economic Policy’s board. He taught political science courses at Rutgers University and was a visiting associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.


Joe Spencer

Career Pathways in Adult Education

Joe Spencer is an Adult Education Instructor and Site Coordinator for the Personal and Professional Development program at the Continuing Education Center at Rowan College of Gloucester County.


Donna Tchir-Spence

Reaching the Finish Line: Setting Goals as an Adult Learner

Donna Tchir-Spence possesses an undergraduate degree in Education and Psychology, as well as 2 graduate degrees in Education. She has been a teacher for over 20 years and is currently the Literacy Specialist for Ocean County, NJ, where she oversees tutor and student activity. She also teaches children on long term care at the Children’s Specialized Hospital, helping students of all ages reach their full potential. 


Jennifer Tole

Fake News: Helping your Students Find Credible News Sources 

Dr. Jennifer Tole earned her Ph.D. from Temple University in 2014, before settling in the College of Communications at Rowan University, where currently teaches Honors College Composition, Writing for the Workplace, and Writing for Nonprofits.
Whether it is in the composition classroom, in training students to communicate as successful professionals, or in helping engineering students navigate technical documents, Dr. Tole views the act of writing as empowering and her goal is always is to inspire students to be more critical readers, more effective writers, and more informed thinkers. Her research interests include technical and professional writing, writing in the disciplines, collaborative writing, and community-engaged learning.


Valerie Tomaszewski

Engaging Activities for the ESOL Classroom 

Valerie Tomaszewski recently received her M.A. in English as a Second Language, and also holds a B.A. in English. She currently works as an instructor in the Adult Ed Program at Bordentown Regional High School. She has also served as a volunteer ESL instructor for Literacy NJ Burlington County since summer of 2018, where she has taught both intermediate ESL and conversation groups. Valerie enjoys creating a high energy and interactive classroom setting that encourages students to have fun while learning.





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