Featured Speakers

Ashley Finley Image

Ashley Finley

Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Partnerships, Office of the President, AAC&U

Dr. Ashley Finley is the Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). She was previously the senior director of assessment and research at AAC&U and also national evaluator for the Bringing Theory to Practice Project. Most recently she served as the associate vice president for academic affairs & dean of the Dominican Experience at Dominican University of California, where she implemented a comprehensive framework for student learning and success centered around high-impact practices, including holistic advising and ePortfolios.

Dr. Finley’s research and campus consultations focus on connecting best practices for program implementation, assessment design, and equity with institutional outcomes for student success and strategic planning. A significant component of this work at the campus and national levels has focused on the connection of students’ personal development (such as resilience, belonging, identity, and sense of purpose) with their learning and civic engagement. She has published a number of articles, book chapters, and monographs, including Assessing Underserved Students’ Engagement in High-impact Practices (with co-author Tia McNair), Civic Learning and Teaching; Assessing Underserved Students’ Engagement in High-Impact Practices; and “Well-Being: An Essential Outcome for Higher Education.”

Prior to beginning her national work, Dr. Finley was a faculty member in the department of sociology at Dickinson College. She received a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MA and PhD, both in sociology, from the University of Iowa.

Areas of Expertise:
Advocacy for liberal education, Strategic planning for implementation of high-impact practices and outcomes assessment, Community engagement, Student well-being and intrapersonal development



Janine Graziano

Kingsborough Community College

Janine Graziano wears a number of hats at Kingsborough Community College—She is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, a Professor in the Department of English, and a member of the coordinating team for Kingsborough’s Learning Communities program. Graziano's master’s degree in TESOL and Ph.D in Linguistics (first language acquisition) reflect her interest in language learning, although in the past fifteen years, that interest has expanded to include learning, in general, and integrative learning, in particular. As a result, much of her current work focuses on collaborating with faculty at Kingsborough and across the country to foster and assess students’ integrative thinking in learning communities. It has also been Graziano's pleasure to work with campus teams as Resource Faculty at the National Summer Institute on Learning Communities, and to serve as President of the Learning Communities Association.


Diana López

Diana López

University of Houston-Victoria

Diana López is the author of the adult novella, Sofia's Saints, and of several middle grade novels including Confetti Girl, Choke, Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, and Nothing Up My Sleeve. She also wrote Coco, a Story About Music, Shoes, and Family, which is a novel adaptation of Disney/Pixar's award-winning film. Her book, Choke, was adapted to screen as a film called The Choking Game, which aired on the Lifetime Movie Network in 2014.

López was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas and sets many of her stories in the Coastal Bend region. She attended St. Mary's University in San Antonio, earning a BA in English. She then attended Texas State University in San Marcos where she received an MFA in Creative Writing. Her novella, Sofia's Saints, was her thesis project, and acclaimed author, Dagoberto Gilb, served as her thesis advisor.

López's interest in writing middle grade fiction comes from nearly ten years of working with teens at Horace Mann Middle School in San Antonio where her students often struggled to relate to the district-assigned books. She describes her first MG novel, Confetti Girl, as a gift for her former students.

After learning about the lack of representation for people of color in publishing, López became a literacy advocate working to provide resources for educators looking for culturally relevant material. Some of the activities she's been involved with include joining the librotraficantes in a protest against Tuscon ISD's banning of over forty books by authors of Mexican or Native American descent; creating an instructor's manual for Bedford St. Martin's textbook, Mexican American Literature; serving as managing editor of Huizache, A Magazine of Latino Literature and Art; and speaking at schools, conferences, and festivals. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston-Victoria. A full list of her publications can be found on her website at dianalopezbooks.com.