Conference Speakers

The 2024 Linked Learning Conference promises insights and actions steps critical to college and career readiness—and how we can make the experience more coherent, equitable, and powerful for young people everywhere. Our roster of speakers features innovative practitioners and thought leaders whose voices and perspectives will inspire and illuminate the journey we take with and for our students.

Keynote Speakers

Ben Chida

Ben Chida is Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary and Senior Advisor for Cradle to Career in the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Prior to joining the Governor’s Office, Ben served as Attorney-Advisor in the executive office of then-Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, as a judicial law clerk to federal judges in California and on the D.C. Circuit, and as a third-grade teacher in New York City. Ben’s educational journey includes dropping out of high school, attending Orange Coast College, and receiving a B.A. from UC Berkeley, a teaching certificate in childhood education from Pace University, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Sonya Christian

Sonya Christian, Ph.D., California Community Colleges Chancellor, is a fierce advocate for the life-changing ability of community colleges to reach underserved populations and educate the future workforce. For more than 30 years, Dr. Christian has actively engaged in policies and practices related to state and national completion, quality and equity agendas. She previously served as the Chancellor of the Kern Community College District, where she implemented a call to action with a focus on advancing student success and closing achievement and equity gaps. Dr. Christian is the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education, serving 1.8 million students.

Creslond Fannin

Dr. Creslond Fannin is Executive Director of Early College High School & Pathways in Technology at Austin Independent School District. As a trailblazer in the field of education for over 20 years, Dr. Fannin, an East Texas native, brings a wealth of knowledge to the Office of School Leadership. Dr. Fannin, a servant leader and former adjunct professor at Dallas College, most recently served as District Director of Federal and State Programs and College, Career and Military Readiness for Manor ISD. She also led Parent Engagement and Homeless Education Services for the district. She serves on the TEA Partnership Turnaround Initiative and the Austin Community College District Dual Credit Growth and Sustainability Taskforce to support students’ post-secondary aspirations. She is also the Inaugural President of the Greater Austin Area Alliance of Black School Educators, which is a TABSE /NABSE Affiliate. Dr. Fannin has held various positions in several school districts, including Richardson ISD, Garland ISD and Lancaster ISD. She was a principal for the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center and on faculty at Richland College and Texas A&M University – Commerce. For eight years, Dr. Fannin was the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness at Lancaster ISD with oversight of Advanced Academics, Counseling, CTE and Student Services. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the University Interscholastic League and Communities In Schools Central Texas. Dr. Fannin is a graduate of Baylor University with a master’s degree in Secondary and Higher Education from Texas A&M University - Commerce. and a doctorate degree in Theological Studies with an emphasis on Youth Counseling. She holds a TEA K–12 Superintendent Certification and received credentials as a Certified Product Manager from the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

Juan Jose Gonzalez

Juan Jose Gonzalez, Managing Director of Pathways & Operations at Education Systems Center, is heavily involved in implementing Illinois’ Postsecondary Workforce Readiness Act, State Perkins V Plan, College and Career Pathways Endorsements framework, and developing industry-specific pathways in school districts and communities throughout the state. Juan Jose previously served as the Chicago director for Stand for Children Illinois, leading regional advocacy and policy efforts. Following, he was the director of youth and education policy for the City of Chicago Mayor’s office under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, managing a portfolio that included elementary and secondary education policy, college access, summer employment, and out-of-school time opportunities. Juan Jose received his Bachelor of Arts at Princeton University and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago Harris School. Since 2018, Juan Jose has volunteered as a student mentor with Chicago’s I-Mentor program at Phoenix Military Academy, supporting Chicago students in the college application and transition process. He is an elected parent member of the Chicago Public Schools Local School Council and previously served as an elected community member and council secretary.

Sylvia Symonds

Sylvia Symonds is a senior program officer on the Pathways team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sylvia’s portfolio includes Accelerate ED, an initiative that brings together teams of K–12, postsecondary, and workforce leaders to support more Black, Latino, and students from low-income backgrounds to pursue pathways leading to college and career success. Accelerate ED encompasses a national network, regional accelerators, a national digitally-enabled model, and targeted efforts in specific states and communities. With more than two decades of experience in higher education, her expertise includes cross-sector partnerships, FAFSA completion, family and student engagement, continuous improvement, education technology, college access, student success, and peer coaching. An Arizona native and a first-generation college student, Sylvia received her PhD in Educational Policy and Evaluation from Arizona State University.

Scott Weatherford

Scott Weatherford, Ed.D, is the Executive Director of Universal Pathways at Learning Enterprise. In this role, he manages the Universal Pathways portfolio of Earned Admissions, Accelerate, and the Universal Learner Courses. Most recently, Scott worked with a graduate school of education supervising, supporting, and teaching residents earning their teaching credentials and master’s degrees, and has also taught higher ed courses in teacher education, political science, history, and economics. He supported K–12 organizations bridge to higher ed institutions in a hybrid format to better serve communities, learners, and students and address an acute teacher shortage in critical areas in these communities. Scott began his teaching career at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles and became an Instructional Coach, Assistant Principal, and Principal at schools in Los Angeles and Hawthorne. He oversaw the creation of a professional development institute and annual conference for educators from around the globe while at Da Vinci, serving learners from six different continents. Scott graduated from UCLA with degrees in Economics and History, a Master’s in Education and teaching, and later earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on organizational theory at UCLA as well. When not reading Political Science or Economics treatises, Scott enjoys hanging out with his wife and three wonderful children and being outdoors.

Breakout Sessions

View breakout speakers on the conference app.