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Keynote presenters

Dr. E. Christine Baker-Smith O’Malley is senior research manager of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University (Philadelphia). Previously, she was a lecturer in the Social Sciences M.A. program at Columbia University and an education policy analyst for the New York City Independent Budget Office. Christine is trained in mixed-methods research and causal inference with a focus on student social and academic engagement across schooling transitions. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology of education from New York University; an Ed.M. in leadership, policy and politics from Teachers College, Columbia University; a master’s in social sciences of education from Stanford University; and a bachelor’s in sociology from Whitman College.

Marissa Meyers is a practitioner-researcher for the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University (Philadelphia). Previously, she worked as a special projects manager for integrated health services at Public Health Management Corporation, a program manager for The Moyer Foundation, and an admissions counselor at University of Pennsylvania. She serves on the boards and advisory councils of many Philadelphia organizations addressing food insecurity, foster care and trauma-informed practice. Marissa holds a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership from University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s in psychology from Rosemont College.

David Croom is assistant director for postsecondary achievement and innovation of Ascend at The Aspen Institute (Washington, D.C.). His expertise and interest are in racial equity, student finance and federal policy as it relates to adult students. Prior to Ascend, David worked at Education Design Lab, where he led an institutional engagement with United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative, and served as a strategy officer for Lumina Foundation, where he focused on federal policy and issues pertaining to postsecondary finance, both toward the goal of increased attainment of high-quality credentials. David holds a master’s degree in public policy from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Leila Costa is sustainability manager for Sodexo (Atlanta), designing and piloting new sustainability offers and supporting existing sustainability initiatives. Previously, she was a sales associate for EcoLogic Solutions, a green chemistry cleaning and maintenance startup. She also has consulted on sustainability projects for The Dannon Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Leila received her master's degree in environmental management from Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. As a result of her experience, she has successfully developed green products, sustainable purchasing criteria, energy management programs, local purchasing initiatives, waste reduction programs, environmental impact analyses, and green marketing campaigns.

Rachel Sumekh is chief executive officer and founder of Swipe Out Hunger, an organization started in 2010 by a few friends at University of California, Los Angeles. Under her leadership, the organization has grown onto 75 universities, serving over 1.6 million meals to date. Swipe Out Hunger’s innovative approach allows students to donate their meal credits to support food-insecure peers. The organization has written legislation leading to over $20 million to end hunger on campus and is widely considered to be the leading nonprofit in addressing hunger among college students. Rachel's entrepreneurship has been recognized by former President Barack Obama’s administration and landed her on Forbes' 2017 "30 Under 30" list.


Patricia Thompson is assistant vice chancellor for Student Financial Aid Services at State University of New York (SUNY) system administration. Currently she leads SUNY’s Smart Track Initiative, an innovative and comprehensive university-wide approach to default prevention through student retention. Prior to joining SUNY, she spent over 20 years at Higher Education Services Corporation, serving in various capacities relating to the administration of New York Sstate and federal financial aid programs. She also served as administrator for two federally sponsored grant programs: Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs and College Access Challenge Grant. Patricia holds a master’s degree in public administration from Sage Graduate Schools and a bachelor’s from SUNY Fredonia.

Dr. Leah Wentworth serves as director of Health Initiatives and Research within the Office of Academic Health and Hospital Affairs at State University of New York system administration. She has over 10 years of experience managing and evaluating public health and injury prevention programs, with service in local and state government and academia. She holds a Ph.D. in occupational and environmental health from University of Iowa, a master’s degree in health policy and management from University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and a bachelor’s in community planning from University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Susan Zimet is special assistant/Food & Anti-Hunger Policy coordinator, appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early 2019, for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. She works with various state agencies, stakeholder groups and the Anti-Hunger Task Force to implement new initiatives and to enhance existing activities that will help close the gap for many New Yorkers in need of healthy options. Previously, she was executive director for the Hunger Action Network of New York. In that capacity, she was instrumental in securing a multimillion-dollar increase in the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, passage of the Farm to Food Bank, and School to Emergency Feeding Program legislation. Susan also held elected office as an Ulster County legislator and New Paltz town supervisor and taught at SUNY New Paltz.

Joi Bass Smith is associate director of partnerships and programs at Single Stop USA, a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting low-income families to benefits, resources and supports to provide upward mobility and break the cycle of poverty. Studying psychology at University of Illinois at Chicago has prepared her for the many post-college jobs she's had, including magazine creator and editor, training specialist at a management consulting firm, fundraiser for grassroots campaigns, and community organizer for a national political campaign.

Dr. Mitch Gruber is chief program officer at Foodlink Inc., the regional food bank of the Finger Lakes. He completed a Ph.D. in urban history from University of Rochester, focusing on the transformation of food retail during the 20th century. He is also a member of Rochester City Council.

Brendan J. Caluneo studied criminal justice and business administration at Hudson Valley Community College. While attending HVCC, he advocated for students and education across New York state, having served as a member of the Hudson Valley Board of Trustees and chair of community colleges for the State University of New York Student Assembly this past year. In early 2018, he was appointed to the SUNY Food Insecurity Task Force and currently serves as co-chair of the Student Life Committee with Dr. Jeffrey Putman, vice president for Academic & Student Affairs at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This fall, Brendan will attend University at Albany majoring in homeland security, cybersecurity, and emergency preparedness with a minor in informatics.

Dan Egan is executive director of Feeding New York State, the food bank association of New York. Dan served 31 years at the New York State Department of Health, working in the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, the Newborn Screening Program, the Division of Genetics, and the Division of Laboratory Quality Certification. In addition, he volunteered for six years on the board of education in the city of Albany, serving as president for three of those years. He also served in the New York Army National Guard as an infantry platoon leader. Dan holds an MBA from University at Albany, a master’s degree in education from University of Massachusetts, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Siena College.

Gretchen Wood, CFRE, is chief advancement officer and executive director of the Monroe Community College Foundation. She oversees a comprehensive fundraising program in support of the college led by a volunteer board of 54 business and community leaders and a staff of 13 dedicated professionals. Gretchen has worked in the fundraising field for more than 20 years and holds a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in nonprofit management from The College at Brockport and a bachelor’s in English and English education from Syracuse University. She serves on the State University of New York Community College Chief Advancement Officers Retreat planning committee.