Southeastern Council on Military Education


David Chrisinger
Keynote Address:
Bridging the Divide: Finding Ways to Help Military-Connected Students Feel at Home

David Chrisinger is a Communication and Veteran Transition Specialist who believes everyone has a story to tell and that it’s imperative each of these stories is told in a way that leads to connection and understanding. To that end, he teaches a veteran reintegration course at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to help his students tell their stories of war and coming home. He also edited a collection of essays, See Me for Who I Am, that brings together 20 young student veterans working to bridge the cultural gap that divides them from the American people they fought to protect. In addition, he founded and manages a website, Stronger at the Broken Places, that examines the veteran experience throughout American history and regularly features stories written by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David also teaches introductory public policy writing to graduate students in the Master of Public Policy program in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and serves as a Senior Communication Specialist at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, where he helps write informative and persuasive policy reports for the United States Congress.

George "Bill" Ayers, LCSW, PhD

Mental Health Needs of Veteran Students: The University Responsibility 

Dr. Bill Ayers retired as a Colonel in December 1999 after 42 years of service in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He served in Viet Nam and the first Golf War where he developed a prevention program for Post Traumatic Disorder for which he received the Legion of Merit Award. For over 50 years, he has taught undergraduate and graduate coursework focusing on social work, sociology and criminology and he currently teaches for Webster University at MCAB Camp Lejeune. He enjoyed a long career in Public Mental Health until 2003 when he retired from his position Deputy Director of Education, Training and Research with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. 

Alison Hansen

Military Spouse Education Initiative

Alison Hansen is an Associate Director in the Office of Military and Veteran Education at Thomas Edison State College. Prior to entering the world of Military Education, she was a Single Sailor Program Coordinator at Subase New London in Connecticut and then Recreation Director onboard a submarine tender home ported in La Maddalena, Italy. During her time in Italy, she was part of “Ships Company,” living the life of a sailor while waring civilian clothes.

After Italy, Mrs. Hansen followed her (newly acquired) Active Duty husband to Hawaii where she was the NCPACE Coordinator on Naval Base Pearl Harbor for Central Texas College. Connecticut was their next homeport, where she began her career with Thomas Edison State College, first as a Regional base Counselor and then as an Associate Director.

Mrs. Hansen’s Active Duty Navy husband is currently assigned to the Naval Submarine School located on Subase New London in Groton, Connecticut where they are raising their two small children. She currently serves as the Treasurer of the Southeastern Council on Military Education (SECOME), a multi-state organization representing North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. She graduated from Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science with a minor in Outdoor Recreation and from the State University of New York at Cortland with a Master of Science in Recreation. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Business Administration from Thomas Edison State College.

Sue Jackson 

Federal & State Governments and Credentialing Bodies Partner for Advancement, Transition and Portability Success

Sue Jackson, Director of Market Development Government and Military serves as Pearson VUE’s primary liaison with the US Federal Government and military. Sue has extensive experience working with virtually every branch of the military and the supporting civilian and contractor community. She was integral in establishing computer-based delivery of industry-leading academic and professional credentialing exams at Education and National Testing Centers on US military installations across the globe. Sue is Pearson VUE’s resident expert on DoD Directive 8570 and continues to support DoD initiatives in professionalization and transition preparation for our troops. She is a frequently invited speaker at military conferences, working groups and committee meetings.

John Kamin

National Veterans Employment & Education Division

John currently serves as Assistant Director, Veterans Employment & Economic Division at The American Legion. In this capacity he is responsible for crafting American Legion program development and policy analysis for  education, licensing and credentialing issues affecting veterans, service members and military families.  Prior to The American Legion, John served for 5 years with Student Veterans of America, advancing from student chapter leader at American University to Director of Administration on their national staff. His accomplishments at SVA include: planning Washington DC’s first student veteran leadership summit, directing SVA’s National Veterans Center grant, creating SVA’s Student Veteran Math Boot Camp and Warpaint veteran arts competition, and planning SVA’s 2016 National Conference. John continues to serve in the Army Reserve as a Psychological Operations Team Leader.

Wendy Lang 

Operation College Promise: Supporting the Transition and Post-Secondary Advancement of Student Veterans

Wendy worked in education policy in New Jersey state government for 10 years including serving as a Research Associate in the New Jersey Senate and later as a Policy Advisor to Governor Christie Todd Whitman. She is the founder and Director of OCP, managing its professional development training, programming, public relations and partnership development. OCP launched one of the first websites designed for veterans and service providers; published the nation’s first “Field Guide” for veterans’ service providers; and developed the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) training

Wendy published landmark research on student veterans’ progress toward degree attainment in the Post-9/11 era. The “Completing the Mission” reports have been widely cited in various articles and journals. Wendy’s work with OCP has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chronicle on Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Military Advanced Education, NBC, Fox News, NPR and CNN, among others. She regularly presents at conferences across the country on best practices for supporting student veterans in higher education.

Wendy received her BA in Political Science and MA in International Affairs from Drew University. She is a lifelong equestrian and has competed in nationally-ranked competitions since her teenage years.

Jerome Marshall, 

VA Education Benefits & VA Work Study 

Jani McGee

Military OneSource

Military OneSource State Consultant

Military OneSource has numerous presentations available on their website for your review, 

Ilario Pantano

Syracuse University, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, AmericaServes Program

Ilario Pantano is senior director of community service at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) in support of the Programs and Services portfolio. His focus is designing and leading strategic partnerships with federal, state, and community-based organizations, funders and staff to effectively plan, develop, and deliver improved supportive services for veteran families located nationwide.

Prior to joining the IVMF, Pantano was a nationally recognized State Director of Veterans Affairs for North Carolina, home to the 4th largest active military presence in America. His advocacy of veteran issues contributed to the creation of a cabinet-level Department in 2015, where he served as Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs. Pantano also co-founded and served as Vice-Chair of the “Governor’s Working Group on Veterans Service Members and their Families,” a groundbreaking model for inter-agency collaboration and communication (

Working collaboratively, Pantano’s leadership helped to grow North Carolina’s veteran portfolio by over $1.2 Billion, one of the fastest growth rates in the country. He and his team were instrumental in cutting veteran unemployment and reducing veteran homelessness via innovative new public/private partnerships to leverage existing services and enhance them with private sector funding, such as North Carolina for Military Employment ( Pantano and his team created a nationally recognized Resource Guide, companion website and call center ( & (844) NC4-VETS) to provide veterans a “one-stop-shop” experience.  He early-adopted CRM technologies ( at the state level to accelerate service delivery, accountability and customer satisfaction and he partnered with Duke University School of Medicine Evidence Based Practice Center (Duke/EPIC) to provide enhanced clinical tools and cultural competency support to veteran service providers.

A former Marine Scout Sniper, Ilario was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where he graduated from the Horace Mann School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1989. He fought in Operation Desert Storm and led a sniper team in Operation Provide Promise (relief of Ex-Yugoslavia) before graduating from NYU and trading commodities for Goldman Sachs. It was as a media entrepreneur that Pantano witnessed the attacks of 9/11 from the streets of NYC. The building where he had worked (4WTC) was destroyed. Pantano rejoined the Marines as officer and led an infantry platoon in the first fight for Falluja, Iraq (2004).

Pantano’s first book, Warlord, was published by Simon & Schuster and recounts his frontline combat experiences in two wars.  His second book is on the American Revolution in the Southern Colonies and his numerous articles and profiles have appeared in American Legion Magazine, Los Angeles Times, National Journal, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, TIME Magazine, Washington Post, Washington Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He has provided military commentary on CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews. A husband and father of two boys in a family of avid Crossfitters, Pantano is a 3-gun competitor and IronMan triathlete who still volunteers as a chaplain in the county jail where he lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Amanda Parkstone

Veterans Upward Bound Program

Amanda Parkstone is the Interim Director of the Veterans Upward Bound - TRiO program in North Carolina. Prior to her current role, 

Amanda was the Transfer and Military Admissions Coordinator at UNC Wilmington. Her previous professional experience includes over 5 years in nonprofit management while living in Southern California.

A proud Army wife, her husband is an active duty Special Operations Staff Sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Mrs. Parkstone graduated from UNC Wilmington in 2011 with a degree in Art History and Classical Studies and is currently working on her thesis in the M.A. Liberal Studies at UNC Wilmington with an anticipated graduation date of May 2017.

Mrs. Parkstone also serves as the Vice President of the Southeastern Council on Military Education (SECOME).

Taheesha Quarells


Ms. Taheesha Quarells is a U.S. Army veteran with over 15 years of experience in expanding academic and career development opportunities for military members and veterans.

She has served in numerous roles at the local, state, and federal level in the areas of veterans employment, vocational resource development, employer services, education counseling, program and project management. While at DANTES, she has served in several capacities to include the Examinations Program Operations Manager, Education Programs Project Manager, and the Military Evaluations Program Manager. She has recently assumed the Communications and Outreach Division Head role where she is building DANTES’ capacity to deliver key messages about Defense education programs to Service members and the Voluntary Education community.

Ms. Quarells has experience as both an active duty military and veteran student while completing her Bachelors and Masters degrees. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate for a Ph.D. in Human Capital and Economic Development.

Michelle Spires

American Council on Education (ACE)

Ms. Michele Spires currently serves as the Director, Military Programs with the American Council on Education. She brings more than 20 years of extensive experience in both military and adult education, including curriculum, course design, development, and execution, incorporating facets of distance learning and program service structures.

With an active leadership voice in the evaluation of postsecondary learning acquired through formal military/corporate training and military occupational experiences, Spires leads academic teams for site evaluation visits and is a frequent speaker at national, state, and local conferences, addressing topics that range from the evaluation process, prior learning assessment, services for the military-connected student, and transfer credit practices.

She holds a BA in French and an MS in Educational Leadership. She has also completed post-graduate courses with a focus on adult education and curriculum. Ms. Spires is also the proud spouse of a 22-year veteran, United States Air Force.

Dr. Joe Wescott

The Role of the SAA as it Pertains to Higher Education

Joseph W. Wescott II (Joe) was appointed Legislative Director of the National Association of State Approving Agencies in August 2015. Previous to that, he served four years as NASAA President and Vice President, while simultaneously working on the NASAA Legislative Committee. Wescott was appointed Executive Director of the North Carolina State Approving Agency (NCSAA) in Raleigh North Carolina on September 14, 2009 by the UNC System Board of Governors, at the recommendation of then system president Erskine Bowles. The fourth Executive Director since the agency was established in 1947; Dr. Wescott had previously served three years as an agency program specialist. As Executive Director, he oversees over 280 institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina ensuring quality educational programming for veterans and their eligible dependents. Prior to his appointment, Wescott served in various leadership roles in higher education including director of the office of Planning, Policy and Evaluation at Brunswick Community College, federal relations analyst/government relations representative for Duke University and an adjunct instructor at several colleges and professional organizations. Dr. Wescott is a veteran, having served on active duty as a combat officer in the US Army. Earlier, he attended Wake Forest University on a four year Army ROTC scholarship, graduating with honors. He holds advanced degrees from Wake Forest University and North Carolina State University, including the doctorate in Higher Education Administration. In addition to other duties, Wescott serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy, Adult and Higher Education at NC State University. He serves on numerous national boards and state committees, including the NASAA Executive Board, NC Proprietary Schools Advisory Board, and the Governor’s Working Group on Veterans, Service Members and their Families. Dr. Wescott has written several articles and books on history and higher education topics including the history of the North Carolina Community College system, which was published last year.

Dr. Jonathan Woods

Department of Defense Voluntary Education Programs, Q&A

Jonathan Woods is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He holds academic degrees in general studies from Reedley College, adult learning from Southern Illinois University, business from Jacksonville University, and educational administration from the University of Florida. Professionally, Dr. Woods has served as university faculty, as curriculum developer, and as branch head, regional director, and policy chief for Navy education and training programs. Currently, he serves on the staff of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Force Education and Training, where he is the deputy to the Voluntary Education Chief and coordinates the Compliance, Research, and Reporting portfolios.

Dr. Woods has lectured for multiple universities in the educational disciplines of learning technology, instructional design, performance analysis, assessment, and evaluation. His decorations include the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Medal (two awards), the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and several unit and campaign awards. At home he and Inga are thoroughly enjoying raising their three young children on their micro farm in Northern Virginia.