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Conference Guest Speakers
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Saturday, November 2 – Monday, November 4

2019 Conference Guest Speakers

Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart was named President for Amarillo College in 2014. AC received the 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award as one of the top student success institutions in the Achieving the Dream Network. Amarillo College’s work on poverty was featured in The Atlantic (June 2018). Russell’s leadership is focused on improving student success through systemic and cultural change by empowering the student voice in redesigning higher education. While his calling is education reform, his passion is family. His wife, Tara, sons Christopher and Campbell, daughter, Cadence fill his life with beauty and joy.


Since July 2013 Dr. Penny Rue, has served as the Vice President for Campus Life and Professor of Counseling at Wake Forest University. She is broadly responsible for the well-being and safety of students and their education outside the classroom.

Dr. Rue served as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of California San Diego for six years and for eight years as Dean of Students at UVA. She is nationally known for her creative leadership in strengthening campus communities. She served for five years as Senior Associate Dean of Students at Georgetown University and for seven years as Georgetown's Director of Student Programs. 

Earlier in her career she held posts at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at this University (The University of Maryland). In the early 80’s she served as the Assistant Director of Campus Activities as well as Coordinator of the National Clearinghouse for Commuter Programs. Most significantly and proudly, Dr. Rue obtained her doctorate degree in Counseling and Personnel Services from this University (The University of Maryland), where her dissertation research focused on a conceptual study of community on the college campus. 

She has a Master’s degree in student personnel services from The Ohio State University, from which she received the Maude Stewart Outstanding Alumna Award in 2011, and an A.B. magna cum laude in English and Religion from Duke University.  In 2011 she was named a Pillar of the Profession by the NASPA Foundation. She has served as the Public Policy Division Chair and most recently Chair of the NASPA Board of Directors.

Outside of work she loves swimming, gardening and cats.  


Dr. Dhanfu E. Elston (pronounced: dah-nee-foo) serves as Complete College America’s (CCA) Vice President for Strategy where he utilizes his national and campus expertise for practical application, implementation, and scaling of CCA strategies at institutions throughout the United States. He provides oversight of national partnerships, pathways initiatives, the Purpose First career choice grant, 15 To Finish national campaign, technology Seal of Approval, and scaling standards to close achievement gaps. He coordinates relationships with Governor’s Offices and higher education state-wide systems in their college completion efforts. Recently, he launched a national initiative with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to amplify completion efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions. Over two decades of his higher education career in academic and student affairs, Elston has created and implemented comprehensive success and retention programs that have garnered national attention. He has been recognized as a champion of college completion policy initiatives at institutions that educate highly diverse and underrepresented student populations.

Prior to his current role with CCA, Dr. Elston held the position of Executive Director of Student Success and Transition at Purdue University Calumet (now Purdue Northwest). Under Elston’s leadership, Purdue Calumet experienced exponential gains in first-year retention, graduation rates, and enrolled credit hours. In addition, enhancements made to campus-wide academic advisement processes led to the receipt of the Education Advisory Board’s inaugural Data-Driven Impact Award for utilization of predictive analytics.

Elston has also served Georgia State University, which is nationally recognized as a model for collegiate academic success, as the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies. Earlier in his career, he held positions in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Georgia State and Clark Atlanta University where he led Greek Life, student activities, and leadership development functional areas. During his tenure at each institution, Dr. Elston held faculty appointments and was responsible for teaching and the development of first-year experience course curricula.

Dr. Elston earned a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University where he conducted research in student retention, intercultural relations, learning communities, leadership development, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He earned both an M.A. in Educational Leadership and B.S. in Biology from Clark Atlanta University.

Elston is a member of and has held leadership roles in numerous professional associations, including NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (past Chairperson of the African American Knowledge Community), Association of Fraternal & Leadership Values (Board Member), NACADA: The Global Advising Community, LeaderShape, Inc., American Educational Research Association, Golden Key International Honour Society, Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. He is a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.


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The mission of the Southern Association for College Student Affairs is to advance:
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  • Scholarship, research, and ethical practice; and
  • Understanding of issues impacting students and the student affairs profession, while fostering our core values of inclusiveness, professionalism, and collegiality.