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National Rural Education Association


National Forum to Advance Rural Education October 20-21, 2022

Keynote speakers

Eric Sheninger

Eric Sheninger, Author and Senior Fellow on Digital Leadership, International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE)
Eric works with schools throughout the world helping educators meet and exceed their potential to improve outcomes for learners. Prior to this, he was the award-winning principal at New Milford High School. Under his leadership, his school became a globally recognized model for innovative practices. Eric has emerged as an innovative leader, best-selling author, and sought-after speaker. His main focus is using research and evidence-based practices to empower learners, improve communications with stakeholders, enhance public relations, create a positive brand presence, discover opportunities, transform learning spaces, and help educators grow professionally in the digital age.

Benjamin Winchester

Benjamin Winchester, Rural Sociologist
Ben has been working in and for small towns across the Midwest for over twenty-five years. Ben trained as a rural sociologist and works as a senior research fellow for the University of Minnesota extension. His applied research on economic, social, and demographic topics surrounding a theme of “rewriting the rural narrative” is a new way of looking at rural America. He recently received the International Rural Renewal Research Prize in 2021 for this work. He was a founding employee at the Center for Small Towns, an outreach and engagement program at the University of Minnesota, and specializes in community development, demographic analysis, data visualization, and moving communities away from anecdata.

Gerry Brooks

Gerry Brooks, Principal and Motivational Speaker
Gerry Brooks is a veteran educator in Lexington, Kentucky. His educational experience includes six years in the classroom, two years as an intervention specialist, and twelve years as an administrator. He is a passionate public speaker whose focus is on encouraging teachers to improve their instruction through personal climate and culture strategies. He desires to help administrators focus on how to lead all staff in a positive and constructive manner. His following on social media has developed through humorous videos that focus on real-world educational experiences. He is currently followed on social media sites by over 500,000 people.

Panel Discussion: Raising Rural: A Fair Chance to Live a Good Life

Sweeney Windchief

Sweeney Windchief, Associate Professor in Education, Montana State University
Sweeney Windchief’s (Fort Peck Assiniboine) primary research area includes higher education, specifically under the umbrella of indigenous intellectualism. His most recent scholarship has been around Indigenous research, mentoring American Indian and Alaska Native graduate students in STEM and epistemological pluralism. His teaching privileges include critical race theory, indigenous methodologies in research, law and policy in higher education, and institutional research. He was named the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award from Montana State University in 2020, Outstanding Faculty for Scholarship and Discovery from Montana State University Department of Education in 2017, and most recently was selected as a Montana University System Teaching Scholar in 2021. He received his Ed.D. in educational leadership and policy from the University of Utah in 2011.

Sheneka Williams

Sheneka Williams, Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Educational Administration, Michigan State University
Prior to accepting a position at Michigan State University, Dr. Williams spent the first 13 years of her academic career at the University of Georgia. Having grown up in rural Alabama, Dr. Williams has a keen interest in the lives and educational experiences of African Americans who live in rural contexts. Hence, her current research has two main foci: rural education and school desegregation. Her rural research is published in a co-edited book, Educational Opportunity in Rural Contexts: The Politics of Place, and she has recent works published in AERA Open and a forthcoming chapter in the Handbook of Rural Education. She has also published a chapter titled Strong Rural Learners in Cultivating Rural Education: A People-focused Approach for States. Dr. Williams has also been a guest contributor to podcasts that feature rural education. Dr. Williams’s school desegregation research has been published in Educational Policy, Peabody Journal of Education, and Urban Education. In 2019, she guest-edited an issue of the Peabody Journal of Education that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her research and contemporary perspectives concerning Brown have also been highlighted in interviews with NPR’s On Point and Don Lemon’s (of CNN) Silence is Not an Option podcast. Dr. Williams is the vice president for Division L of the American Educational Research Association where she also serves on the nominating committee for the Rural Special Interest Group.