Trellis Foundation Summit


Sakshee Chawla

Ms. Sakshee Chawla currently serves as a Senior Policy Analyst at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) where she partners with state higher education leaders to address key strategic priorities. In her role, she manages projects focused on policies such as student success initiatives, direct admissions, digital credentials, and student mental health. She played a critical role in launching the SHEEO-JED Student Mental Health and Wellness learning community where five states are participating in technical assistance to advance student mental health.

Cynthia Ferrell

Dr. Cynthia Ferrell supports the implementation and scaling of the Talent Strong Texas Pathways student success strategy for Texas community colleges. Prior to joining the Texas Success Center, Dr. Ferrell served as Director of Student Success Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, National Director of Leadership Coaching for Achieving the Dream, and Program Director of Developmental Education at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, where she supported the Texas Success Initiative-related policy analysis, implementation, and strategies jointly developed by TACC and the Coordinating Board.

Mike Flores

Dr. Mike Flores assumed the role of chancellor of the Alamo Colleges District in 2018. With more than 20 years of service to the Alamo Colleges District, Dr. Flores possesses the distinction of being the ninth appointed chancellor and the first Hispanic chancellor in the district’s history. Through his leadership, the Alamo Colleges District has launched AlamoPROMISE, a tuition-free college program for graduating high school students in Bexar County and one of the most significant initiatives implemented in the region.

Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr., Lt. Gen. (ret), USAF

Mr. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr. was appointed president of Angelo State University in 2020. He is the second ASU alumnus to serve as president and the first Black president in the history of the institution. A retired Air Force Lieutenant General, President Hawkins is an internationally respected subject-matter expert in leadership, strategic planning, cybersecurity, military matters, and Christian discipleship development. He is the director of Ezra Ministries, pastor of San Angelo’s Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, President/CEO of Hawkins Group, and teaches leadership courses at Angelo State.

Brenda Hellyer, Ed.D.

Dr. Brenda Hellyer serves as the fifth chancellor of San Jacinto College (SJC), the eighth largest community college in the state of Texas and recognized as a national Top-Five College by the Aspen Institute’s Community College Excellence Program. She has served in a variety of roles at SJC including executive vice president for Resource Development, vice chancellor for Fiscal Affairs, and executive vice chancellor before assuming her role as chancellor in 2009.

Tegan Henke, MFT

Ms. Tegan Henke is Senior Vice President of Community Systems Innovation at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute’s Center for Child and Family Wellness. She has a substantial background working in the public mental health system, both as a therapist and in policy and program implementation. Ms. Henke provides leadership and support to the Meadows Institute’s postsecondary portfolio, which supports institutions across Texas as they work to reimagine ways to meet the increased need for mental health services and support among students, faculty, and staff.

Harrison Keller, Ph.D.

Dr. Harisson Keller is the Commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and serves as the CEO of the agency. Prior to this role, he worked at The University of Texas at Austin as Deputy to the President for Strategy and Policy under President Gregory Fenves. He also held the position of Vice Provost for Higher Education Policy and Research. Earlier in his career, Dr. Keller served as Senior Education Policy Advisor and Director of Research for Rep. Tom Craddick during his tenure as Speaker of the Texas House, as well as a project director at UT Austin’s Charles A. Dana Center.

Zainab Okolo, LCMFT

Dr. Zainab Okolo works for The Jed Foundation as their senior vice president of policy, advocacy, and government relations. Dr. Okolo previously served as a strategy officer for student success on Lumina Foundation’s BA Attainment team. She led efforts focused on holistic student supports—including mental health, student parents, and proactive advising.

Sunny Patel, M.D., MPH

Dr. Sunny Patel serves as Senior Advisor for Children, Youth, and Families in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Substance Use and Mental Health. He is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who brings a passion for building equitable public health systems. Dr. Patel has spearheaded health interventions for vulnerable populations in the United States and abroad, including in India, Thailand, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.

Jennielle Médica Strother, Ed.D.

Dr. Jennielle Médica Strother serves as the Assistant Commissioner for Student Success at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board where she is responsible for overseeing student academic and career success through innovative, evidence-based strategies to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed. In this role, her goal is to increase student persistence, retention, college readiness, and completion of postsecondary credentials.

Other Speakers

Jenny Achilles, MPA

Ms. Jenny Achilles is the Senior Program Officer at Trellis Foundation. She joined the Foundation (then Trellis Company/TG) in 2013 with nearly a decade of higher education service in various capacities, including student affairs and study abroad advising. Ms. Achilles serves on local and national committees, such as the Central Texas Education Funders Network steering committee, the Texas Rural Funders Membership & Dues Task Force, and the Grantmakers for Education Learning, Evaluation, and Data Impact Group.

Kristin Boyer, Trellis Foundation Executive Director

Ms. Kristin Boyer leads Trellis Foundation’s efforts to advance equitable postsecondary outcomes for students across Texas. Her recent professional service includes several terms as an Advisory Committee member for the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education – the research arm of the Council for Opportunity in Education, chairing the Latino Student Success Funders Group, and serving as leadership committee chair of Philanthropy Advocates, a funders’ organization that informs policy and legislation in Texas. Prior to joining the Trellis Foundation at its inception in 2017, Kristin served as the director of the public benefit grant program for TG (now Trellis Company).

Leilani Lamb, MPAff, MPH

Ms. Leilani Lamb is the Director of Cross System Policy and Practice at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. She has years of experience working at the intersection of higher education programs, health systems, and K-12 policy. Mental health is critical to student success, but students do not exist in siloes. Ms. Lamb works with partners across systems to translate their evidence-based programmatic successes into sustainable, scalable transformations that support the health and wellbeing of students in their communities.

Mark Milliron, Ph.D.

Dr. Mark Milliron is the immediate past chair of the Trellis Foundation board of directors and current member. He serves as President and CEO of National University (NU). Prior to his presidency at NU, Dr. Milliron served as Senior Vice President of Western Governors University (WGU) & Executive Dean of the Teachers College. Previous roles have included serving as the co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning; deputy director for Postsecondary Improvement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and endowed fellow and director of the National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development at The University of Texas at Austin.

Richard Rhodes, Ph.D.

Dr. Richard Rhodes is interim president at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. He previously served as chancellor of the Austin Community College District, having served as its chief executive since in September 2011. In that time, Dr. Rhodes has worked to improve pathways into higher education, strengthen awareness of the community college mission, and give students the tools to accomplish their educational, professional, and personal goals. He also serves on the boards of many national and local organizations including Trellis Foundation and Trellis Company.

Dora Ann Verde

Ms. Dora Ann Verde is a Certified Public Accountant with a private practice in San Antonio that exclusively serves nonprofit organizations. Previously, she served as chief of internal audit for the San Antonio Water System and was a partner in a public accounting firm. Her community involvement includes board service for many nonprofit organizations. She is also a member of Impact San Antonio, a women’s giving group, and two women’s networking groups, SA100 and Oakes Club.

Suzanne Walsh, J.D.

Ms. Suzanne Walsh serves on the Trellis Foundation board of directors and is the current president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She previously served in leadership roles with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and The Heinz Endowments. She has published or edited several books and journal articles on the topic of educational transformation and is the recipient of numerous awards, honors, and fellowships.