Trellis Foundation Summit

About Speakers and Moderators


Peter Beard, J.D.

Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development, Greater Houston Partnership

Peter BeardPeter Beard serves as Senior Vice President for Regional Workforce Development at the Greater Houston Partnership whose mission is to make the Houston region the best place to live, work and build a business. He leads the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative—a business led effort that engages more than 200 employers, educational institutions, community-based organizations, and the public workforce system. UpSkill Houston works to ensure that the region’s businesses have access to workers that have skills and credentials for advanced and technical careers and occupations that require education beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Beard is a Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) faculty member and Fellow at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and is a senior fellow with the American Leadership Forum in Houston, TX.

Prior to joining Greater Houston Partnership, Beard served in executive roles at United Way Worldwide (Alexandria, VA) and the Fannie Mae Foundation (Washington, D.C.). Prior to Fannie Mae Foundation, he served as the general counsel at Habitat for Humanity International (Americus, GA), and was in private legal practice at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (Baltimore, MD).

Beard received his A.B. in economics from Davidson College (NC) and J.D. (magna cum laude) from Syracuse University College of Law (NY).

Session: Regional Perspectives on the Value of Collaboration at 1:30 p.m.

Tamara Clunis, Ph.D.

Vice President of Academic Affairs, Amarillo College

Tamara ClunisDr. Tamara Thornton Clunis is Vice President of Academic Affairs at Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas. She served as the inaugural dean of academic success at Amarillo College for six years prior to her current role. As the chief academic officer, she is deeply committed to her role as faculty advocate and works with higher education leaders to partner with faculty in student success efforts. Her favorite quote, “I do not believe academic leaders and faculty need to have an adversarial relationship. Partnership is key!” She considers integrated student support and teaching and learning her specialty. She has deep experience with developmental education reform (DE) and adult basic education (ABE) integration within community college settings. Her model for DE reform and ABE integration is recognized for excellence by the US Department of Education and the Texas Workforce Commission.

She has partner relationships with Jobs for the Future, Texas Dana Center, Texas Success Center, Higher Education Learning Network, AVID for Higher Education, and the Texas Peer Mentor Network for Community Colleges. She is a member of the statewide Chief Academic Officers Council with the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Prior to joining Amarillo College, Dr. Clunis worked as the Director of Developmental and Adult Education at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She taught developmental education and learning framework courses for 18 years in two and four-year institutions. She is an Aspen Rising President Fellow 2020-2021 (cohort 5).

Dr. Clunis earned her bachelor’s degree in history from The University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in Developmental and Adult Education from Texas State University, and a Ph.D. in Adult, Professional, and Community Education from Texas State University-San Marcos.

Session: Regional Perspectives on the Value of Collaboration at 1:30 p.m.

Bryan Daniel

Chairman, Texas Workforce Commission

Bryan DanielBryan Daniel serves as Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission where he works to promote and support the growth of Texas’ world class employers and talented workforce. To champion that goal, he advances innovative workforce and economic development strategies in collaboration with TWC’s education partners, local leaders, and industry to preserve Texas’ competitive edge as the best place to work in the world. Prior to his appointment, Chair Daniel led Governor Abbott’s Economic Development and Tourism team following terms as Texas State Director for Rural Development at USDA and Chief Administrator for Trade and Business Development at the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Chair Daniel is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Communications and a Master of Science in Agricultural Education.

Session: Texas Perspectives on the Value of Alignment – Tri-Agency Commissioners’ Panel at 11:30 a.m.

Mildred García, Ph.D.

President, American Association of State Colleges and Universities

Mildred GarciaDr. Mildred García assumed the presidency of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) on January 22, 2018. As AASCU’s president, Dr. García is an advocate for public higher education at the national level, working to influence federal policy and regulations on behalf of nearly 400 member colleges and universities; serving as a resource to presidents and chancellors as they address state policy and emerging campus issues; developing collaborative partnerships and initiatives that advance public higher education; directing a strategic agenda that focuses on public college and university leadership for the 21st century; and providing professional development opportunities for presidents, chancellors, and their spouses. She is the first Latina to lead one of the six presidentially based higher education associations in Washington, D.C.

A first‐generation college student, Dr. García earned a Doctor of Education and an M.A. in Higher Education Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University; an M.A. in Business Education/Higher Education from New York University; a B.S. in Business Education from Baruch College, City University of New York; and an A.A.S. from New York City Community College.

Session: National Perspectives on the Value of Higher Ed – A Conversation at 10:30 a.m.

Harrison Keller, Ph.D.

Commissioner, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Harrison KellerDr. Harrison Keller is the Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Texas. He is a sixth-generation Texan with more than two decades of experience in educational budget and policy, digital learning, senior university administration, management, fundraising, and building effective coalitions among school districts, community colleges, universities, systems, and policymakers.

Dr. Keller’s appointment as the sixth Commissioner of Higher Education and chief executive officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was effective October 1, 2019.

Dr. Keller is a recognized innovator in policy and programs to improve college readiness and student success, especially for low-income and first-generation students. He is the founder and was Principal Investigator of the OnRamps dual enrollment initiative that provides college-level courses to tens of thousands of high school students across the state of Texas, and the Texas OnCourse initiative that works with Governor Greg Abbott’s Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative to improve secondary college and career advising across the state.

He came to the Coordinating Board from The University of Texas at Austin, where he was Deputy to the President for Strategy and Policy and a Professor of Practice. Dr. Keller also served at UT Austin as Vice Provost for Higher Education Policy and Research, and Executive Director of the Office of Educational Innovation and the Center for Teaching and Learning. Prior to coming to UT Austin, Dr. Keller was Director of Research for the Texas House of Representatives and Senior Education Advisor for the Speaker of the Texas House.

Dr. Keller has taught at Georgetown University, St. Edward’s University, and the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Georgetown University. He and his wife, Gena Nivens Keller, live in Austin with their three children.

Session: Texas Perspectives on the Value of Alignment – Tri-Agency Commissioners’ Panel at 11:30 a.m.

Mark Milliron, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President and Executive Dean of the Teachers College for Western Governors University, and Chair of the Trellis Foundation Board of Directors

An image of Trellis Foundation Board Member Mark Milliron.Dr. Mark Milliron serves as Senior Vice President of Western Governors University (WGU) & Executive Dean of the Teachers College. WGU is a nonprofit university founded by 19 U.S. governors more than 25 years ago. In previous roles, Dr. Milliron served as the co-founder and Chief Learning Officer of Civitas Learning; Deputy Director for Postsecondary Improvement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; founding chancellor of WGU Texas; Endowed Fellow and director of the National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice President for Education and Medical Practice with SAS; and President and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College. He is a member of numerous boards and advisory groups.

Dr. Milliron received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organizational communication from Arizona State University and his doctorate in education administration from The University of Texas at Austin.

Session: Reflections and Close at 2:15 p.m.

Mike Morath

Commissioner, Texas Education Agency

Mike MorathMike Morath was appointed Texas Commissioner of Education by Gov. Greg Abbott in December 2015 and took office in January 2016. As Commissioner, he heads the Texas Education Agency, which oversees pre-kindergarten through high school education for more than five million students enrolled in both traditional public schools and charter schools. Prior to becoming the state’s Education Commissioner, Morath served on the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees for more than four years. During that time, he focused on academic improvements. And by his final year on the board, DISD witnessed dramatic improvement in the areas of kindergarten readiness, fourth grade math proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, high school graduation rates, and minority student performance on Advanced Placement tests that outpaced all large urban districts in the country. A strong advocate of public education, Commissioner Morath graduated from Garland High School in the Garland Independent School District. And thanks to the great public school education he received in Texas, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, summa cum laude, from George Washington University in two-and-a-half years.

Session: Texas Perspectives on the Value of Alignment – Tri-Agency Commissioners’ Panel at 11:30 a.m.

Richard Rhodes, Ph.D.

Chancellor of Austin Community College and Immediate Past Chair of Trellis Foundation Board of Directors

An image of Trellis Foundation Board Member Dr. Richard Rhodes.Since joining the Austin Community College District, where he serves as Chancellor, in September 2011, 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 Company, Chair of the American Association of Community Colleges, Member of the League for Innovation, Governor appointment to Texas Workforce Investment Council, and a member of the Association of Governing Boards – Presidents Council.

Dr. Rhodes holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration in accounting and a Master of Arts degree in educational management and development from New Mexico State University. He earned his doctorate through the Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas at Austin where he received the Distinguished Graduate Award. Dr. Rhodes is also a Certified Public Accountant in Texas and New Mexico.

Session: Welcome Remarks at 9:45 a.m.

Margaret Spellings

President/CEO, Texas 2036 and former U.S. Secretary of Education

Margaret SpellingsMargaret Spellings serves as President and CEO of Texas 2036, bringing with her knowledge and experience developed over an exceptional career in public service at both the state and national level. Most recently, Spellings served as the president of the 17-institution University of North Carolina System, leading the state’s public university into a new period of performance, affordability, and growth with a focus on improving economic mobility, ensuring accountability, and advancing the public good. Prior to that, Spellings served as president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas, where she oversaw programs on economic opportunity, education reform, global health, and special initiatives on women’s leadership and military service.

From 2005 to 2009, Spellings served as U.S. Secretary of Education, leading the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, a bipartisan initiative to provide greater accountability for the education of 50 million U.S. public school students. As secretary, she also launched the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a plan to address challenges of access, affordability, quality, and accountability in our nation’s colleges and universities. Prior to serving as Secretary, Spellings served as White House domestic policy advisor from 2001 to 2005, overseeing the administration’s agenda on education, transportation, health, justice, housing, and labor.

Spellings experience also includes serving as senior advisor to then-Governor George W. Bush of Texas, president and CEO of Margaret Spellings and Company, a Washington, DC, consulting firm that provided strategic guidance on a variety of domestic policy matters, and as a president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, advocating for more effective education and workforce training.

Spellings was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but spent much of her childhood in Houston. She is a graduate of the University of Houston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She also received an honorary doctorate and Distinguished Alumni Award from the university in 2006. Spellings has two adult daughters and resides in Dallas.

Session: National Perspectives on the Value of Higher Ed – A Conversation at 10:30 a.m.

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

Director of Workforce Initiatives, Prosper Waco

Tiffany Gallegos WhitleyTiffany Gallegos Whitley is the Director of Workforce Initiatives at Prosper Waco, a collective impact organization. Her role is to work as an intermediary to convene and coordinate the alignment of local education and workforce systems. One of the projects Tiffany leads as part of this effort is UpSkill Waco, an initiative to increase equitable workforce training pathways in high-demand, high-paying occupations across McLennan County. She is passionate about working with community partners to ensure businesses have the skilled workers they need, and individuals can earn family-sustaining wages. Tiffany came to Waco in 2008 to attend Baylor University and never left. Since then, she has worked in the non-profit sector and earned two degrees from Baylor, receiving a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a Master of Social Work degree. Outside her role at Prosper Waco, Tiffany enjoys volunteering as a board member for Greater Waco Legal Services and serving as a field instructor for Baylor University social work students.

Session: Regional Perspectives on the Value of Collaboration at 1:30 p.m.


Evan Smith

CEO/Co-Founder, Texas Tribune

An image of Evan Smith, CEO/Co-Founder, The Texas TribuneEvan Smith is the CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, a pioneering nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news organization whose deep coverage of Texas politics and public policy can be found at its website,, in newspapers and on TV and radio stations across the state, and in the print and online editions of the Washington Post. Since its launch in 2009, the Tribune has won international acclaim and numerous honors, including a Peabody Award, twenty-three national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association and three general excellence awards from the Online News Association. Evan is also the host of “Overheard with Evan Smith,” a weekly half-hour interview program that airs on PBS stations around the country. Previously he spent nearly 18 years at Texas Monthly, including eight years as the magazine’s editor and a year as its president and editor in chief.

Sessions: National Perspectives on the Value of Higher Ed – A Conversation and Texas Perspectives on the Value of Alignment – Tri-Agency Commissioners’ Panel

Suzanne Walsh, J.D.

President of Bennett College and Trellis Foundation Board Member

An image of Trellis Foundation Board Member Suzanne Walsh.Ms. Walsh is the current president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She was most recently deputy director of postsecondary success for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leading and developing a team and a portfolio of over $70 million in postsecondary investments in institutional transformation in the United States. She previously served in leadership roles with the Lumina Foundation for Education and The Heinz Endowments. Suzanne has her juris doctorate and master’s in social work from Case Western Reserve University, a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, and an associate degree in applied science from Hudson Valley Community College.

Session: Regional Perspectives on the Value of Collaboration