Speakers & Engagement Sessions


Keynote Speaker: Debra Joy Pérez, Ph.D.

Session Speaker: Dr. David P. Rivera


First Engagement: The Research Apprenticeship of the Graduate Student

Friday, Feb 17, 9:00-10:15 AM, Union Ballroom

Second Engagement: Graduate Recruiters Panel

Friday, Feb 17, 3:30-5:00 PM, Union Ballroom

Third Engagement: McNair Alumni & Their Stories -- To the Ph.D. & Beyond

Friday, Feb 17, 8:00-9:00 PM, Union Ballroom

Fourth Engagement: Resilience and Persistence in Graduate Education

Saturday, Feb 18, 9:00-10:00 AM, Gateway Center


Keynote Speaker

Debra Joy Pérez, Ph.D., is chief evaluation and learning officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. As Chief, she works closely with the grantmaking teams to advance the organization’s work in science, environmental conservation, patient care, and in the Bay Area. As chief evaluation, learning and monitoring officer, Pérez oversees a team of evaluation and monitoring officers including those embedded within the foundation’s four grantmaking programs. Debra has extensive experience in leading research, evaluation and monitoring practices in philanthropy. She has been a leader in advancing evidence-based practices in evaluation and building new fields of research.  Debra is an expert in designing integrated processes to support evaluation, research and learning across discrete program areas.  At Moore, Dr. Perez develops and operationalizes a strengthened approach to measurement, evaluation and learning for the foundation, and design the structures and processes to support this work throughout the organization, including the integration of measurement and evaluation processes with program design, adaptive management and continuous learning. She is responsible for overseeing the management of independent external evaluations of the foundation’s programmatic work, from scoping and design of the evaluation through dissemination of evaluation results. She is an advocate for transparency in philanthropy by sharing evaluation results with the public and key stakeholders, and facilitating dialogue on the foundation’s evaluation philosophy and efforts, both internally and externally. She is also responsible for developing and operationalizing a strong organization-wide approach to learning, including improving and streamlining internal learning practices, introducing tools to foster cross-team learning, facilitating and sharing of current, better, best practices across our programs, and managing the dissemination of key learnings to the public and the fields in which Moore works.

Prior to joining Moore, Dr. Pérez was Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Learning at the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF). At AECF, Dr. Pérez was a member of the senior leadership team where she implemented new approaches for program performance measurement and management that align with program strategy and funding priorities. As the Vice President, Debra provided leadership and direction for the Unit’s signature efforts in promoting diversity in the evaluation field. The “Expanding the Bench” initiative supports evaluators and researchers of color to acquire skills in equitable evaluation practices. The Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity program was launched in the fall of 2015 and includes partnerships with major national evaluation firms, multiple funders and Universities. Prior to joining AECF, Dr. Perez was the assistant vice president for research and evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she focused improving the quality of healthcare, reducing disparities and building the field of Public Health Services and Systems Research.  She has connect multiple diverse networks to both AECF’s and RWJF’s work. She earned a bachelor’s in communication from Douglass College; a master’s in social science and women’s studies from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England; a master of public administration from Baruch College, City University of New York; and a PhD in health policy from Harvard University. Dr. Pérez is a mentor of emerging and mid-career professionals interested in becoming public leaders. She has received multiple awards including the 2010 Latino Trendsetter Award, the 2011 YWCA Women of Industry Award and the 2015 Hispanics Inspiring Student Achievement (HISPA) Leadership in Mentoring award. In 2015, she has also received an Honorary Doctorate from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA.  She is a 2016 Hispanics in Philanthropy HIPGiver and was featured in Latina Style Magazine as one of the Latina leaders in philanthropy.

Session Speaker

Dr. David P. Rivera is an associate professor of counselor education at Queens College, City University of New York.  He holds degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Wyoming where he was a McNair Scholar.  A counseling psychologist by training, his professional experience includes managing college access and success programs, college counseling, and higher education administration.  Dr. Rivera has worked at a variety of institutions including, the City University of New York, University of Pennsylvania, the New School University, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and the Addiction Institute of New York.  His practical work also includes consultations and trainings on a variety of cultural competency issues.  His research focuses on cultural competency development and issues impacting the marginalization and wellbeing of low-income/first-generation college students, people of color, and oppressed sexual orientation and gender identity groups, with a focus on microaggressions.  Dr. Rivera is faculty with the Council for Opportunity in Education, adviser to The Steve Fund, board co-chair of CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies, on the executive board of the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Psychological study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, and on the American Psychological Association’s Committee for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.  He has received multiple recognitions for his work, including national honors from the American Psychological Association, the American College Counseling Association, and the American College Personnel Association.


First Engagement: The Research Apprenticeship of the Graduate Student

McNair Scholars Programs do their best to prepare our undergraduates for the rigors of graduate school, especially the research component of their graduate experience. This panel features leading researchers from UNT who will describe and discuss their expectations of and experiences with new graduate students. They will help our scholars develop a realistic understanding of expectations faculty researchers have of their graduate research assistants. Discussions will include strategies that successful graduate student researchers have to better manage and balance coursework, research, lab time, and the other normal responsibilities of graduate students.

For example, panelists will discuss questions such as:

  • What are a few really important things you would like your new graduate students to be prepared for when the start working with you?
  • What are some of the unrealistic expectations new graduate students have as then enter this level of research (i.e., in graduate school)?

Dr. Victor Prybutok, Vice Provost, the Toulouse Graduate School, will serve as moderator.

Representatives of the following centers and institutes will comprise the panel:

We will reserve time for questions from the audience.

Second Engagement: Graduate Recruiters Panel

A panel of graduate recruiters from the Graduate Recruitment Fair will discuss important steps in the preparation for applying to graduate school. They will discuss the application process and the timeline for preparing and submitting the application. Panelist will give insight to what selection committees look for in the application and personal statements. 

Panelists members include:

  • Matt Nolan, Senior Associate Dean of Administration & Student Services, Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Systems, University of North Texas, Health Science Center
  • Derek Maness, Director of Outreach and Recruitment, University of Minnesota
  • Dana Mordecai, Assistant Director of Communications, Marketing, & Recruitment, University of North Texas
  • Nyree McDonald, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Notre Dame
  • Ana Brown Program Coordinator, Graduate Student Recruitment & Diversity Initiatives, Ohio State University

Audience members will be encouraged to ask questions throughout the 90 minute session.

Dr. Joseph Oppong, Associate Dean, Toulouse Graduate School, will moderate the session.

Third Engagement: McNair Alumni & Their Stories -- To the Ph.D. & Beyond

Who better to help McNair Scholars understand the multiple pathways and life experiences on the road to the Ph.D. and beyond than those who were Scholars themselves. A panel of McNair alumni who have earned their Ph.D. and are now in careers in academia will discuss the challenges and opportunities they encountered and their strategies to succeed. Their time in a McNair program is the common experience they share, and a common point of departure to their post-baccalaureate lives. 

Panelists members include:

  • Dr. Jamie Baxter-Slye, Environmental Science Laboratory Supervisor and Adjunct Lecturer, Advanced Environmental Research Institute, UNT, Denton, TX
  • Dr. Constance Lacy, Dean, School of and Human Services, UNT Dallas, Dallas, TX
  • Dr. Tyson Lewis, Associate Professor & Art Education Program Coordinator/Visual Art Studies, CVAD, UNT, Denton, TX
  • Dr. Angela Mitchell, Co-Owner of, and a Licensed Psychologist at, The Center for Psychological Services, Arlington, TX
  • Dr. Priscilla Ybarra: Associate Professor, Department of English, CAS, UNT, Denton, TX

Audience members will be encouraged to ask questions at the end of 60-minute session.

Dr. James Duban, Associate Dean for Research and Nationally Competitive Scholarships, TAMS/Honors College, will moderate the session. 

Fourth Engagement: Resilience and Persistence in Graduate Education

Dr. David P. Rivera, Associate Professor, Counselor Education, Queens College, City University of New York

A 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education article notes that 50 percent or more of doctoral students leave graduate school without completing. This high attrition rate does not appear to be due to the lack of academic preparedness. This session will expand on reasons for graduate school attrition and explore resiliency attributes McNair Scholars can use to support persistence through doctoral completion. The presenter, David Rivera, is a McNair alum and will highlight some of the lessons learned from his doctoral program at Columbia University.​