2019 Speakers

Michele Rigby Assad

Michele Rigby Assad 

Lake County native Michele Rigby Assad holds a master’s degree in Contemporary Arab Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service . She joined the CIA in 2002 as an intelligence officer in the National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the agency, specializing in counterterrorism and intelligence. After a decade of government service, Michele left undercover life to serve as a trainer, and international security consultant focused on the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. Her book Breaking Cover: My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For was released in February 2018


Steve Clark

Steve Clark graduated from Valencia Community College in 1984 before going on to earn a B.S. and M.S. in Biology from UCF in 1987.  His graduate thesis examined the life history of the giant snake eel, which resides in the Gulf of Mexico.  Before coming to Lake-Sumter State College, where he currently serves as the Associate Dean of Math and Science, he conducted research on aspects of killer whales such as nursing, mother/calf relationship behavior, and patterns of age and growth.  HIs knowledge of Darwinian evolution provides him with an opportunity to better understand why people “take a bullet for someone.”


Mark Duslak

Mark Duslak has worked in education for over 10 years across a variety of positions in student service.  He has published research with the journal Professional School Counseling and served as member of the Core Values revision team for NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board for The NACADA ReviewAcademic Advising Praxis and Perspectives, is pursuing doctoral studies at Florida State University, and is most proud to be a husband and father.  Mark is exploring the benefits of prosocial lying as a result of his research interests in Leadership and Communication.


Nicole Duslak

Nicole Duslak has a BFA in Fine Arts, an M.Ed. in Secondary Education, and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She is an award-winning educator with extensive administration experience, and has been involved with the education system from kindergarten through higher education. She is currently the Director of Educational Opportunity Programs at Lake-Sumter State College. She has published work in school counseling, arts integration, the Pearson Formative Writing Assessments, and the Drama Standards for the state of Florida. She is a passionate supporter of the arts in education, student advocacy, and positive organizational cultures and climates.


Danielle Flood

Danielle Flood is the Communications Manager at ECHO, an international organization that works to find innovative and sustainable ways for small-scale farmers around the world to improve their harvests, reducing global hunger and poverty. She has traveled to more than 20 countries while championing agricultural development through hands-on training and knowledge sharing. Danielle loves picnics, tea with dear friends, and doing anything outside with her husband and three crazy kids.


Scott Hopkins

Currently the Dean of Arts and Letters at LSSC, Scott Hopkins earned a PhD in Writing from Swinburne University of Technology in 2013, a Masters in Creative Writing also from Swinburne (2005), a Masters in Strategy from the Australian National University (2005), and is also a graduate of the 2008 Command and Staff Course at the Australian Defence College.  His dissertation used sociological theory from gender studies and queer theory, called hegemonic masculinities, to examine (through novel writing) the forces that shape contemporary men, including identity, brotherhood and military service, relations with women, and the role of violence and power.


Merry Lynn Morris

Merry Lynn Morris is a choreographer, dance educator, and scholar with over 25 publications, holding both MFA and PhD degrees in Dance. She is Assistant Director for the University of South Florida Dance Program and has served on the faculty for twenty years. Her interest in disability arose from working in integrated/inclusive dance since 2002, and being a caregiver to a disabled father over 21 years. Dr. Morris has invented new mobility devices for dance in collaboration with engineers, resulting in five U.S. Patents. She works with arts and disability organizations including Arts4All Florida (board member) and REVolutions Dance (teacher/choreographer).

Jacklyn Pierce

Jacklyn Pierce

Jacklyn Pierce is an Assistant Professor of English at Lake-Sumter State College. She has been teaching Composition, Literature, and the Humanities in higher education for many years. When not teaching, Jackie loves Disney, reading, travel and music, and she has recently cultivated an interest in drawing and painting.   In 2018, she was able to witness the power of music therapy through her father’s experience with hospice care.  This experience led to her researching music therapy and working with LSSC’s local chapter of Phi Theta Kappa on a music-centered project.   She joined the faculty at LSSC in 2006 and currently lives in Orlando.


Heather Rader

The owner of Rader Pelvic Physical Therapy in Mt. Dora, FL, Dr. Heather Rader teaches nationally on the topic of pelvic floor dysfunction, is a practice consultant, and pelvic health advocate. The notion of a PT treating incontinence, post-partum conditions, and bowel, bladder, and genital pain seems odd until viewed as a muscle problem instead of a systemic disease. Sitting, Sex, and Sphincter issues, especially in combination, point to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, not a urological, gynecological, or colorectal disease. Armed with this knowledge, patients can minimize their suffering and self-advocate for the inclusion of Pelvic Physical Therapy in their care.

Laura Ross

Laura Sobbott Ross

Laura Sobbott Ross has worked as a teacher and a writing coach for Lake County Schools. Her poetry has appeared in more than 100 literary journals. In addition to several Pushcart Prize nominations, she was a finalist for the Art & Letters Poetry Prize, and won the Southern Humanities Auburn Witness Poetry Prize.  Her poetry chapbooks are A Tiny Hunger and My Mississippi. A third book, The Graffiti of Pompeii, is forthcoming this year.


James Thomas Simons

James Thomas Simons is an Army veteran of the Enduring freedom operation. He is also a full-time student at Lake-Sumter State College in the Health Technology field who works part-time in Admissions as a Lakehawk Leader. While in the military, he was deployed overseas in 2012, completing multiple missions in the order of peace in Operation Enduring Freedom, receiving a Combat Action Badge and a Command Sargent coin.  He has chosen to speak on his topic because, both in his career and in his life, he is dedicated to helping his fellow vets, along with anyone else who feels as though they are struggling with mental challenges alone.


Aaron Thiessen

Aaron Thiessen is an engineer who is passionate about adapting first-world technologies for use in the developing world. He has spent the last three years building and testing unmanned aerial vehicles for urgent deliveries in difficult or remote areas for ITEC (The Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center). ITEC exists to create tools and technologies for the indigenous church in developing nations.  Aaron has a background in agriculture, a decade of manufacturing process experience, and has spent time in disaster relief and in international training. He holds a BS in mechanical and aerospace engineering.