Andrew Koch, Ph.D.

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In his talk, Gateway Courses: Barriers to Completion or Pathways to a Better Life?, Andrew “Drew” Koch, Ph.D., will discuss how historically high-risk “gateway” courses can serve not merely as barriers to access to a specific collegiate major, but even as deterrents to completing a college degree. This is especially true for low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented minority students. Drawing on data and lessons learned from a national project focused on transforming teaching and learning in post-secondary gateway courses, he will engage all conference attendees in a discussion about why these outcomes occur, and he will share promising approaches for all educators who are interested in improving student learning and success in these “killer” courses.

Drew is the Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Leadership & Innovation Officer for the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Prior to joining the Gardner Institute, Drew spent nearly 20 years in both independent and public post-secondary institutions working on student enrollment, access, success, learning and completion issues with a particular emphasis on first-generation and low-income students.

Amy Podurgal

Delivering quality education requires interactions between instructors, administrators and students. Each intersection between these groups or individuals represents an opportunity for effective collaboration or counterproductive conflict.

VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and leadership development grounded in more than three decades of behavioral science research, conducted a study of 400 educators and found that those who consistently and effectively engaged in crucial conversations were twice as likely to succeed. They also found that educators were more satisfied with their school because of their success in resolving issues.

In this high energy and engaging presentation, The Five Crucial Conversations for Educational Excellence, educators will learn how to hold crucial conversations with school leaders, fellow educators, parents and students to create a better work environment and productive classroom.

Amy Podurgal has been a Master Certified Trainer with VitalSmarts since 2004 and is the President and Owner of Square Peg Consulting, Inc., a Raleigh-based training and organization development consultancy. Previously she has worked for several Fortune 500 companies, including Merck, Glaxo and Nortel Networks in training, human resources, organization development and sales support.

Andres Ruzo


As technology continues to advance, it creates new worlds of amazing possibilities in how we live, work and play. At times, the breakneck pace of progress can seem overwhelming as it constantly challenges us to adapt to new paradigms and redefine our traditional professional roles. In his talk, Building Bridges: A Nat Geo Explorer’s Take on STEM, Exploration and Making an Impact, Andrés Ruzo will explore low-tech solutions that will help us keep up with high-tech changes and empower the explorers of tomorrow.

Andrés is a scientist, author, science communicator and educator, who in 2011 became the first geoscientist granted permission to study the sacred Boiling River of the Amazon. He is the founder and director of the Boiling River Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to understanding and protecting the Boiling River by bringing together modern science and traditional Amazonian knowledge. Andrés believes that environmental responsibility and economic prosperity can go hand in hand, and uses science to unite both aims.

Andrés is a TED speaker, TED book author and contributor to National Geographic Learning educational materials. He holds degrees in geology and finance from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), where he is currently finishing his Ph.D. in geophysics.

Damon Tweedy, M.D.


Despite considerable progress over the past 50 years, African-Americans continue to experience considerably worse health outcomes at the same time that they remain underrepresented in medical and other healthcare professions. The continued underrepresentation of minorities and women in STEM fields challenges our country’s ability to cultivate an adequate, domestic STEM workforce. Some argue it also challenges our ability to effectively address health disparities that exist throughout our country — disparities that ultimately affect us all.

Damon Tweedy, M.D. assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and a staff physician at the Durham Veteran Affairs Medical Center, explores these issues in his 2015 New York Times bestseller, Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine.

In his talk, STEM Pipeline Diversity: A Remedy for Health Disparities?, Damon will draw on his book and other relevant experiences to examine the critical role of K-16 STEM education in addressing the prevalence of health disparities in this country, and he will provide insight into what we should be doing to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities into medicine and other STEM fields. He will share his experience as a student at the Duke University School of Medicine and as a participant in the prestigious Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County — the leading collegiate STEM diversity education program in the nation.

Damon is a bestselling author and has published articles about race and medicine in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Raleigh News & Observer, as well as in various medical journals.