Opening Session Speaker


Dr. El-Amin has a passion for addressing issues of equity, justice and education, which has led her to becoming a certified K-9th grade teacher, an adjunct professor at several colleges and universities, an  elected school board member for Community Consolidated School District #168, an appointed board member for Routledge journal, Religion and Education, board secretary for Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago and an executive member of American Muslim Educators. ...

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Closing Session Speaker

Dr. Hunt is a clinical psychologist who understands at first hand the emotional toll learning disabilities,   especially dyslexia, takes on those afflicted: He is dyslexic. While he was diagnosed early – 2nd grade – he nonetheless struggled academically throughout his educational career, which culminated in Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. The title of his conference remarks is the same as that of his doctoral dissertation – From Dunce to Doctor .

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Leticia Alvarez is a former AmeriCorps member with UIC Center for Literacy's Project MORE. Leticia is an advocate for education and lifelong learning. She has many years of experience teaching in the classroom and working with English as a Second Language Learners.


Becky DeForest has been in the education field for over 15 years, teaching youth and adults as well as editing textbooks and developing curriculum. She spent several years as an ESL instructor and Transition Specialist at Howard Area Community Center. Most recently, she taught ABE math, GED reading, and ESL at Truman College. Becky's background also includes experience as an elementary dual-language teacher and textbook editor. She has deep expertise in theories of teaching and learning, curriculum development, workforce readiness, beginning literacy and phonics, second-language immersion, and hands-on learning techniques. She is currently the Program Director at Literacy Works.

Jean Demas, Ed.D., M.B.A., M.A.L.S. has worked as Literacy Outreach Librarian at the Lisle Library District for 25 years building a Literacy/English Language Development collection of materials and English as a Second Language programming, including group classes and English conversation groups. Dr. Demas is one of the founding members of LEARN (Libraries' English and Reading Network) in 2004. She also serves as adjunct faculty/dissertation advisor at the University of St. Francis, Joliet, IL in the superintendent and leadership/ stewardship doctoral programs where many of her students are ESL teachers in local schools. Dr. Demas also serves as President, Literacy DuPage Board of Directors, and spearheaded the first federal grant in 1990 to provide collaboration between agencies and public libraries.

Cynthia Draper has been volunteering at Literacy Chicago for almost 17 years where she conducts the weekly class, Learning to Read Using the Bible. She is also an instructor of an adult co-ed Sunday School class as a Mission Society teacher. Cynthia received a degree in Business Management and a minor in Communication with an emphasis in Public Speaking from Northern Illinois University. She is also certified by the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist convention to teach over ten courses and has taught in Chicago, downstate Illinois, and Iowa. Sis. Hill is currently a licensed and practicing l estate broker in Illinois.

Kelly Fitzgerald has participated in the Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) literacy program for about 15 years. She works at Jewel/Osco and is active in swimming and scuba diving. Kelly also enjoys babysitting for her two nieces.

Sheryl Szot Gallaher has been a tutor volunteer in the Adult Literacy Program at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, since 2008. She and her students have been presenters at numerous Road to Literacy conferences in Chicago and Galesburg, and Sheryl received the Tutor of the Year award from Literacy Volunteers of Illinois in 2010. Sheryl has more than 30 years of experience in education, having been an elementary school teacher for 23 years and a university instructor since 2001. She currently serves as the director of the Office of Economic Education at Governors State University, in University Park, Illinois.

Margaret Goldstein has been tutoring ESL students one on one for the past seven years. She has also taught ESL classes at Literacy Chicago for four years and has provided training for new ESL tutors there since 2014. Prior to a 30 year career in information technology with IBM and her own firm, she spent two years in Japan teaching English full time at the Osaka YMCA. She has studied (with varying degrees of success!), Spanish, French, Danish, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian, giving her a deeper appreciation of the unique quirks and problems faced by speakers of English as a foreign language.

Jackie Guzman is a graduate student studying Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received a B.A. in Sociology from Southern CT State University. She also works as the Adult Learners Programs and Services (ALPS) specialist at Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), matching tutors with adult learners to meet any educational goal from math and reading to ESL and digital literacy. Prior to her current position she served as a LISC AmeriCorps member facilitating digital literacy and employment services workshops for adult job seekers. Her interest in advocating and providing services for underserved populations has brought her to volunteer as the Outreach Chair for Chicago Help Initiative Junior Board. 

Tom Johnson has participated in the MVCC literacy program for 18 years. Tom is employed at Argonne National Laboratories. He enjoys riding his bike, hiking and going fishing.

Laura Knights is the Innovation & Training Manager at the UIC Center for Literacy. Under her leadership, the UIC Parent Engagement and Resource Programs serve over 2,000 Head Start parents/family members each year. Knights' primary interest is on the impact of integrated life skills on education readiness and job training, performance, and retention. She focuses on a holistic approach that incorporates one's self concept, past experiences, and future goals as the most effective model in helping adults and teens build their literacy, leadership, and employability skills. Knights received her BS degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Organizational and Human Resources Management from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also studied Social Thought Analysis and received a certificate in Nonprofit Management. She received her Master's Degree in Social Work from DePaul University.

Kathy Krokar spent twenty years in Adult Education, first as an ESL teacher and then as Curriculum Coordinator for ESL and GED at Truman College, City Colleges of Chicago. She conducted numerous teacher trainings there and while working for Oxford University Press, BurlingtonEnglish and Cambridge University Press.

Carol Larsen is an Independent Sales Consultant who represents New Readers Press/ProLiteracy Adult Education materials in Illinois. Carol has assisted Illinois adult educators in selecting materials for their students for 15 years. Carol is a certified reading and math specialist who has taught adult ABE, GED, and ESL students in a variety of settings. She has also conducted literacy audits, written curricula, and taught in three National Workplace Literacy Grants and served as the Executive Director of the Literacy Volunteers of Western Cook County for five years. Carol is EBRI trained and well-versed in phonics, reading strategies, and math.

Mary Madden has been part of the MVCC literacy program for more than 20 years. She works at Little Company of Mary Hospital. Mary loves to fish, she enjoys going to the movies, and she works on jigsaw puzzles in her spare time.

Christine Maxwell is a retired Reading Specialist, Literacy Coach, and Special Educator with a passion for literacy. She received her BS in Special Education from Illinois State University and her MA in Reading from Concordia University Chicago. Beginning in 1973, she taught Special Education students from K-8th grade, was a regular education teacher in the primary grades, and a Middle School Reading Specialist. She is a member of The International Literacy Association and The Illinois Reading Council. She has presented at literacy conferences, school district in-service workshops, and worked alongside teachers as a Literacy Coach to support their classroom practices. In retirement, she is a volunteer literacy tutor in LVI’s Jump Start program in the Illinois Youth Centers at Warrenville and St. Charles. She also acts as a volunteer Bible study leader for youths in the Warrenville facility.

Carol Morris is an adult educator at the College of Lake County and a member of the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois' Board of Directors. She is a STAR-trained reading teacher and is the retired Director of Adult Literacy for the Waukegan Public Library, a position she held for over twenty years. A former high school teacher, Carol has a Bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University.

Jeanine Ntihirageza holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Chicago, with a specialization in Bantu languages and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Southern Illinois University. She received her BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Burundi where she taught TEFL and EFL classes. She has developed ESL curriculum for various institutions including the Illinois Institute of Technology. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, and Chair of the Anthropology, English Language Program, Philosophy, and Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language Departments. She is actively involved in the fight for Human Rights, particularly in immigrants’ issues and is a consultant to various organizations that serve immigrants. In 2007, she and her colleagues received a NEIU research grant to work with Burundian refugees resettled by Heartland Alliance. She has presented at conferences on various issues immigrants are faced with related to language, education, culture shock, and much more.

Mary Pelich holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Management and Organizational Behavior. Currently, she serves as Autism Consultant and Trainer for the Targeting Autism project at the Illinois State Library providing training and consultation to teachers and librarians throughout Illinois and was a presenter at the 2016 Targeting Autism national forum. Previously Ms. Pelich coordinated the efforts of The Autism Program of Illinois, a network of service providers and universities that provides resources, education and training as well as direct service to families throughout the state. Her professional experience also includes working with children and young adults in education and career services. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Autism Society of Central Illinois. Ms. Pelich has four children, the youngest with an autism diagnosis.

Suzanne Schriar holds a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Dominican University. She has been employed in the Technical Services Division with the Illinois State Library since 1987. Since 2005, Suzanne has been an Associate Director for Library Automation and Technology. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Institute of Museums & Library Services (IMLS) funded “Targeting Autism” grant project. Suzanne has a 22 year old son on the autism spectrum. The combination of her years at the State Library and her life as an autism mom inspired her to write a grant to help libraries play a more active role in serving the large and growing population of families impacted by autism.

Emily Tolzmann is the Transition Specialist at Chinese Mutual Aid Association and a trainer for Literacy Works. She has over eight years’ experience in adult education and adult learning as a teacher, trainer, program administrator, and curriculum developer. Emily is passionate about adult learning and serving the community.

Debra Vines, Founder and Executive Director of The Answer, Inc., is a mother of two sons, one of whom, now age 29, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was just 18 months old. As a mother, she understands the joy, pain and frustration that can mount with having a child with special needs. In response to her own questions and need for support, she founded The Answer, Inc. in 2007; a not for profit organization that supports parents and caregivers by providing: case management/referral services, resources, tutoring and recreational opportunities for individuals with autism and their families. The Answer, Inc. has created evidence based programs that have positively impact the lives of individuals touched by ASD. One such program that has borne significant outcomes is the Spectrum University Tutoring Program, which addresses the unique challenges that individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities face in finding work or engaging in appropriate educational opportunities after leaving high school. The tutoring program teaches literacy and job skills while connecting employers with eligible applicants so that they become part of community life. Ms. Vines is a Board Member of Targeting Autism and a member of the Maywood Proviso Rotary Club. She was recently named the 1st African American Woman to start an agency for autism in Proviso Township, Illinois.

Alex Ziskind joined the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition in July 2015 as a Program Associate. At the Coalition she coordinates the health literacy and the technology integration programs. Previously, she worked at the Chicago Jobs Council where she helped execute the capacity-building programming of the Frontline Focus Training Institute. Alex received her Master’s degree in Social Work, with an emphasis on Community Health and Urban Development, from the University of Illinois at Chicago.