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Presenter Biographies

Dr. Lauri Andress currently serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management, and Leadership in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University. She has received funding to conduct research on important infrastructure issues in rural communities, with a focus on barriers to food access for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clients and seniors in West Virginia as well as the policy process for built environment initiatives at the local level. Dr. Andress has dedicated her career as a social sciences researcher and policy analyst to public service where her expertise lies in linking scholarly work with social issues, the public policy process, and community organizing.  From 2007 to 2010 the Centers for Health Equity in Wisconsin and Louisville, Kentucky were created and launched under Dr. Andress’ guidance.  Over the course of her studies, Dr. Andress has secured a Masters of Public Health and Ph.D. in Community Health Science (University of Texas Health Sciences Center, major in health policy; concentration in Management and Policy Sciences), and a law degree along with the Vinson & Elkins Public Interest Fellowship (South Texas College of Law).

Damien Arthur is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Marshall University, in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. He completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at West Virginia University and an M.P.A. in Public Administration as well as an M.T.S. in Religion, Culture, and Personality at Boston University’s School of Theology. Damien’s research has focused upon leadership, primarily, presidential rhetorical leadership in relation to salient policies such as economics, institutions, and immigration. He is author of “Economic Actors, Economic Behaviors, and Presidential Leadership: The Constrained Effects of Rhetoric” and “Debating Immigration in the Age of Terrorism, Polarization, & Trump” with Joshua Woods. He has published refereed journal articles in Presidential Studies Quarterly, White House Studies, and Sociological Spectrum. He is currently writing the definitive biography of Senator Robert C. Byrd.​

Sandra Clements graduated from Marshall University with a BA and MA degree in Rehabilitation Education and Counseling. Her career has included working in the Head Start Program, the National Save the Children Program and as the Coordinator and Director of Marshall University’s Office of Disability Services. In 2007, she was appointed to the Huntington City Council representing District 5 and was elected for two subsequent terms. Today, she serves on several of the Mayor’s Committees while she continues the practice of giving back to the community. She is the proud mother of three adult children and enjoys reading and quilting.


Christy Day is the director of communications at the West Virginia Center for Professional Development (WVCPD).  She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Master’s of Public Administration from West Virginia University. Her current position at WVCPD affords her the opportunity to work in an area that is dear to her: education. In addition to promoting the mission of the agency, Christy has worked around the state to increase community and family involvement in education in order to enhance achievement among low-income and minority students. She is a liaison between WVCPD and Charleston’s West Side Revive Program which addresses public education, health and economic development in depressed areas of the state. Christy lives in Charleston with her husband of 22 years, Greg Shavers. They have a son who is a sophomore at WVU, a daughter who is a senior at George Washington High School, and an 11-year-old black West Virginia brown dog.

Dr. Ron Duerring became Superintendent of Kanawha County Schools on Sept. 21, 1998. He came to Kanawha County Schools in 1975 as a teacher at Spring Hill Elementary and has since served as a consultant, principal, and assistant superintendent. When Dr. Duerring served as Principal at Grandview Elementary, Grandview was selected by the WV State Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School. While serving as principal, he was selected by the Kanawha County PTA Council as Principal of the Year in 1996 and Superintendent of the Year in 2000 by the West Virginia Music Educator Association. He recently was awarded membership into the International Who’s Who of Professionals. Dr. Duerring is married and the father of one child, and lives in Charleston.

David M. Fryson is the Vice President for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at West Virginia University. Within the Division of Diversity, he oversees the Equal Employment Opportunity, Equity Assurance, Office of Accessibility, and Diversity Initiatives. He has practiced law for over 20 years in a variety of legal and advocacy settings. Fryson received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from West Virginia State University and was awarded the Doctor of Jurisprudence from West Virginia University. In 2001, he served a term as the National Vice-President for the legendary Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan’s OIC of America establishing a national office in Washington DC. In addition, he has been involved with the NAACP, the Job Corps Centers and assisted with the establishment of West Virginia Multi-Fest the largest diversity gathering in the state. Fryson has been married to the lovely Joy Morris Fryson for 40 + years and they have three children David, Jr., Aaron and Kristina and three grandchildren Aaron Allen, Jr., Aidan Allen and Elijah David.

Cedric S. Gathings serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Marshall University, where he is responsible for fostering an environment of inclusiveness and support for the university’s student body. He oversees critical arms of the university, such as student affairs, recruitment, and admissions programs. Gathings’ 16-year career in higher education began at Mississippi Valley State University in the career services center. Prior to his tenure at Marshall, Gathings served as the interim assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion at Mississippi State University, as well as Assistant Dean of Students. He holds a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in science from Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.  He is the recipient of several professional awards, including the Mississippi State University Staff Diversity Award in 2012 and the Dedication to Student Life Award at Marshall in 2016. He is a member of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators, as well as the West Virginia Association of Student Affairs Professionals. Gathings and his wife, Kimberly, reside in Huntington, WV with their three children CJ, Chase, and Cayleigh.

Workforce Development is all about others. Claudia George has been the Director of Field Operations for WorkForce West Virginia since January 2013.  Ms. George manages 160 staff engaged in job search activities, delivery of unemployment compensation benefits, and job skills training.  Her department also manages a variety of tax incentive programs that support job placement. Previously, Claudia held positions throughout North Central West Virginia overseeing the design and launch of a one stop delivery system approach where job seeking individuals can receive professional assistance and support from collaborating community partners.  She has served on the boards of several non-profits and is currently a member of the WV Region 6 Workforce Development Board.

Dr. Rahul Gupta serves as Commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health and the West Virginia State Health Officer. Dr. Gupta is a practicing internist with 25 years of clinical experience who also has faculty appointments as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management & Leadership at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, Associate Professor at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy, and visiting faculty at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Gupta earned a Doctor of Medicine degree and subspecialty training in pulmonary medicine from the prestigious University of Delhi and completed his internship and residency training at the highly competitive St. Joseph Hospital at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Additionally, he earned a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Healthcare Organization and Policy from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in Innovation and Technology Management at the London School of Business and Finance. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

Lt Col Kenneth L. Hale, Sr. (Retired) served as the Labor Relations and State Equal Employment Manager for the entire West Virginia National Guard, Charleston, West Virginia. Lt Col Hale has also worked at the West Virginia Governor’s Office of Community and Industrial Development/Employment and Training Division. After earning credits at Marshall University, he graduated from West Virginia State University in 1984. Lt Col Hale is the father of seven and the grandfather of fourteen.  As an active member in the community, he was the past Secretary and is the past President, West Virginia Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  He currently serves as President of the Charleston branch of the NAACP and offers his talents to a number of committees; Chemical Valley Midget Football League (CVMFL) By-Laws committee, Maximizing African-American Academic Achievement for Children in Kanawha County), one committee leading the education initiative to closing the academic achievement gap, and another as committee member for the Men-to-Men summit.  Lt Col Hale is an avid member of his church and stays involved in the decision-making committees that affect the West Side of Charleston.

Dr. Peggy Proudfoot Harman is an Associate Professor, Director of the Marshall University Master Social Work (MSW) program, and has been working in the field of Social Work since 1976 after earning an Associate’s Degree as a Social Service Aide from Davis and Elkins College.  Dr. Harman’s first job was with the West Virginia Department of Welfare, now known as the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). Dr. Harman went on to earn a BFA in Theatre from West Virginia University, an MSW from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D.  in Social Work from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work. Dr. Harman has worked in child welfare, juvenile justice, developmental disabilities, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and as a forensic social worker, investigating and mitigating death sentences of death row inmates for the Federal Public Defender, 3rd Circuit, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

Ms. Cheryl Henderson is an attorney and practices law with the firm Henderson, Henderson & Staples, L.C.  In addition to her legal practice she has served as Huntington Municipal Court Judge since February, 2015.  Ms. Henderson received her B.A. in English from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and then her J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law in 1980.  Ms. Henderson worked as a trademark attorney in the Trademark Office at the Department of Commerce in Washington D.C. for two (2) years before returning home to West Virginia. Henderson was appointed to the West Virginia Board of Medicine as one of three (3) lay members by Governor Joe Manchin, III, in November, 2010 and served until October, 2017.  She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Huntington Museum of Art, the Huntington Symphony and the A.D. Lewis Advisory Board.  She has been a member of the Junior League of Huntington since 1988. Ms. Henderson lives in Huntington. She has a son, Justin Lee Henderson.

Melvin Jones is a native of Mobile Alabama, he received undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business Administration from the University of South Alabama prior to becoming a nationally certified public accountant. He spent more than three decades in various financial service areas at Union Carbide and Dow, became an Assistant Professor of Accounting and is now the Vice President for Business and Finance at West Virginia State University. Mr. Jones was Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of beBetter Business Networks, Inc. Currently he serves on the Board of Trustees for the Clay Center for Arts and Sciences, Chairman of the Board for the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, and as a board member or officer for several other civic organizations.

Ralph Miller is the Founder and CEO of Charleston Community and Family Development Corporation a non-profit serving the west side of Charleston, WV for the past twenty-one years. He raised $1.5 million dollars to build a full-service clinic at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School and provided after school activities, and pre-college and career services to Kanawha County middle and high school students. Mr. Miller has worked with a diverse group of churches, community organizations, and higher education leaders across the United States. Some of his clients include: The WV Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Families, WV State Attorney General’s Office, Toyota (Georgetown, KY), Union Carbide, Verizon, IBM, Bayer, KISRA, First Baptist Church, East End Family Resource Center, WV State Community and Technical College.

Donna Sullivan (PhD University of Massachusetts Boston), is an Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Marshall University. She is a social gerontologist who specializes in productive aging, an approach that includes work and retirement, education and training, volunteerism, caregiving, and advocacy.  For her research on “Family Carework in Appalachia” she was awarded the Sarah Denman Faces of Appalachia Fellowship from the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia (CSEGA) in 2011-12. Dr. Sullivan’s current research in on developing an aging livability index for Huntington, WV which will investigate the needs, interests, preferences, and options for the City of Huntington’s older resident population with respect to quality of life and aging-in-place.

Wendy Thomas is a graduate of Marshall University with a BA in Elementary Education and a MA in Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders. She retired from Cabell County Schools with 35 years of service. Today, she serves in roles at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church including Deaconess and Church Clerk. She is as a member of civic and service organizations including Chair of the Huntington Housing Authority, member of the Huntington Fairfield Alliance, Advisory Board of the A.D. Lewis Center, and the NAACP. While on the West Virginia Women’s Commission where she served as the Chair from 1999 to 2008, she spearheaded the research and publication of “West Virginia’s African American Women of Distinction.” She has received honors and awards including ­the Governor’s Civil Rights Award and the Herald-Dispatch Zack Binkley Award for Community Service. She and Bennie Thomas are parents to two sons and grandparents to six.

Pastor Matthew J. Watts is the Senior Pastor of the Grace Bible Church of Charleston, West Virginia, where he has served for over ten years.  He has been a pastor for more than 20 years serving in several churches.  He was formerly employed by Union Carbide Corporation for 18 years as an engineer and purchasing manager for Union Carbide’s Kanawha Valley Locations.  He left Union Carbide Corporation in December of 1996 to pursue his ministry and community service projects.  In January of 1997, he established the HOPE Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization with the mission of empowering the inner city through spiritual renewal, education, employment and training and economic.

Huntington’s 47th mayor, Steve Williams has led Huntington to be named the $3 million grand prize winner of the America’s Best Communities competition in April 2017. Huntington has also gained national recognition for the establishment of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, which has formed several partnerships in developing a harm reduction program and has focused on reducing drug trafficking and related crime while promoting prevention and treatment options. In March 2016, Williams was named to a joint task force of the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties to address the opioid epidemic. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with Cum Laude honors from Marshall University in 1978 and a master’s degree in public administration from West Virginia University in 1980. Williams is married to Mary Poindexter Williams. He has two stepdaughters, Nikki Reed and Laura Urban, and has a beloved family dog, Darby.

A pharmacist and physician, Dr. Kevin W. Yingling has more than 30 years of experience in graduate medical and pharmacy education.  He has been a registered pharmacist since 1981, a licensed physician since 1990 and a consultant pharmacist since 1995.  He was founding dean of the Marshall University School of Pharmacy.  Dr. Yingling is also an associate professor of medicine and pharmacology and served more than 10 years as chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. Dr. Yingling received his B.S. in pharmacy from West Virginia University and his M.D. degree from Marshall University. He completed his residency and fellowship at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He has served as an honorary visiting academic fellow in clinical pharmacology at the University of Southampton in Southampton, England. Dr. Yingling is a member of the Cabell Huntington Board of Health and the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Cabell Huntington Hospital.  He has participated in faith-based and humanitarian medical missions to Russia, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Haiti.

Dr. Sherri Young currently serves as the State Immunization Officer for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. In this role, she reviews and processes medical exemptions from compulsory vaccinations and provides education on vaccine preventable diseases for the State.  Dr. Young has advocated for West Virginia patients and healthcare delivery by serving as Chairperson to the Legislative Committee for the West Virginia State Medical Association (WVSMA) for the past 3 years. She is also the Vice President to WVSMA, Vice President to the West Virginia Academy of Family Physicians and is the President-elect for the Kanawha Medical Association.  She has served as an alternate national delegate to the AMA, representing West Virginia. Most recently she was elected to the Board of Trustees for the West Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association. She has served as Associate Editor for the West Virginia State Medical Journal for the past 4 years. Dr. Young is also an Associate Professor to the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.