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Student Sessions & Roundtable Talk
Student Focused Session: Self-Discovery in College 4:15 pm - 4:45 pm

They tell us that college is the best time of our lives, as if we peak at 22. Diving into a campus culture, often far from the comforts of home, is both scary and exciting. The academic and social pressures are compounded by figuring out who we are and what we want to become. We’ve come to associate the college degree with better job opportunities. But what does college have to offer beyond preparation for a future field of study or workplace environment? We’re asked to determine the course of our lives so early that living in the moment can seem impossible. Isn’t college meant to be a time for discovery, for finding the subjects and people that help us grow as individuals? 

College gives us the rare opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds, cultural histories, ethnographies, and life experiences that can help shape our own social development. Prioritizing those budding social relationships while investing oneself into academic study is a delicate balance. Identifying mentors to grow our potential while sustaining friendships that enhance our personal lives requires knowing oneself well enough to make the right choices. The college experience forces us to marinate in ambiguity, to get comfortable with uncertainty. Are we even supposed to know what comes next? And do we even want to know? Growth only happens when our foundations are shaken, when we step out of our comfort zones. While those comfort zones and destinations vary by person, the process of navigating that unfamiliar space is best guided by those who’ve embraced ambiguity before.

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Ghofrane Zaidi

Business Analyst & Exchange Student

University of Louisiana at Monroe

Ghofrane Zaidi is a Tunisian exchange student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (2022-2023) majoring in Psychology. Ghofrane was also a Business student at Tunis Business School where she majored in Business Analytics and minored in Marketing. She volunteered at the ULM Wesley Foundation when she first came to the United States. During her second semester, she is interning with the Autistic Society.

Ghofrane is a Business Analyst and a Project Manager with 3 years of experience in the field. She was the first Data Analyst intern at Flat6Labs in Tunisia where she worked on implementing a centralized information system to connect different stakeholders in the acceleration program. Moreover, she was a Data Analyst intern at Enda Inter-Arabe where she worked on analyzing data and provided insights for the NGO.

As well as improving her hard skills, Ghofrane is developing her soft skills and leadership potential. She occupied the president position for Trinity-TBS, a club implemented in her college that provides trainings in the tech field and organizes gaming tournaments. Moreover, she has participated in several competitions like the Hult Prize, an international business competition that challenges young people to solve the world’s most pressing issues through social entrepreneurship. By way of this competition, Ghofrane received an award from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Ghofrane has also been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 2019.

Cheyenne Weaver

Communications Assistant

City of West Monroe

Cheyenne Weaver has lived in West Monroe since she was 8 years old. She currently serves as the Communications Assistant for the City of West Monroe under the administration of Mayor Staci Mitchell. 

Cheyenne graduated from West Ouachita High School in 2017 and moved to Hammond, Louisiana where she went to Southeastern Louisiana University. She is an alumna of Theta Phi Alpha, where she served as Social Chair and Panhellenic Executive Board Vice President of Public Relations. In 2020, she transferred to ULM and graduated in December 2022 with her Bachelors of General Studies. During her time at ULM, she interned with Cajun Kleen Products, a local business in West Monroe, where she learned B2B and B2C marketing. She then went on to intern  with Downtown West Monroe under the guidance of Adrienne Lafrance-Wells, where she helped with marketing and communications, curated social media content, and large scale event execution. 

Over her time in Downtown West Monroe, she started working with other departments in the city with social media, such as the Fire Department, where she helped (now) Chief Charlie Simmons launch the new C.A.R.E.S Program, a program created to implement life safety measures for residents within the city limits. 

After interning with Downtown West Monroe/the City of West Monroe for almost a year, she was offered a position in the Mayor’s Office under Chief of Staff Courtney Hornsby doing media and communications.  

Cheyenne also serves as the Media and Communications Assistant at First Methodist Monroe under Kathryn McCarty where she curates social media, video, and broadcast content.







Student Focused Session: How to Embrace Failure 2:30 pm - 3:15 pm

The college experience is synonymous with personal and professional growth. We are entrusted with all this freedom to make consequential decisions while perhaps not feeling adult enough to know how. Some attend college having been straight-A students while others had to claw for every grade that peers seemed to take for granted. Some have never really had to study and find themselves unsure how to start. Perhaps we are used to our parents handling big decisions for us, and on our own, we are not really sure what to do. 

In college, you might notice a flip - professors don’t always value the student with all the answers. They lean into students with the questions, those open to learning and led by curiosity. Developing time management skills is a tenuous process, and one rarely perfected without repetitive failures. Having to repeat or drop a course comes with shame and regret, not to mention financial strains, but it is nonetheless part of the learning process. If we go into college thinking we have it all figured out, if we are not open to taking risks and learning from failure, we may miss the opportunity for genuine growth. Out of caution, we might avoid learning opportunities because they are disguised as small experiences. We all fail in some aspect of college. How do we look at failure through the lens of experiential knowledge and life lessons? Mentally this can be difficult, but embracing a mindset of inevitable failure as tools for growth is how one matures.

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Christina Gray

Community Facilitator

Ascent Health

Chrissy graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management. While there, she uniquely led her peers as a student-athlete and 3x Miss Louisiana pageant contender. She is passionate about serving her community and state through mentorship, advocacy, and vocal entertainment. During her time at ULM, Chrissy served in campus organizations such as the Student Government Association, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Firestarters for Christ, and Women’s Basketball. Chrissy is a former Miss Monroe title holder and ambassador for the City of Monroe who has earned over 10,000 in scholarships through the Miss Louisiana Organization.

Chrissy found employment with Ascent Health over seven years ago as a certified community-based facilitator. Working alongside community activists, partners, and supporters, Chrissy has worked to help at-risk youth increase educational consciousness and reduce institutionalized placements. She subscribes to Ascent’s belief that “no matter the story, every person deserves the chance to live an elevated life.” On and off the clock, Chrissy is a strong advocate for the youth of all ages; her mission is to help others unlock the resiliency inside of them and visualize resources and options to overcome hard times as she did. Therefore, she passionately volunteers at Monroe City schools as a Teach One to Lead One mentor, at her church as a praise and worship leader, at the Strauss Theatre as an actress, and her home as the cool aunt to her nephews.

Chrissy believes each person is blessed to be a blessing. As a founding member of the nonprofit organization Men and Women of Standard in her hometown of Winnfield, LA, she has helped provide graduating seniors with cash scholarships totaling $15,000 for higher education since 2017.

Dr.Katie Dawson

Asst. Vice President for Academic Innovation & Learning

University of Louisiana System

Dr. Katie Dawson is the Assistant Vice President for Academic Innovation and Learning for the University of Louisiana System and acts as the Director of the Compete LA initiative. She has a Doctorate of Education in Education Leadership from Louisiana Tech University and has undergrad and graduate degrees in Communication from Western Kentucky University. Before joining the UL System, Katie worked at the University of Louisiana Monroe as Director of ULM Online and serves as an adjunct faculty member. Her current academic pursuits involve research to help adult learners in online programs, specifically looking at instructional design and its effects on online instruction, as well as closing the equity gap by using OER/AER resources in teaching and course creation. She is passionate about innovative education, student support systems, data driven decisions, and shared governance and leadership.





Roundtable: Identifying Male Allies 3:30 pm - 4:15 pm

In a world where women are focused on bettering their own lives, on making space for themselves in the room and at the table, it can be easy to chart a solitary path. We may embrace friendships and encouragement from other women who know the struggle, but what benefit do the men in our lives play? This roundtable will focus on identifying male allies, as statistically they play a significant part in all facets of our lives. 

What does it mean to be a male ally? Any man that is willing to advocate for and amplify the voices of women in male-dominated environments is a start. Men that are knowledgeable about gender equality and promoting work environments and social situations that honor women as co-equal partners is another tenet of male allyship. We will ask our panel about more specific traits to look for in the opposite sex, despite their relational role in our lives. We know when one man distinguishes himself as a male ally, it provides a permission structure for more men to follow suit, thus resulting in gender solidarity efforts in the workplace. When issues specific to women arise in the workplace, how can women engage with men to confront these problems? With our panel, we will explore the expectations and responsibilities of a male ally, along with contemplating strategies for expanding their roles in our lives.

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Kris Kelly

Executive Director

West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce

Kristopher Kelley serves as the Executive Director for the West Monroe West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Assistant Manager for Columbia, La and is small business owner. He is a local naturalist entrepreneur with over two decades of experience as a small business owner, non-profit consultant, biology instructor, and environmental chemist. He has worked not only for business development and promotional initiatives with local and regional government organizations; but also, with US Fish and Wildlife, US Core of Engineers, USDA, and the just to name a few. He works tirelessly as promoter of our local businesses, as an environmental educator, as the regional past chair for American Chemical Society all while serving on the boards of 12 non-profits fully committed to advancing the mission of many arts organizations in our region. Kristopher is passionate about promoting the hidden gems of NeLA, workforce development for our region, the role the arts play in developing quality citizens, historic preservation, and celebrating the natural diversity of Louisiana.


Donald Simpson, Ph.D., M.P.H.


College of Health Sciences, ULM

Dr. Simpson has directed funded research exceeding $3.2 million dollars across the disciplines of public health, women's health, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and laboratory sciences.  He served as co-investigator of a project that received $36,300 dollars to assess the effectiveness of initiating tobacco cessation in the emergency department and as principal investigator of a project that received more than $9.7 million dollars to serve as a partner with the Polytechnic of Namibia to develop a Biomedical Sciences Program in Windhoek, Namibia, Africa. He also served as co-principal investigator of an HRSA-funded project that received $205,668 dollars for student scholarships and provided funding for full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in the laboratory sciences.  He recently received $172,855 dollars from the Louisiana Department of Health to increase rates of COVID-19 testing and vaccination for disadvantaged populations and use peer-to-peer mentoring to assess COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among LGBTQIA+ youth living in rural underserved areas of Northeast Louisiana.

He has authored or co-authored 23 publications, four book reviews, one book, and 66 peer-reviewed abstracts in journals associated with the disciplines of public health, pathology and laboratory medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and pulmonary medicine. He has presented or co-presented 68 peer-reviewed platform or poster presentations and authored 78 invited presentations at the local, state, regional, national, and international levels.

Dr. Simpson currently lives in Monroe, Louisiana, and serves the University of Louisiana Monroe as Dean of the College of Health Sciences.