Speakers

In her current position of deputy mayor, Sharon Owens oversees city programs and services that address quality of life in our community, including Neighborhood and Business Development and Parks, Recreation, and Youth Programs, as well as the Police and Fire Departments.

Owens also serves as chief of staff to the mayor. Owens served as the third CEO of Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility, Inc. and previously worked for the City of Syracuse as Deputy Commissioner of Neighborhood and Business Development from 2010 to 2013 during the Miner Administration.

She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Greater Syracuse HOPE Initiative, the Consensus Commission on Local Government Modernization, and the I-81 Community Stakeholder Committee. In 2015 Owens received “The Kathy” Award from the Gifford Foundation, which recognized her commitment to establishing community-impacting advocacy. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and is most proud of her role as wife to Shaun Owens and mother to Simone and Isaac.

Pam Brunet is an enthusiastic community advocate who has a proven ability to build collaboration among a variety of stakeholders. She has worked in the Syracuse area for more than 25 years and is currently the executive director of Leadership Greater Syracuse, known as LGS.

Prior to Leadership Greater Syracuse she worked as a development officer for the Foundation for Upstate Medical University. Most of her professional experience was with Bristol-Myers Squibb as their community relations manager at their Syracuse facility. During her 17 years there, Pam was responsible for all internal and external communications including creating a strategic philanthropy program, serving as a government affairs liaison, and was also the company spokesperson with neighbors, trade organizations and the media.

Pam received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from Utica College and an associate’s degree in journalism from SUNY Morrisville.

She is the recipient of the “40 Under 40” award and the “Woman in Business” Award and serves as the NYS Ambassador for the Association of Leadership Programs.

Pam and her husband, Andy, live in LaFayette where they enjoy a rural lifestyle. They tap maple trees each year, snowmobile in the winter, and enjoy their cabin near Alexandria Bay as much as possible in the summer. They have two adult sons and two beloved dogs, a Beagle named Riley and a Brittany named Daisy.

Dr. Christopher Dunn is The Elizabeth Newman Wilds Executive Director of Cornell Botanic Gardens, a position he has held since 2014. He is also adjunct professor of horticulture and a faculty fellow in the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, both at Cornell University.

Dr. Dunn is a botanist and conservation ecologist who has considerable experience studying the relationships between peoples and place, and human impacts on the landscape. Recently, he has been focusing his attention on the relationship between biological and human cultural diversity.

Prior to coming to Cornell, Dr. Dunn was Director of the Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawaiʻi. He previously served as Executive Director for Research at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where he managed one of the largest botanic garden research programs in the country, and as Director of Research at The Morton Arboretum.

He serves on the boards of several organizations that are working to preserve the world’s biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)–U.S., the Center for Plant Conservation, and Terralingua. He is Chair of the IUCN National Committee for the US, and is North American Councillor for the International Association of Botanic Gardens. He is a past President of the American Public Gardens Association and recipient of the Association’s Award of Merit.

Dr. Dunn is a proud alumnus of SUNY ESF (’76) where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Forest Biology. He earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and completed postdoctoral research at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Kristin Esterberg serves as SUNY Potsdam’s 16th president, a position she has held since 2014. The first woman to lead the College in its more than 200-year tradition, Dr. Esterberg has led the campus through a strategic planning process that highlights campus efforts on applied learning and providing transformational experiences to all students. Under her leadership, SUNY Potsdam has developed and is implementing its first strategic plan on diversity, equity and inclusion, and the campus recently received an historic $5.25 million gift in support of faculty efforts in applied learning—the largest in campus history.

Dr. Esterberg is an active member of the community, serving on the board of the Associated Colleges of St. Lawrence Valley and the Regional Economic Development Council. Within the SUNY System, Dr. Esterberg is a member of the SUNY Diversity Advisory Board. She has served on the SUNY Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force and on the Chancellor Search Committee.

Nationally, Dr. Esterberg is chair of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) International Affairs Committee and served as a member of the AASCU Presidential Search Committee. Dr. Esterberg serves on the Millennium Leadership Institute Executive Steering Committee and also serves as a mentor for future leaders. She is an active member of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education.

She is the author of three books and numerous publications on qualitative research methodology, gender and sexuality and higher education.

Dr. Esterberg and her spouse, Dr. Sue Bergmeier, are the proud parents of Katie, a graduate of St. Lawrence University, and Qiong Qiong, a student at SUNY Potsdam.

Paul Hai is the Associate Director of the Adirondack Ecological Center and leads the Northern Forest Institute for Conservation Education and Leadership Training (NFI) at SUNY ESF, Newcomb Campus. Hai is also the co-founder of Children in Nature, New York, and serve on the Grassroots Leadership Team of the national Children and Nature Network. Hai also co-founded, in partnership with NYS DEC, the Hudson River Environmental Opportunities Network and is also a founding member of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

Kim Irland is the Dean of Student Life and College Diversity Officer at North Country Community College with campus locations in Saranac Lake, Malone, and Ticonderoga, NY. Additionally, Kim serves as the current president of the NY Association of Community College Chief Student Affairs Officers. Her career in higher education includes a diverse spectrum of experiences in residence life, student conduct, recruitment, campus activities, leadership development, diversity education, career development, policy, and adjunct instruction in federal prison. Kim is an alumna of SUNY Oswego and Binghamton University.

She can be reached at [email protected].

President and CEO, Danny Liedka, is wrapping up his second year at the helm of Visit Syracuse, Onondaga County’s official tourism promotion agency. Under his leadership Visit Syracuse has worked closely with elected officials and community leaders to ensure resource development, overall strategic direction and quality programming to the region.

Danny Liedka has several years of experience in a variety of tourism and hospitality roles, including Senior Sales Executive at Marriott International and Sales Manager at the Double Tree Hotel Syracuse. He holds several awards recognizing him for sports, sales and marketing efforts.

Liedka is also a former Onondaga County Legislator – District 7 (2012 – 2017) having served as Chairman of the Health Committee, Budget Task Force and Vehicle Use Review Board. In addition, he is the former mayor of the Village of East Syracuse (2007 – 2013). The Visit Syracuse president was also an on-air television commentator at Time Warner Cable Sports, Big East Network and ESPN U, as well as a game radio host for Syracuse University Basketball on Clear Channel Radio.

Raphael Okutoro was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He lived in Liberia for ten years, moving to the United States in 1998 to to reunite with his family.

He received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from University of Vermont. While still a student, inspired to pursue a career in admissions by terrific mentors, he began working in the Office of Admissions at UVM.

As Castleton University’s Assistant Director for Transfer Recruitment, he has served on the President’s Steering Committee on Inclusiveness and the subcommittee for Diversity Recruitment and Retention Initiatives. 

Along with his wife, he is the proud parent of a beautiful little girl.

Dr. Amy Roache-Fedchenko is the Partnership Program Assistant for the Northeast Region of the National Park Service. Over the past ten years she has held several roles with the NPS, including working as a Curator, Museum Specialist, Chief of Interpretation, and Park Ranger within numerous parks including Fort Stanwix National Monument, Theodore Roosevelt Birth Place National Historic Site, Sagamore Hill National Historic Park, Women’s Rights National Historical Park, and Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. As a Partnership Program Assistant she is involved with helping parks navigate the process to develop partnerships in order to accomplish goals related to education and conservation of park natural and cultural resources.

William J. Simmons is a native of Bronx, NY and has lived in Syracuse since 1975. He has always been involved with his community, and has spent his life working hard to make a difference and improve many areas of it. For eight years (1986 – 1994) Mr. Simmons was the Director of Airport Services at Syracuse Hancock International Airport, and for eight years (1992 – 2000) he served on the Syracuse City School Board as Commissioner of Education, empowering others to make a difference in our school system. He also served as a 5th District Common Councilor for eight years from 2000 to 2008, in addition to working full-time in a production/supervisory position at New Process Gear. During those years, he attended and graduated from Syracuse University and received his Juris Doctor in 2004. His determination and hard work paid off in September 2006, when he was admitted to the practice of law in New York State. He is currently a member of the New York State Bar Association and has been since 2006.

In 2006, Mr. Simmons served for one year as the Assistant Director of Syracuse Housing, and in 2007 became its Executive Director. In his role today, as the Executive Director, Mr. Simmons is responsible for overseeing 2,440 public housing units, 184 tax credit units, 97 units of affordable housing, and the administration of contracts for approximately 3,600 rental units as part of the Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). As Executive Director of Syracuse Housing Authority, his mission in our community is to provide quality, safe and affordable housing those in need.

Mr. Simmons serves as the President of the New York State Public Housing Authority Directors Association (NYSPHADA). By promoting public good through programs designed to support health, safety and welfare, NYSPHADA is able to help provide relief to the poor, distressed and underprivileged in our society. As always, Mr. Simmons strives to empower those in our community to create an environment wherein everyone wants to live, work and build communities.

Roni Weiss is the Executive Director of Travel Unity, a 501(c)(3) focused on increasing diversity in the world of travel.

On the for-profit side, Roni’s company, RW Social, provides event management and social media/marketing management/consulting services, including management of the New York Travel Festival, which will complete its 7th annual event in 2019.

He lives in Westchester County, NY with his partner, Lauren, and their four children.