EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBERS
Strategic Alliances and Outreach Services
Trident University International
Esmeralda Silva is currently the Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach Services at Trident University International (TUI). Esmeralda has been with TUI for 20+ years and her career has comprised of roles revolving around building strong relationships as this is key to creating lasting and trusting partnerships with university leaders, key military leaders and partners, corporate and nonprofit organizations who have a desire and commitment to changing lives through the "Power of Education."
Over the past seventeen years, Esmeralda has spent her time focused on changing lives through her commitment, dedication and belief that education is one of the most effective ways to improve a person's life. During her tenure, she held leadership roles within Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Administrative Services, Outreach & Partnerships, Military and Veteran Relations, Compliance and Regulatory Affairs, and Strategic Planning and Management, which has allowed her to create and implement integrated strategies as well as assist and collaborate with cross-departmental leaders to ensure a university-wide focus on student success. Currently in her role she oversees Military Relations, Corporate Relations, Alumni Relations and Career Planning and Workforce Strategies.
Esmeralda is actively involved in supporting and advocating for improved support and services for military members, veterans, and their families. She currently serves as President for California Advisory Council on Military Education, she is a member of LA Veteran Collaboration - Higher Education Working Group, she also serves as a member of Military Friendly Advisory Board and actively participates in national education Consortiums.
Esmeralda was born and raised in Washington state and currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and has two amazing sons Jalen and Christian.
Nathalia Rodrigues is the Military and VA Outreach Representative with National University. In this role, Nathalia works with military members, their dependents, and veterans in attaining their educational aspirations. Her goal is to also to build meaningful business relationships within the area to unite the military community with applicable resources.
Prior to joining National University, Nathalia worked for Blugold Beginnings at the UW-Eau Claire. She worked with low-income, single-family, and first-generation 5th to 12th graders to inform them about the opportunities that attaining a higher education presents. She also had the pleasure of working for Campbell University as a Biology Lab and Teacher's Assistant.
Nathalia attained her associate's degree from UW-Eau Claire in General Studies, a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences with a Chemistry minor at Campbell University, and her Master's in Public Health with a concentration in Healthcare Administration at National University.
To further fulfill her passion, she currently serves as the chair for the Military Spouse Empowerment Zone in El Paso. She also sits on the board as the Registration Day Manager and Medical Coordinator for the Travis Manion Foundation 9/11-El Paso. Nathalia also is an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) representative to help advocate for her fellow guardsmen/women’s rights. Additionally, she proudly serves in the Texas Army National Guard as a Healthcare Specialist.
Immediate Past President
Janice Neal is the Regional Director of the Western Military Campuses with Webster University and Director at the Los Angeles Air Force Base Campus. Janice has been with Webster since 1998 and in higher education for over 25 years. She received her MBA from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri and a Masters in Management & Leadership with Webster University. To maximize Webster's support to our military students, the Office of Military Affairs, under the direction of Brig Gen Mike Callan, USAF (Ret), was established in 2013 and Janice oversees the University's western military portfolio.
Her knowledge and commitment to higher education and our military stems from her youth, as a military dependent as well as family currently serving. She's affiliated with the California Advisory Council on Military Education, as well as other organizations, which provide the platform needed to propose necessary changes to enhance educational benefits.
She continues to serve the community as the founder of a non-profit organization that offer college preparatory workshops and award scholarships to underserved youth.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, she currently resides in Los Angeles, California with her daughters Tiffany and Jessica.
Project Manager/Symposium Event Manager
Office of Military and Veteran Enrollment and Outreach
Thomas Edison State University
111 W. State St. | Trenton, NJ 08608
Alisha Miller is an Associate Director in the Office of Military and Veteran Enrollment and Outreach at Thomas Edison State University. Alisha began her career with Thomas Edison over a decade ago as a military base counselor at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and then serving as the executive assistant to the Associate Vice President in the Office of Military and Veteran Education. She has also held an interim role as Acting Director of Military Enrollment Management. Alisha was a member of the CCME Board for nine years in the role of Assistant Symposium Manager. She currently serves as the President of the National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services (NAIMES), and has also previously held the board positions of Vice President for two years and Secretary for three years.
Alisha earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a Master of Science in Management from Thomas Edison State University.
Full Sail University
Military Relations Manager
Aaron is currently the Vice President of the Florida ACME, and currently serves as the Military Relations Manager at Full Sail University. He is a US Air Force veteran of the Iraq War, where he was a Security Forces and Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Craftsman. While on active duty Aaron completed his Associate degree in Criminal Justice from the Community College of the Air Force, and after separating from the Air Force he used his GI Bill to complete his Bachelor's in History from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. Aaron credits his experience as an Active Duty student online, and a transitioning student veteran with his passion for helping fellow Service members and veterans pursue their education. He has been with Full Sail University for seven years and currently serves as the Military Relations Manager.
Assistant Symposium Coordinator
Marketing Project Manager / Events Specialist
Trident University International
Tasha Latimer is the Marketing Project Manager/Events Specialist at Trident University. Tasha joined Trident in 2010. In this role, she manages the email marketing campaigns for ten different departments and coordinates all onsite and offsite university events.
During her 10 years at Trident, Tasha had the opportunity to take on different roles within Outreach & Partnerships and Center for Student Success leading to her current role in the Marketing department. She is an active member of the Trident Graduation Committee and serves as Chair for the IMPACT Committee, an onsite employee morale team. With a demonstrated history of working in the e-learning industry, Tasha is skilled in integrated marketing, WordPress, HubSpot, team building, public speaking, and project management.
DESIREE K. BUTTS
Desiree Butts is the Executive Director for Military & VA Programs at National University. In this role, she oversees admissions operations in the state of Virginia and military and veteran outreach activities for the eastern half of the United States and Puerto Rico.
Desiree joined National University in 2010 as the Administrative Manager, Military & VA Programs; Manager, Quantico Online Information Center; and Director, Military Center Operations & Outreach Activities before assuming her current role. Prior to joining National University's Military & VA Programs Division, Desiree served in various positions for Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps (HQMC) Lifelong Learning, assisting Service members and their families in their pursuit of higher education.
Desiree graduated from Park University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and a Master of Business Administration at National University in 2015.
MERRICK VAN DONGEN
Sr. Program Manager,
Education and Workforce Development
As Senior Program Manager, Education and Workforce Development for Military Affairs at Microsoft, Merrick Van Dongen leads a team focused on the structure and delivery of curricula used within the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) program to serve transitioning service members and veterans, and manages partner and customer engagement on training and credentialing initiatives for military and service-connected audiences.
Merrick has worked in the education and training field for over 30 years with a focus on education program/product management as well as e-Learning, instructor-led, and blended curriculum solutions. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Universiteit Twente (Netherlands), Merrick holds a BSc degree in Marine Engineering and a MSc in Education & Training Systems Design. After serving as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, Merrick has held successive education management, sales, and business support positions in the U.S. Navy and at the University of Victoria, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and SkillSoft Corporation, prior to joining Microsoft. Merrick's early career at Microsoft involved managing courseware product strategy to address academic and commercial audience needs through courseware publishing, learning content review programs, evaluation software delivery through publishers, and other learning products and services. Prior to joining Microsoft's Military Affairs team, Merrick oversaw Microsoft Worldwide Learning's courseware readiness efforts for Microsoft Learning Partners and Microsoft Certified Trainers using learning products developed to help students adopt, train on, and use Microsoft technologies worldwide.
Chair Concurrent Sessions
Ashley Marquez is a veteran, and a career counselor for the Transition Assistance Program at Fort Carson. In this role, Ashley counsels service members and assists them with the development of their personal goals while transitioning out of the military and with their educational objectives. Educational objectives include credentialing/licensure, a valid post-military career goal and subsequent civilian occupation.
Prior to joining the Transition Assistance Program family, Ashley worked in higher education for seven years. Since this is her calling, her passion illuminates when she assists adults, service members, and their families with their higher education aspirations. Ashley feels the reward when she witnesses the overall success of our men and women serving in the Armed Forces. She feels privileged and honored to serve service members because of their dedication and selfless contribution to our country.
Ashley is a native of Texas and attained a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in Business Administration and holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Angelo State University (ASU). She has three children and is proud of her husband Miguel who is currently serving on active duty in Colorado.
Ashley is a firm believer that knowledge is power, and age should not be a deterrent to further your education. Education is an asset to yourself, your family, your local community, your job, and to the country.
Chair of Memberships/Concurrent Session Coordinator
Karen Diaz is a regional military liaison for Columbia College of Missouri. Under this role, she briefs, informs, and counsels potential students in the military community on the educational benefits and potential services of Columbia College.
Karen’s professional background is influenced around customer service and management. She continuously strives to ensure anyone she encounters has an exceptional and positive experience while being satisfied with their outcomes and desired results. Karen is a military spouse of over 12 years in which she has instituted and managed several Family Support Groups (FRG); assisting and supporting military families during challenging encounters and deployments. She was also a volunteer and board member of the Armed Services YMCA of El Paso, indicative of her dedication to the military community. Karen has past experiences in banking and financial management for multiple businesses.
Karen is a native of Los Gatos, California and received her Bachelors of Arts in Speech Communication from San Diego State University (SDSU). She is also a mother of seven children, in whom she emulates and enforces an environment of positive reinforcement and drive. She is currently stationed with her family in Ft. Stewart, GA.
Co-Chair of Scholarship
Debra Havens has worked for Central Texas College for the last 23 years. Prior to the education field she was an Assistant Vice-President in the banking industry for 16 years.
She is the Executive Coordinator for the Chancellor and Board of Trustees. Duties include coordination and optimal scheduling of strategic meeting/events with internal and external college constituents for the Chancellor and Board of Trustees; manages various staff and committee meetings including supporting agendas, preparatory documents and meeting logistics; works with all members of the college board of trustees as the liaison to ensure quality communications between them and the Chancellor; works on behalf of the Chancellor to ensure Board policy and report documentation is complete and also serves as the Election Officer for the Board of Trustees. She also administers the scholarship program for the NAIMES organization.
Ms. Havens earned her Associate of Arts degree from Central Texas College and Bachelor of Arts & Applied Sciences in Business Administration from Texas A&M Central Texas.
Ms. Havens is a life-long Texan and currently resides in Harker Heights, Texas. She is active in her church and a member of the Ladies of Charity organization.
Concurrent Session Coordinator
Director of Military and Veteran Services, USAF (Vet.)
Dallas Baptist University
Chris Deckard is the Director of Military and Veteran Services at Dallas Baptist University. His department works with over 300 military-affiliated students per semester. He also serves as a member of the Veterans Business Alliance for the Arlington, TX Chamber of Commerce. Chris is a Veteran of the United States Air Force and holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Waldorf University.
DAWN A. BILODEAU
Director, DoD Voluntary Education Program
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Force Education and Training
Ms. Dawn Bilodeau is the Director, DoD Voluntary Education Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, Force Education, and Training. In this capacity, she is responsible for oversight and administration of adult, non-traditional, continuing, and higher education programs for a global enterprise valued at nearly $700M annually. Ms. Bilodeau champions DoD policies, programs, and partnerships that enable access to quality educational opportunities, empower informed Service member decision-making, shape meaningful personal and professional pathways, and drive success in careers for over a half-million service members each year.
During her over 20 year career in military voluntary education, she has served from Kentucky to Kosovo with multiple assignments to the Washington, DC area. She grew through the ranks of Army Education as a Guidance Counselor, Education Services Specialist, Deputy Director/Chief of Budget & Finance, and Senior Education Program Analyst prior to becoming the Director for DoD Voluntary Education Programs. Her military ties are strong as the spouse of a Marine Corps and Army Veteran and the daughter of an Air Force Veteran. Ms. Bilodeau holds a Master's Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Arizona State University and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute’s Leadership for a Democratic Society program.
MARK A. WEEDON
Mark, a 29-year veteran is currently the National Director for Strategic Alliances at Trident University. He has served on several Boards of Directors including the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation, the National Guard Association of Texas, and is currently on the National Guard Association of Texas Education Foundation Board of Directors.
Mark has been a lifelong learner and believes that it's never too late to continue the education process. His BS took a little over 20 years to complete after high school while working full time to support his family. "Higher education has opened numerous doors for me and gives me a competitive advantage in the workforce".
Mark has been married to his wife Shelli since 1988 and they have 4 children plus in-laws and 7 grandkids and counting. Mark is an avid outdoorsman and particularly loves to hunt and fly fish. He and Shelli love to travel.
Alliant International University
General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer
Afshin Afrookhteh, PhD, JD, currently serves as Alliant International University General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer. In his role, Dr. Afrookhteh provides legal services, including representation, advice, legal research and training, to the University, including legal guidance to the administration, faculty, staff and others acting on the University's behalf. He is also responsible for developing and implementing policies, procedures, processes and reporting necessary to ensure that the University meets federal, state, and professional accreditation requirements and is responsible for gaining and maintaining state authorization approvals and ensuring compliance with state regulations pertaining to on-site and distance learning programs.
Dr. Afrookhteh joined Alliant after serving for nearly 20 years in various capacities at Trident University International including Associate VP of Academic Affairs and Chief Compliance Officer. Dr. Afrookhteh's credentials include:
PhD in Health Sciences, TUI University
Juris Doctor, Whittier Law School
Bachelor of Science in Health Science, CSU Dominguez Hills
Louis is currently serving on the Council of College and Military Educators (CCME) Board acting as President Emeritus. He has served on the CCME board for a number of years prior to his current CCME positions. He served as the Scholarships/Awards Committee Chairman for two years, Vice-President for Institutions, President-Elect, President and Past President.
Louis recently retired from Thomas Edison State Univeristy and is enjoy time with family and living the dream.
Mebane Harrison, our current President Emeritus, was born in Dallas, Texas, but grew up in the Arkansas hills. She received her BA from the University of Arkansas, where she majored in English, Speech and Dramatic Art and continued with a Master's in Religious Education from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master's of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Her first job was with the American Red Cross, helping to build morale of Army troops stationed in South Korea. In that job, she led a team of girls to design and present programs of interest to our troops. Her first education jobs were working with children in the Army Chapel Centers in South Korea and Hawaii. She went on to become a Counselor and then an Education Director for adults stationed on Army and Navy bases through-out the world. More recently, she wrote a children's book called, "The Gazoo at the Zoo." Mebane was twice President of the CCME and received the John Brian Award for Service. While stationed in Coronado, California, she was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for her work with military students.
NICOLE M. WINGET
Campbell University - Fort Bragg & Pope Campus
Nicole Winget is the Director of the Fort Bragg & Pope Campus of Campbell University and an Adjunct Professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice. She joined CCME in 2017 and is passionate about connecting our members, schools, sponsors, supporters, and students through social media.
She is a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy (Reserves), attached to the Office of Naval Intelligence. She started as an Enlisted Information Technology Specialist and has deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan. Her awards include the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Ms. Winget graduated from Ohio Northern University College of Law in 2009 and practiced law in Ohio, focusing on Criminal Defense and Trial Advocacy. She is active as a mock trial coach, coaching both high school and college level mock trial teams, and currently leads the Campbell University and the High School Unity teams.
Ms. Winget works extensively with the Veteran population both as yoga instructor, focusing on working with wounded warriors, and as active member with Operation Enduring Warrior, a Veterans and First Responder focused organization.
Mr. Jim Yeonopolus has been with the Central Texas College for 39 years, currently is the Chief Executive Officer for Operations of the Central Texas College Navy, Pacific Far East, Europe and Continental Campuses. Before joining Central Texas College, Mr. Yeonopolus completed a four year tour of duty in the United States Air Force.
Mr. Yeonopolus holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Arizona; a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Southwest Texas State University; and Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration from Temple Junior College.
Mr. Yeonopolus has been a resident of Texas since 1959 and currently resides in Harker Heights, Texas with his wife Nancy. During his tenure with Central Texas College, Mr. Yeonopolus has held or currently holds several offices in professional and civic organizations including:
President, Society of Vietnamese Airborne
Member, Killeen Chamber of Commerce, Military Affairs Committee
Member, North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents
Member, Killeen Volunteers, Inc. (Board Member since 1994; President for 4 years)
Marquis "Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, 1968"
Marquis "Who's Who in the South and Southwest, 1980"
CLIFTON J. DOCKERY
Clifton, a 27-year veteran in the United States Army who recently retired in November 2021. Currently settling down in the San Antonio Texas area and enjoying retirement before starting back on his college ventures in San Antonio.
His military career was mostly spent in Information Technology managing many facets within the IT occupation. In 2018 he changed MOSs and ended his career as a Senior Equal opportunity Advisor. He was responsible for advising commanders, training, educating, and assisting commanders, leaders, EO leaders, and Soldiers on the Army’s EO program policies, procedures, and issues that impact the EO climate and unit readiness.
Clifton is passionate and giving back to the military community. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and is actively preparing for upcoming certifications.
Clifton has 3 children two boys and one girl and is committed to his family. Clifton is also a master fitness and personal trainer and loves to support people on their journey to wellness.