The 2024 Diversity Conference will be held virtually on February 3 at 9 a.m.

This years' theme is How To: Hurdle Language and Cultural Barriers


9:00 a.m. - 10:10 a.m. – Session 1 - 
“Student Forum” - “How to Hurdle Cultural and Language Barriers”

A panel of students of various ethnicities will share their experience and explain the hurdles and barriers they face as a student. There will be time for Q&A during this Forum.  

10:20 a.m. - 11:30 0 a.m. – Session 2
 - “Adult Forum”- “How to Hurdle Cultural and Language Barriers”

A panel of adults of various ethnicities will share their experience and explain the hurdles and barriers they face as a parent or community. There will be time for Q&A during this Forum.

11:40 a.m. - 12:10 p.m. - Guest Speaker

12:10 p.m. - Closing Evaluation and awarding of CEU certificates.

Download the flyer here.

Central OEA Virtual Diversity Conference - Speaker Bios

Student Speakers

Ameer Abdullah - Ameer is a senior at Hamilton Township High School from Pakistan. He enjoys cooking, eating, and driving and plans to become a surgeon. He thinks that learning about diversity clears up misunderstandings and introduces people to different lifestyles.

Michelle Okoth - Michelle is in the 11th grade at Hamilton Township High School. She was born in Kenya and moved to the U.S, when she was 9 years old. To her, diversity means appreciating different cultures and welcoming people from different backgrounds to the table. She believes that it is important for teachers to study diversity because when students go to school everyday, they take what their teachers tell them, carry it with them for most of their lives, and apply it daily. If teachers learn about and open up a conversation on diversity, we can all see our world change.

Ka’Maya Cruz - Ka'Maya is in the 11th grade at Hamilton Township High School. She plays soccer for both her school team and club soccer. In the future she would like to be a soccer coach. Ka'Maya also likes to read books about diversity and to see herself represented in literature. She thinks studying diversity is about recognizing, respecting and valuing different ethnicities, genders, race, and religions.

Manaal Sharif – Manaal is of Egyptian background and enjoys being outside, traveling, and trying new things. After high school, she plans to get a Bachelor’s degree and become an entrepreneur. She thinks teachers should learn about diversity because it helps them understand their students better, and it creates a richer learning environment. Her favorite quote is, “Without diversity, creativity remains stagnant.” by Eduward Enninful.

Brianna Holland - Bri in the 10th grade at Hamilton Township High School. She is hoping to be enrolled in Eastland Career Center for Dental. After she graduates, she plans to attend Mississippi University and to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. She plays soccer and runs track and is multiracial.

Taylor Rocker - Taylor is a sophomore at Hamilton Township High School. She plays soccer, does cheerleading, and runs track. She is a part of Power Rangers and Carma which are two student leadership organizations at her high school. She is Black and white multiracial. After high school she plans to go to college to study nursing. She thinks that teachers should study diversity because she thinks it's important to understand that some students have different experiences than teachers when it comes to experiencing diversity.

Bhagvat Patel - Bhagvat attends Hamilton Township High School and plans to attend college to pursue business. He likes to run, play the flute, play football and basketball, and read in his spare time. His favorite subjects are math and science. He believes that understanding a student’s cultural background creates a stronger connection between teacher and students and a greater sense of belonging in the students. He also believes that it enhances their learning environment leading to more positive interactions with peers among other benefits.

Alexandria Williams - Lexi is a junior at Pickerington North High School North. She was recently selected as one of 16 students to serve on the inaugural National Federation of State High School Associations National Student Advisory Committee. In addition to being a member of many other student leadership and diversity organizations, she is the founder and President of Pickerington North’s Poetry Club, and plans to become a writer, speaker, leader, influencer as she finishes high school and attends college and beyond.

Community Member Speakers

Rachel Hara-Nicholson - Rachel Hara-Nicholson (she/her) is a dedicated educator with twenty-four years of experience. She is currently a high school Science and English Learner teacher at Parma City Schools. Her experience spans teaching opportunities in the U.S as well as in Japan and K-12 in rural, suburban and urban schools. A first-generation “Hapa” Japanese American, she is deeply committed to equity, inclusion, and cultivating belonging in diverse school environments for learners, educators, and staff. Hara-Nicholson serves as OEA co-vice chair of the Human and Civil Rights Committee and is an active member of the OEA DLAMC and LGBTQ caucus, and the NEA APIC caucus. In 2018, she was published in the Ohio TESOL journal in an article outlining best practices for ESL. She holds a Masters of Science and BS in Biology from John Carroll University and is a nature enthusiast and yoga teacher.

Yurub Jama - Yurub is a mother of six who was born and raised in Somalia but currently resides in Olentangy. She is an EL learner whose oldest just graduated from The Ohio State University debt free and whose other children are on the honor roll at Olentangy! She works in the healthcare sector with a goal of becoming a nurse.

Jeniree Leal - Jeniree has a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in human resources. She recently moved to the US from Venezuela where she was a teacher. An EL learner, she and her husband are the parents of two young children including a first grader in Whitehall. She enjoys dancing, cooking, and raising her two little ones to be proud of their Venezuelan.

Masami and Ty Smith - Masami Smith is the Executive Director and Ty Smith is the Project Director of NAICCO, the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio. Both are tribally enrolled members of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, in Oregon, where they were both born and raised. They are married with three children and two grandchildren and have been by each other’s side for over years. Together, they have chosen to combine their life experiences and education to seek out the best possible ways to give back to their Native People, both in Ohio and around Indian Country.

Terry West - Terry is a proven business leader with more than 20 years of experience in the world of inclusion and diversity, management, talent acquisition and business development. He has been with TEKsystems for twenty-five years and is currently the Sr. Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Manager where he is passionate about developing technology professionals. He is active in the Columbus tech community through his affiliation as a national board member for CompTIA Spark and a local advisory board member for Per Scholas. As a proud graduate of Kenyon College, he donates his time to the Alumni of Color Initiative. Terry resides in Westerville with his fiance and two dogs.

Ramona Reyes - Ramona R. Reyes is the director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Center at Catholic Social Services and the first Hispanic elected member of the Columbus School Board where she was elected Vice President in 2020. She also serves on the boards of East Coast Migrant Headstart, Mt. Carmel School of Nursing, and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA). Ms. Reyes recently received the Champions of Diversity Pioneer Award and an EXPY from Experience Columbus. In addition, she has been named a Columbus Hispanic Hero and named a Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan by the Ohio Commission on Latino Affairs and the Governor of Ohio.

Judy Dow - Judy is a co-lead for the Formal and Informal Educational Science Working Group with the National Science Foundation’s Center for Braiding Indigenous Knowledge and the Sciences. She’s been a K-12 educator for 38 years and is currently the Executive Director for Gedakina (pronounced g’ DAH keen nah), a multigenerational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American women and their families from across New England. Her organization works to conserve traditional homelands and places of historical, ecological, and spiritual significance and to educate others as to their importance. She also serves on several Vermont Climate Council Sub Committees, Ag and Eco Systems, and Biomass and Life Cycle committees. In addition, she is currently enjoying life as a grandmother of three.

Derek Burtch - Derek is the co-founder of the educational nonprofit Erase the Space and current English teacher at Olentangy High School. He is in his 16th year teaching high school English, including 6 years at North Union High School and 7 years at Olentangy Liberty High School--where Erase the Space was created and cultivated in partnership with Amelia Gordon and South High School in Columbus. Erase the Space engages students living in the segregated metro area of Central Ohio in democratic discourse across their segregated school districts through classroom learning exchanges. These exchanges are curated to engage students in conversation about shared social issues in order to move towards collaborative imagining of solutions. Derek is also one of the founding members of NExT Hub at Otterbein, a center for teachers to collaborate across districts in antiracist and liberatory efforts to support and provide solidarity for teachers engaging in acts of disruption across the Central Ohio area. His published works can be found in The English Journal, Theory Into Practice, and in the book of compiled essays titled The Ethics of Digital Literacy.

Dawn Massey - dawn brings a diverse background from both the Healthcare and Education industry. Dawn received her associate degree in Health Information Technology from DeVry University. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Education at Central State University with an expected graduation date of May 2024. Dawn currently serves as Minority Member at Large with the Ohio Education Association Aspiring Educators. She passionately advocates for students of all ages, ethnicity, and gender with a goal of no person left behind.


Marjorie Langston - Marjorie has taught science–primarily high school constructivist-based chemistry–for 24 years. She also teaches STEM education pedagogy/curriculum writing and leads DEI Professional Development for the National Science Foundation at the University of Dayton and Central State University. She has presented at various conferences throughout the nation including the National Science Teachers Association Conference, the American Chemical Society National Conference, the STEM Girls’ Think Tank and Conference, and the American Society for Engineering Education Engineering Education & Centers Grantees Conference among others. Also, she serves on the OEA Board of Directors among other roles at OEA. She has been recognized multiple times by Who’s Who Among American Teachers and Who’s Who Among American Educators.