Speakers

Dr. Dietra Trent

Dietra Trent, Virginia Secretary of EducationDr. Dietra Trent was appointed Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia by Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2016.  Previously, she served as Deputy Secretary of Education.  She joined the Administration of Governor Terry McAuliffe in January 2014.  

As Secretary of Education, Dr. Trent is tasked with promoting and implementing the Governor's education agenda.  This includes eradicating the Achievement Gap, promoting great teaching and learning, and working with agencies, stakeholders, and other partners to strengthen educational pathways to the new Virginia Economy.  

Prior to joining the McAuliffe Administration, Dr. Trent served as Deputy State Director for Senator Mark Warner, and also served in the administrations of Governors Warner and Kaine, where she served as Deputy Secretary of Education. She worked in the Office of Congressman Bobby Scott and in the President's office at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Secretary Trent currently serves as Chair of the Minority Political Leadership Institute's (MPLI) advisory board.  MPLI is a program which supports leadership development for individuals focused on addressing and studying issues of importance to minority populations. She also serves on the Board for Higher Achievement - a non-profit which aims to close the opportunity gap for middle school youth in at-risk communities through the promotion of rigorous afterschool and summer programs. 

A native of Halifax County, Virginia, Dr. Trent earned her bachelor's degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Hampton University and completed her master's and Ph.D. degrees in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Leland Melvin

Melvin, Leland“Houston we have a problem.” Leland Melvin was 25 feet under water in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6-million-gallon pool, training to perform spacewalks as a NASA astronaut when he called the test director and asked him to turn the volume up in his headset. He never heard a reply and was immediately hoisted out of the pool to learn that he was deaf. Emergency surgery resulting in only partial recovery to his hearing led him to be medically disqualified to fly in space by NASA flight surgeons. This is just one of the many career-ending challenges Leland has overcome in his life. Before becoming an astronaut, Leland was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 College Draft to play professional football, but a hamstring injury thwarted his NFL career with Detroit and then later with the Dallas Cowboys. Leland is the only person drafted into the National Football League to have flown in space. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honored his athletic and academic accomplishments by placing his Detroit Lions jersey under glass in Canton, Ohio. Through these professional experiences working on high stakes teams, he developed a deep and nuanced understanding of effective team dynamics. Woven through his fascinating story of perseverance and how he ultimately traveled off-planet twice on Space Shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station, Leland will share his passion for STEAM education. 

Leland has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in materials science engineering. He worked at NASA Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles resulting in publications in numerous scientific journals. After hanging up his space boots, he was appointed the head of NASA Education and served as the co-chair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force developing the nation’s 5-year STEM education plan. Leland was the United States representative and chair of the International Space Education Board (ISEB), a global collaboration in space. He uses his life story as an athlete, astronaut, scientist, engineer, photographer, and musician to help inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) careers. Leland is also currently seen as the host of the Lifetime competition series "Child Genius" and a judge for ABC’s competition series "BattleBots."

Leland holds four honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences, and philanthropy. He was chosen as an ICON MANN with Quincy Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Steve Harvey and 24 other men selected for their ability to inspire people of all ages through their vision and commitment to creating positive change throughout the world. Leland has been honored with the NFL Players Association “Award of Excellence” for inspiring athletes to pursue excellence on and off the field. He has written a chapter on the power of visualization in Venus Williams’ book Come to Win. Leland has appeared on Top Chef as a celebrity judge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, while Cesar Milan helped him with his unruly pooch Jake on an episode of The Dog Whisperer. He was featured in a Sci Fi Channel program documenting the making of the “Reach for the Stars” will.i.am song, which was transmitted to Mars and back to inspire students to pursue STEAM. After 24 years with NASA as a researcher, astronaut, and Senior Executive Service leader he looks to share his stories of perseverance and excellence to inspire communities for lasting positive change.

Leland currently resides in Lynchburg, Virginia.