Thriving Together Conference

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The Thriving Together conference

Join The Education Trust in Tennessee at Belmont University on December 6 as we celebrate the culmination of our Thrive Community of Practice and Fellows Program. This in-person half-day convening will provide an opportunity for attendees to discuss the decline in college-going rates in Tennessee, and potential solutions.

We will release our report, Thriving Together Tennessee: Discovering Innovative Pathways for College Success, discuss the results of our youth participatory action research project, and host a student-moderated panel conversation.

*Note* This event will be offered in-person only.

Guest Speakers

Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D.

Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D.

The Education Trust

Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D., serves as Ed Trust’s Vice President of Higher Education Policy and Practice. In this role, Wil spearheads Ed Trust’s mission to highlight inequities and outline solutions in order to improve access, success, affordability, and completion in higher education for low-income students and students of color. Prior to joining Ed Trust, Wil served in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration as deputy secretary of postsecondary and higher education, where he developed and implemented the state’s strategic vision for higher education.

CJ Powell

CJ Powell

Chief of Staff, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education

CJ Powell serves as the Chief of Staff in the Office of Postsecondary Education at the Department of U.S. Department of Education. CJ previously served as the higher education program analyst at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.  In this role, he staffed the higher education civil rights coalition, a table of more than 50 national civil rights and policy organizations. CJ began his career in education equity as a college adviser in the College Advising Corps, assisting students in rural North Carolina in planning their postsecondary lives.

Dr. Adrienne Battle

Dr. Adrienne Battle

Director of Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Adrienne Battle serves as the Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Dr. Battle was named director of Metro Nashville Public Schools by a unanimous vote of the city’s Board of Education on March 13, 2020, after serving 11 months as interim director. She is a Nashville native and has spent almost her entire career with MNPS. She previously served as an MNPS teacher; an assistant principal, academic principal and executive principal; a turnaround coach for principals of the district’s priority schools; and as a community superintendent overseeing all schools in the southeast quadrant as well as high schools across the district.

Samantha Gutter

Samantha Gutter

Chief Access and Outreach Officer, Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Samantha Gutter serves as the Chief Access and Outreach Officer at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and oversees the access and outreach bureau, including adult learner initiatives, college access and success programs, and statewide outreach services.

Sam formerly served as Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Postsecondary Impact at the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) where she provided leadership and direction for implementing SCORE’s postsecondary education policy advocacy strategy. She previously served as education policy advisor for Governor Bill Haslam. In 2017, she led the legislative effort to enact the Tennessee Reconnect Act, which allows nearly all Tennessee adults to attend a community or technical college tuition-free. Sam began her career as an elementary school teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools as a Teach For America corps member before joining THEC/TSAC as a graduate assistant on the GEAR UP TN team and as a program analyst on the adult learner initiatives team. 

Gini Pupo-Walker

Gini Pupo-Walker

State Director, The Education Trust in Tennessee

Gini Pupo-Walker serves as the State Director for Tennessee, where she works alongside advocacy organizations and stakeholders to increase educational opportunity and achievement among historically underserved students. Gini brings more than 20 years of work in education as a teacher, administrator, and nonprofit leader. Prior to this role, Gini worked at Conexión Américas, where she led education programs and advocacy efforts to improve outcomes for Latino students across Tennessee. Before that, Gini worked in education as a teacher at the high school and college level, and also served as the executive director of family and community partnerships in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

President Greg Jones

President Greg Jones

Belmont University

Dr. Greg Jones became president of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee in June 2021. Prior to his appointment at Belmont, he served as dean of Duke Divinity School for more than 13 years. During his time at Belmont, Greg has established a new vision for the institution “to be the leading Christ-centered university in the world, radically championing the pursuit of life abundant for all people.” Achievements during his first year include securing more than $35 million in grants and gifts, launching the Belmont Data Collaborative, expanding the Bridges to Belmont program to support Metro Nashville Public School students and establishing a program that more deeply connects Belmont students, faculty and staff to the regional community to create programs that foster social good. 


8:30 AMBreakfast + Networking
9:00 AM

  • President Greg Jones, Belmont University
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, State Director, The Education Trust in Tennessee
  • Jamie Clinton, College Access Coordinator, The Education Trust in Tennessee
  • Vilmaris Gonzalez, Senior Manager of Engagement, The Education Trust in Tennessee

9:15 AM
From Surviving to Thriving: Advancing Equity in Higher Ed

  • Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D., Vice President of Higher Education Policy and Practice, The Education Trust in Tennessee
9:35 AM
Student Reflections

  • Thrive Fellows
9:45 AM
Data Walk

  • Thrive Fellows
10:30 AMBreak
10:45 AM
A Critical Conversation on College Access


  • CJ Powell, Chief of Staff, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Dr. Adrienne Battle, Director of Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Samantha Gutter, Chief Access and Outreach Officer, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • (Moderator) Brea Hinds, Thrive Fellow
  • (Moderator) Diana Medina, Thrive Fellow

11:25 AM
Thriving Together: Reflections from 2022 Thrive Fellows and Thrive Community of Practice

  • Thrive Fellows
  • Thrive Community of Practice Members

11:55 PM
Closing Remarks

  • Brea Hinds, Thrive Fellow
  • Jamie Clinton, College Access Coordinator, The Education Trust in Tennessee
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, State Director, The Education Trust in Tennessee