Speaker Bios - 2020 Summit

Amrith Kaur Aakre

Legal Director, Sikh Coalition

Amrith Kaur Aakre Amrith Kaur Aakre joined the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization, in 2017 as Legal Director. In this role, she supervises complex high impact litigation and manages policy initiatives to protect the civil rights of all Americans in areas such as hate crimes, bullying, racial profiling, workplace discrimination, and religious rights matters.

Amrith has successfully litigated religious accommodation and bias-based school bullying cases, advocated on behalf of hate crime victims and provided rapid response legal services, submitted testimony before the EEOC regarding emerging employment discrimination issues including those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and drafted several amicus briefs that were cited by ScotusBlog as “petitions to watch.” She has also coordinated with local and federal law enforcement agencies to provide cultural competency and implicit bias trainings geared toward workplace equity. Amrith is a recognized expert on issues of race and religious rights.

Prior to joining the Sikh Coalition, Amrith served as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney in Chicago for 11 years where she created and directed the Bond Court Initiative, a transformative restorative justice program focused on rehabilitating felony offenders rather than incarcerating them. Amrith serves on the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Illinois, was an Emerging Leaders Fellow for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is a recipient of the Asian American Coalition’s Community Service of the year award and was recognized by Crain’s Business as a Top 100 Leading Woman Lawyer.

In her free time, Amrith teaches HIIT bootcamp classes, is an avid runner, and organizes the Battle of the Books program at her son's school. Amrith holds her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Science & Technology Engineering and English Literature from The George Washington University, and her Juris Doctor from The University of Illinois at Chicago's Law School.

Rubén V. Alliaud

General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Rubén V. Alliaud Elder Rubén V. Alliaud was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2019, at age 53. At the time of his call, he had been serving as an institute teacher, first counselor in the Argentina Missionary Training Center presidency, and public affairs director.
Elder Alliaud received a juris doctor degree from the University of Belgrano in 1993. He then began his career in the national civil courts under the dependence of the Supreme Court of Justice. He later specialized in criminal law. In 1996 he was designated professor at the University of Belgrano Law School. In 1998 he started working as an attorney and a managing partner for Alliaud & Asociados. During his career, he joined the board of several companies.
Elder Alliaud has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Uruguay Montevideo Mission, elders quorum president, counselor in a stake mission presidency, young single adult adviser, counselor in a bishopric, high councilor, bishop, counselor in a stake presidency, stake president, Area Seventy in the South America South Area, and president of the Argentina Córdoba Mission.
Rubén Vicente Alliaud was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 8, 1966. He married Fabiana Bennett in 1992. They are the parents of six children.

Shaykh Azhar Azeez

CEO of Muslim Aid USA

Shaykh Azhar Azeez Azhar Azeez was born in Hyderabad, India. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from the prestigious Osmania University and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). For 11 years he worked for major US corporations such as General Electric, American General Life and Capital One. He currently serves as the CEO of Muslim Aid USA and is a former senior Vice President of Islamic Relief USA, which is one of the largest Muslim charities in the USA. He was elected as the Vice President of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) twice and then was elected as its President for two terms, which is the oldest Muslim organization of US & Canada. He is also the past President of the North Texas Islamic council (NTIC), which represents 45 plus Muslim/Islamic organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He is the founder and the past President of Islamic Association of Carrollton, Texas, one of the large mosques in the suburbs of Dallas, TX. He also currently serves on the board of The Islamic Seminary of America. (TISA) He is a nationally known public and a motivational speaker who travels regularly around the US for local, regional and national events of various organizations. He has addressed events, seminars, summits, conferences & banquets in more than 550 communities/cities across US & Canada. He continuously works towards building bridges between people of various faiths and is nationally known for his interfaith work. He is married and has two kids and currently resides in Plano, TX.

William P. Benac, Sr.

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

William P. Benac, Sr. Bill Benac is president of Pathway India, an organization devoted to the education and physical and mental rehabilitation of disadvantaged Indian youth and adults. He also serves various non-profits and boards that focus on the arts, education, mentoring, international affairs, and freedoms and prisoner rehabilitation. Bill previously held executive positions with global corporations, private equity firms, and as an entrepreneur. Bill earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from BYU, his JD from Pace University, and is a CMA and CPA. He enjoys boating, road biking, and travel. Bill and Barbara have nine children and twenty-one grandchildren.

Michael Berry

General Counsel, First Liberty Institute

Michael Berry Michael Berry is General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. He joined First Liberty in 2013 after serving for seven years on active duty as an attorney with the U.S. Marine Corps. Among Mr. Berry’s numerous positions within the Marine Corps, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and from 2009-2012, Mr. Berry served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Berry continues to proudly serve our nation as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.

As General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, Mr. Berry is responsible for leading all aspects of First Liberty’s legal operations. A recognized subject-matter expert, Mr. Berry has testified before Congress and he is routinely invited to speak across the nation about religious freedom. Mr. Berry has also been featured hundreds of times in various national media outlets.

Mr. Berry earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, and he earned his law degree from The Ohio State University.

Steven T. Collis

Law Professor, University of Texas

Steven T. Collis Steven T. Collis is the author of the nonfiction book Deep Conviction and the novel At Any Cost. He is a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin School of Law and founding faculty director of UT's Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and related Law & Religion Clinic. Prior to his appointment at UT, he was the Olin-Darling Research Fellow in the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and an equity partner at Holland & Hart LLP, where he was the chair of the firm’s nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group.

He is a sought-after speaker on both writing and religion law to audiences across the United States, including foreign diplomats from countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America on behalf of the United States State Department. He has been interviewed by and quoted in various news outlets, including The Deseret News, Bloomberg, The Washington Times, Law360, Public Square Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune, PBS, The Denver Business Journal, Law Week Colorado, CBN News, and others.

Before embarking on his legal and writing career, Steven graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif and served as an editor on the Michigan Law Review and the Michigan Journal of Race and Law. Steven also holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he served as the associate editor of the literary journal Blackbird. He completed his undergraduate studies, with university honors, at Brigham Young University.

Dr. Chris Dowdy

Vice President of Academic Affairs, Paul Quinn College

Dr. Chris Dowdy Dr. Chris Dowdy was recognized by the Dallas Business Journal's Class of 2019 "40Under40". As the vice president of Academic Affairs at Paul Quinn - one of the oldest historically black colleges west of the Mississippi - Chris Dowdy is working to create an academic model that supports the needs of today’s students as they prepare for the workforce.  He teaches about and works for equity, innovation, and justice in higher education and in politics.

In 2014 he joined the administrative team of Paul Quinn College as Special Assistant to the president. He has held a number of roles at the college since then: Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Chief of Staff, and most recently Vice President of Academic Affairs.  During this time, he has taken on increased responsibility for collaborating with all divisions of the college in the development and implementation of the New Urban College Model.

Andrew D. Graham

Andrew D. Graham Andrew D. Graham is the Executive Director for Policy and Education & Senior Fellow at First Liberty Institute, a national nonprofit law firm and think tank dedicated solely to protecting religious freedom.

Previously, Andrew was a partner with the law firm of Jackson Walker LLP, where he achieved an extensive record of success in high-stakes litigation in both trial and appellate courts. He has been named a “Super Lawyers–Rising Star” numerous times. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is admitted to practice before multiple federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Andrew earned his undergraduate degree in history summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and the Hyer Society. He then earned graduate degrees in history from Oxford University (Oriel College) and the University of Chicago before returning home to Texas to earn his law degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Andrew is a National Review Institute Dallas Regional Fellow and coordinates the National Review Institute’s Dallas Regional Fellowship Program. He also proudly chairs The University of Texas School of Law’s Dallas Alumni Steering Committee.

Andrew married his college sweetheart, Molly. They have three children and are longtime members of Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA). Away from the office, Andrew is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fly fishing, hiking, and serving as a merit-badge counselor for his son’s Scout troop.

Dr. Thomas Hibbs

President of The University of Dallas

Dr. Thomas Hibbs Hibbs received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in philosophy from UD and both a master’s and a doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame. He was a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College for three years before moving to Boston College, where he taught for 13 years as full professor and chair of the philosophy department.

The University of Dallas Board of Trustees has selected Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83, to serve as the university’s ninth president. The first alumnus of UD to be president, Hibbs has served as dean of the Honors College and distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University since 2003.

Hibbs has spent most of his career writing, teaching, designing, and implementing academic programs; he has 30 published academic articles, and two are forthcoming. He has written, edited or provided introductions for 12 books. including three on the thought of Thomas Aquinas. He has also written more than 200 movie reviews and dozens of essays and book reviews for publications such as National Review, Catholic World Report, First Things, The Weekly Standard and others.

Dr. John Hittinger

Director, Saint John Paul II Institute

Dr. John Hittinger Dr. John Hittinger is a professor of philosophy and has published four books. Hittinger founded the Pope John Paul II Forum for the Church in the Modern World in 2009. He has published articles and presented papers on a variety of topics including John Locke, Jacques Maritain, military ethics, liberal education, political philosophy and the thought of John Paul II. He can speak on John Paul II, philosophy of war and peace, and issues in political philosophy. Degrees include: Philosophy (PHD) - The Catholic University of America in 1986, Masters in Philosophy - The Catholic University of America in 1978, and Bachelors in Philosophy - University of Notre Dame in 1974

Dr. Robert Hunt

Director of Global Theological Education, SMU Perkins School of Theology

Dr. Robert Hunt Robert A. Hunt was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1955. After attending school in Austin and Richardson, he majored in History at the University of Texas in Austin. After completing a Master of Theology at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) he served the Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. In 1985 he and his wife Lilian moved to Kuala Lumpur, where they taught at the Seminary Theology Malaysia. From 1993 to 1997 he taught at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore. In 1994 he received his PhD from the University of Malaya, focusing on Christian missions to and relationship with Muslims in Southeast Asia. From 1997 to 2004 he was pastor of the English Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna, and an adjunct professor at Webster University in Vienna. Dr. Hunt is presently Director of Global Theological Education at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University and teaches courses in World Religions, Inter-religious Dialogue, and Mission.

Dr. Travis Kerns

Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Travis Kerns Dr. Kerns serves as Associate Professor of Apologetics and World Religions and teaches courses in apologetics, world religions, new religious movements, and church planting. Kerns’ research and writing interests focus on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, world religions, and the application of apologetics by Christians. He is the author of The Saints of Zion: An Introduction to Mormon Theology; multiple articles in the The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions, edited by H. Wayne House; and multiple articles and book reviews in peer-reviewed journals.

Kerns served as the Send City Missionary for Salt Lake City, and the surrounding metro region, for the North American Mission Board from 2013-2019, where he was the lead missiologist for the region. He served simultaneously as the associate director of the Church Planting Network for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention from 2015-2019 and as Pastor of Multiplication and Leadership at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, from 2018-2019. Along with two other men, he also was the church planter/pastor at Oquirrh Mountain Cowboy Church in Herriman, Utah, from 2018-2019.

From 2005-2013, Kerns taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he served as assistant professor of Christian worldview and apologetics and as department chair for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at Boyce College. While a professor at Southern Seminary, Kerns led regular mission trips with students to Salt Lake City and engaged in evangelism on a regular basis. He served simultaneously as Senior Pastor at Morningside Baptist Church in Louisville. Prior to moving to Louisville, he served as Associate Pastor for Youth and Education at Mountain Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.

Shannon Minter

Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Shannon Minter Shannon Price Minter is a transgender man and the longtime legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ legal advocacy organizations. Shannon has litigated dozens of landmark cases, including several victories in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a national expert on LGBTQ law and has received widespread recognition, including awards from Cornel Law School, Stanford Law School, the Ford Foundation, California Lawyer Magazine, the National LGBT Bar Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice LGBT Pride Group.  Shannon is committed to building bridges between conservative religious leaders and groups and LGBTQ people.     

Betsy Price

Mayor, City of Fort Worth Texas

Betsy Price Barbara Elizabeth Cornelius Price is an American businesswoman and politician who serves as the 44th and current mayor of Fort Worth, Texas. She was elected on June 18, 2011, in a nonpartisan race. She was elected for a third consecutive term, unopposed, in 2015. A Republican, she previously served 2½ terms as the elected Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, from 2001 to 2011 Beginning in the late 1980s, Price ran her own car title and licensing company from her father's car business for 17 years, during which she involved herself in title lending reform at the state level and became active in other community affairs such as the FWPD's Bike Officers Citizens Support Club. She had also been the Vice President of the Red Cross. Price served on numerous boards, commissions, and professional associations.

Active in the Republican Party, Price began her first bid for public office and ran for office in 2000 for the position of Tarrant County's Tax Assessor. She was elected. Price has stated she never thought about running for mayor, but began contemplating the position after being approached by several politicos, including Congresswoman Kay Granger, who was the first female mayor of Fort Worth in the early 1990s. In 2011, Price decided to run for mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, winning a run-off election against Jim Lane in the non-partisan contest.[1] She succeeded Mike Moncrief. She was elected to a third consecutive term in 2015, running unopposed.

Arthur Rascon

General Authority Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Arthur Rascon Emmy award winning reporter and Texas native, Art Rascon joined ABC13 in September 1998, now serving as anchor of the 11am, 5pm and 6pm newscasts. Rascon has covered such major events as wars and conflicts in Iraq, the Balkans, throughout the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central America, traveling with scores of juvenile immigrants on their deadly trek to the U.S. border. He has reported widely on U.S. Presidential elections, terrorist attacks both at home and abroad, the Virginia Tech campus shooting, and a host of hurricanes that have hit the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf coast, including Katrina and Ike. Rascon has covered other natural disasters throughout the world including the tsunami in Indonesia, and was one of the first journalists to report out of Haiti after the earthquake.

While working at CBS NEWS as a correspondent, Rascon reported on Haiti's civil unrest, Mexico's guerrilla wars, Peru's hostage standoff, Cuba's downing of U.S. planes, TWA, and other airline disasters, various school shootings, conflicts in Central America, hurricanes throughout the Caribbean and US, the Oklahoma City bombing, and a variety of other international stories. From '89 to '94, Rascon was a reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles, covering such notable events as the O.J. Simpson case, the Rodney King beating trial, the L.A. riots, the Branch Davidian stand-off, as well as earthquakes, fires and floods. Earlier, Rascon worked as a producer, reporter, and anchor in San Antonio, El Paso, Abilene and Salt Lake City.

Rascon has reported from more than 70 countries, five continents, and nearly every state in the Union. He has been nominated for 27 Emmys and has won 20. He's received more than three dozen other local and national reporting awards, including two Edward R. Murrow awards, three National Association of Hispanic Journalists' awards, the International Rotary Club award, two Headliner Awards, the RTNDA Award, 15 Associated Press Reporting awards, and more than a dozen outstanding reporting awards from Press Clubs in Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston.

The National Hispanic Business Magazine once named Rascon one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in America. In 2008 he was named Houston Father Of The Year and in 2010 was honored with the prestigious Paul Harris Fellow award from Rotary International. Rascon is a former national advisory board member of RTNDA (Radio Television News Directors Association), former Vice President of The National Association of Hispanic Journalist and former executive board member of Interfaith Of The Woodlands. He also served two terms as President of the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals and is currently a board member of YMCA-International Services based in Houston. Rascon is a popular motivational speaker and active participant of a variety of charity groups.

Born in El Paso, Texas, and reared in Denver, Colorado, Rascon is a graduate of Brigham Young University with additional studies of European Politics in Madrid, Spain. He and his wife, Patti, are the parents of seven children, two of whom also work as journalists.

Michelle Reed

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Michelle Reed Michelle Reed is a Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP where she leads complex litigation and investigations, serving as the co-chair of the firm’s Cybersecurity practice. Ms. Reed currently serves as the co-chair of the American Bar Association Class Actions and Derivative Suits Subcommittee and is a contributor to Bloomberg BNA, NACD Directorship, and Corporate Counsel Business Journal. She was named one of D Magazine’s “Best Lawyers in Dallas” and is the recipient of the State Bar of Texas’s highest pro bono honor, the Frank Scurlock Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service.

Agustin Reyes

Agustin Reyes Agustin Reyes serves as the director of the Christian Life Commission for Texas Baptists. He serves on the executive committee of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Before moving to his current position with BGCT, Reyes served as the director of Hispanic Education Initiative/Affinity Ministries for Texas Baptists. Previously he also served as a director of Service Center and Ethnic Consultant for the Center of Strategic Evangelism. A 25-year youth ministry veteran, Dr. Reyes is the cowriter with Dr. Richard Ross of 30 Days: Turning the Hearts of Parents and Teenagers Toward Each Other. He served as youth ministry consultant and then as director of the church growth group sales, marketing, and customer service departments at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee.  Dr. Reyes holds a BBA from UT-Austin, an MBA from Angelo State University, and MRE and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mark Romney

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Mark Romney President of Romney Law Firm. Extensive management consultation and litigation experience in commercial and tort matters. International business consulting with an emphasis on Latin America. Fluent in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese and concentration in international business and arbitration, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, employment law, securities, trade secret and intellectual property protection, construction, product liability, software development, licensing, multi-level marketing, contract litigation. Law Clerk to the Hon. H. Vearle Payne, United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. Doctor of Law University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law, Member of the Arizona Law Review, BS Brigham Young University, active in Boy Scouting, Vice Chair – Dallas Interfaith Council at Thanks-Giving Square

Yvette Santana

Yvette Santana Yvette Santana's passions are education and women’s ministry and ensuring that all have an equal opportunity to fulfill their dreams and live up to their God-given potential.

She holds a Masters degree in Educational Psychology and a Bachelor’s in Sociology. She served as a counselor in a K-12 urban school setting, working specifically with at-risk youth. Currently, she serves as Women’s Discipleship Coordinator for the Church of God SW Region

Brett Scharffs

Director International Center for Law and Religion Studies, JR Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, Author of Points of Light

Brett Scharffs Brett Scharffs is the Rex E. Lee Chair and Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies.

He received a BSBA and MA from Georgetown University, was a Rhodes Scholar and earned a BPhil in philosophy at Oxford. He received his JD from Yale Law School and was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal. Professor Scharffs clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and was a legal assistant at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

Before teaching at BYU, he was an attorney for Sullivan & Cromwell and taught at Yale and George Washington Universities.

He has been a visiting Professor at Central European University in Budapest, helped organize a Training Programs on Religion and Law at Peking University and in Vietnam and Myanmar. Brett has developed courses on Shari’a and Human Rights with universities in Indonesia, has been a visiting professor at the University of Adelaide School of Law in Australia and Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

Professor Scharffs has written more than 100 articles and his casebook, LAW AND RELIGION has been translated into Chinese and Vietnamese (and currently into Arabic, Burmese, Indonesian and Turkish).

He has served as Chair of the Law and Religion Section of the Association of American Law Schools is on the board of the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion and the Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion at the University of Adelaide.

He is married to Deirdre Mason Crane Scharffs, has three children and enjoys golf, skiing, and mountain biking.

Hannah Smith

Attorney, Board of Directors of the Religious Freedom Institute

Hannah Smith Hannah Clayson Smith is an attorney with the firm Schaerr Jaffe. Smith is a senior fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University (BYU). She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Religious Freedom Institute. She earned a bachelor's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before attending BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School.

Smith also served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Switzerland Geneva Mission, which covered parts of Switzerland and France. Following law school, Smith clerked for then-U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito (3rd Circuit). She next clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (2003-2004), and then returned in 2006 to clerk at the Supreme Court a second time for Alito following his appointment as an Associate Justice. She was part of the legal team for landmark U.S. Supreme Court victories such as Zubik v. Burwell, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  In 2017, Smith testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ulisses Soares

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Ulisses Soares Ulisses Soares was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2018. He had been serving as a General Authority Seventy since April 2, 2005. Elder Soares received a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting and economics from the São Paulo Pontifical Catholic University, School of Economic Science in 1985 and later received a Master of Business Administration degree. Elder Soares was named a member of the Presidency of the Seventy on January 6, 2013. He served previously as a counselor in the Africa Southeast Area, President of the Brazil Area and as a counselor in the Brazil South Area. He was an accountant and auditor for multinational corporations in Brazil and director for temporal affairs in the Church area office in São Paulo, Brazil. At the time of his call as a General Authority, he was serving on a special assignment for the Presiding Bishopric of the Church in Salt Lake City.

Chaplain Thomas L. Solhjem

Major General - Chief of Chaplains

Chaplain Thomas L. Solhjem Chaplain (Major General) Thomas L. Solhjem became the United States Army's 25th Chief of Chaplains on May 31, 2019. He is ordained as a minister and endorsed as an Army chaplain by the General Council of the Assemblies of God; and he has served in multiple key assignments and on multiple deployments, supporting a wide array of Army units and Soldiers. As the Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Major General) Solhjem leads the Army Chaplain Corps in providing religious support to the Soldiers, Families, and civilians of the U.S. Army.

Chaplain Solhjem received his Bachelors of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Specialized Ministries from North Central University in 1982. He completed his Masters of Divinity with Bethel Theological Seminary in 1988. In addition, he holds a second master's degree in Military Strategic Studies. As the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain Solhjem served as the chief strategist for the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps and senior coordinating general officer for actions assigned to Assistant Chiefs of Chaplains (Reserve Component) and the USACHCS Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army. As a member of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, he and other members advise the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical and quality-of-life concerns.

Rabbi Ari Sunshine

Rabbi Ari Sunshine Rabbi Ari Sunshine   joined Congregation Shearith Israel in July 2017 as Senior Rabbi, bringing with him his passion for community building, outreach and engagement, for teaching Torah in many different settings, and his love for Israel. Previously, Rabbi Sunshine served as Rabbi of B’nai Shalom of Olney, Maryland from November 2006 to June 2017. From 2013 to 2016 he participated in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative and graduated as a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. During his tenure in Maryland, Rabbis Sunshine also served as the President of the Greater Olney Interfaith Ministerium and as the President of the Washington-Baltimore Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. from Brandeis University, Rabbi Sunshine served three years at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts as Youth Director, Ritual Director, and Senior USY Advisor. In 1997 he decided to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. While attending the Seminary, he also served as a Rabbinic Intern for Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and for The American University in Washington, D.C.

Rabbi Sunshine has extensive experience working at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California, and leading USY Israel Pilgrimage and USY on Wheels groups. He received his M.A. and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in the spring of 2002. From July 2002 until November of 2006, Rabbi Sunshine served as the Associate Rabbi of Temple Israel in Charlotte, North Carolina.   

Rabbi Sunshine and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Jonah and Elana. He roots (usually in vain) for the Baltimore Orioles and a host of other perennially underachieving Washington D.C. area college and professional sports teams ... except for his beloved Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals!

Major General Keith Thurgood Ph.D.

Major General Keith Thurgood Ph.D. Thurgood is uniquely qualified having served over 28 years leading large military organizations on active duty and as a member of the Army reserve while simultaneously holding senior executive and C-level positions in a variety of for-profit industries including PepsiCo where he led their strategy and innovation team; Sam’s Club where he led one of three $15B operating divisions; president of the largest operating division of a health care performance improvement company, and was the CEO of “The Exchange”, the DOD’s $10B for-profit retail organization with stores in 30 countries. He has experience leading large ERP implementations and system integration efforts. MG Thurgood’s military experience include assignments in Europe as a logistics officer responsible for port clearance operations and multi-modal shipment of cargo throughout Europe and as the lead transportation planner for NATO training exercises. He served as the operations officer of a Forward Support Battalion and has commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and flag officer level.

His most recent military assignments include Commanding General, the 143rd Transportation Command and Deputy Commanding General, 377th Theater Support Command, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with follow on assignments as Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Staff, United State Army Reserve with responsibility for execution of an annual budget of over $9B and oversight of 200,000 Soldiers world-wide. MG Thurgood also led the Army-wide Employer Partnership Initiative designed to reduce veteran unemployment. MG Thurgood’s last assignment was as the Deputy Director (IMA), Office of Business Transformation (Office, Secretary of the Army) with responsibility for design of major Army end-to-end business processes. Currently serves on a variety of not-for-profit boards.

Scholarly Work/Publications/Awards: Leadership and Character: Why it Matters. Paper presented at the 2014 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. Proceedings published 2015; The X Factor: Sustaining Individual and Organizational Xcellence. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.; Construct for Developing an Integrated Leadership Model: Linking the Correlates of Effective Leadership, Development and Succession Planning. Ann Arbor, Michigan. ProQuestU.S.; Understanding the Customer. Presentation at the International Intermodal Expo, Dallas, Texas; Integrating the Supply Chain. Presentation at the Council of Logistics Management, Chicago, Illinois; The Role of the Logistics Leader in Purchasing Freight and Transportation, Transporgistics. Brigham Young University Leadership Alumni Award (2008); Various military awards.

MG Thurgood (Retired) is a frequent invitational speaker addressing leadership, strategy, healthcare and veterans issues and has testified before the House Armed Services Committee on global DOD retail operations and Soldier and family issues.

R. Gerald Turner

President, Southern Methodist University

R. Gerald Turner As president of SMU since 1995, R. Gerald Turner is leading an era of unprecedented progress. His tenure has included two historic major gift campaigns that raised more than $1.6 billion for student scholarships, endowed faculty positions, academic programs and capital projects, including new academic, student life and athletics facilities.

Fueled by these investments, SMU’s progress has included increases in average admission test scores, a near tripling of student applications, an increase in enrollment of underrepresented communities up to 31 percent and a more than tripling of the endowment. Under his leadership, SMU has secured the largest gifts in its history: a historic $50 million gift from Carolyn L. and David B. Miller ’72, ’73 for the Cox School of Business and a landmark gift of $100 million from the Moody Foundation to create the new Moody School for Graduate and Advanced Studies.

The University continues to advance as a leading center of teaching and research that generates new knowledge, addresses significant issues and prepares students to be world changers. SMU ranks in the top 20 percent of the best national universities by U.S. News & World Report

From its home in the global city of Dallas, SMU’s vibrant campus offers enrichment opportunities such as the Tate Lecture Series and the Meadows Museum to students and the wider community. President Turner led efforts with the Board of Trustees to attract the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which opened at SMU in 2013. SMU and the Bush Center partner through fellowships, public lectures, the new George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and additional collaborations that bring together students, faculty and global experts to tackle pressing challenges. 

Beyond the campus, President Turner has served on the boards of the Dallas Citizens Council, the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and he co-chaired the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for nearly 10 years. In Texas, he serves on the boards of the Methodist Health System Foundation, the Salvation Army of North Texas and the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Before joining SMU, President Turner was the chancellor of the University of Mississippi. He previously served in administrative positions at the University of Oklahoma and Pepperdine University. A native of New Boston, Texas, he earned an AA degree from Lubbock Christian University, a BS in psychology from Abilene Christian University and an MA and a PhD in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife, Gail, have two married daughters and five grandchildren.

Dr. Adam C. Wright

President of Dallas Baptist University

Dr. Adam C. Wright In 2016, the DBU Board of Trustees elected Dr. Adam C. Wright as the sixth president of Dallas Baptist University.  Dr. Wright previously served as Vice President and Dean of the Cook School of Leadership, where he provided academic leadership and taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  Prior to his appointment as Dean, he served as Vice President for Advancement at DBU, paving the way for unprecedented growth in fund-raising and development efforts, expanding the physical plant and increasing student scholarships. Throughout his time at DBU, he has provided senior leadership in academic, enrollment, administrative, and advancement areas.

As Dean and a faculty member, he has taught numerous courses in higher education, leadership, and global studies, supervised doctoral research, led international study trips, shaped curriculum, and launched new programs.  Additionally, he has led domestic and international travel study courses and maintains an active role of membership in international leadership and academic societies. In 2014, he founded DBU’s Institute for Global Engagement, a Christian think tank with a focus on connecting scholars and practitioners in order to become catalysts for moral and spiritual renewal.

A native of Oak Cliff, Dr. Wright came to DBU as an undergraduate student, serving in various leadership roles on campus including president of the Student Government Association. He soon became a full-time staff member while earning both a Master of Education in Higher Education and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies with a concentration in higher education.