In our rapidly modernizing world, in so many ways the tide is rising… 
How is the tide rising in your world?

 2015 Speakers

Michael Gorka, Ph.D

Michael Gorka was born and raised in Erie, PA. He received his Chemistry Ph.D. from the Penn State University Eberly College of Science and is currently working in the Dr. John Golbeck laboratory studying the application of natural photosynthetic systems and solar biofuels. Through his research, he has discovered a unique tethering mechanism for an organic/inorganic bio-hybrid device and learned that we can essentially ‘park’ electrons. During his undergraduate career, Michael participated in two Research Experiences for Undergraduates Summer Programs through Clemson University and Westminster College. In 2008, he received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors. Michael is passionate about his field and enjoys both learning new things and teaching others about the incredible field of science.



Natalie Brasington

Natalie Brasington is an Erie PA native, now living in New York City and working all over the country as a commercial portrait and entertainment photographer. She work with clients like DirecTV, Food Network, Grey Advertising, Edelman PR; shoot ads and albums for Comedy Central and for comedy specials airing on Showtime and Netflix, and you can see her work in magazines the world over (like Rolling Stone Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Sierra Magazine, Time Out NY, Arthritis Today Magazine, Benefit’s Selling Magazine, Research Magazine, USA Today, LA Weekly, Details Magazine among others) and on websites, billboards, her iphone, at her parents' house!… and on her website

Natalie also serves on the executive board of directors for an amazing organization called Art Start. Through her volunteer work with Art Start, she founded and produce the Art Start Portrait Project. Natalie has been honored to speak to school groups, to crowds of hundreds at Art Start fundraising events and exhibitions, and has been featured in on-line content for editorials and local news outlets.

Susan Gable

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Susan Gable is the Director of Education Curriculum at She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Douglas College/Rutgers University and is a certified elementary teacher in three states. She’s also a multi-published, award-winning author and has presented numerous public speaking events & workshops for writers, readers, teachers and parents.

Susan has 7 published novels and one independently published book on writing. She is currently working on a coloring book for grownups.


Dr. Rhonda Matthews

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Dr. Rhonda Matthews is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Women's Studies in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at Edinboro University. Dr. Matthews has been with the university since 2002 and served as the Director of the Dr. Robert C. Weber Honors Program for three years. Prior to her work at EU, she taught at several other institutions and worked in the fields of diversity affairs and residence life.

Dr. Matthews is dedicated to the advocacy and empowerment of women and children as a result of her previous work as a Sexual Assault Survivor Counselor. Using tenets of intersectional analysis, her primary areas of academic interest include gender & women's studies, sociological theory, popular culture and stratification.

She is a long-time fan of science fiction, superheroes and comic books and is married to a badass man who together are rearing one badass daughter.

Abdullah Washington

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Initially attending Kent State University as a mathematics major, Abdullah left to become an activist. He soon realized the best he could do for inner city residents was employ them, and worked his way up in a Fortune 500 company becoming a general manager. Abdullah’s greatest accomplishment there was achieving 3rd highest sales in a national incentive selling Ishmael Bey’s book A Long Way Gone, about child soldiers in Africa. He followed up, through his own initiative, sending an employee to volunteer with an NGO in Kenya. After earning the company’s 10-year pen, Abdullah left and currently pursues an Actuarial Science degree at Edinboro University.

Most proud of his son Rumi, Abdullah is a Mensa member and French Creek Scoutmaster who believes in the unlimited potential of inner city children.

In his spare time, Abdullah is the poet “Bigg Wash” having opened up for Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, KRS-One, and performed at Manhattan’s Nuyorican Poet’s Café.

Joe Siegrist

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Joe Siegrist resides in Harborcreek, Pennsylvania and is the Director of Research and Outreach for the Purple Martin Conservation Association.  He has previously conducted avian research for the University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey studying Acadian Flycatchers, Northern Bobwhite, and Neotropical Migrants in general.  In addition to conservation research, he has also worked as an educator teaching high school science, a zookeeper, a naturalist, and a stay-at-home parent.

Joe has presented at both local and regional scientific conferences and frequently speaks at public events representing the Purple Martin Conservation Association.  He is focused on engaging the younger generation and instilling in them an understanding of the need for conservation both of Purple Martins and native species overall. 

When not talking about Purple Martins, Joe can often be found driving the motorized couch that he and his children built around the Harborcreek area. 

To learn more about the plight of the Purple Martin and how you can help, visit

Kelly Armor

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Kelly Armor is the Folk Art and Education Director at the Erie Art Museum. She continues to be deeply influenced by her two and a half-year sojourn in East Africa, where she experienced a culture that had no notion of ‘audience’ or ‘stage fright’ and incorporated music and song into their daily life.

One of her greatest successes is the Old Songs New Opportunities, a collaboration between the Museum and many local agencies to provide early childhood program training to local refugees and encourage the incorporation of traditional songs while on the job.  Since 2004, OSNO has trained 64 New American men and women and was awarded a three-year federal grant in 2013. This grant allowed for additional placement of refugee song coaches into 115 classrooms and over 300 successfully trained teachers, resulting in over 1800 Erie County children being exposed to new cultural art experiences.

Nick Cianci

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Nick Cianci is a native of Greenville, PA. He is the Director of Enrollment for the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools, a Pre K –12 system in Hermitage, PA.

Nick earned dual Bachelors’ of Arts degrees from Mercyhurst University, graduating Magna cum Laude. At Mercyhurst, Cianci co-authored research that earned highest recognition by the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Justice Educators. He was also an “Outstanding Senior Award” finalist for the School of Social Sciences.

Nick gave to the Erie area through ministry and service during his time at MU. He was co-founder of nationally recognized Mercyhurst Youth Retreats and Catholic Leadership Education, and also worked with educational programs such as Bayfront Maritime Center, Carpe Diem Academy, and Harborcreek Youth Services.

Nick’s professional interests include regional development, entrepreneurship, community partnerships, and youth development. In addition to his work at KCFS, he coaches varsity athletics and assists with Erie Diocesan ministries. He is pursuing a Master’s of Educational Leadership from Edinboro University.

Nick’s favorite TEDx talk is Fr. Gregory Boyle’s “Compassion and Kinship”.

Simon Tam

Simon Tam is an award-winning musician, author, entrepreneur, and social justice activist. Simon is best known as the founder and bassist of The Slants, the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band. His approach to activism through the arts has been highlighted in thousands of media features across 82 countries, including: BBC World News, NPR, TIME Magazine, TED talks, NBC, and the New York Times.

Since 2000, he has been a performer, presenter, and keynote at events and organizations such as TEDx, SXSW, Comic-Con, The Department of Defense, Stanford University, Rotary International, and over 1,200 other events across North America, Europe, and Asia.

Recently, he was named a "Portland Rising Star" from the Light a Fire Awards, received a "Distinguished Alum Award" from Marylhurst University, and has delivered six TEDx talks.

Simon is the Marketing Director at Oregon Environmental Council and an adjunct professor at both Marylhurst University and Linn-Benton Community College. He is currently serving as a founding member on the Board of Directors for the Oregon Center for Human Rights and the Policy and Equity Committee for the Jade District.

Simon originally dropped out of college to tour in a punk rock band, but now teaches at 3 colleges.

Carolynn R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Carolynn R. Johnson, Ph.D. is the Human Factors and Research Manager for Daedalus, a Pittsburgh-based research, design, and engineering consultancy. With a doctorate in cognitive psychology and expertise in human information processing, Dr. Johnson has spent nearly two decades combining user research and interaction design to create innovative and engaging user experiences for the medical, consumer, safety, and transportation industries, for which she holds several patents.

Dr. Johnson is a member of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), the User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA), and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). She currently serves on the AAMI Home Care Applications and Human Factors Engineering committees, contributing to technical information reports and national standards. Her current professional focus is helping medical device companies navigate the challenges involved in transitioning complex medical equipment from skilled medical care environments into patients’ homes.

Brad McGarry

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Brad McGarry is a native of Erie, PA and is the Director of The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst University, the 3rd highest ranked program in the U.S. for Impressive Special College Programs for Students with Autism. In 1999, he received his Master’s in Community Counseling and then completed a Masters Certificate in Special Education with a concentration in Applied Behavioral Analysis. Throughout his career, Brad has passionately worked to raise awareness and support for Autism not only in the Erie community but also across the nation. Over the past three years he has testified before the 112th United States Congress, was nominated for the Temple Grandin Award through the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania and was a contributing author to the published guide, “Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum in Higher Education”. Brad and the AIM Program have been featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes Magazine, NBC’s, C-SPAN and Autism/Asperger Digest.

Brad is happily married and a parent of five wonderful boys, Connor, Braydan, Nico, Nate and Mason.

Wei-Shin Lai, MD

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A family doctor turned entrepreneur, Wei-Shin Lai, MD helps 400,000 people live happier, healthier, well-rested lives. She was born in Taiwan and grew up in Knoxville, TN. She attended the University of Michigan for Cellular Molecular Biology and the University of Virginia for Medicine.

When she was in private practice and struggled with her own sleep issues, she and her husband invented SleepPhones®, the world's first headphones designed for sleeping.

Dr. Lai's inventions have been featured by the Associated Press, The Today Show, CBS's Innovation Nation, and Parade Magazine. The first double winner of the Pennsylvania Governor's Impact Award, a Huffington Post contributor and 4-time winner of the Consumer Electronics Show Innovations Award.

Dr. Lai is also a mom to a 4-year-old who has never eaten a cookie.

Carla Fleming

Carla Fleming - aka Carlaquarius - is a passionate thought leader, performing artist, and international award-winning composer, whose work sparks hope, happiness, and human connection.

As a heart-centered entrepreneur, one of only 300 elite Certified High Performance Coaches around the globe, Carla uplifts lives through life and business coaching─ one on one, in groups, and corporate teams.

Youtube host, blogger, mastermind leader, and teacher, Carla inspires you to cherish the melody of life and harmony of friendships. She is the founder of The Mindful Maven Book Club; a monthly meeting free and open to the public, and also streamed online.

Founder of The Fleming School of the Arts and Lake Erie Belly Dance, Carla is honored to have brought the world-record Shimmy Mob title home for Team Erie in an annual dance event that raises thousands of dollars for domestic abuse victims. She is thrilled to have composed the TEDxErie theme song with input from community members.

Carla is most grateful for her 20 nieces and nephews and lives in Erie, Pa with her man and 3 kitties. Meet Carla at

Mercyhurst University Liturgical Dance Ensemble

The Mercyhurst University Liturgical Dance Ensemble provides performance opportunities to enhance the enrichment of spiritual life on campus and in the community.  They specialize in performing for on-campus mass as well as reaching out to retirement communities, local churches, and community agencies.  In recent years, they have performed in Atlanta, Austria, Australia, and annually at the sacred dance festival, Project Dance, in New York City’s Times Square.  In the spring of 2014, a select group of the ensemble traveled on behalf of the Mercyhurst University Dance Department to Jerusalem, Israel to participate in Project Dance.  Auditions are held annually and the ensemble is comprised of approximately 20 active dance majors.  The ensemble is coordinated by student leaders who work with faculty advisor, C. Noelle Partusch, Associate Professor of Dance.




Dysmorphia is an all-female DIY riot punk from Erie, PA. Dysmorphia is all about promoting awareness and intelligence, and doing it LOUDLY. The band is named after body dysmorphic disorder which affects millions of people globally, including its members. Each of the band members comes from a different extensive musical background and they embrace their differences both musically and as friends.

Breaking molds is Dysmorphia’s specialty but their main goal is to enlighten and empower women; young and old. As Erie's only all-original all-female band, Dysmorphia has seen the spark of inspiration in the eyes of their young followers and nothing could make them happier. Dysmorphia will continue to strive for equality in Erie's music scene and beyond. For only being around just over a year, it feels like they are off to a good start.