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General Session Speakers

Dr. Robert D. Ballard 
President, Ocean Exploration Center at Mystic Aquarium

Opening General Session Keynote Speaker
Tuesday, September 10th, 8:00 am 

Best known for his 1985 discovery of the TITANIC, Dr. Robert Ballard has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship BISMARCK, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier YORKTOWN (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109.
While those discoveries have captured the imagination of the public, Dr. Ballard believes his most important discoveries where of hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979 along with their exotic life forms living off the energy of the Earth through a process now called chemosynthesis.  
In addition to being a National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Dr. Ballard is the president of the Ocean Exploration Center (OEC) at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT.  
Ballard was born June 30, 1942, in Wichita, KS but moved to California at a very young age and grew up exploring the shore in San Diego.  Dr. Ballard has a Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island.  He spent 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he helped develop telecommunications technology to create “tele-presence” for his JASON Project, which allows hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to accompany him from afar on undersea explorations around the globe each year.  In 2001, he returned to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island where he is presently a tenured Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration.
Dr. Ballard has 21 honorary degrees and six military awards. He was also a Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving in the Navy from 1967 to 1997.  He received the National Geographic Society’s prestigious Hubbard Medal in 1996 for “extraordinary accomplishments in coaxing secrets from the world’s oceans and engaging students in the wonder of science.”   Dr. Ballard has published numerous books, scientific papers, and a dozen articles in National Geographic magazine.   Dr. Ballard also has been featured in several National Geographic television programs, including the record-breaking “Secrets of the TITANIC.”
His discoveries also include sunken remains of ships along ancient trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea; two ancient Phoenician ships off Israel, the oldest shipwrecks ever found in deep water; and four 1,500-year-old wooden ships, one almost perfectly preserved in the Black Sea.  Dr. Ballard’s Black Sea project seeks evidence of a great flood that may have struck the region thousands of years ago.
His 1997 best-selling book, Lost Liners, tells the story of the great transatlantic liners through memorable wrecks he has visited.  Dr. Ballard was also a special advisor on Steven Spielberg’s futuristic Sea Quest, DSV television show.
An explorer, discoverer and historian, Dr. Ballard’s fascinating journeys can teach us a great deal about our past, and they have encouraged others to take tremendous strides in the survey of the undiscovered mysteries of the deep sea.

For more information about Dr. Ballard and his projects, check out Mystic Aquarium, Nautilus Live, JASON Learning, and Ocean Exploration Trust.

Byron V. Garrett 
Director, Innovative Schools Program at Microsoft

General Session Keynote Speaker
Wednesday, September 11th, 8:00 am

Byron V. Garrett is Director of the Innovative Schools Program for Microsoft where he is responsible for the development and implementation of partnerships with school leaders and districts across the US.  

An accomplished leader in education, Byron serves as Chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA); a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming education through meaningful family engagement; and is the former CEO of the National PTA. 

Throughout his career, he has been a visionary agent of change, promoting the idea that everyone has an obligation and opportunity to serve the best interests of our nation’s most precious resource – children. 

Byron served as a lead strategist and planner for NBC News’ Education Nation featuring President Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush, and 10 sitting Governors.  Byron served as Senior Advisor for the America’s Promise Alliance where he helped create the Grad Nation Campaign and produced the 1st Annual Building a Grad Nation Summit featuring Vice President Joe Biden. 

Byron has a unique combination of experience from both the non-profit and governmental sectors, having served as the first Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security). 

Prior to this, Garrett served as National Program Leader for the National 4-H Headquarters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the program’s seven million participants and 90,000 clubs.  While at USDA he was appointed by The White House as co-convener of the Helping America’s Youth initiative, an interagency effort to address challenges facing youth and to promote successful solutions.

Earlier in his career, Garrett spent a decade in Phoenix as an education advocate and community leader.  He served as the Policy Advisor for Faith and Community Initiatives for then Governor Janet Napolitano (currently U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security); prior to that role, he was the Director of the Governor’s Division for Community and Youth Development, where he administered multiple boards and commissions.  Garrett is also a former K-8 charter school principal. 

He has been a guest on the Today Show, MSNBC and Fox, and featured in a number of publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, JET Magazine, and was named by Ebony to its “Power 150,” an annual list of “The Most Influential Black Americans.” Garrett is a member of the Board of Directors for the CeCe Peniston Youth Foundation, Regional Advisory Board for Usher’s New Look Foundation, Parenting Magazine’s Mom’s Congress Advisory Board, and an Advisory Board Member for Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.   Previously, Garrett served as a columnist for the Arizona Informant and is an author of several books including “The ABC’s of Life” released by Scholastic in April 2013.

To learn more about Byron and his various projects, publications and speaking engagements, please click here.