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Conference Connections

15 Mar 2022 3:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

From Karen Lokkesmoe, Conference Oversight Director


We are delighted to announce that some members of the Conference Committee are returning and that we are adding some new members to the Conference Committee.

Thorunn Bjarnadottir, M.A.

Thorunn Bjarnadottir, M.A.“As an Icelandic-born American, I grew up in one of the smallest countries in the world and I have been attracted to ideas that help people work across cultures ever since I left my native home. SIETAR is a great place to be with people who both develop theories and those who practice this work daily. You come back from SIETAR with a renewed sense of hope for our world.

Thorunn is an experienced cross-cultural trainer with over 20 years’ experience in cultural competency development within higher education, global leadership development, and the facilitation of the Intercultural Development Inventory, Cultural Detective, and Personal Leadership. Intercultural learning and leadership development are her passion; she never tires of teaching people to leverage cultural differences as it truly creates original and creative outcomes. She is the former Director of Intercultural Education at the University of Minnesota, International Student and Scholar Services and has prepared countless University students to work in a more interconnected global world.

Thorunn brought all these skills and experiences to her previous work as Conference Co-Chair and her goal is to ensure the best possible conference experience for everyone this year in Omaha.

Dr. Ferial Pearson

Ferial Pearson from the University of Omaha has joined Thorunn Bjarnadottir on the conference leadership team as Conference Co-Chair. They both bring a great deal of experience and passion to the conference and have already begun to make arrangements to highlight aspects of Omaha for our conference attendees. They will be sharing more with you as plans develop.

Dr. Ferial Pearson Dr. Ferial Pearson - aka Mama Beast - is a mother, activist, author, educator, speaker, poet, comedienne, cook, sourdough artist, and citizen of the world. She founded the Secret Kindness Agents Project and is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has been teaching humans of all ages for 20 years in the Omaha area. As a Kenyan Indian Muslim immigrant queer disabled woman of color, she is passionate about working towards Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Kindness. She has received national and local awards for her work in education and social justice, has authored two books, and has been featured as a speaker on the TEDx Omaha stage. Her Secret Kindness Agents Project has been featured at Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, Hallmark, Parents Magazine, Learning for Justice website and magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, and more. Her goal is to make sure you know that you are loved and that you are enough just the way you are. She lives in Omaha with her spouse, two teenagers, and two guinea pigs.

We would like to introduce the two co-chairs of the Program Committee. The presentation program is the heart of the conference and their role is one of the most important to insure a conference that will let you leave feeling “well fed.”


Ricardo Núñez Ricardo Núñez is a dynamic, energetic, and thought-provoking facilitator with over 20 years of experience in Global Leadership, DEIB, and High Performing Teams development. He has worked closely with individuals, teams, and organizations in North America, Latin America, Europe, and APAC region. In his corporate career, Ricardo has led teams in operations, sales, public relations, L&D, business development, and customer service in Mexico, USA, and India.

Ricardo’s experience includes collaborating as both, a business and intercultural liaison with organizations in public and private sectors dealing with global, multicultural, and multifunctional teams. In addition, he has participated in multiple research projects focusing on understanding and raising awareness of the values, needs, and opportunities, as well as the impact of globalization on Latin American communities in the U.S. Ricardo has also developed and conducted extensive training programs for global audiences, promoting a better understanding of the Latin American culture, markets, and business practices.

Melissa Graetz

Melissa AB Graetz Melissa AB Graetz has been working in the intersection of culture, leadership, and project management for over five years. She is skilled at project design and management, instructional design, and finding new ways to develop innovative and creative solutions for community challenges.

With a background in percussion music and anthropology, Melissa started her career in non-profit administration in an effort to support community engagement and education. Formerly, she was the Executive Director of Music for the Mission, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness and hunger in Central New York through music, the Campus Manager of Levine Music’s Silver Spring campus in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, and the Deputy Director for the Corporate Social Responsibility Symposium at American University. She has worked on various projects, conferences, and events that work to bring people together through a common mission. Melissa has presented at the Society of International Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) Conference and currently is the co-program chair for the 2022 SIETAR conference.

Melissa supported these skills and experiences through her Master’s research at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Janklow Arts Leadership Program, and American University’s School of International Service’s Social Enterprise Program.

Most recently, Melissa has started to combine her previous experience and passion around operations, intercultural communication, diversity, equity, inclusion, social change, and leadership, with her position as the Client Engagement Manager for MSM Global Consulting through development, training, and research. Melissa is originally from Syracuse, NY, and lives in Broomfield, CO with her husband, Robert, and her two cats, and two sugar gliders!

As Conference Co-Chairs, we are excited to welcome you to Omaha, to provide a rich and exciting experience at the conference, and to provide you with plenty of opportunities to get to know one another, eat some good food, dance, and laugh.

Our conference chairs are pleased to take on these roles, contributing to SIETAR, and they are working for you. What do you hope for the conference? If you have any ideas regarding what you want or what you can do to help, please let them know.


Three Fun Facts About Omaha from VisitOmaha.com (more to come next month)!

  1. Omaha is home to one of the world’s best zoos. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is more like a biological park, dedicated to conservation around the globe and home to the world’s largest indoor desert, the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome, and North America’s largest indoor rainforest.

    North America’s largest indoor rainforest

  2. Another renowned Omaha attraction is the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Most people call him Bob. He’s a 3,000-foot bridge floating over the Missouri River linking more than 150 miles of hiking and biking trails. Bob also connects Nebraska and Iowa – in fact, standing on Bob’s state line and taking a photo is called “Bobbing.” The best part about Bob is that he Instagrams, tweets and vlogs!

    Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

  3. Omaha is a major Foodie City! It is on the forefront of the farm-to-fork movement – of course, this is farm country. In fact, the nation is taking notice of the city’s fresh fare. Omaha is home to some of the top 100 certified restaurants on the Good Food 100 List – Dante and Kitchen Table are recognized for their strong commitment to sustainable sourcing. There are many ethnic restaurants that are family-owned; anything from Ethiopian, Indian, Mediterranean, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Togolese, Chinese dim sum, and more is within a few miles of the hotel and convention center. Did you know the Reuben sandwich was invented in Omaha? We don’t care what New Yorkers say! During a late-night poker game at the Blackstone Hotel, a local grocer was asked to “ante-up” and create a new dish. The available ingredients resulted in an American menu staple.

    Tastey Dish

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