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Plenary Sessions

The 2021 Plenary sessions will feature in-depth presentations that focus on this year’s theme: AEA at 35: Meeting the Moment. Take a look at what to expect from these sessions, and stay tuned for more details to come!

Schedule is subject to change.

Opening Plenary Session

Tuesday, November 9 | 9:45 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. ET

Presented by: 

Aimee White.jpg   
Tom Grayson
AEA President
Veronica Olazabal
AEA President-Elect
Frank Waln
Lakota performer, speaker, and writer

Land Acknowledgement by:

Aimee White.jpg

Andrealisa Belzer; Indigenous Services Canada Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada

Tom Grayson
AEA President

About This Session:

Frank Waln or Oyate Teca Obmani (“walks with the young nation”), from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rosebud, South Dakota, is a Sicangu Lakota rapper, songwriter, and activist.  He will be telling his story of growing up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and on self-empowerment and expression of truth, shedding light on Indigenous history and decolonization. He will talk about today’s reality of Indigenous People not being heard and often being stereotyped. He will address how we might ethically move forward recognizing issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in our work as evaluators.

About Frank Waln:

Frank Waln is an award-winning Lakota performer, speaker, and writer from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. As a Gates Millennium Scholar, Frank Waln earned a BA in Audio Arts and Acoustics from Columbia College Chicago. As an Indigenous artist and speaker, Frank Waln fuses traditional Lakota story telling with Hip Hop and Native flute music to create presentations that shed light on Indigenous history and decolonization. As a performer and speaker Frank Waln has presented his work at colleges, universities, and museums all around the world including Harvard University, the Field Museum, Duke University’s Nasher Museum and the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

Frank Waln has won numerous awards for his work including three Native American Music Awards, the Center for American Indian Enterprise and Development’s 40 Under 40 Award and the Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement. Frank Waln has written for numerous publications including for The Guardian, The School Library Journal and Indian Country Today. He was a contributing author on America Ferrera’s New York Times Best Selling book American Like Me. Frank Waln travels the world sharing performances and presentations that utilize practices rooted in Lakota teachings that are older than America itself.

About Andrealisa Belzer:

Andrealisa Belzer, CE (she/her) is a first-generation Euro-Canadian and second-generation evaluator.  She lives and paddles in Mi’kmaki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, where she was born to American expats and raised on a horse-powered farm. Since the launch of her adult children, she keeps company with two tabbies and a pit bull. 

Abolishing Carcerality and Whiteness In, Through, and Around Evaluation

Wednesday, November 10 | 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. ET

Presented by: 

Aisha Rios Vidhya Shanker

Introductions by:

Xiaoxia Newton; University of North Carolina Charlotte

About This Session:

Dr. Rios and Dr. Shanker will lead an exploration of harm, which is inevitable in an evaluation field that was founded in whiteness—a socio-political construct that is distinct from but related to both white people and the social, economic, and political system of white supremacy. Settler colonialism, neoliberal racial capitalism, and imperial expansion uphold the constructed supremacy of whiteness (Smith, 2006). White supremacy rewards those who adhere to whiteness as the normative standard of being human and punishes those who do not/cannot. Evaluation adheres to this standard of whiteness when it values individualism over collectivism/interconnectedness, profit over people, and urgency over care.

As abolitionists, we work toward abolishing the carceral state (punitive systems of control through surveillance, policing, detention, imprisonment, and deportation) that denies the humanity of the global majority. We work further toward “abolishing whiteness” itself (Ignatiev, 1995), by calling on us all to give up the rewards offered for complying with the codes of whiteness. Abolitionism involves acknowledging/strengthening interdependence and intersubjectivity—inherent within many relational ethical and spiritual traditions (e.g., Ubuntu, Buddhism)—to unlearn binaries and understand how we all have opportunities to accept or reject the rewards that white supremacy metes out for compliance. This plenary creates space/time/community to envision and practice an abolitionist future—being in caring relation with each other and the earth—today.

About Aisha Rios and Vidhya Shanker:

Dr. Aisha Rios and Dr. Vidhya Shanker met in 2015 at the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute, where they connected around their shared passion for challenging dominant evaluation narratives and practices; their abolitionist politics; and their formative experiences theorizing and organizing against state violence. In her current role as the founder of Coactive Change, Dr. Rios partners with change agents working to dismantle systems of oppression and co-create more just, liberatory futures. What this looks like in practice is slower paced, reflective, and contextually grounded learning and evaluation. She relies on approaches and methodologies that center collective knowledge and collaboration—rather than solely relying on her experience—because she believes that learning and change does not happen in isolation but in partnership with organizers for change.

Dr. Shanker began organizing in middle school and has remained at the periphery of movement organizing for the last several decades. She has been using systems concepts, the arts, and critical paradigms to interrogate, identify, and articulate the processes that reinforce—and disrupt—oppressive power dynamics in, through, and around evaluation and the industries that use its services and results. She has simultaneously been working to nurture an invisible but long-standing critical, liberatory, and abolitionist tradition within evaluation, including building the field's understanding of difference, intersectionality, and its own history of exclusion and erasure. Over the last year, she has enjoyed co-laboring with Dr. Rios and others committed to re-inventing an evaluation that allows all involved to live out these principles.

Looking Back to Look Forward: Reflections from AEA Past Presidents

Thursday, November 11 | 3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. ET

Introductions by:

Aimee White.jpg
Tom Grayson (AEA President)

Presented by: 

Michael Quinn Patton

Theme: Evaluation and Politics (1988)

Karen Kirkhart

Theme: Evaluation and Social Justice (1994)

Mel Mark

Theme: The Consequences of Evaluation (2006)

Debra Rog

Theme: Context and Evaluation (2009)

Rodney Hopson

Theme: Evaluation in Complex Ecologies (2012)


Veronica Olazabal (President-Elect) 

This year’s conference theme urges us to reflect upon our history, through different voices and different times, to guide us in today’s context and tomorrow’s future. A panel of past presidents, each from a different year cohort, will share brief reflections on their presidential theme, how it informs the moment we are in, including progress that has been made and work that is still needed to be done. Themes to be highlighted include evaluation and politics, evaluation and social justice, the consequences of evaluation, and evaluation in complex ecologies. The current president will set the context for the session and introduce each panel member. The discussant, the 2021 president-elect, will offer insights into what we can learn from these past moments as we look toward the future.

About the presenters:

Tom Grayson – 2021 President

Tom’s path to becoming an evaluator began in 1971 when he was a doctoral student studying evaluation at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. His first publication was titled Pointers and setters: A look at how they are evaluated in the field. Soon after, he began to focus on evaluating programs that involved improving the lives of people. He is married to Sue Jones (Tom declined to change his name). Their blended family includes 3 children, 5 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

Veronica Olazabal – 2021 President-Elect

Veronica is President-elect for AEA is the first American citizen in her family and descendent of an Asian-African Peruvian lineage. She and her partner are raising 2 teens in a multi-culture household that includes their rescued dog. Notably, she is the first woman of color to have been elected President of the AEA.

Michael Quinn Patton – Theme: Evaluation and Politics (1988)

Michael has received a number of prestigious evaluation awards over the years but he says the greatest honor he's received was a few years ago when his daughter Charmagne came to him and said she wanted to become an evaluator. They just completed together, as co-authors, a new 5th edition of Utilization-Focused Evaluation launched as part of this conference. Second generation evaluators, of whom we now have several, are a sign of health for the future of our field.

Karen Kirkhart – Theme: Evaluation and Social Justice (1994)

Karen resides in Syracuse, New York on the land of the Haudenosaunee. Her passion for evaluation dates from graduate school at the University of Michigan. She quite literally grew up in the profession, first joining both predecessor organizations of AEA—Evaluation Network (ENet) and Evaluation Research Society (ERS)—as a student.  She met her husband, Nick Smith, through ENet, and their son Dylan grew up attending AEA conferences—from a toddler playing under tables at receptions, to an adolescent helping sell conference mugs and t-shirts in the registration area (yes, that was a thing!)

Mel Mark – Theme: The Consequences of Evaluation (2006)

Mel Mark has a wonderful sense of humor. Mel indicated he was born at a very early age; ok, enough laughter. Mel was raised in rural Nebraska. He is currently a Professor of Psychology at Penn State and was AEA President in 2006.  His experience of joy, and his enactment of silliness, have increased substantially since the birth of his first grandchild, Clara Marie, in February.

Debra Rog – Theme: Context and Evaluation (2009)

Debra Rog was the 2009 AEA President and is currently a Vice President at Westat.  She is a social psychologist by training. She confused her first graduate program by arriving with a scholarship from the College Sports Information Directors of America due to spending much of her time in college sitting in press boxes recording team statistics and writing press releases.

Rodney Hopson – Theme: Evaluation in Complex Ecologies (2012)

Rodney Hopson is the first born of two passionate and lifelong learners and teachers. He inherited a spirit of resolve and perseverance, an unwavering commitment to his fellow man, and an increased desire to leave the world a better place than the one into which he is born. It is these qualities that Rodney attempts to nourish and expand during his professional academic and administrative career.