University of Maryland Extension

2012 Speakers

Eleanor Blayney serves as the Consumer Advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, educating consumers and the media about the value of the financial planning process and the importance of working with a qualified competent professional.

She is also President of Direction$ LLC, with the mission of empowering, educating, and engaging women in personal finance.

Eleanor is licensed as a Certified Financial PlannerTMand the author of two books published in 2010.  “Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence” speaks to women in and on their own terms about the major financial issues they face in their lives.  “The Home Budget Workbook” is a straightforward guide for creating and maintaining a practical budget. 

Presentation Title: Investing Like a Girl: Do Women Have What It Takes to be Savvy Investors?

Bonnie Braun is a Professor and Extension Specialist at the University of Maryland College Park. She has served as the first Herschel S. Horowitz Center of Health Literacy Endowed Chair and Director. In a joint appointment with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, through the Maryland Cooperative Extension, she facilitates community-based research and outreach education to improve the health literacy of Maryland's population as consumers, professionals and public policy makers. She is an author of over 100 articles and seven family and consumer science teaching curricula, and has been a speaker at over 200 local, state, national and international conferences. Bonnie has extensive experience in working with low-income families, with program development and evaluation, and with leadership development. She has served as director of the evaluation program of Maryland's Food Stamp Nutrition Education. She has also served on numerous committees and task forces in agriculture, youth, family and community development. Her main research focus is on family health and health policy, rural, low-income families as part of a USDA multi-state study. 

Presentation Title: Health and Financial Literacy: Health Insurance Literacy Matters

Sarah Davies is Senior Vice President of Analytics and Product Management at VantageScore Solutions LLC.  In addition to her product development work, Ms. Davies is chiefly responsible for analytic insights and revalidation of the algorithms underlying the VantageScore model.  She has nearly 20 years of analytics and information sciences experience in various industries, most recently with IntelliRisk Management Corporation.  Ms. Davies earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in operations research and statistics from the University of Wales and Iowa State University, respectively.

Presentation Title: Credit Score Impacts from Consumer Behaviors and Rehabilitation Strategies

Mark Eichorn is an Assistant Director in the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection (DPIP), where he supervises privacy and data security matters.  He joined DPIP at the end of 2009 from FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz’s office, where he served as an attorney advisor for Chairman (and previously Commissioner) Leibowitz on consumer protection issues.  After joining the Commission in 1998, Mark worked for many years as an attorney in the Division of Advertising Practices and served a six month stint in 2003 as an attorney advisor to FTC Commissioner Leary.  Mark went to law school at the University of Virginia, and later clerked for Ninth Circuit Judge Robert Beezer before joining the Seattle firm of Mundt, MacGregor.  He graduated from Yale University.

Presentation Title: An Update from the FTC on Credit Reporting, Identity Theft, and Privacy

Susan B. Garland has been editor of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, a monthly personal finance publication whose subscribers are retirees and those approaching retirement, for six years. For 12 years, Ms. Garland was a Washington-based correspondent for Business Week magazine, covering various beats, including social policy, the White House and legal affairs. Ms. Garland also has been a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and Modern Maturity (now AARP Magazine).

Presentation Title: Stretching a Retirement Nest Egg

James Martin is a tenured faculty member at Bryn Mawr College and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with more than forty years of practice. His scholarship, teaching, and public service focus on behavioral health issues impacting individuals, families and communities; and his research and civic engagement address military and veteran populations. Jim has served in a number of faculty leadership roles at Bryn Mawr College and in 2009, he was awarded the McPherson Fellowship for excellence in teaching, research, and community service. A retired Army Colonel, Jim’s twenty-six year career in the Army Medical Department included clinical research, as well as senior management (command) and policy assignments. Since his retirement from active duty, Jim has been actively engaged in research and program development with numerous Active and Reserve Component military family and community human services programs. Jim received his MSW from Boston College in 1970 and his Ph.D in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh in 1983. Jim is a graduate of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Social Work Child and Family Studies Fellowship Program, the Army’s Command and General Staff College, and the Army Management Staff College. Jim has authored numerous publications and he is a frequent invited speaker at professional gatherings.

Presentation Title: To War Then Home: Understanding the Behavioral Health Challenges Confronting Our Returning Veterans & Their Families

Cassandra McConnell joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as the Deputy Assistant Director in the Office of Financial Education in August 2011.  The Office of Financial Education is responsible for developing and implementing initiatives intended to educate and empower consumers to make informed financial decisions.  Ms. McConnell is responsible for providing leadership and direction for the development, implementation and assessment of the CFPB’s financial education programs, policies and systems.

Prior to joining the CFPB, Ms. McConnell served as the Associate Director of the Community Affairs Office at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  In this capacity, Ms. McConnell oversaw and directed the FDIC’s national community reinvestment, community and economic development, financial literacy and outreach programs.  Ms. McConnell also led the FDIC’s national Minority Depository Institutions Program to promote and preserve the nation’s minority depository institutions.   Ms. McConnell has held leadership positions at the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.   

Ms. McConnell is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, earned her Juris Doctor from Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Master of Public Administration from Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and her Bachelor of Science from Cleveland State University.  

Presentation Title: Updates from CFPB

Brent Neiser is Director of Strategic Programs and Alliances for the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education (, a private operating foundation committed to educating Americans about personal finance and empowering them to make positive and sound decisions to reach financial goals. His work with NEFE focuses on developing financial education initiatives through unique collaborations with nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide such as the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. He directed NEFE's national Personal Finance and Latino Immigration Think Tank and a research-based think tank on Retirement Income Planning and Management which resulted in the consumer website Brent helped develop, a non-commercial personal finance literacy website for college and university students delivered via free subscriptions through higher education institutions. He also does public policy work for NEFE including working with executive agencies and occasionally testifying before Congress.

Neiser is a fellow with the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He holds a Master of Global Studies with an emphasis in Public Diplomacy and International Security (University of Denver), MBA (University of Louisville), MA- Urban Studies (Occidental College), and BA- Public Affairs (George Washington University). He is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certificant. He serves on the boards of various organizations, recently the CFP Board Consumer Advisory Council, and is past Chairman of the Colorado Council of Advisors on Consumer Credit (gubernatorial appointment). 

Presentation Title: Engaging Your Community with Financial Workshop Kits

Sonya Smith-Valentine is not your typical Personal Finance Expert. Her career path differs greatly from most experts in her field. Sonya has combined her 20+ years of experience, first as a CPA and then as an attorney, to build both a successful legal career and a thriving financial coaching business.

Sonya owns the Valentine Legal Group, a law firm where she uses consumer protection laws to assist those drowning in debt collection lawsuits to swim again and helps others, through litigation, to reclaim their credit worthiness that was destroyed by credit bureau errors. As a financial success coach at Sonya Smith Valentine Enterprises, she helps people tackle their debt issues, shows others how to effectively navigate the impossible maze of the credit reporting system and assists victims of identity theft in recovering from the fraud thrust upon their lives.

Sonya has appeared as a Personal Finance Expert on television and radio programs like NBC News, ABC News and the Urban League’s On Track Public Affairs Radio. She has been quoted by the Washington Post, Black Enterprise Magazine, USA Today and other national news publications.

Presentation Title: Debt Problems Happen … Here's How You Respond

Syble Solomon, a popular speaker on the psychology of money, is best known as the creator of Money Habitudes®, an innovative, simple toolkit that has helped tens of thousands of individuals discover their habits and attitudes about money.

The founder of LifeWise, a coaching and training company, she has been the a featured speaker for groups as diverse as people dealing with sudden wealth, professionals working in asset building coalitions and people representing all socio-economic and educational levels in community and faith-based programs who are learning to manage their money wisely or communicate effectively about finances.

Money Habitudes was Michele Singletary’s book club selection of the month in December, 2011 in her Washington Post syndicated column The Color of Money. Syble has been quoted in MSN Money, Market Watch and USA Today. Her articles have appeared in professional and popular publications and she was a columnist for  

Presentation Title: Money Habitudes Trump Good Intentions

Dr. Michael E. Staten holds the Take Charge America Endowed Chair in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona.  He is also director of the Take Charge America Institute for personal financial education and research. Staten is recognized nationally as an expert on retail credit market policy issues and has testified often before Congress and various state legislatures. He has published numerous articles on retail financial services in academic journals and edited volumes. He has made invited presentations at workshops and events sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Board, and Washington, DC think-tanks including the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. 
Dr. Staten received his Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management in 1980.  He has taught undergraduate and graduate economics courses at the University of Delaware and Purdue University. At the University of Arizona he teaches courses in retail financial services and consumer behavior. He currently serves as a trustee for the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation, and is on the Advisory Council for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union from 1995-1997.   

Presentation Title: The Changing Credit and Payment Card Landscape for Consumers

Nicole Wanago is the Assistant Director for Outreach for the University of Arizona’s Take Charge America Institute. Since its inception, Nicole has led the Family Economics & Financial Education Project which has reached over 26,000 educators impacting an estimated 700,000+ students nationwide with FEFE’s award-winning, free, downloadable financial education curriculum written by educators for educators.  Recently, Nicole played an instrumental role in launching a brand new financial literacy website,, for tweens, teens, and young adults with an array of lessons, blogs, games and interactive tools to help guide them through a tangle of credit choices. In 2010, Nicole was a top five national educator of the year finalist for the Association for Career and Technical Education.  Nicole’s undergraduate degree is from Montana State University and graduate degree from the University of Arizona in education.   

Presentation Title: Take Charge America Institute Financial Education Program for Young Adults

Rev. Dr. Flora Williams was at Purdue University for 32 years teaching and conducting research in family economics, public policy, resource management, financial counseling and planning.  She directed an award-winning clinic for 25 years while there.  She wrote 18 books and over 100 articles including text and tests for the National Foundation for Consumer Credit.  Williams started the major in financial counseling and planning.  She is past president and vice president for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education.  She served on several professional boards and was a court expert on the value of family services.  Williams continues to write technical and inspirational books including recent poetry book, family resource management book, and a comprehensive manual for financial management, counseling, and spiritual guidance combined entitledThe Shepherd’s Guide through the Valley of Debt and Financial Change.  She speaks to extension educators, community groups, disability support groups, and church groups as an ordained minister.  She continues as a Registered Financial Consultant. 

Presentation Title: Financial Counseling and Planning from a Faith-Based Perspective

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