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Maytham Alshadood

HE/HIM
Emcee X See Maytham Emcee

A native of Iraq, Maytham served Iraq and the U.S. by helping establish and train the new Iraqi Army as a Combat Interpreter for the equivalent of three consecutive tours. After moving to the U.S., he graduated with honors from the University of Colorado College of Nursing and worked as an Organ Transplant Registered Nurse. He founded the non-profit DRIVE Project to improve civic engagement of refugees and immigrants, and spearheaded a law that qualified refugees and immigrants for instate tuition upon resettlement. Maytham is currently the Principal Consultant at First Gen Strategies LLC and the Director of Ecosystem Partnerships at Welcome.US. In his free time, Maytham enjoys fly-fishing with his wife, State Representative Iman Jodeh.

Ann Marie Awad

THEY/SHE
Journalist X See Ann Marie Speak

Recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states today – and decriminalized in 12 others. So why does policing revolve around drug enforcement? And when will we finally end the War on Drugs?

Ann Marie Awad is the host and creator of the award-winning podcast On Something, a show about drug policy and the human side of cannabis legalization. Immediately upon arriving in Colorado in 2016, Awad saw the link between Colorado’s legal weed industry and funding for public education. Their interest grew to include stories about immigration, child welfare, and healthcare access. After hosting On Something for three years, Awad now helps others create podcasts as a producer, editor, and teacher. They live in Denver with partner Heath and big old dog Rudy.

Monika Bleszynski

SHE/HER
Materials Scientist X See Monika Speak

A huge environmental problem you’ve probably never thought about: the millions of tons of chemical salts used to de-ice our roadways each winter. Luckily, there’s a better, natural solution.


Dr. Monika Bleszynski received her Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Denver, specializing in polymer materials. Her academic research focuses on assessing the effects of polymer and plastic damage on various products and the environment and finding sustainable polymer alternatives. She has taught classes at the University of Denver, and recently joined a Silicon Valley-backed startup to develop solutions to address global plastic pollution and resource scarcity. In her spare time, she enjoys woodworking and traveling to far-flung locations with her husband.

Colorado Bhangra Team

Dancers X See Colorado Bhangra Perform

The Colorado Bhangra Team is Colorado’s official state and only competitive team, consisting of collegiate chapters from CU Boulder and CU Colorado Springs. Bhangra is a folk dance that originated in Punjab, India. Traditionally, men wear turbans and women wear churi daar or salwaar kaameej. Colorado Bhangra has performed at the U.S. Capitol and for His Holiness Dalai Lama Fellows. They taught at the Global Changemakers Summit in Switzerland. They hope to spread the joy that is Bhangra through entertainment you won’t forget!

Gregg Deal

HE/HIM
Artist & Activist X See Gregg Speak

What does it mean to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century? Our understandings of Native American culture are skewed by Western mythology – art can help cross the bridge from fantasy to reality.


Gregg Deal is a provocative contemporary artist whose multimedia work challenges Western perceptions of Indigenous people. Through painting, graphic design, murals, performance art, filmmaking, and spoken word, Deal examines issues of decolonization and appropriation and their impacts within Indian Country. Through various social justice movements (#changethename, #MMIR), he challenges the silencing and erasure of Indigenous people, and instead works to elevate Native personhood and educate non-Native peoples living on Indigenous homelands. Gregg is a citizen of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

James “Pigeon” Fielder

HE/HIM
Game Designer X See James “Pigeon” Fielder Speak

Games aren’t just fun — they’re a matter of life and death! That’s why the military creates 5,000+ person war games. Maybe your company should, too.


After retiring from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Lieutenant Colonel James “Pigeon” Fielder, Ph.D. joined Colorado State University as a Political Science Instructor. For over two decades, Pigeon has designed and executed training exercises and wargames, from small-group tabletop discussions to multi-day exercises with 5,000+ participants. Today, his research and consulting work focuses on interpersonal trust and emergent political processes in gaming. Pigeon roosts with his wife Kelly, son Penny, a three-legged cat, and two pigeons (the source of his nickname). Their daughter Kyla lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

Linda Kay Klein

SHE/HER
Purity Culture Expert X See Linda Speak

“Purity Culture” exists in many religions, notably Evangelical Christianity. Believing that your self-worth is tied to sex and virginity has life-long impacts — how can we recover?


Linda Kay Klein is the award-winning author of “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free.” She is a purity culture recovery coach and the founder and president of Break Free Together, a nonprofit serving individuals recovering from gender- and sexuality-based religious trauma. She has an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in gender, sexuality, and religion from New York University and is a trained Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education facilitator.

Morteza Lahijanian

HE/HIM
Roboticist X See Morteza Speak

We rely on robots more and more each year. But robots don’t understand their own limitations and blindspots. So how can we make it safe for them to collaborate with humans?


Dr. Morteza Lahijanian is an assistant professor in the Aerospace Engineering Sciences department, an affiliated faculty at the Computer Science department, and the director of the Assured, Robust, and Interactive Autonomous (ARIA) Systems group at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University. His robotics research focuses on motion planning, strategy synthesis, model checking, and human-robot interaction, with the goal of enabling safe autonomous robots.

Jovan Mays

HE/HIM

Accompanied by Von Disco

Poet X See Jovan + Von Disco Perform

Jovan Mays is the inaugural and emeritus Poet Laureate of Aurora, Colorado, a National Poetry Slam Champion, TEDx speaker, and the Youth Voice Coordinator of Aurora Public Schools. Mays has worked with well over one million students through poetry outreach in his program, Your Writing Counts. He is the author of 3 books: Pride, The Great Box Escape, and This Is Your Song. The Pilgrimage, Button Poetry, and Write About Now have published his work. He is a graduate of Chadron State College, where he played football, wrestled, and earned a degree in Secondary History Education.

Erin Merelli

SHE/HER
Death Doula X See Erin Speak

The funeral industry will make you believe that there are only two choices after the death of a loved one: Burial or Cremation? And Cash or Credit? But it isn’t true – there are a myriad of beautiful & meaningful choices.


Death Doula and Ceremonialist Erin Merelli works with those on the edge of death all the way until their final breath. In 2019, she partnered with Green Funeral Director Lauren Harrison Carroll and co-founded Deathwives. Together, they’ve successfully trained thousands of people to support their own loved ones through the end and to provide death care in their communities. Erin lives in Denver with her two teenagers, four cats, a rescue pup, and an ethos that grief is unavoidable, but is honored by actions and balanced by love.

Virginia Santy

SHE/HER
Women’s Economic Strategist X See Virginia Speak

Too-cold offices and too-heavy doors are a consequence of architects and interior designers designing for the male body. What if our cities — and economies — were designed for women instead?


Throughout Dr. Virginia Santy’s career as a startup founder, executive advisor, and researcher, one thing remains constant: her dedication to improving the lives of all women through data, design, and innovation. She co-founded Women in Kind, the first co-working space in Colorado designed for women, and negotiated a successful sale of that business in 2019. She consults with cities and business districts on designing spaces and policies that support women’s economic success in the public and private sectors. Last but never least, Virginia is the mother of a warrior-hearted daughter.

Join us for TEDxMileHigh FUTURESCAPE on November 12!