Learning Through Research

Plenary Speakers

2018 Plenary and Conference Speakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar



Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a six-time NBA champion. He is also one of a handful of influential and respected black men in America who has a national platform as a regular contributing columnist for The Washington Post and The Hollywood Reporter, where he shares his thoughts on some of the most socially relevant and politically controversial topics facing our nation today. After 50 years as an athlete, activist, and New York Times bestselling author, he offers his perspectives as a nationally recognized speaker who regularly appears on the lecture circuit. His new book, Becoming Kareem is an autobiographical account of his tumultuous spiritual and athletic journey from childhood through college and his first year in the NBA. It debuts November 2017.

His Emmy Award-winning HBO Sports documentary, "Kareem: Minority of One", debuted as HBO’s most watched and highest rated sports documentary of all time. Currently, Abdul-Jabbar serves as the chairman of his Skyhook Foundation whose mission is to “Give Kids a Shot That Can’t be Blocked” by bringing educational STEM opportunities to underserved communities through innovative outdoor environmental learning. His most recent projects include an action mystery series entitled Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes’s savvy older brother) which is being developed into a series of novels and comic books by Titan Publishing.

Before President Obama left office in 2016, he awarded Abdul-Jabbar the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Photo credit: Dan Winters

Ramu Damodaran

Ramu Damodaran

Ramu Damodaran is Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement in the United Nations Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division and is chief of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, which aligns institutions of higher learning and research with the objectives of the United Nations and the States and peoples who constitute it. He is also the current secretary of the United Nations Committee on Information. His earlier posts with the Organization have included the Departments of Peacekeeping and Special Political Questions, as well as the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.

Ramu Damodaran has been a member of the Indian Foreign Service, where he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador, and where he served as Executive Assistant to the Prime Minister of India as well as in the diplomatic missions in Moscow and to the United Nations, and in a range of national governmental ministries. He has been actively involved in mass media in India, including print, radio and television, and was a recipient of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union award for the best radio documentary.


Commander John Herrington, Ph.D



Commander John Herrington, Ph.D is an ambassador for the Chickasaw Nation and a former NASA astronaut who became the first Native American to walk in space during a shuttle Endeavour mission in 2002. 

Herrington, a Navy veteran, joined NASA in 1996 assigned to both the Shuttle and the International Space Station Branches in support of Guidance Navigation and Control Systems. He was also assigned to the Flight Support Branch of the Astronaut Office where he served as a member of the Astronaut Support Personnel team responsible for Shuttle launch preparations.  For his last assignment, he was chosen to become the Chief Engineer for Safety and Mission Assurance (S&MA) at the Johnson Space Center. He was responsible for leading the S&MA engineering efforts in support of Space Shuttle and Space Station hardware and software integration and mission operations. Herrington flew on STS-113 Endeavour (November 23-December 7, 2002), the sixteenth assembly mission to the International Space Station. STS-113 delivered the Expedition-Six crew, supplies, and brought home the Expedition Five crew from their six-month stay aboard the station.

After retiring from the Navy and NASA in October 2005, Herrington completed his Ph.D in Education at the University of Idaho. His research investigated the factors that motivate and engage Native American youth in STEM education. For the past eight years, CDR Herrington has served as a judge and judge advisor for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Oklahoma Regional.

CDR Herrington lives in Idaho with his family. 

For a detailed biography, please click here.


Claudia San Pedro


Claudia San Pedro serves as President for the Oklahoma City-based national headquarters of SONIC�, America’s Drive-In�. Her responsibilities include franchisee relations, supply chain, franchise sales and development, business planning, and overseeing finance function. Most recently, San Pedro served the company as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. 

San Pedro joined Sonic in 2006 as Treasurer. She has also served as Vice President of Investor Relations since 2009. In that role, she directed financial planning, procurement and investment of funds for the organization and formulated investor relations strategy and oversaw communications with the investment community.

Prior to joining SONIC, San Pedro served as the Director for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance. Appointed by Governor Brad Henry in 2005, San Pedro was the first female and first Hispanic to serve as Director of State Finance (OSF) for Oklahoma. Before joining OSF and the Henry administration, San Pedro served as the Assistant Director of the Oklahoma State Senate fiscal staff and a staff budget analyst for the senate appropriations subcommittees on education, human services and general government.

San Pedro is currently a volunteer board member of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and Downtown OKC. She holds an undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and an MBA from the University of Oklahoma.

Born in Mexico City, San Pedro resides in Oklahoma City with her family.