Rural Student Success Unconference

RSSU 2022

Join the University of Georgia for our third annual virtual rural student success unConference: Roadmaps to Rural Student Success on February 23-24th, 2023. The unConference will be held from 12 - 5 PM Eastern Time  on both days. This year we will focus on three areas:

  • Packing Our Bags: Exploring the Opportunities, Challenges, and Experiences that Rural Students Bring to College
  • On the Road: Understanding Rural Student Success Inside and Outside the Classroom
  • The Road Ahead: Where Rural Students Go Post-Graduation

Our unConference will include keynote speakers, a selection of discussion and higher learning rooms, as well as unique opportunities for networking. Registration is now open!


PARTICIPANT REGISTRATION     Facilitator Registration     UGA Student Registration




Frequently Asked Questions

For this gathering, we borrow the concept of the unConference from the technology and business worlds and will focus not on formal research presentations but on conversations with researchers, practitioners, policy makers, students, and the community. This will be the University’s second national convening on the status of rural access into and through higher education and support for students once they arrive on campus—one we believe will inspire new considerations on policies and practices for the future of rural student success.

Attendees can expect a welcoming and engaging environment where you will hear from keynote speakers with aligned, facilitated breakout discussion sessions centered on various subtopics on rural student success. Attendees will be able to select the breakout sessions that are of most interest to them.

If you'd like to view past keynotes, please click the hyperlinks in the past program schedule below.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023

Time TBD - The Night Before the unConference Event


Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

12:00 - 1:15 PM - Keynote - Packing Our Bags: Exploring the Opportunities, Challenges, and Experiences that Rural Students Bring to College

  • Featured speaker:Dr. Amy Price Azano (Ph.D.): Virginia Tech

1:30 - 2:30 PM - Discussion and Learning Sessions

2:45 - 4:00 PM - Keynote - On the Road: Understanding Rural Student Success Inside and Outside of the Classroom

  • Featured speaker: Dr. Stevie L. Lawrence (Ph.D.): SREB (Southern Regional Education Board)

4:00 - 5:00 PM - Discussion and Learning Sessions


Friday, February 24th, 2023

12:00 - 1:00 PM - Student Panel 

1:00 - 2:30 PM - Collaboration Hour

2:45 - 4:00PM - Closing Keynote - The Road Ahead

  • Featured speaker: Dr. Stephanie Sowl (Ph.D.): ECMC Foundation (Educational Credit Management Corporation) 

4:00 - 4:45 PM - Roundtable Panel

4:45 - 5:00 PM  - Closing  


Dr. Amy Price Azano (Ph.D.): Virginia Tech 

Dr. Amy Price Azano is the founding director of Virginia Tech's Center for Rural Education and a faculty member in the School of Education. A first-generation college student, Azano grew up in a small rural town in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and taught high school English before earning her Ph.D. in Education at the University of Virginia in 2009. At Virginia Tech, she directs the Summer Enrichment Experience and the Supporting Autism Friendly Environments (SAFE) Program. She is also the Principal Investigator for the Appalachian Rural Talent Initiative, Chair of the Rural Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association, and co-editor of The Rural Educator. Dr. Azano’s scholarship focuses on equity issues in rural schooling, with a focus on special populations and adolescent literacy. She co-authored the first text dedicated to rural preservice education, Teaching in Rural Places: Thriving in Classrooms, Schools, and Communities; co-edited The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States;and has authored or co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

Dr. Stevie L. Lawrence (Ph.D.): SREB (Southern Regional Education Board)

Stevie L. Lawrence II joined Southern Regional Education Board in September 2019 as vice president for postsecondary education. In this role, he will lead SREB’s postsecondary programs, such as the Academic Common Market, Doctoral Scholars Program, education data services and state authorization reciprocity agreements. He will also be charged with developing additional initiatives to support postsecondary state offices and institutions.

Lawrence comes to SREB from Fort Valley State University in Georgia, where he is founding dean of the University College and previously led student affairs and enrollment management. He has also held positions at the University of North Carolina system, Shaw University, Virginia Union University and Halifax Community College. His background includes strategic leadership in academic affairs, specifically in student success and retention.

Lawrence earned a bachelor of arts degree from North Carolina A&T State University, a master of public administration from North Carolina Central and a doctor of philosophy in urban higher education from Jackson State University.

Dr. Stephanie Sowl (Ph.D.): ECMC Foundation (Educational Credit Management Corporation) 

Dr. Stephanie Sowl is a program officer at ECMC Foundation and oversees a portfolio of grants that work to increase college persistence and completion for students from underserved backgrounds. Stephanie completed her PhD in Higher Education from Iowa State University and her dissertation explored how college access and enrollment were spatialized across the United States and the role community context played in creating college-going cultures in rural areas. Her other research interests include residential mobility for college graduates and how people- and place-based factors influence decision-making. She has worked in higher education for more than a decade in areas such as academic advising, retention coordination, data management under a federal research grant, and college access and success research and programming.

February 23-24, 2023

Anyone who is interested in rural student success is welcome to attend the unConference including faculty, staff, and students, researchers, policy makers, parents, supporters, and others!

Early Bird rate (until January 1, 2023): $60

Non-UGA Participant (after January 1, 2023): $75

UGA Participant: $70

UGA Student: If you would like to attend the unConference for free, you can volunteer as a student note-taker in our breakout rooms! If interested, please email us at

We are only accepting online credit card payments. 

UGA employees can pay via two methods: (1) you can pay via personal credit card and be reimbursed by your department or (2) your department can pay the registration fee directly through an intra-university payment. If you would like to have your department process payment this way, please have your business manager email us at to coordinate payment details.

 The 2023 unConference will be held virtually.

All other unConference questions can be emailed to



Past unConference Schedules and Videos

*Click the red hyperlinks below to view keynotes and panel from 2022.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 

9:00 AM - Welcome by President Jere W. Morehead

9:10 - 10:40 AM - Keynote: Rural Student Identity: A Panel Discussion

  • Featured speakers: Dr. Darris Means - University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Sonja Ardoin - Appalachian State,  Jenay Willis - University of Pittsburgh, Ty McNamee - Teachers College of Columbia

10:45 AM – 11:45 AM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room  

11:45 AM-1:00 PM - Lunch Break  

1:00 PM - Reconvene 

1:10 - 2:25 PM - Keynote: Rural Education and Workforce: The Case for Making Rural a Policy Priority

  • Featured speaker: Dr. Stephen Pruitt - Southern Regional Education Board

2:30 - 3:30 PM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room

3:45 - 4:45 PM - Student Voices & Rural Stories panel 


Friday, March 4th, 2022 

9:00 - Reconvene 

9:15 - 10:30 AM - Keynote: At Home, In the Classroom: Inclusive Pedagogy for Rural Students

  • Featured speaker: Dr. Andrew Crain - University of Georgia

10:35 - 11:35 AM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room  

11:45 AM – 12:00 PM- Closing 

*Click the red hyperlinks below to view keynotes and panels from 2021.

Friday, March 19th, 2021

10:00 AM - Welcome

10:15 - 11:30 AM - Keynote: Rural Student Success & Wellbeing: Where have we been? 

Featured speaker: Dr. Nicholas Hillman - University of Wisconsin, Madison

1:00 - 2:30 PM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room on Pathways To & Through Higher Education

2:45 - 3:30 PM - Student Voices & Rural Stories panel


Saturday, March 20th, 2021

9:00 AM - Reconvene

9:10 - 10:25 AM - Keynote: Rural Student Success & Wellbeing: Where are we now? 

Featured speaker: Dr. Darris Means - University of Pittsburgh

10:30 AM - 12:00 PM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room on Pathways To & Through Higher Education

1:00 PM - Reconvene

1:10 - 2:25 PM - Keynote: Rural Student Success & Wellbeing: Where do we go next? 

Featured speaker: Dr. Maria Luna-Torres - AgriLife Extension, Texas - A&M

2:30 - 3:45 PM - Pick-Your-Discussion Room on Pathways To & Through Higher Education

3:45 - 4:30 PM - Rural Futures: An ideas exchange panel moderated by Beckie Supiano of The Chronicle of Higher Education