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Excel Program

Meet the Team


Ken Surdin is Professor of the Practice and the founding Director of Excel. Excel is a four-year, dual certificate program for students with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) leading to two separate Certificates of Social Growth, Academic Enrichment, and Vocational Exploration. Before coming to Georgia Tech, Professor Surdin was a Public Health Analyst with a focus on policy at Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Previously, he served with the Peace Corps, setting up environmental programs in Morocco. He has also worked at the Marjorie Kovler Center for Survivors of Torture in Chicago, Illinois, developing internal and external partnerships for program development, outreach and recruitment. Early in his career, he was a staff mentor, school aide, and group home counselor at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, New Hampshire, where his duties encompassed academics, independent living, social skills and career development for students with developmental disabilities and complex medical problems.


Administrative Professional Sr.

Ashley is the Administrative Professional Sr. for the Excel Program within Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE) at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining ILE, she was the Academic Assistant for the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Georgia Tech. She has worked in higher education for twelve years, with positions held as a peer assistant, receptionist, and academic advisor. Ashley obtained a B.S. in Electronic Media and Film Studies from Towson University in 2012, and a M.S. in Higher Education Administration from National University in 2015. Ashley spends her spare time exploring Atlanta, reading, movies, traveling, and spending quality time with family and friends.


Ashley BidlackAshley McKeen


Ashley McKeen was recently hired as the Lecturer for Excel. Prior to Georgia Tech, Ashley served as a Mathematics Teacher at The Cottage School, a fully accredited comprehensive academic college preparatory school serving middle and high school students with special learning needs. Ashley addressed the learning needs of students with learning disabilities and autism by developing and adapting math curriculum to follow Common Core Standards. As a primary mentor for senior classes, she led students as they completed their graduation requirements, and advised them during their transition into post-secondary education. She also coordinated the pairing of student mentors with at-risk youth for STAR house and pioneered the student recycling program in collaboration with Roswell Recycling. Ashley holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Georgia and a Master of Arts degree in Teaching from Kennesaw State University. In her current role as Excel Lecturer, she will be developing curriculum, creating lesson plans, teaching courses and advising Excel students.


Emilee Manning

Mentor Coordinator

Emilee joined Scheller College of Business in October 2016 as the Administrative Professional in the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship as well as the Assistant Mentor Coordinator for the Excel program. In her administrative role, she maintains office efficiency by planning and implementing organization, program correspondents, completing operational requirements, and manages special events. As the Assistant Program Coordinator, Emilee helps with recruiting and training mentors while ensuring the Excel students develop healthy lifestyles while building a rich social environment resulting in a successful college experience.


Career Development Advisor

Heather Dicks, Career Development Advisor, has spent 22 years supporting people labeled with disabilities in areas of independent living, education, transition, advocacy, therapeutic recreation, Christian camping, adapted recreation, and employment. Her career spans three different states (Massachusetts, Maine, and Georgia), but she has called Georgia her home since 2006. In Maine, Heather served in the role of Transition Coordinator at the State's post-secondary pilot program for students with developmental disabilities, called STRIVE U. She has presented at the Kennedy Center's VSA Intersections Arts and Special Education Conference on alternative methods of teaching music for youth with special needs. Heather has also taught classes for the Atlanta Area Council of Boy Scouts of America on adapting program activities for scouts with special needs. Heather has a passion for helping people achieve their maximum level of independence and has enjoyed including assistive technology in this process. She enjoys challenging each Excel student she works with to achieve excellence. 


Mentorship Coordinator

Luke Roman is an alumnus of the Andrew Young School of Public Policy at Georgia State University. For much of his adult life, he has focused on working with marginalized populations and has focused his career on advocating for people with disabilities. Prior to working at Georgia Tech, Luke engaged in a variety of fields, including criminal defense, and non-profit organizations, such as Medshare International.




Michael H. Fox comes to the program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he served as the Associate Director for Science in the Division of Human Development and  Disability.  Before moving to Atlanta in 2009, he was a professor in theDepartment of Health Policy & Management at the University of Kansas (KU) Medical Center and Research Director for the KU Research and Training Center on Independent Living.  Michael brings with him a lifelong professional commitment to working with communities to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities to lead full and productive lives. He received his BS in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Studies in Behavioral Disabilities from the University of Wisconsin, teaching special education for four years before completing another MS in Biostatistics and Clinical Epidemiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin.  After working as the Management Information Systems Director of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) in Milwaukee, he went on to complete his doctorate in Health Policy and Management from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health while serving as a senior administrator with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In 2016, he was presented the Outstanding Mentoring Award from the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at CDC. As faculty support to the Excel program, Michael will provide input on program and curriculum development, and also advise staff and students on specific topics in which he may have expertise. 


Lecturer, Career Development Coordinator

Nathan Heald is currently a Lecturer/Career Development Coordinator with the Excel program at Georgia Tech. He received his Master’s in Social Work from Georgia State University, where he completed a fellowship in Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities through the Center for Leadership in Disability. He comes to the program with over 10 years of non-profit experience. Directly previous to his work with Excel, Nathan worked with All About Developmental Disabilities, a non-profit organization in Decatur, where he designed and implemented their supported and customized employment programs. Utilizing best practices for integrating people with disabilities into community-based employment, he led his team to place over 60 individuals with developmental disabilities in competitive employment. Previous to his experience at AADD he worked in the university town of Tübingen, Germany to develop programs that promoted inclusion of diverse university students. As the Career Development Coordinator, Nathan empowers and trains individuals to realize their potential and value through employment within their community.


Lecturer, Career Development Coordinator

Rene Reese has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a master’s degree in Business Administration and over 20 years’ experience providing and implementing employment and training services to individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Her most recent experience has been working with students and graduates of post-secondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities and providing them with guidance and support in developing career skills and transitioning into the workforce.



Allison is a Lecturer for Excel. She received her Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University. Recently she worked at the New Orleans Health Department as a Program Coordinator in HIV/hepatitis prevention and substance use. While there she led capacity building efforts, spearheaded rapid testing events, and provided mental health, wellness and sexual health education for minority and LGBTQ youth. Allison is a graduate of Georgia Tech (BIOS ‘15) and a former Excel peer mentor. Allison was instrumental in designing and organizing Excel’s first Summer Academy. She is excited to be returning to Excel at Georgia Tech where she will develop and augment curriculum, teach courses, advise students and use her public health knowledge to better serve Excel students.


Dr. Cindi May

Dr. Cindi May is a Professor of Psychology at the  College of Charleston and a national advocate for inclusive education. She has worked to develop inclusive programs that support students with intellectual disabilities at the elementary, high school, and college level. She provides training in principles of universal design for teachers across the country and has secured over $2 million in grant funding to support postsecondary inclusive education.  Dr. May’s research is aimed at evaluating the outcomes of inclusive experiences for people with and without disabilities, and at identifying avenues for improving cognitive functioning in college students, older adults, and individuals with intellectual disabilities. She is also a regular contributor to Scientific American Mind Matters and writes a column with Gil Einstein on the Teaching of Psychology for the APS Observer.

Dr. Richard Ferrante served as the director of the South Carolina University Center for Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) for over 25 years and as a Research Professor in the department of pediatrics.  He is currently the training director for the SC LEND, which aims to provide training in developmental disabilities for health professionals.  Dr. Ferrante was the chairman of the State Transition Committee and the Principal Investigator for the SC Systems Change Project in Transition. He served on the executive committee of the SC Developmental Disabilities Council and was the Vice President of the ARC of SC.  Dr. Ferrante was on the steering committee of the College Transition Connection (CTC) and worked with CTC and NDSS to host a roundtable on PSE, which lead to CTC funding five PSE programs in SC.  The UCEDD has, through a grant from CTC and The Institute for Community Inclusion at UMASS Boston, provided technical assistance to these programs. Dr. Ferrante was appointed by Governor Carroll Campbell to the Joint Legislative Committee to study problems of persons with disabilities and has a distinguished record of collaborative working relationships with SC state agencies that address issues related to persons with disabilities. He was also the principal investigator for the SC Assistive Technology Program and is able to bring the resources of that project to assist students, when appropriate. He was chairman of the workforce development committee of the SC Brain Injury Leadership Committee and has been a state level hearing officer for the SC DOE.


Designed and developed by a group of enterprising and interested Georgia Tech faculty working in collaboration with a student advisory board, and other stakeholders, Excel will enroll students with I/DD interested in attending a four-year program leading to two separate Certificates of Social Growth, Academic Enrichment, and Vocational Exploration.

Prof. Terry Blum former Dean of the College of Management (now the Scheller College of Business), and the current Director of the Scheller College’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, and Prof. Cyrus Aidun of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech spearheaded the effort to establish Excel. They have also engaged several other interested stakeholders both internal and external to Georgia Tech in helping shape and develop the initiative. Professors Blum and Aidun will serve as members of the Faculty Governing Committee that will provide executive oversight for Excel.

The Excel program at Georgia Tech provides students with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to engage in the full college experience, including building a social network, participation in regular college classes, living independently, working in professional internships, and enjoying an active social life with friends, and mentors. Students enrolled in Excel will also attend specially designed courses aimed at improving their life skills, independence, and general knowledge. Additionally, Excel at Georgia Tech has the potential to impact students regularly enrolled as degree students at Georgia Tech, giving them the opportunity to interact and engage with students enrolled in Excel and develop empathy, acceptance, flexibility and other important leadership skills.

Georgia Tech offers many advantages, not the least of which is an immersive culture of science and technology which may be particularly appealing and beneficial to some of the students with I/DD. Excel expects to accept 10-12 students per year, up to a maximum of 48 students across the 4-year curriculum. While it is expected that a large majority of the students will enter the first year and complete all 4 years of the curriculum, transfer students from other postsecondary programs may also apply and receive advanced standing based on the competencies they have already achieved.