As college and university educators respond to new challenges – from filling pandemic-related learning gaps, to rebuilding campus co-curricular programs, to addressing rising ideological polarization – these educators are in need of new ways to grow and connect.  

In response to these emergent needs, Interfaith America has assembled a council of leaders in higher education whose track record of successful interfaith work will support and embolden fellow campus educators throughout our network of public, private, community, and faith-based institutions. The inaugural Interfaith Leaders in Higher Education Council meets quarterly with our Interfaith Leadership Institute team to advise on year-round programming for undergraduate students and educators, and grow their own interfaith leadership knowledge and skills.

We’re pleased to introduce you to each member of the Council below. Several of these distinguished leaders will be facilitating sessions at this year’s Interfaith Leadership Summit, taking place in Chicago from August 4-6

Join us at the Summit to meet these inspiring educators in person! 

Learn more

Read the Q&A with the Council

9 Higher Ed Leaders on Why Interfaith Work is Essential For Students

Anthony Cruz Pantojas

Anthony Cruz Pantojas is the Humanist Chaplain at Tufts University. Anthony has been recognized with numerous awards, including an Interfaith America Innovation Fellowship, and spearheaded Freedom Making: A Mentorship Fellowship for Emerging Spiritual, Ethical, and Cultural Leaders—an initiative for first-generation students in college. Cruz Pantojas earned master’s degrees in Theological Studies and Leadership Studies from Andover Newton Theological School and Meadville Lombard Theological School, respectively. They hold a Certificate in Humanist Studies from the American Humanist Association Center for Education, where they are the program’s first graduate. Anthony is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies. They serve as a board member of the Association of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Life in Higher Education and representative to the International Association of Chaplains in Higher Education. Anthony is endorsed by the Humanist Society as a Chaplain and Celebrant. 

Vidal Dickerson

Vidal Dickerson’s career spans over 20 years with diversity, equity, and inclusion work in higher education, medical education, and nonprofit organizations where he has coordinated institutional strategic initiatives, learning & development, and community relations efforts. His experiences have involved direct responsibilities for support, programming, and education around race/ethnicity, gender & sexuality, disabilities/accessibility, along with other dimensions of identity and diversity. His roles have included directing religious and spiritual life which involved collaborations with religious, spiritual, and secular student organizations and active engagement with campus advisors and community faith leaders. Vidal is a resident of Hampton, VA and currently serves as the Special Assistant to the President  & Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Christopher Newport University. He is a member of the National Association for Diversity Officers in Higher Education, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, People 2 People, and the Urban League of Hampton Roads. As well, Vidal is a member of Interfaith America’s Interfaith Leaders in Higher Education Council. Vidal received a BS in Mathematics from Austin Peay State University and an MS in Higher Education Administration from Indiana State University. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Human and Organizational Learning at The George Washington University. 

Kelly Dunlop

As the Associate Director in the Center for Campus Involvement at the University of Michigan, Kelly Dunlop works with staff, students and campus partners to foster transformative engagement opportunities through large campus programs and student organizations. Prior to her role in Student Life, Kelly spent 10+ years in community engagement and campus ministry and knows well what it takes to meet people where they are in the best and worst of times, to listen deeply and to create meaningful collaborations for systemic change. Outside of work, Kelly is often found on the sidelines either as a coach or fan of one her children’s sporting events, playing volleyball or gathering with friends for meaningful conversation. Kelly holds a B.A. in Psychology and master’s in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as a Master in Pastoral Studies from Catholic Theological Union. 

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley is the Director of the University of North Florida Interfaith Center in Jacksonville, where he advises campus leaders on religious diversity, guides inclusive policy, and advocates for equitable resources. He leads student Interfaith leadership development, with nationally recognized students and graduates. He supervises professional and student staff as they deliver dozens of dialogue and celebration programs on campus each year. He has led the Interfaith Center at UNF since 2018 and is a proud alumnus, with a B.A. in English. He received his M.A. in Religion from the University of Florida, completing a sociological research based thesis on Muslim Youth growing up in the American South after 9/11. Matt is a career educator, having also taught in a public high school where he launched that school’s AVID college preparatory program, which is now a national model. He also spent 11 years in professional youth, college, and young adult ministry in the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches, and continues to lead and keynote Presbyterian camp programs. He is a community organizer and advocate in Jacksonville, where he has served as Board Member and Chair of the Interfaith Center of Northeast Florida. Matt is a Christian, shaped by Liberation theology and Celtic natured based Christianity. Apart from his professional work, Matt is an avid reader, a less avid runner, and enjoys times with his family watching movies, playing baseball, and taking walks around their neighborhood.

Nisa Muhammad

Dr. Nisa Muhammad is Howard University’s Assistant Dean for Religious Life.  She is responsible for programming that serves the faith, service, and justice needs of the Howard University community.  Dr. Muhammad organizes Muslim worship services and answers a myriad of challenges from race to religion to relationships. She is also the advisor to the Muslim Students Association, the Nepalese Students Association, the Youth Justice Advocates, and the Chess Club. Dr. Muhammad is on the executive boards of the ACSLHE (Association for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Life in Higher Education) and the Institute for Muslim Mental Health.  She is the past president of the Association of Muslim Chaplains.

Sara Shady

Sara L. H. Shady is Associate Dean for Academic Inclusive Excellence and Professor of Philosophy at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. She is co-author of “From Bubble to Bridge: Educating Christians for a Multifaith World” (IVP Academic, 2017) and has authored many other articles about navigating pluralism in the 21st century. Her academic specializations are in social and political philosophy and existentialism, particularly the work of Martin Buber. She regularly writes and speaks on topics such as: inclusive teaching, developing empathy as an intellectual virtue, and building healthy communities and societies by promoting inclusive dialogue across differences. Additionally, Sara is actively involved in racial equity work on campus and in her local school district and neighborhood.

Najeeba Syeed

Najeeba is the inaugural El-Hibri endowed chair and executive director of Interfaith at Augsburg. She has been a professor, expert practitioner and public speaker for the last two decades in the fields of conflict resolution, interfaith studies, mediation, education, deliberative democracy, social, gender and racial equity. In 2021 she served as chief of staff to the first Asian American woman elected Los Angeles City Council to assist her with the setup of her office, hiring, strategic planning, legislative and communications strategies. For the fall of 2020 she was Associate Professor of Muslim and Interreligious Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary teaching three courses on management, indigenous religious movements and interfaith leadership. She was an Associate Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology from 2010-2020 and is recognized as a leader in peacebuilding and social justice-based research. Under her leadership the two conflict resolution centers she led received the Jon Anson Ford Award for reducing violence in schools and in the area of interracial gang conflict and was named Southern California Mediation Association’s “Peacemaker of the Year” in 2007.

Rabbi Sara Zacharia

Rabbi Sara Zacharia has been the first of many endeavors. She was in the first class to be ordained as a Rabbi at the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in May of 1999. She was appointed the first Senior Jewish Educator and non-Orthodox Rabbi at Queens College in 2017 and has held this position for 6 years . Since 2019, Rabbi Sara has grown the interfaith work on Queens College campus through developing and implementing Building Bridges An Interfaith Fellowship. In 2020 during the pandemic she and her fellows attended the Summit virtually, which inspired her and the fellows to think about the interfaith work creatively and through developing relationships. Last summer for the first time she brought 4 fellows to the Summit and each had a transformative experience which they brought back to campus to do their work. Queens College Hillel through her work with IA received a Bridging the Gap grant. The Building Bridges Interfaith Fellowship received the Meyerhoff Education Visioning award at Hillel International Global Assembly in December 2022. Rabbi Sara sees the interfaith work she does as sacred and holy using Jewish traditions and values at its heart. 

Nora Zaki Mantas

Nora grew up with an American mother who was raised Catholic but converted to Islam before Nora was even born and an Arab Muslim father.  Thus, she has been exposed to an interfaith (Muslim and Christian) extended family from a young age. Additionally, her parents were actively involved in interfaith groups and Nora has memories as a young girl going to different religious places of worship. This inspired her love of religious diversity and her commitment to ensuring that religious and spiritual needs of people are met. Nora received a Master’s of Divinity (MDiv) from the University of Chicago and holds a BA from the University of Florida in Arabic, Religion and Political Science. Nora brings to this role as the University Chaplain, Interfaith Relationship at Dominican University experience as a college chaplain and program manager for various non-profit organizations. She worked as the Muslim chaplain at Vassar and Bard Colleges. Additionally, she has experience with several non-profit organizations including the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, Rural Women’s Health Project and United Voices for America. Nora interned at Dominican University and American Islamic College as a student chaplain while pursuing her Master of Divinity. She has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and is fluent in Arabic. She is learning Turkish, loves watching foreign films in addition to discovering and tasting global cuisine. Nora is pursuing a second Master’s in Islamic Education from Bayan Graduate School housed within Chicago Theological Seminary. Nora is also the founder of  MyMuslimChaplain, which offers extensive chaplaincy workshops, services and other consultation.