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Keynote Speakers 

James Purcell

James E. Purcell, E.D.

James E. Purcell, E.D., was named the State Higher Education Executive Officer (SHEEO) of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education in April, 2017, having served previously as the SHEEO in Rhode Island, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Dr. Purcell is a strong advocate for institutional research and planning as a means to implement policies and programs related to higher education. This organized approach provides a blueprint for expanding access to higher education and improving student attainment. The transparency across the higher education system will be essential in responding to workforce needs in Alabama. During his career, he has secured grant funding from state, federal and private philanthropic organizations to support these goals, particularly for adult degree completions.

Dr. Purcell is a past president of the Southern Association for Institutional Research and a former member of the executive council of SHEEO.

The Alabama native holds an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Alabama, a M.Ed. in Counseling from the University of Montevallo and a B.S. in Public Administration from Auburn University.

Dr. Purcell has spent the past thirty years advocating for students and institutions of higher education to maximize their potential. 


Rick Pate

Rick Pate

Rick Pate grew up working on his family’s cattle and poultry operations in Lowndes County, where he learned the value of hard work and perseverance. Because of his roots in agriculture, he studied horticulture and received his bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Auburn University’s College of Agriculture.

Pate put his degree and determination to work and started Pate Landscape Co., Inc. over 36 years ago. Under Pate’s leadership, the company has been profitable and award winning. His focus on building relationships in the community through both professional and civic organizations and his commitment to install quality work are what Pate credits his success to. He plans to continue these philosophies during his service as Commissioner of Agriculture.

Even though Pate has spent most of his time operating Pate Landscape, he never let go of his love for and connection to the farm in Lowndes County. He had a purebred Charolais herd of his own, but at the death of his father in 2012, he also took over the family cattle operation, Pate Charolais Ranch. 

As if running a company and being a cattleman was not enough to keep him busy, Pate had been raised with the example that each of us has a responsibility to give back. In 1996, he had the opportunity to do just that by joining Lowndesboro’s town council and later serving as mayor in 2004. During his term as mayor, a new well and water tank were added, the water system was expanded, and sidewalks were installed through town. These improvements will be enjoyed by the town’s residents for years to come. He resigned his position as mayor after winning the run-off election for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries in 2018.

Growing up on a farm, running a business, and serving as the mayor of a small rural town has given Pate a unique prospective to bring to the office of Ag Commissioner. He has a genuine concern for the future of agriculture and the people of Alabama. 

Pate is mindful that by 2050, farmers will have to double food production to meet the needs of the world and that it will take visionary leaders who understand that we have to work smarter, not just harder, to achieve these goals. He plans to do his part by working with department staff, agriculture stakeholders and the people of Alabama to make a difference.