Leadership Team

Dr. Steven Gentile

Steven Gentile, Ed.D.

Executive Director

Dr. Steven Gentile currently serves as the Executive Director at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), where he has had a transformative journey from his initial role as Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy to his prior role as Chief Policy and Strategy Officer. Before joining THEC, Steven served as the Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at his alma mater, Davidson College, in North Carolina.

In addition to his THEC responsibilities, Steven finds great joy in engaging with students in the classroom when he teaches education policy at Vanderbilt University. His hands-on work in designing courses, preparing lectures and seminars, and assessing and developing education policy students strengthens his ability to affect change through higher education policy.

He also engages in higher education research with current and former colleagues, investigating the effects of initiatives like Tennessee Promise on student debt, changes in federal PLUS loan regulations on HBCU enrollment, and the role of lottery earmarks in appropriation volatility.

Steven received his Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Policy from Vanderbilt University (2019), a Master of Education from Vanderbilt (2014), and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Davidson College (2006). He is also an alumnus of Leadership Tennessee NEXT, Nashville Emerging Leaders, and the Tennessee Higher Education Innovation and Leadership Fellows program.

In his free time, he and his wife, Solvig, enjoy raising their spirited school-age children in the close-knit East Nashville community.

Betty Dandridge Johnson

Lou Hanemann

Chief of Staff

Lou Hanemann currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this capacity, he provides leadership and operation support for the Executive Director, assists in the development and communication of strategic policies, and the management of special higher education initiatives. In addition to his duties as Chief of Staff, Lou coordinates the government relations work with the Tennessee General Assembly, Administration, and other state agencies. Having served as the public policy liaison for the University of Tennessee System and similar roles with the Tennessee Board of Regents, Lou has extensive working relationships with members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administration, campuses and other state and national higher education stakeholders on issues that impact higher education public policy. He has Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master’s in Business Data Analytics from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Peter Abernathy

Peter Abernathy

Chief Aid and Compliance Officer

Peter Abernathy oversees THEC/TSAC’s legal and compliance division, which includes THEC/TSAC’s contracts, legislative affairs, rulemaking, and oversight of institutional compliance with the state’s grant and scholarship programs. Peter also provides assistance in coordinating the management of THEC/TSAC’s loan, outreach, and grant and scholarship divisions.

Before joining THEC/TSAC in 2008, Abernathy worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for 12 years as the coordinator of K-12 and Higher Education’s budgets. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee, a master’s in public administration from North Carolina State University, and a J.D. from the Nashville School of Law.

Cavender, Jason

Jason Cavender

Chief Financial Officer

Jason Cavender  oversees  the THEC/TSAC’s Division of Business and Finance, including  accounting, human resources and information technology functions.  Financial management responsibilities for the THEC/TSAC combined budget is over $400 million and includes funds for general operating expenses and the Tennessee Lottery for Education program.  In addition to these responsibilities, he serves as the liaison between the higher education governing boards and the legislature regarding any legislation having a financial impact in Tennessee.

Prior  to  coming  to  THEC/TSAC  in  2004,  Jason worked  in  the  Department  of  Finance  and Administration’s Budget Division for six years as the K-12 and Higher Education analyst. He earned a B.S. in History from Austin Peay State University and a M.Ed. from Tennessee State University.


Brett Gipson

Chief Access & Outreach Officer

Brett Gipson serves as the Chief Access & Outreach Officer for THEC, leading the Bureau of College Access and Outreach.  As the public-facing arm of the agency, this Bureau engages with students, parents, high school and college staff, community organizations, employers, government entities, and other education stakeholders across the state to create and implement resources and initiatives to significantly increase the number of Tennesseans who enroll and succeed in higher education. This work is carried out by several operational units consisting of advisors, counselors, and subject matter experts deployed across the state, including Adult Learner Initiatives, Advise TN, College Access Statewide Services, Financial Aid Outreach, GEAR UP TN, and the HBCU Success Initiative.

Brett began his career at THEC/TSAC in 2015 as Deputy General Counsel and was appointed Deputy Bureau Chief for Student Aid and Compliance in 2020.  Prior to joining the agency, he served as a patrol officer and child abuse detective for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department while earning his law degree.  After law school, he maintained a private practice for several years before moving into higher education administration at Bethel University, where he served as the Executive Director of the College of Public Service.  He is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and the Nashville School of Law.  He has been married since 1995 to an elementary school teacher and has two adult children.   

Scott Sloan

Amanda Klafehn

Chief Strategy Officer 

Amanda Klafehn is the Chief Strategy Officer and oversees THEC/TSAC’s Policy, Planning, and Research Bureau (PPR), which includes Fiscal Policy, Research and Strategy, Data Services, and Policy and Effectiveness divisions. PPR is responsible for advancing policy and practice through analysis, including outcomes-based funding and research and evaluation functions. Higher education data can set context and inform action when effectively used and PPR is leading THEC/TSAC’s data strategy efforts alongside its regular collection of data to understand student and institution success.

Prior to serving in this role, Amanda spent four years as the Senior Director of Research and Strategy. Amanda previously worked at the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s, Office of Research and Education Accountability, producing policy briefs for Tennessee’s General Assembly. Amanda holds a Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) from Vanderbilt University and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and International Studies from the University of Miami (FL).

Scott Sloan

Julie A. Roberts, Ph.D. 

Chief Academic Officer 

Julie A. Roberts serves as the Chief Academic Officer for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). In this role, she is responsible for the coordination of new academic programs among Tennessee’s public universities, academic policies, general education, transfer pathways, and the Tennessee Accreditation Network. Much of her recent work has focused on aligning credentials in a meaningful way to build clear pathways for students across all types of postsecondary institutions. Before joining THEC, Julie was the Director of Policy and Research at Complete Tennessee, a higher education policy and advocacy organization. Julie has also worked at Tennessee State University (TSU) in various student success roles culminating as the Director of Academic Success Services and Learning Support Centers. Julie holds degrees in Public Policy and Administration (PhD) and Business (MBA) from TSU, and a dual degree in English and Spanish (BA) from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

Scott Sloan

Scott Sloan

General Counsel 

Scott Sloan is the General Counsel for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He is responsible for managing the agency’s legal and contracting functions, external affairs, and communications. Scott also represents THEC to the Tennessee General Assembly during the legislative session. In his time at the agency, he has collaborated closely with the legislature and other stakeholders in developing several key higher education initiatives. He assisted on the 2013 development of the Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) as well as the 2014 passage of the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act.

Before coming to THEC in 2012, he was the Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. Prior to that position, he was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey to serve as the Chief Engrossing Clerk of the Tennessee Senate. In this role, he was an officer of the Senate, enrolled legislation for signature into law, and published the annual Senate Journal. Scott is a licensed attorney and graduate of both Western Kentucky University and the Nashville School of Law.