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Alfred University students travel to nation’s capital for Leadership Forum

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Alejandro Mayorkas (front-center), U.S. director of Homeland Security, hosted a reception for a group of Alfred University students, staff, and faculty at his home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The Alfred University group was at the nation’s capital March 29-31 for the DC Purple City Leadership Forum.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-five Alfred University students and a group of faculty and staff traveled to Washington, D.C., last week for a three-day event which allowed students to engage with alumni who have enjoyed successful careers in the nation’s capital.

The DC Purple City Leadership Forum was held Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, March 29-31. The goal of the program was to provide students with an experience focused on leadership and public policy. From an informal reception at the home of Alejandro Mayorkas, director of Homeland Security, through a day-long series of panel discussions, and a culminating tour of the White House, students networked with and learned from members of the Alfred University family working in the federal government, for non-profits, and in the public and private sectors.

“The concept of the program was leadership,” said Diana Maguire, associate professor of management at Alfred University and an organizer of the event. “Because this was in Washington, D.C., there are so many opportunities to highlight leadership, from activism, to involvement in non-profits, to working for the government.”

Sponsored by the Alfred University Division of University Advancement and supported by several alumni donors, the event was organized by Maguire, alumna Danielle Johnson-Kutch ’03, and Melissa Van Winkle, director of Alumni and Constituent Development in the Division of University Advancement. Johnson-Kutch is director of Government Affairs at DocuSign and is an active member of the Alfred University community, leading the DC Purple City group and serving as vice president of the Alumni Council and as a member of the Judson Leadership Center Advisory Board. 

Students, along with Maguire and Van Winkle; Abby Hurley, coordinator of Alfred University’s Judson Leadership Center; and Lukas Perry, arts counselor in the Alfred University Admissions Office, traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. The Alfred University contingent attended a reception at the Georgetown home of Alejandro and Tanya Mayorkas that evening. The Mayorkases’ daughter, Mimi, is set to enroll at Alfred University in the fall as a fine arts major.

On Thursday, the group participated in a series of panel discussions held at KPMG accounting firm, where Alfred University alumna and Board of Trustees member Patty St. George ’89 is a partner. “The panelists shared leadership stories and ideals, and provided career advice. They personally connected with the students,” Maguire said. “And our students were wonderful. They were so engaged.”

The three panel discussions were:

  • Career Paths and Leadership Skills. Alumni discussed their careers, volunteer work, and passions and shared lessons learned on leadership, achieving goals, and building a personal brand. Panelists included D.J. Hampton ’00, master’s in Community Services Administration ’02, founder of ALoDay Consulting; and Steve Heine ’81, president and CEO of Woodsboro Bank and vice chair of the Alfred University Board of Trustees. Mark O’Meara ’74, ’78 MSEd, entrepreneur, served as moderator.
  • Leadership in Practice — Politics and Policy. Alumni discussed how, as leaders, they make decisions, communicate, and influence change, and discussed real-life experiences in advocating for change in politics and policy. The panel, moderated by Johnson-Kutch, included Tom Reed ’93, former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York; and Eric Vaughn ’73, executive director of the National Structured Settlements Trade Association.
  • Equity and Leadership. Panelists discussed how diverse leadership teams can boost innovation and revenue and attract and retain talent. They described their own leadership philosophies and the importance of diversity, while sharing their experiences with unique perspectives from the public and private sectors. Maguire moderated the panel which consisted of St. George; Jared Cooper ’13, ’14 MBA, director of operations, Levine School of Music; Meghann Galloway ’10, former legislative director for U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass; and Christie Swarts ’96, facility chief, Center of Operations Directorate, NASA Langley Research Center.

Bryan Hill, ’90, county executive for Fairfax County, VA, offered the keynote address, “Perspectives on Public Policy Leadership in a Complex World.” Hill, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Alfred University, is chief executive of one of the most populous and wealthy counties in the nation. A Q&A session followed the keynote address.

Following the panel discussions, a role-playing exercise was held, in which students put what they learned from the panel discussions into practice. Teams of students tested their skills by meeting with a member of Congress to advocate for their passion of cause. After developing a strategy, each team presented to the larger group.

Mark Zupan, Alfred University president, offered closing remarks, and the day’s events closed with a DC Purple City alumni networking event, which was attended by three prospective students and their families. On Friday, the group toured the Whitehouse before departing Washington for the return trip to Alfred.

Brian Ngatunga, a junior computer science major from Tanzania, Africa, attended the Leadership Forum and praised the benefits of the event.

“It was very beneficial to hear alumni share their Alfred University experiences. The alumni felt relatable and easy to talk to because they lived and experienced what Alfred had to offer to them,” said Ngatunga, who holds a variety of leadership roles on campus. He is co-chair of the President’s Committee on Diversity, president of the International Students Association, Diversity Chair for the Student Senate, and International Alumni Engagement Officer.

“The DC Purple City Leadership Forum is a very valuable opportunity because students get to be inspired by ‘former Alfred University students’ who are now excelling and making an impact in the real world. I could see myself in the next 20 years inspiring other students as well,” Ngatunga said, adding, “It felt unreal to be inside the White House. I had been to Washington, D.C., before, but being in the White House—and as a foreigner—that is something that I never imagined happening.”

CUTLINE Alejandro Mayorkas (front-center), U.S. director of Homeland Security, hosted a reception for a group of Alfred University students, staff, and faculty at his home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The Alfred University group was at the nation’s capital March 29-31 for the DC Purple City Leadership Forum.

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