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The Hogans Fellows – In Their Own Words

The Hogans Fellows – In Their Own Words

May 2023

In April, the Foundation for Public Affairs announced the inaugural class of Hogans Fellows. This talented cohort of rising public affairs leaders come from diverse backgrounds, but what they have in common is a determination to strengthen the field through varied voices, perspectives and ideas.

From tackling polarization to figuring out how to leverage AI in smart ways to fostering a more diverse field, here’s what the Fellows have to say about the big challenges before the profession, as well as the paths they’re planning for the next five years.

Erica Woods
Head of State and Local Public Policy, Stripe

My biggest career challenge working in public affairs has been the lack of diversity in mentorship within companies. I have worked for incredible companies and agencies over the years, yet I have had few opportunities to seek out and connect with women of color in leadership at these organizations.

In five years, I hope to change the narrative and show that women of all backgrounds can be leaders in global organizations, including in the policy space. Additionally, I hope to become the mentor so many of us are looking to find.

Hear more from Erica in this video.

Kaade Wallace
Director of Government Relations, Consumer Brands Association

As emerging leaders in a highly polarized and political environment, we must resist wanting to work only with people who think like us. We must build bipartisan friendships and develop a politically diverse professional network to ensure our profession remains credible inside and outside the Beltway.

In five years, I hope to have progressed to a senior-level, decision-making role that leverages my MBA and government relations experience to create value and impact that is inclusive and beneficial to society.

Brittany Van Pelt
Senior Advocacy Specialist, Child Care Aware of America

Lack of diversity among practitioners is one of the biggest challenges the profession faces. According to the Foundation for Public Affairs’ 2022 Social Impact Report, people of color hold only 20% of leadership roles in public affairs. Diverse voices and experiences are critical to ensuring that lawmakers pass laws supporting the issues their constituents care about.

I hope to continue to grow my skills as a digital advocacy communicator and teach others the importance of using digital tools like social media to mobilize and bring in new advocates. I also hope to help advocates encourage their lawmakers to support policies and legislation about the issues they are passionate about, especially those advocating for working families, mothers and young children.

Marisa Sanchez
Manager of Government Affairs, Ferox Strategies

The biggest challenge that I see in public affairs is the need for diverse talent pipelines and educating young people on career pathways. I fell into government affairs and lobbying by chance, without knowing the impact that advocacy makes on national policy. Diverse representation is needed both on Capitol Hill and in corporate boardrooms. As leaders, we can support the pipeline of young professionals by being diligent mentors and fostering pathways.

In five years, I hope to be in a position of executive leadership with the tools and experience to practice responsible, equitable and ethical corporate citizenship.

Daniel Pino
Manager of Media Relations and External Engagement, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Over the past two decades, social media and now AI have dramatically transformed how people share, access and engage with news, giving us the added challenge of both getting the attention of our audiences and establishing longtime trust. But these technologies can be harnessed to give public affairs professionals access to critical information that helps us understand what captures audience attention and how well our messages are being received.

Through the Hogans Fellows, I am thrilled to be part of a cohort of phenomenal leaders who I am honored to call my peers. I hope to fortify my network and expand my skills so that in the next five years I can grow in my career as a more senior leader in the global health space.

Bernice Ogbondah
Government Affairs Analyst, National Association of Dental Plans

A challenge we’re facing is a lack of understanding of what public affairs and government affairs professionals do, and the strengths and skills we bring to a company or a trade. Having to constantly prove your worth without (in many cases) a monetary ROI to point to is difficult. We can tackle this through education about what exactly a public affairs professional does, and how valuable the work we do is to our communities.

My career aspirations are ultimately to become vice president of government affairs and/or an executive director at a trade association or nonprofit. In the next few years, I want to become an expert at designing, running and optimizing campaigns and get more involved with the driving strategy behind policy creation.

Maha Nafees
Community Relations Coordinator
Fidelity Investments

There are many challenges before the profession, but working in public affairs is a way to serve others. To create a better world and future we must all do our small, and large, part. I hope to be the voice of those partners we work with in our communities and help bring their voices to the table.

My career aspirations are to keep growing in this field while showing others, especially South Asian and Muslim youth, that there are a vast variety of careers. I hope to lead a team that can influence positive change in our society whether that is through work with nonprofit and nongovernmental partners or members of office.

Juan Manuel Martinez
Manager, Program Partnerships, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute

The public affairs profession faces challenges of yesterday and today. Having a diverse cultural understanding and keeping pace with the digital age are especially significant. Ethical policymaking and reputation management must be prioritized over short-term goals.

Five years from now, I see myself on the same knowledge-acquisition journey supported by the Foundation. I hope to be in a position where my relationship-building leads to direct solutions for community members and beyond.

Sierra Grimes
Senior Manager, Government Affairs, National Business Aviation Association

The biggest challenge for the public affairs profession today is the recovery from the pandemic and managing the new hybrid work environment. The workforce comprises those who began their career in a remote setting or had to navigate and attempt to create a “new normal” for three years. That made relationship building – a critical part of our profession – a challenge. Leaning into the hybrid environment will benefit our industry as it empowers individuals to balance their career and personal obligations, which were brought to the forefront during the pandemic.

In the next five years, I see myself paying it forward to the Hogans Fellowship by potentially being a mentor for future Fellows and using this training (along with other development) to navigate being a woman of color with executive influence. I also plan to utilize my public policy expertise to usher in a transformational wave within the aviation industry.

Alfredo Gonzalez Alfonzo
Senior Associate, DDC Public Affairs

In our polarized political environment, where compromise is rare and bipartisanship infrequent, we need public affairs professionals who are able to navigate that complexity and provide solutions to client challenges. We can convene conversations around policy that have a significant effect on overall society.

In the next five years, I hope to continue to raise the issues of the Hispanic/Latino community and use my experience as a public affairs professional to shape the conversation and build alliances in favor of common-sense policy.

Niko Davis
Senior Manager, Industry and Strategic Communications, Nuclear Energy Institute

The amount of “noise” is the biggest challenge facing the profession. In a city where influence is currency, we seem to have an inflation issue. Facts are filtered through ideological sieves, adding to the already polarized climate. We can solve this issue by making awareness and empathy a part of broader public affairs strategy and by being more intentional about which audiences we choose to engage with and how we inform them.

Five years ago, I was living and working in a dramatically different environment, helping lead a campaign in the Texas Panhandle. I couldn’t have guessed I’d be in D.C. today. I see myself staying in this city, continuing to advance my career and focusing on policies I truly believe in, while continuing to serve the community in my free time.

Brooklyn Bass
Senior Public Affairs Associate, JPMorgan Chase

The biggest challenge the public affairs profession is facing today is AI. It is here and set to dramatically change our profession and the future of everything—work, play, communication, politics and so much more. As public affairs professionals, we must work together to strategically look ahead to AI’s short-term and long-term impact. Our goal shouldn’t be to stifle innovation, but rather to be at the forefront of creating a world and economy that serves and works for everyone.

In five years, I look forward to continuing to pursue my passion in the field, solving communications crises and confronting the policy issues that touch and impact so many lives.

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