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2018 Speakers and Bio

Mark Basnight

Mark Basnight is an Emergency Management Communication Analyst for Argonne National Laboratory’s Public Affairs Science and Technology (PAST) Fusion Center. He is responsible for assisting government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private sector groups with plans, training, exercises and support materials for media and public affairs before, during, and after a crisis or emergency. He is a former Public Information Officer for the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department.

Basnight is a founding member and a past chair for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Virtual Social Media Working Group. He served as a Lead Public Information Officer during the 2012 Democratic National Convention and had a significant role in planning, coordinating and implementing the Joint Information Center for Charlotte- Mecklenburg. Mark is an alumnus of the inaugural Federal Emergency Management Agency 389 Masters Public Information Officer Course and an adjunct instructor for the National Emergency Training Center – Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Md.

Paige Davidson

Paige is a communications, education, and training professional. She is currently the Executive Staff Advisory and Communications Officer at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, and has worked as an educator and academic program consultant. She holds a Masters in Elementary Education from Georgetown College.

Erik Deckers

Erik is a professional communicator with more than 20 years of experience and results in copywriting, content marketing, and social media marketing. He has owned and operated a content marketing agency since 2009. Prior to that, he led the crisis communications efforts for the Indiana State Department of Health. Erik has published nearly 2,000 columns, articles, and reviews, and is the author of four books including “Branding Yourself” and “The Owned Media Doctrine.

Josh DeLung

Josh brings 15 years of strategic communication experience with a focus on building and managing teams who work in audience engagement using digital methods. In his current role with ICF, Josh directs digital experience projects that help organizations achieve measurable success. His strengths include business management, content strategy, messaging, and research and analytics.

Annalisa Nash Fernandez

Annalisa has 30 years of international experience, including as an international strategic planning director at Philip Morris and Kraft Foods, based in New York and São Paulo, Brazil; an investment banker at Bankers Trust, based in New York and Santiago, Chile; and a consultant for PwC in Washington, DC. Annalisa is the author of Intuitive Interpreting and her articles on language and culture have been published on Quartz.com, Education Week, and in other print and online media. She holds an MA in literature and translation from the University of Wisconsin, and an BS in international finance from Georgetown University.

Carly Gill

Carly is an Administrative Specialist with the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. She has a 21 year track record of profitable business management and administrative experience.

Erick Gill

Erick is the Communications Division Director for the St. Lucie, FL County Board of County Commissioners. He serves as the spokesman for the Board, including leading crisis communications from the Emergency Operations Center during such events as Hurricanes Wilma, Matthew, and Irma. Erick spent many years as a reporter and freelance writer prior to becoming a government communicator. He has received many awards for his work, including the 2017 Award of Excellence in Crisis Communications for Hurricane Matthew by the Palm Beach Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Janice “Jhai” James

Janice is a Communications Officer with the Georgia Institute of Technology where she creates and implements the communication, marketing, and public relations efforts of the Institute. She has over 10 years of experience in multi-platform writing, social media strategy and development, community engagement, and website content management.

Jamie Johnson

Jamie is a Social Media Technician with the St. John’s County, FL Sheriff’s Office. She is an active voice of the agency’s social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram) and communicates information effectively to the media utilizing press releases and interpersonal communications in response to media inquiries. Jamie describes herself as “a media junkie obsessed with social media and photography who wants to find new and fun ways of keeping people informed of the happenings of the day by generating conversation in an open forum. She is the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officer Association Region 2 Director.

Laura Kirkpatrick

Laura received her Bachelor of Science in urban affairs and planning from Boston University and a masters in corporate and public communication at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.

When Laura is not on the beach with family and friends, she teaches marketing at New Jersey City University.

Dr. Ann Knabe

Ann Peru Knabe, PhD, teaches public relations at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. She is currently on military leave, serving as Dean of Students at the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University. Col. Knabe has almost three decades of experience in public relations, public affairs and strategic communication. She also owns a crisis communication firm located Milwaukee.

She is Accredited in Public Relations with a Military emphasis (APR+M) and serves on the Universal Accreditation Board.

Aaron Lavallee

Aaron is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has over 15 years of communications and management experience in both eh public and private sectors. He holds a Masters Degree in Strategic Public Relations from George Washington University. He has worked on a variety of political campaigns and also ran for the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2004, losing by just 39 votes.

Greg Leatherman

Greg is the managing editor for a company whose best-known publications are ECO (ecomagazine.com) and Ocean News and Technology (oceannews.com). These industry-leading print magazines also include websites, social media, and weekly newsletters.
Previously, he communicated on behalf of NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the FBI, and the U.S. Armed Forces as a federal contractor.

Greg is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Florida Writers Association, among other organizations.

Christopher O’Neil

Chris O’Neil is the Chief of Media Relations for the National Transportation Safety Board and President-elect of NAGC. Previously, Chris was Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and NAGC’s Communications Director.

He joined U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2014 after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard at the rank of Commander with more than 29 years of active-duty service first with the U.S. Air Force and then with the U.S. Coast Guard (he enlisted in 1991) — more than 26 of those years in public affairs. Chris became the Chief of Media Relations for the Directorate of Governmental and Public Affairs, Coast Guard Headquarters in 2008.

He has a Master of Public Relations degree from Boston University’s College of Communication. O’Neil has a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication and an associate’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix.

Mike Pina

Mike is the Program Manager for Communications and Outreach for the U.S. Department of Transportation. He has over 20 years of communications experience in both the public and private sectors, including eight years as the Manager of Communications for the Travel Industry Association in Washington, D.C.

Devika Rao

Devika is the Vice President of Account Services for O’Neill Communications. She brings a strong writing and editing background that is key to helping clients develop their content marketing strategies. She also has solid footing in media relations to help clients’ stories be heard through multi-media outlets.

Her ability to convey ideas and thoughts through the written word was recognized by the Magazine Association of the Southeast (MAGS) two years in a row for Best Feature for her coverage on the impact of South Asians in America. She also manages a weekly column with the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, the Southeast’s largest daily newspaper.

Devika graduated from Penn State University with degrees in journalism and political science. When she is not trying the latest restaurants in the city, she volunteers with various nonprofit organizations in Atlanta and serves on the board of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce and Spruill Center for the Arts.

Kara Roberson

Kara Roberson is a multi-faceted, award-winning marketing and communication professional with experience in water and electric utilities, parks and recreation marketing and communications, and general municipal public information management.
With more than 18 years of professional marketing and communication experience, Kara’s exceptional design savvy, attention to detail, listening skills, and creativity, produces high-quality, engaging final products that stand out in the marketing world.

Sam Ruchlewicz

Sam is a member of the senior leadership team of Warschawski, a national, boutique marketing communications agency headquartered in in the Baltimore/Washington DC metropolitan area. Sam creates and oversees the firm’s digital marketing and data analytics practices. Sam is also a faculty member at Betamore, an award-wining educational institution, incubator, entrepreneurship hub and technology campus.

Larry Schooler

Larry is an accomplished, award-winning dispute resolution practitioner, manager, and thought leader focused on public policy dispute resolution and public engagement. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University. Larry is a Senior Fellow with the National Civic League. He spent eight years as the Public Engagement Division Manager for the City of Austin, Texas, establishing one of the first public engagement and dispute resolution divisions in a U.S. municipal government. Larry also spent nearly 10 years as a news anchor on National Public Radio.

Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., APR

Bey-Ling is a professor of public relations and director of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University. She is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Relations Research, co-author of the 11th edition of Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations, member of the Arthur W. Page Society, and past chair of the Universal Accreditation Board, which oversees the world’s largest certification program in public relations. The Public Relations Society of America named Dr. Sha its 2012 Outstanding Educator of the Year, and she has won national awards for both public relations practice and research. Dr. Sha’s primary research program examines the intersection of identity and public relations.

Steven Sobieszczyk

Steven is both a scientist and communications expert. In his work for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management, he leads, designs, and implements a diverse spectrum of earth science and science communication-themed engagement activities that connects scientists with the public, media, and/or key decision makers. He has published over 40 scientifically peer-reviewed abstracts, journal articles, reports, and digital datasets, and helped produce over 50 online videos. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Geology and Geography, and a Master of Science in landslide geology and GIS.

Nichole Thomas

Nichole is the Media Relations Director for the Indiana Department of Transportation. She is also President of The Write Designs, providing freelance publications coordination to a variety of businesses. As a former reporter, she has established relationships with the local media. In her personal life, Nichole serves as the Marketing Chair and Development Director for the Indiana Parent Teacher Association.