Simo Ahmadi is a professional photographer and owner of Photography by Simo, a boutique portrait and event photography studio in the metropolitan Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland area, specializing in personal branding and corporate and special events photography.
Born in Morocco, Ahmadi has lived in Washington, D.C., since 2000. Growing up in a rich multicultural environment fostered his passion for photography from an early age. After studying business and economics in Morocco, Ahmadi moved to Washington, D.C., and studied finance before entering the hospitality industry. Ahmadi lives in Kensington, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.
Susan Apgood founded and has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of News Generation, Inc., since 1997. She is also an adjunct professor in the Kogod School of Business at American University.
Apgood is active in a number of public relations associations, including the Public Relations Society of America- National Capital Chapter and Washington Women in Public Relations. In 2014, Apgood was one of three finalists for Washington Women in PR’s Woman of the Year award.
Apgood is proud to lead the development committee and serve on the board of “Just Tryan It,” a nonprofit working to positively affect the lives of families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer. She earned her MBA in finance from American University and bachelor’s in economics from George Washington University. Apgood lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and three sons.
Nomi Bachar is the founder and director of White Cedar Institute for Expanded Living LLC and the creator of the Gates of Power® program. Bachar is a human potential expert, keynote speaker, author, and mentor. She is a trained psychotherapist and has been guiding individuals and organizations for 27 years.
Bachar helps people and organizations achieve high levels of performance and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. She is the author of Gates of Power®: Actualize Your True Self, a practical guide to creating the optimal self. Her second book, Let the Heart Speak, was published in May 2018.
Richard Breen, Jr.
Richard H. Breen, Jr., is the Director of Strategic Communications for the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System, serving as the senior communications adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the Director of the Defense Health Agency. Breen also serves as a communications adviser for the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the public affairs teams of the Army, Navy and Air Force Surgeons General, and he is as an adjunct faculty member for the Uniformed Services University.
A retired United States Army Colonel, Breen is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the University of Scranton, where he earned his bachelor’s in communications. Breen also holds a masters in research methodology from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, an MBA from Central Michigan University, and a master’s in strategic policy from the U.S. Army War College.
Taylor Brune is a communications specialist and social media manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation. She is an expert in quickly and efficiently getting information to mass audiences. Brune has also managed social media for broadcast news outlets and public government officials.
With her knack for research, Brune is able to keep up with and efficiently use the constantly evolving platforms of social media. Brune has a bachelor’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism
Dr. Ericka Davis
Dr. Ericka Davis is the Chief Communications Officer for the Georgia State Road & Tollway Authority, which operates tolled transportation facilities within Georgia.
Dr. Davis oversees marketing, communications, and brand management for Georgia’s Express Lanes System, the Xpress Commuter Coach Service, which moves workers to and from major employment centers in the Atlanta region daily and administers the region’s vanpool program.
Dr. Davis has worked for more than 20 years in state and local government, including serving as Communications & Media Relations Director for the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.; Director of the Offices of Communications and Customer Service for Fulton County Government; Director of the Communication Division for the Georgia Department of Transportation; Director of Communications for the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, the Georgia Building Authority, and the State Properties Commission; and Director of Public Affairs for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Jeffrey Davis is managing partner for Van Eperen. He heads the public relations and strategic communications firm’s Baltimore office, counseling the agency’s clients in advertising, PR, and social media.
He began his career as a reporter for daily newspapers in Ohio, New Jersey, and at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.
Davis holds the APR accreditation in public relations and is active in the Maryland chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, serving as past president. Davis also is a member of the National Press Club.
Davis serves as Baltimore and Philadelphia editor for the Capitol Communicator, and he is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., podcast company, Podcast Village. He earned his bachelor’s in journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University.
Erik Deckers is a professional blogger and ghostwriter and co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Deckers has been blogging since 1997 and a newspaper humor columnist since 1994.
Deckers has written several radio and stage plays, and numerous business articles. He was the spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, and now serves on the organization’s board of directors.
Josh DeLung is the Strategy and Quality Lead, Experience Practice, for ICF Next. DeLung has 17 years of strategic communication experience. He focuses on building teams who engage users and improve user experiences. DeLung serves as a strategist on multiple digital government projects.
During his career, DeLung has managed multidisciplinary teams serving every Cabinet-level government agency, Fortune 500 clients, and nonprofits and associations. At SRA International (now GDIT), he built and led the team responsible for creating EnergyEmpowers.gov, a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of the Vice President of the United States and a key project of the Recovery Act.
DeLung has a bachelor’s degree from Marshall University and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, as well as a human-centered design certificate from the Delft University of Technology.
Jenny DuFresne is the Chief Executive Officer of DuFresne Solutions Group, a leadership training firm helping chief executive officers and mid-level managers build great teams, reduce employee turnover, and create a thriving company culture.
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, DuFresne founded the one of the first all-male public charter elementary schools in the United States. She is the author of From Empty to Overflow, a book for women leaders to create harmonious lives. DuFresne holds degrees from Harvard University and George Mason University.
Dirk Fillpot is Communications Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During his 15-year career in the federal government, Fillpot has sought to make government news more relevant locally. Fillpot’s efforts to improve hyperlocal media outreach culminated with the launch of a map-based media system being shared among federal and state agencies.
The map-based system allows government communicators to rapidly distribute information to areas affected by natural disasters, public health emergencies, and public safety incidents, improving agencies’ ability to distribute just-in-time information to help members of the public better protect their safety and health during emergencies.
Fillpot began his career as a reporter at daily newspapers in Texas, where he covered government, healthcare, crime, and agriculture. He graduated from Texas Tech University with degrees in journalism and political science.
Erick Gill is the Communications Division Director for St. Lucie County, Florida. Gill began his career repoting for daily newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, covering sports, breaking news, the environment, fisheries, and county government. Afterwards, he worked as the marketing director for Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida, for six seasons before joining the staff at the St. Lucie County Tourism Office in 2003.
In 2005, Gill began as a Media Specialist, then Public Information Officer and later Public Information Manager. He works with a staff for three to oversee all of St. Lucie County’s internal and external communications.
Gill has a journalism degree from Elon University in North Carolina.
Jason Golden is the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Before Plum Island, Golden supported communication and outreach efforts across the U.S. intelligence community. He also spent a decade at the American Red Cross helping local communities and the national organization tell their Red Cross stories. Golden has served as a primary national spokesperson for incidents and events including Hurricane Katrina, the Upper Big Branch (West Virginia) mine disaster and the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. A graduate of George Mason University, he lives with his family along the shoreline of coastal Connecticut – and takes a ferry across Long Island Sound to Plum Island (and back) every day.
Melissa Harrison is Chief Executive Officer and founder of Allee Creative, a strategic content and experiential marketing agency in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Harrison has two decades of experience in marketing strategy, content management, writing and design. She works with clients around the world to execute successful marketing strategies.
Harrison’s accolades include Top 100 Content Marketer (Content Marketing Institute), Top Young Entrepreneur (Minnesota Business Magazine) and Mover & Shaker (Star Tribune). She is a four-time recipient of the Hermes Creative Award and an international speaker on marketing, business strategy, and entrepreneurship.
She was also named one of 100 women to watch in the U.S. as part of The Inspirational Woman Project and is a graduate of the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program
Maj. (Ret.) Jeff Hickman
Maj. (Ret.) Jeff Hickman served 28 years in the Kansas and Hawaii National Guards and retired in May 2019. He had two deployments, one to Balad, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004-2005 and another to Regional Command South, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2012-2013 as a Brigade Public Affairs Officer (PAO) and public affairs planner. HIckman served as a federal technician in the Hawaii National Guard as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs from 2005 to 2018. In late 2018, he became the Director of Public Affairs for the State of Hawaii, Department of Defense. In May 2018, the Big Island of Hawaii, experiencing its largest and longest lava flow in recent history, asked for National Guard support in the public affairs realm. Hickman made three trips to Hawaii Island and initiated the media escort plan for more than 70 international, national, and local media organizations who descended to the town of Pahoa to cover the lava flow. Hickman conducted more than 25 interviews and 60 media escorts in 37 days and coordinated over 20 single station stand-ups to help Hawaii County accomplish its public information goals during the unique natural disaster.
Dr. Jessica Houston
Dr. Jessica Houston travels nationally and internationally empowering thousands as an inspirational speaker, success coach, and corporate trainer. Dr. Houston’s key messaging and platform are heavily influenced by her career in social work, consulting, and higher education, which spans more than a decade.
Dr. Houston currently serves as a professor at Purdue Global University and owns and operates a successful personal and professional development training company.
Lori Lawson-Dischner is a Digital Engagement Specialist with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. She first joined the Department in 2014 and transitioned to her current role in 2016. Lawson-Dischner specializes in informational social media campaigns, social media analytics, and crisis communication. Lawson-Dischner manages social media accounts with a combined following of more than one million people and advises U.S. embassies and consulates on outreach strategies and tactics.
Sabrina Merritt is the founder and Chief Executive Officers of October Social Media, co-founder of Women Interactive Creative Technology Fest, and a former member of the International Academy of Arts and Sciences (producers of The Webbys). Since launching October Social Media in 2016, Merritt has lead social media projects for the City of Atlanta; the City of Alpharetta, Georgia; the Clayton County (Georgia) Water Authority; the City of Chattanooga (Tennessee) Public Works; and Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Merritt has previous experience as a social media manager and digital strategist at the international nongovernmental organization, CARE, and The PulteGroup, a Fortune 500 real estate organization. She has also worked with numerous agencies and organizations including CSE, Chemistry, The Wilbert Group, The Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation, The Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Cool Girls, Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta, and City of Atlanta as a creator of social media curriculum and workshop facilitation.
Cathy L. Milhoan is the Director of Communications for the U.S. Secret Service. She is responsible for the planning, coordination, and administration of the agency’s communications and media relations and is primary spokesperson for the Secret Service.
Before joining the Secret Service, Milhoan was the Director of DoD Production at the Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Maryland. DMA is the Department of Defense’s direct line of communication for news and information to U.S. forces worldwide.
From 2010 to 2013, Milhoan was the deputy assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was responsible for day-to-day operations and oversaw the administrative and strategic communications branches.
Before joining the federal government, Milhoan was a journalist for newspapers in Delaware and North Carolina.
Marianna Moles is Public Communications Specialist for County of Santa Clara (California) Public Health Department
She handles media relations and strategic communications for more than 40 programs that serve a diverse population of nearly two million county residents.
As Assistant Producer for a women’s lecture series called “Unique Lives and Experiences,” Moles has collaborated with many accomplished women who have inspiring stories to share, such as Marlo Thomas, Maya Angelou, Alexandra Cousteau, Malala Yousafzai, and Michelle Obama.
In 2014, Moles produced “We’ll Lift You Up,” a video that spotlights what it is like to be homeless in Silicon Valley, which received CreaTV San Jose’s 2015 “Non-Profit Short” award. She holds a bachelor’s in public relations from San Jose State University and an associate degree in liberal arts from San Joaquin Delta College.
Tom Olshanski is the Director of External Affairs for the United States Fire Administration (USFA) at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He is a nationally known subject matter expert on joint information systems and joint information center design, crisis and risk communications, and community risk reduction for external affairs.
Tom has been writing and instructing training courses for the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 1989, including the Advanced Public Information Officer (APIO) course and the Master Public Information Officer course. He has taught and trained more than 10,000 first responders looking to enhance their skills as public information officers. Tom was directly involved in operations of joint information centers supporting response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and multiple hurricanes. He helped prepare and train local and county public information officers for information systems and center operations supporting six national Republican and Democratic conventions, several U.S. Olympics, and the 1994 World Cup Soccer stadium venues.
Sarah Prohaska is the Assistant Communications Director and Public Information Officer for Port St. Lucie, the eighth largest city in Florida and third largest city in South Florida. She specializes in media relations and community engagement.
Prohaska is a former journalist with more than 20 years of professional writing experience. Before making the switch to public relations, she spent many years covering governments, courthouses, and legal affairs for a major Florida newspaper.
Prohaska lives in Port St. Lucie with her husband and 9- and 11-year-old sons.
Toni Schwartz is the Public Information Officer for the Hawaii State Department of Public Safety. Schwartz is FEMA certified for Incident Command and Disaster Communications and has been called to assist on several incidents with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA) Joint Information Center.
She recently deployed for 26 days to the Big Island of Hawaii to help the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency and HIEMA with media communications and public messaging during the on-going Kilauea Volcano Eruption Event.
Schwartz previously served as the Hawaii State Department of Human Services Public Information Officer, overseeing communications for several functions, including Medicaid, Child Protective Services, welfare, and food stamp programs.
Before joining the Hawaii state government, Schwartz was a news producer for KHON-TV in Honolulu for two years.
Boris Sanchez is a CNN U.S. Correspondent based in Washington, D.C.
Sanchez joined CNN in June 2015 as a New York-based correspondent and relocated to his hometown of Miami a year later. During his tenure, he’s covered numerous breaking news events, which includes being one of the first reporters on the scene at both the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting (2017) and the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre (2016). His reporting during violent unrest and riots following the shooting of an African-American man by police in Charlotte, N.C. (2016), helped CNN win an Edward R. Murrow Award for breaking news coverage.
During 2016 Sanchez covered several historic natural disasters, including tragic flooding in Louisiana, Hurricane Matthew in northern Florida and a devastating earthquake in Ecuador. During the 2016 presidential race, he traveled across the country to speak with voters and reported from the battleground state of Florida on Election Day.
Prior to joining CNN, he anchored the 10 p.m. newscast at FOX 31 Denver, also contributing coverage across all the stations’ programs since 2012. Sanchez also anchored breaking news coverage of the Arapahoe High School shooting (2013), the Black Forest Fire (2013) and the devastation caused by the historic floods of September 2013. Additionally he broke a series of stories on the implementation of Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado. Sanchez’s work culminated with a 2015 Heartland Regional Emmy award.
Sanchez graduated from Syracuse University in 2009 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and International Relations. While completing his degrees, he interned at Miami NBC affiliate WTVJ, before taking a job anchoring weekends at KRCR in Redding, California.
You can follow his tweets at @Boris_Sanchez.
Stephen Tidmore is the Vice President of Technology for Mighty Citizen.
Tidmore built his first website in 1999, and for a few years after college, he developed websites for Dell. He also spent six years traveling abroad, living, working, and visiting in 30 countries.
Tidmore built and directed international community service programs in Nicaragua, the British Virgin Islands, and on Native American reservations in Montana. He also taught English in Spain and was an adventure coordinator in Belize.
Back home, Stephen became a webmaster at The University of Texas at Austin before joining Mighty Citizen in 2012.
Dr. Joe Trahan
Dr. Joe Trahan, APR, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Trahan & Associates. A native of New Orleans, Dr. Trahan has 38 years of public relations/affairs experience in government, association, and educational and nonprofit public relations.
Dr. Trahan is also LTC(R) Joe Trahan, United States Army Reserve and former Commander of the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center (PAOC) (USAR) located in Birmingham, Alabama.
Since 1998, Dr. Joe Trahan has trained more than 3,500 people per year in 46 states, England, Norway, France, Belgium, Paraguay, Mexico and The Netherlands. Dr. Trahan graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in American military history, a master’s degree in public relations from Ball State University and a Ph.D. in mass communication with an emphasis in public relations and advertising from The University of Southern Mississippi.
John Verrico is the Chief of Media & Community Relations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate. Verrico has more than 38 years of experience as a public affairs professional working extensively in media, community and employee relations for federal and state government agencies.
He is a retired Navy Master Chief Journalist and the former President of the National Association of Government Communicators.
Verrico is also a motivational speaker and leadership trainer who speaks around the world on topics such as motivational leadership, work-life balance, team building, customer service, and interpersonal communication. He pulls from a broad range of life experience, having previously worked as a freelance journalist, stand-up comic, janitor, theater performer, small-business consultant, electronics technician and disco dance instructor, among other fields. He holds a masters degree in organizational leadership and a bachelor’s degree in communication.
Wendy Wagner-Smith is the founder and principal of Wagner-Smith, a full-service communications, marketing, and publishing firm. Currently serving as the Communications Director for NAGC, she worked for 14 years in three federal agencies as a communications and writing-editing expert.
A nationally recognized experienced plain language expert and trainer, she taught for 11 years in more than 55 agencies and offices of the federal government. From 2012-2018, she also was the training coordinator for the federal Plain Language Action and Information Network, managing a corps of volunteer instructors who travel from agency to agency, and coordinating all the plain language training requests from across the government.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and has completed post-graduate coursework at Harvard University Extension and Virginia Commonwealth University.