The Visiting Committee is a group of high-level professionals, alumni and friends who serve in an advisory capacity to the College of Media. Committee members share their expertise, insights and connections with administration, faculty and students to help the College achieve academic excellence and national prominence. Committee members are appointed by the WVU Provost in consultation with the College of Media Dean and typically serve three-year appointments.
WVU, BSME, 1987
Principal, BGR Public Relations, Washington, D.C.
Frank Ahrens joined BGR Public Relations in January 2014. He believes in forming relationships with clients to help them tell their stories to Washington and top-tier U.S. media and online audiences. He works with individuals, corporations and governments to improve their online profiles by creating print, digital and video content and deploying the latest SEO tactics. He helps clients land high-profile op-ed placement, score coveted TV news show bookings and win Page 1 of Google search – an indispensable skill when crisis hits.
Before coming to BGR, Ahrens led Hyundai Motor’s global public relations efforts from company headquarters in Seoul. He became a director at Hyundai Motor in 2010 and was promoted to Vice President of Global Corporate Communications two years later.
Ahrens previously worked for 18 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He covered the global financial crisis of 2008-2010 as well as the media and entertainment industries. Ahrens appeared frequently as a media industry expert on CNBC, MSNBC, PBS and other networks.
He is the author of “Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan,” selected as a New York Post Best Book of 2016.
His writing has appeared in PR News, Forbes, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post and the Diplomat.
Ahrens attended West Virginia University where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife, Rebekah; daughters Annabelle and Penelope; and Labrador, Caspian.
WVU, BSJ, 1971; Auburn University, MA Public Administration, 1981
Colonel, USAF Retired
Colonel Tom Boyd retired from the Air Force in 2003 with 30 years of active duty service, nearly all in the public affairs field (corporate communications).
He served as director of public affairs for several major commands – Air Force Education and Training Command which directs all Air Force recruiting, training and education; U.S. Forces Japan, a multi-service command for all U.S. military activities in Japan; U.S. Pacific Command, the multi-service command overseeing the Pacific and Asia theater.
Throughout his career, he has had extensive experience dealing with U.S. and international news media and directing crisis communications, strategic communication planning, media training, employee communication, community relations, and organizational management, planning, and budgeting. He’s served as communication counsel to senior military and civilian leaders, including four-star commanders, the Air Force vice chief of staff and chief of staff, and two secretaries of the Air Force.
After retiring from the Air Force, he was asked by the Navy’s Chief of Information to serve as an assistant for professional development and education for the Navy’s public affairs community, which he did for three years, establishing a concentrated master’s degree program in mass communication at San Diego State University.
He was recognized as the top military public affairs officer in 1986 when he received The Aviation Space Writers Association’s “Public Affairs Officer Award” for crisis communication and overall communication management at Clark Air Base, the Philippines.
WVU, M.S. IMC, 2010
Vice President, Business Development
Christopher Caserta is a strategy and marketing communications executive with over 20 years of experience within regional and national health systems and post-acute healthcare organizations. Within the healthcare industry, he has led teams in corporate strategy, marketing communications, brand building, demand creation, relationship sales, and digital communications.
Caserta is the vice president of Business Development for U.S. Medical Management. He leads corporate strategic planning, marketing and branding, sales, health plan contracting, mergers & acquisitions, and partnerships. Previously, Caserta was the vice president of Strategy and Marketing within the Continuing Care division at Trinity Health, the second-largest Catholic Health System in the United States.
Through marketing strategies and LEAN process improvements, he collaborated with national leaders and chaired the integrated health system model that captured $199 million in revenue from acute to post-acute care patient transitions within 93 hospitals. Caserta’s teams have exceeded organic sales growth goals for senior housing and skilled nursing throughout six states that created $3.5 million in revenue. He was elected by his peers to Trinity Health’s Clinically Integrated Network (CIN) team that captured $52 million, an increase of 420% from previous years. Caserta also orchestrated a LEAN/performance improvement exercise that yielded $3.6 million and increased the national skilled nursing facility capture rate by 24%.
Prior to Trinity Health, he spent over 15 years and held several executive roles at regional post-acute care organizations and health systems. Caserta has authored integrated marketing communications plans that have maximized home & community-based services organic growth by 46% through utilization strategies of home health, hospice, and private duty services. Caserta’s traditional and digital advertisements have received Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards from the annual National Mature Media Awards competitions.
Caserta enjoys volunteering by organizing and delivering meals at a food pantry in downtown Detroit. At nine years old, he began competitively racing go-karts and has been frequently seen on football fields, baseball fields, and basketball courts coaching his community’s recreational youth leagues. He can also be found singing songs with his guitar at open mic nights and the occasional paid gig.
In 2010, Caserta received his Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University and has a Bachelor of Specialized Studies in Biomedical Science with a Psychology minor from Ohio University.
Caserta is also an adjunct professor in the Integrated Marketing Communications program in WVU Reed College of Media, where he specializes in healthcare marketing and growth strategies.
WVU, BSJ, 2001
Director of Philanthropic Strategies, Scripps Howard Foundation
Meredith Delaney is the Director of Philanthropic Strategies for the Scripps Howard Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to create a better informed world through journalism education and childhood literacy. She oversees community giving in Scripps local television markets and through Scripps national networks, in addition to leading the “If You Give a Child a Book…” childhood literacy campaign.
Delaney brings with her over a decade of experience in fundraising and non-profit industries, previously serving as Senior Director of Development for the regional colleges at the University of Cincinnati and Senior Community Impact Associate at United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Delaney received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University in 2001 and a master’s degree in Communication from the University of Cincinnati in 2004. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Queen City Book Bank and is a former Vice President, Board of Directors for The Literacy Council of Clermont & Brown Counties. She is a graduate of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s program WE Lead and the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Rising Star Leadership Development Program.
KAREN SNYDER DUKE
WVU, BSJ 2009
Editorial Operations Director, POPSUGAR
Karen Snyder Duke is the editorial operations director at POPSUGAR, where she helps guide network-wide analytics, reporting, and tracking; project manages editorial tentpoles and special programs; oversees contingent labor, new hire onboarding, and training; and more. Karen began her career in the print magazine industry, working as an editor at several publications, including Parents, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping, over the course of nine years. She first joined POPSUGAR as a Voices editor, assigning health and fitness content through the brand's robust freelance program, before becoming director of Voices and, finally, moving into an operations role. Karen lives in Manhattan with her husband and fellow Mountaineer, Nathan, and a cat and dog named for two East Side avenues: Madison and Lex.
BETSY KLEBE DZIEDZIC
WVU, BSJ, 1979
Former Vice President of Corporate Communications, Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
Elizabeth (Betsy) Klebe Dziedzic is the former Vice President of Corporate Communications at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., a Fortune 300 Industrial Gases and Chemical manufacturer, where she had global responsibility for leading stakeholder communications globally, including employee communications, executive communications, marketing communications and brand management, financial and sustainability communications, media relations and crisis communications, and digital and visual communications for 14 years.
During her tenure, she led two corporate re-branding campaigns, a major re-design of the global website, developed the Crisis Management Communications process and led acquisition and divestiture communications for major corporate deals.
Betsy began her career at Air Products in Human Resources; where she held positions in compensation, diversity and human resources operations. She later served as director of Quality prior to joining Corporate Communications. Betsy has been a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, past chairman of the Conference Board’s Council on Corporate Communications Strategy. She has served her community in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania on the boards of directors for the State Theatre for the Performing Arts of Easton, Pa, Discover Lehigh Valley and the Minsi Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
A third generation Mountaineer, she received her bachelor’s degree in 1979 from the
WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism and is currently chairing the Capital Campaign
for the Kappa Kappa Gamma house at WVU.
Deputy Communications Director, Blackbird
A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Chelsea Fuller is a media and communications strategist currently working at Blackbird. As Blackbird's Deputy Communications Director, Chelsea supervises the accounts of various clients, including Twitter, Tarana Burke and The ‘me too.’ Movement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of more than 150 organizations committed to fighting for equality and justice for Black people. Aside from these responsibilities, she provides high-level rapid response and crisis communications support to organizations and communities across the country in moments of unrest, particularly those centering the state-sanctioned killings of Black people. Chelsea has successfully provided communications support to organizations including Black Lives Matter, the Working Families Party, Black Visions Collective, Dream Defenders, the Organization for Black Struggle, Workers Center for Racial Justice, Baltimore BLOC and BYP100 in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Keith Scott and others.
Prior to joining Blackbird, Chelsea worked at the Advancement Project, one of the nation’s leading civil rights and racial justice organizations. As the Senior Communications Associate for Youth Criminalization, Chelsea led the Youth Criminalization initiative focused on monitoring and shifting harmful narratives pertaining to our nation’s youth of color through grassroots campaigns and national interventions. She also led the organization's groundbreaking research on the way youth of color are criminalized through biased newsroom and editorial policies. During her time at Advancement Project, Chelsea was a field producer for the EPIX docu-series "America Divided,” working with actor and activist Jesse Williams to highlight the vast educational inequities in Pinellas County, Fla.
Before her time at Advancement Project, Chelsea was an Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellow at FleishmanHillard International Communications in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of the Public Affairs team servicing clients like the Clinton Global Initiative, the United Nations Foundation and GM. Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in News Editorial Journalism and Africana studies from West Virginia University, and a Masters of Arts in Strategic Communications and Social Justice Advocacy from American University.
Chelsea previously worked as a reporter, columnist and copy editor at The Dominion Post in Morgantown, WV, and was editor-in-chief of The Urban Outlook, an online publication focused on news and issues affecting the nation’s underrepresented populations. She is a regular contributor on issues of race, culture and justice for Essence, Blavity, The Root and the Huffington Post, and is the outgoing Co-chair of the National Association of Black Journalists' Young Journalist Task Force.
WVU, BSJ, 1975
Member, Jackson Kelly PLLC
Samme L. Gee is a member of the Firm's Healthcare and Finance Practice Group. Gee's practice is focused on tax exempt and taxable municipal bonds and related governmental financings as well as corporate trust, legislative services and governmental agency representation. In that capacity, she routinely serves as bond counsel, underwriter's counsel, trustee's counsel or issuer's or borrower's counsel. Gee has extensive experience in the financing and development of infrastructure projects with an emphasis on water, wastewater, highways and public facilities and economic development projects. She is a member of the National Association of Bond Lawyers (NABL} and is listed in Woodward/White's The Best Lawyers in America®. She was also named in the spring 2017 The Best Lawyers in America® "Women in Law" Business Edition.
Gee graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1983, where she was a member of the West Virginia Law Review. She also holds a master's degree in public administration.
CYNDI W. GREENGLASS
WVU, M.Sc, 2013
President, Livingston Strategies
Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and president at Livingston Strategies, a data-informed, strategic consulting firm that helps clients develop, execute, and measure their customer communications with a close focus on results. Cyndi has razor-sharp strategic skills matched by impeccable on-the-ground savvy and tactical abilities. These qualities have enabled her to build a successful company and reputation in performance-based marketing across a broad range of industries including B2B and B2I, as well as in critical compliance and regulated communications.
Prior to launching her consultancy, Cyndi was a founding partner of Diamond Communications Solutions where she acted as a strategic architect, helping clients design opti-channel performance marketing programs with an eye on results.
Cyndi is on the Board of Directors of Honor Flight Chicago and is an Advisory Board Member for BRAND United. She has taught and trained marketers throughout the world. She currently co-hosts a podcast series entitled Marketing Horizons sponsored by WVU, and is a consistent contributor to books, white papers, and articles by thought leaders. She has been recognized as:
- 2019 Recipient of the Commitment to Service Award, WVU Reed College of Media
- 2018 Alexis Vanedis Teaching Award Winner
- 2018 Winner 20 Women in Business by Sales Lead Management Association
- 2017 Winner 40 Inspiring Leaders in Sales Lead Management
- 10 Most Fascinating People in B2B
- 2016 Winner 20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management
- 2015 INC 5000 Honoree
- 2014 INC 5000 Honoree
Cyndi holds a Bachelor’s degree from University of Toronto and a Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications through the Reed College of Media at WVU. She helped to develop the Data Marketing Communications program at WVU Reed College of Media where she is now an Adjunct Instructor.
WVU, BSJ, 2001
Executive Vice President, MCS Healthcare
For more than 20 years, Chad has built industry-first communications programs for some of the world’s most respected healthcare organizations. Today, he drives new capabilities and new ways of thinking for MCS Healthcare and its clients. He has a deep appreciation for the psychology of communications and a passion for developing original ideas that approach communications differently.
Before MCS, Chad held senior positions at some of the world’s top public relations firms including Porter Novelli and Fleishman-Hillard. Chad works out of Basking Ridge, NJ and is honored to be a 2001 WVU Reed College of Media graduate.
Over the past decade, John Ketchum has worked in every corner of the media industry as a prod ucer, reporter, and editor. He started his career in public radio, helping launch Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty Desk and then went on to join the staff of Morning Edition, where he was an assistant producer. Since then he’s held staff and leadership roles at CNN, The Center for Public Integrity, and Vox Media. He is currently on the startups team at the American Journalism Project, where he helps launch media organizations across the U.S. Before coming to the AJP, he helped launch a site covering Black business and technology. He currently lives in Atlanta with his wife and dog.
WVU, BSJ, 1975
Former Editorial Page Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune
An award-winning journalist with extensive experience in national, state, and local affairs, Kittle served for nearly two decades as editorial page editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Later in his career he stepped in as director of news content for KUSI-TV in San Diego. As a much sought-after commentator, he provided regular political analysis on PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” He also appeared frequently on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Weekend Edition,” along with numerous interviews on network and cable television news programs. In San Diego Kittle was a regular guest on KUSI-TV and KPBS radio and television, and hosted his own weekly public affairs program on SignOn Radio.
Kittle has nurtured a lifelong interest in American history. His first book, “Franciscan Frontiersmen: How Three Adventurers Charted the West,” relates the little-known story of pioneering friars who accompanied Junípero Serra to California in the middle of the eighteenth century. It was published in May 2017 by The University of Oklahoma Press. He currently is researching a book on the Cupeño “trail of tears” in San Diego County at the start of the 20th century.
Kittle joined The San Diego Union in 1986. During his tenure he traveled the world widely under the auspices of The National Conference of Editorial Writers, including extended tours to the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries in 1990, as communist regimes were collapsing, and to the Islamic world in 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. He speaks Spanish, German, and Italian.
From 1979 to 1986, Kittle was an associate editor of U.S. News & World Report in Washington. He served the magazine as White House correspondent, congressional correspondent, and Pentagon correspondent. After covering Ronald Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign, Kittle was assigned to the White House on a full-time basis, ultimately conducting multiple presidential interviews in the Oval Office. Prior to joining U.S. News & World Report, Kittle was the Washington bureau chief for The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail. He is a graduate of West Virginia University, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Daily Athenaeum.
His writing accolades include the George Washington Honor Medal awarded by the Freedom’s Foundation of Valley Forge, the Scripps Howard National Newspaper Award, the William Randolph Hearst Award, the California Newspaper Publishers Association Award, and numerous citations from the Los Angeles Press Club and the San Diego Press Club. Kittle and his wife have two grown children and live in Cayucos, Calif., and Carefree, Ariz.
WVU, BSJ, 2011News Director, HuffPost
Paige Lavender is a native of Charleston, W.Va. She graduated from West Virginia University in 2011 and took a job with The Huffington Post shortly after. As one of the website’s politics editors, Lavender helped coordinate coverage of the 2012 and 2016 elections; coordinated coverage of federal, state and local political stories; worked with partners to cross-promote content; edited both breaking news and enterprise reporting; managed a team of editors and reporters; monitored audience engagement; ran various social media channels; and more.
In 2017, she became a founding editor of the site's breaking news team and helped develop HuffPost's strategy for covering fast-moving stories. She currently serves as HuffPost's news director, overseeing the breaking news and video teams and helping with product development.
In 2013, she received the Young Alumna Award from the Reed College of Media. She's been a twice-featured panelist at the WVU Festival of Ideas and a contributor to 100 Days in Appalachia.
Lavender earned her bachelor’s degree in News-Editorial Journalism with a minor in English. She received her master’s degree in Interactive Journalism at American University in 2016. Lavender completed the Poynter Institute’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media in October 2019.
Find her on Twitter @paigelav.
WVU, MSJ, 2004
Corporate Communications, Capital One
When Mathew Lehosit was a teenager attending Notre Dame High School, his biggest passion lied in the fantasy worlds of the novels, comic books, and cartoons that he consumed, where superheroes would battle injustices of the world, vampires and mutants could be seen as more than the sum of their circumstance, and wizards would cast spells in his imagination. Little did he know at the time that this passion would lead him to work as a key stakeholder in the global entertainment industry, helping to usher a new era of cartoon heroes into the lives of children and fans.
Matthew studied integrated marketing communications at the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University where he graduated top of his class in the Advertising curriculum. Unsure of how his post-college life would unfold, Matthew decided to search the job listings at Turner Entertainment while watching Cartoon Network (his favorite channel) one evening, where he sought out an internship opportunity that would bring him to Atlanta in 2005 to work for the famed brand. 15 years later, Matthew still works at Cartoon Network as Director of Marketing where he leads strategic planning across a wide array of emerging and beloved brands including The Powerpuff Girls, Steven Universe, Ben 10, and Adventure Time.
Together with his team, they work across all areas of business as the arrow to ensure everyone is working toward the same strategic bull's-eye. In his tenure, Lehosit has worked on global campaigns, executed events such as Comic Cons, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, SXSW, Pop-Up shops and more, been published as a writer for DC Comics, and been honored as a Rising Brand Star by AdWeek.
GoPro’s Vice President of Global Marketing and Communications
Rick Loughery currently serves as GoPro’s Vice President of Global Marketing and Communications overseeing GoPro’s brand and product marketing initiatives, communications as well as international marketing. He started working with GoPro at the end of 2009 and joined full time as the 13th employee in early 2010. During his time at GoPro, he has worked closely with teams to build and execute marketing programs that helped GoPro become one of the top brands in the outdoors sports and consumer technology industries.
He has been at the forefront of the emergence of key shifts in marketing communications from UGC and social media to the evolution of earned media from traditional public relations to influencer marketing.
Prior to joining GoPro, Rick spent 13 years in Silicon Valley working with various technology companies both in-house and at agencies. He co-founded Three-Forty Communications, based in San Francisco, where he worked with early-stage technology companies, such as Yelp, and also helped launch Fitbit. The success of Three-Forty led to an acquisition by Dig Communications (now Olson Engage). Rick now works out of GoPro’s San Diego office and is raising three awesome kids in Carlsbad.
Vice President of University Engagement & Chief Marketing Officer, West Virginia University
Arriving at West Virginia University in the fall of 2013, Sharon serves as the chief marketing and communications officer for the university. She led the branding effort in 2015 that launched the “Mountaineers Go First” campaign and repositioned the university as an academic and research leader. In 2017, WVU’s University Relations team was selected as one of the top 3 teams in the country by the American Marketing Association.
In the fall of 2017, Enrollment Management was added to her portfolio. The team has integrated the roles of marketing and communications, recruitment and admissions, and financial aid. Beginning in 2021, she also oversees Alumni Relations and leads the launch of the Purpose Center. Leading these areas allows the teams to create a strategic yet personal student experience to improve recruitment and admissions rates at the University, while also elevating the alumni experience to create stronger bonds with the University.
Prior to her arrival at WVU, Sharon served as the assistant vice president of marketing at Purdue University leading the areas of brand, creative and marketing strategy. She also owned a boutique marketing and communication agency, and founded a local, bi-monthly women’s magazine, which focused on relevant women’s issues and local community programming. She worked for the Purdue Alumni Association for 13 years, ultimately serving as director of communications and editor of the bi-monthly magazine.
Sharon currently serves on the board of the WVU Alumni Association and is a member of the executive committee of the Association of Public Land Grant’s Council on Strategic Communications. She has served on the boards of National Mortar Board, Association of Women in Communications, American Marketing Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
She and her husband, David Howell, have three children: Grace, who is a junior studying advertising and public relations at WVU, and Spencer and Carter who are enrolled in the Country Roads program at WVU.
Instructor/MFA Candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz
JP Olsen is currently seeking his MFA in digital art and new media at UC-Santa Cruz while working for London-based artists Isaac Julien and Mark Nash, who started a digital art lab at the university in 2019.
Prior to coming to Santa Cruz, Olsen was a Director of Original Programming at HBO where he worked for six years overseeing editorial and production for HBO programming such as “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas,” “We’re Here,” “Pod Save America,” multiple HBO documentaries, as well as VICE on HBO documentaries and all VICE News Tonight programming, including the landmark coverage of the Charlottesville protests.
Olsen has also written and produced documentaries for “Retro Report,” a documentary news producer whose work appears in The New York Times and on PBS. Olsen’s work as an independent director includes multiple short films shown at festivals and museums around the world, including Anthology Film Archives, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and London’s Science Museum.
He is the recipient of grants from ITVS, New York State Council on the Arts, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Jerome Foundation, and Experimental Television Center. He is also a 2019 MacDowell Fellow for filmmaking and a 2017 Kiplinger Fellow in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University.
In Spring of 2021, the University of Kentucky Press re-published “The Narcotic Farm,” a book that he co-wrote on the history of the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital at Lexington and which is based on the award-winning PBS documentary he wrote, produced and co-directed.
Olsen began his career as a newspaper reporter, covering crime, justice, and the state prison system for The Times-Herald Record in Newburgh, New York. Olsen is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he has taught broadcast news as an adjunct.
Ashton Pellom is an award winning videographer and communications expert who founded AP Video Productions in 2011.
Ashton began his career as a Multimedia Journalist at WALB-TV in Albany, Georgia. While in Albany, Ashton won two Georgia Associated Press Awards. The first was for Best Spot News Reporting and the other was for Best Use of Sound.
After WALB-TV, Ashton was a Multimedia Journalist for WBTV, the CBS-affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina. While reporting in the Tar Heel State, he was nominated for two Emmy awards for his live breaking news coverage of the deadly Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in 2015.
Ashton earned a degree in Broadcast News from West Virginia University in 2011, with a minor in Child Development and Family Studies.
WVU, BA, Political Science, 1996
Executive Director, Cheddar News
Adam Prather is Executive Director of Cheddar joining the news outlet from Vox Media. Prather has also served as Head of McClatchy Brand Studio, building out and overseeing the branded content studio for McClatchy’s 30 newspapers including Miami Herald, KC Star, Charlotte Observer, Sac Bee, Ft. Worth Telegraph and McClatchy DC. Prior to McClatchy, Prather served as Publisher of The Hill and worked for YAHOO! and POLITICO’s advertising departments. Prather started his career as a Junior Legislative Assistant for the former West Virginia Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. He is a graduate of West Virginia University where he majored in Political Science.
Haider Rafique is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Okcoin, a US-licensed cryptocurrency platform serving 192 countries. Under his leadership, Okcoin’s user sign-ups have grown over 4000% YoY. Haider oversees all aspects of Okcoin’s marketing, user growth, and token partnerships to drive awareness and use of the platform’s cryptocurrency exchange, mobile app, and DeFi products. He was previously Head of Growth at Blockchain.com, where he launched the company’s cryptocurrency exchange and grew the user base by over 60% to 42 million wallets within 18 months. A Microsoft alum, Haider was the third Bing marketing employee and helped grow its monetization arm to a $3 billion dollar global business. Haider has led several consumer and SaaS tech brands through hypergrowth and is one of the few crypto marketers with a Madison Avenue background, having previously worked at BBDO, VMLY&R (formerly Young and Rubicam), and Wunderman Thompson (formerly J. Walter Thompson). Haider’s unique creative edge is evident in the commercial he pioneered starring the former Star Trek Captain humorously pointing to the folly of “trying to secure your financial future with plain ‘ol money.” He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the West Virginia University School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @haidersf.
WVU, MSJ, 2004
Corporate Communications, Capital One
An accomplished marketing and communications strategist, Sukhi Sahni’s career spans public, private and nonprofit sectors. Sukhi is passionate about reframing relationships between brands and their customers / consumers, prizing purpose, authenticity, poignancy, and connected conversation above all things. She believes that powerful storytelling is at the heart of good communication and draws on her training as a broadcast journalist to extract truths, push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Sukhi deeply values the relationships she’s built and cultivated over the years with journalists, bloggers and influencers - relationships that are core to the storytelling process.
Sukhi brings the energy of new practitioner with the finesse and fearlessness of a veteran to her daily practice. She currently holds the position of SVP, Head of Brand Communications at Wells Fargo, where she is leading change and brand transformation by driving Enterprise driven integrated storytelling, leveraging the PESO model, to build trust and brand favorability. Previously, Sukhi was the Head of Corporate Communications for the Credit Card and Retail Business at Capital One.
Sukhi was recently recognized as the Top Rising Future CCOs list. She is also recipient of the “Global Innovator 25 Award” and a top woman in PR through the “Top Women in PR Award”. When not busy with her day job, Sukhi enjoys learning from and teaching her Master’s students as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown university.
Born and raised in India, Sukhi always brings a global perspective to her approach and thinking. She currently resides in metro Washington D.C. with her family.
West Liberty University, BS, 1986
Executive Director, West Virginia Press Association
Don Smith assumed the duties of executive director of the West Virginia Press Association in June, 2012, after serving as president and board member of the WVPA during more than a decade of involvement with the press association. He is also a member of NAM, the national Newspaper Association Managers group, and SERNAM, the SouthEast Regional Newspaper Association Managers group.
The WVPA represents the state’s 70 newspapers, serving as the coordinating body for staff educational development and professional recognition. The WVPA also serves as the industry’s legislative representative, monitoring public access and free press issues, along with all business and tax legislation. Through its “Press Services” advertising agency, the WVPA places all forms of advertising in newspapers across the state and nation. As a service to the state’s college and university students, the WVPA Foundation each year arranges paid professional internships at West Virginia newspapers and awards scholarships to West Virginia students.
Prior to joining the WVPA in 2012, Smith had worked in the West Virginia newspaper industry for 25 years, all with Ogden Newspapers Inc. During his career, Smith worked at both The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, The Wetzel Chronicle in New Martinsville, The Inter-Mountain in Elkins and The Journal in Martinsburg. Starting as a part-time sports reporter while still in college, Smith went on to serve as bureau chief, editor, advertising director and general manager.
A native of Moundsville, Smith and his wife, Samantha, who is the advertising director for the WVPA, have three children and live in Charleston.
Chief Global Strategist, Steranka Sports + Strategy
Now in his 43nd year in professional sports, Joe Steranka provides strategic counsel to a number of sports industry brands and organizations. He describes his work as "coaching and consulting smart leaders in the business of golf, sports and sustainability." The 63-year-old also continues to give back through a number of philanthropic organizations including the WVU College of Media, Honda Classic Cares, Midnight Golf and the South Florida PGA.
Steranka made his mark on the game and industry of golf during a 25-year career with the PGA of America including seven as CEO. He directed efforts to grow the PGA brand and the global reach of the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. In addition to his role as PGA chief, he served and led the World Golf Foundation, the World PGA Alliance and the International Golf Federation’s work to return golf to the Olympic Games. He also steered an industry government relations program We Are Golf, designed to achieve legislative and public affairs goals on behalf of the $84 billion a year golf industry.
A 1979 graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in Journalism, Steranka left Morgantown to work for the NBA’s Washington Bullets and Cleveland Cavaliers before he joined the renowned sports agency ProServ where he directed marketing campaigns for sports stars including Jimmy Connors, Michael Jordan and Florence Griffith Joyner. He was named a WVU Distinguished Alumnus in 2014.
Joe and his wife, Joann, live in Jupiter, Fla.
WVU, BSJ, 1981
Corporation Communications team, IBM
Jacelyn Swenson is a creative and analytical marketing and communications executive who has led strategic initiatives, raised brand awareness and inspired global, matrixed teams to deliver high value return in the corporate, nonprofit and agency environments.
Most recently she led Strategic Events and the Global Speaker's Bureau for IBM Corporate Communications, working with the CEO's senior leaders to drive IBM thought leadership. Previously on the IBM Corporate Marketing team, she led global brand programs and created social, digital, and immersive experiences to make the IBM brand more relevant and engaging with its stakeholders.
Ms. Swenson held several marketing and communications leadership positions at GE to help strengthen its brand prior to joining IBM. Her career began at a worldwide public relations and advertising agency.
She is a dedicated lifelong learner and has attended senior management and leadership courses at the IBM and GE executive campuses, corporate communications leadership conferences in Antwerp, Paris, London and New York, and completed the management and leadership program at Templeton College in Oxford.
Ms. Swenson takes great pride in mentoring and coaching students and professionals to help them reach their personal and professional goals. She has dedicated her career to supporting STEM and ensuring her programs and teams are diverse, equitable and inclusive.
She received a B.S. Degree in Broadcast Journalism from West Virginia University and resides in metro Washington D.C.
WVU, BSJ, 2010
Vice President, NY General Manager, and Head of DEI, PAN Communications
Brandon Thomas is a seasoned communications professional with more than a decade of public relations experience. In this time, he has led strategy and execution for a diverse group of clients across industries including corporate, healthcare, technology, education and nonprofit.
In his role as Vice President & NY General Manager at PAN Communications, Brandon oversees client relations, office/ team management and new business development for the NY market. Prior to PAN, Brandon served as Associate Vice President at Red Havas where he managed client relations and oversaw account teams both large and small. He also helped lead the U.S. agency’s National Culture Committee where he implemented initiatives that promoted cross-office engagement, fellowship and continued learning.
Brandon began his career at Widmeyer Communications; spending more than four years focused on driving earned strategy and media relations within the education and policy spaces. This experience prepared him for larger roles as Senior Director at Southard Communications and Associate Vice President at Red Havas.
He is a graduate of West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media (CoM), a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and serves as a CoM guest speaker and professional mentor. Brandon currently serves on the Board of the PRSA-NY chapter in the role Associate Director of DE&I. The DE&I committee is currently working to launch the chapter’s inaugural DE&I Summit. He’s also a member of Men of Color in Communications and the PR Council.
MELISSA MORAES WILSON
MSJ in Integrated Marketing Communications, 2014 and BSJ in Public Relations,
Marketing Manager for Disney Photo Imaging at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
Mel is a marketing expert with 10 years of professional experience in digital and traditional marketing, branding, and strategic communications. While finishing her master’s degree in IMC, she started her career as a communications assistant for WVU University Relations by day, writing for WVUToday and collaborating on several communications and multimedia projects -- and worked evenings as the art director for the Daily Athenaeum, managing a staff of eight photographers.
Her marketing industry experience thereafter includes higher education, software sales, and currently, healthcare. She focused on social media and trade show marketing in her early career, and moved into focusing fully on digital marketing once making the jump to healthcare marketing for UPMC in Pittsburgh. As a manager of digital marketing at UPMC, Mel oversaw marketing strategies for her service line clients, partnering with the internal clinical marketing departments to manage more than 15 digital marketing campaigns at any given time, with six- or seven-figure budgets for digital campaigns utilizing social media, programmatic display, paid search, native advertising, digital content, email marketing, SMS messaging, and more. Before departing UPMC in the summer of 2020, she served as the lead for the organization’s COVID-19 digital marketing efforts.
Mel managed digital marketing at AdventHealth for the West Florida division for a year before taking on an exciting new role with Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. She is the marketing manager for Disney Photo Imaging, overseeing the marketing efforts from digital to traditional, and everything in between.
She and her husband live in Tampa, FL and welcomed their first daughter in March 2021.
ERIC M. WINKFIELD
Vice president at M Booth
Eric M. Winkfield is a vice president at M Booth in its corporate practice adding depth in the areas of reputation management, public affairs, and issues and crisis management. He also is the agency lead for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) 360 initiatives. As M Booth’s first officer-level role with a focus on accelerating progress in representation, benchmarking and tracking inclusion efforts as well as holding the firm accountable to evolve into a more inclusive environment for all.
Prior to joining M Booth, Winkfield worked for Pepco, a Washington, D.C.-based public utility company owned by Exelon. There he served as key member of the governmental and external affairs team, charged with advancing community outreach strategies, strategic stakeholder engagement plans and leading cross-functional teams on regulatory and public policy initiatives. He holds a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University, and a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Florida A&M University.
He is passionate about advocating and helping others grow to become their best and authentic selves and has an unwavering commitment to mentoring. In 2018, Winkfield was named The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Emerging Leader. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and serves on the board of advisors for After-School All Stars DC; and is also a graduate of Leadership Montgomery County, a nonprofit dedicated to developing future leaders to building work cultures that celebrates different ideas, perspectives and backgrounds.