Every year, the steering committee invites dynamic, accomplished women to be speakers, breakout session presenters, and panelists at the Women's Leadership Conference. These women have broken barriers and made great strides in the world of women's leadership, and are able to impart some of the wisdom they have gained during their careers.

Opening Discussion

Julie Smith

Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is Senior Fellow and Director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Ms. Smith comes to CNAS while serving as a Senior Vice President at Beacon Global Strategies LLC. Prior to joining Beacon, she served as the Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States from April 2012 to June 2013. In addition to advising the Vice President on a wide range of foreign and defense policy issues, she represented him in Cabinet and Deputies level interagency meetings. During March and April of 2013, she served as the Acting National Security Advisor to the Vice President.

Prior to her posting at the White House, she served as the Principal Director for European and NATO Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon. In that capacity, Ms. Smith acted as the principal staff assistant and advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs for all matters falling within the broad spectrum of NATO and European policy. Her office also managed the Department’s bilateral relationships with 31 European countries. In January 2012, she was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Ms. Smith served as the director of the CSIS Europe Program and the Initiative for a Renewed Transatlantic Partnership, where she led the Center’s research and program activities on U.S.-European political, security, and economic relations. She authored or contributed to a number of CSIS books and reports, including Alliance Reborn: An Atlantic Compact for the 21st Century (2009), Understanding Islamic Charities (2007), Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change (2008), Transforming NATO (…again) (2006), Five Years After 9/11 (2006), and America and the World in the Age of Terror (2005). She co-directed the Transatlantic Dialogue on Terrorism, which examined U.S.-European disagreements over the root causes of terrorism.

Earlier, Ms. Smith served as deputy director and senior fellow in the CSIS International Security Program, where she oversaw the management of more than 30 security-related projects and focused on a range of European security issues, including European defense integration, transatlantic cooperation on climate change, and EU-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation. Prior to joining CSIS, she worked at the German Marshall Fund as program officer for the Foreign Policy Program and director of communications for the Project on the Role of American Military Power. She has worked as a senior analyst on the European security desk of the British American Security Information Council and in Germany at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik as a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow in 1996/97. Ms. Smith is a recipient of the American Academy in Berlin Public Policy Fellowship and the Fredin Memorial Scholarship for study at the Sorbonne in Paris. She received her B.A. from Xavier University and her M.A. from American University. She spent a year learning German at the University of Munich.

Ms. Smith serves on the Board of Advisors of the Truman National Security Project and the National Security Network. She is currently an Associate Fellow with Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute for International Affairs, in London, and a Senior Associate with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lara Brown

Lara M. Brown, Ph.D., serves as an associate professor and the interim director of the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at the George Washington University.

As interim director, Dr. Brown sets the overarching strategy for the school; initiates and cultivates engagement with alumni and donors; serves as the liaison for the GSPM Board of Advisors; fosters partnerships with non-profit educational organizations and research collaborators; sets the standards for our master’s degree programs and graduate certificates; leads adjunct faculty hiring efforts; recruits prospective students; and mentors GSPM students.

A distinguished writer and dedicated scholar, Dr. Brown is the author of Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants (Cambria Press, 2010), which was the first systematic study of presidential aspirants from the 1790s through 2008. She co-edited and contributed to two other recent books: The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party (SUNY Press, 2013) and Campaigning for President 2016: Strategy and Tactics, 3 edition (Routledge, forthcoming).

Dr. Brown has authored several book chapters in other scholarly volumes, such as The Presidency and the Political System (CQ Press, edited by, Michael Nelson) and Understanding the Presidency (Pearson and Longman, edited by James P. Pfiffner and Roger H. Davidson). She has published articles in peer-reviewed journals, such as Congress and the Presidency, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and American Politics Research.

Her current research project (working book title: Mirror Images: The Gilded Age, the Global Age, and Federalism's Revival) is a comparative historical undertaking, which argues that America is presently undergoing a tumultuous period similar to what the country experienced during Gilded Age.

Dr. Brown is a frequent presence in the media, appearing on dozens of television and radio programs, and serving as an expert on politics, elections, and governance for scores of print publications. She has written for blogs for The New York Times, Politico, The Hill, and The Huffington Post. She also serves as a regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report’s Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

Prior to Dr. Brown’s appointment as interim director, she served as the program director of the political management graduate program at GSPM. Before coming to George Washington University, Brown served as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Villanova University.

Before returning to academia in 2004, she worked as an education policy and public affairs consultant in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Dr. Brown served as a political appointee in President William J. Clinton’s administration at the U.S. Department of Education.

Born and raised in California, Dr. Brown earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph. D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. She also earned a M.A. in American politics and public policy from the University of Arizona.

Breakout Session Presenters

Jessica Kelly, GW '12

With a background in both women’s empowerment and higher education student affairs, Jessica Kelly is committed to working with women leaders on college campuses. Jessica is Leadership & Programs Director at Running Start. There she manages Elect Her, the only national program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office. Elect Her reaches around 2,500 college women every year and is poised to grow exponentially in the coming year. Jessica’s favorite part of her job is working with women in person on their college campuses. She has personally trained women in 19 different states and at two universities Mexico.

Jessica has a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from the George Washington University, a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies from Southern Connecticut State University, and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut.

Before coming to Running Start, Jessica was Program Manager for the American Association of University Women’s campus leadership programs for six years. Prior to that, she was Program Coordinator at the George Washington University and worked for the Women’s Studies Program at Southern Connecticut State University.

Jessica currently lives in Washington, DC, where you can find her singing karaoke and practicing yoga in her spare time.

Nikki Usher Layser

Tina Plottel

Zach Elder


Nancy Bocskor

Nancy Bocskor founded the Nancy Bocskor Company in 1990. She has raised money for more than 100 Members of Congress and candidates, trained activists and leaders in all 50 states and 25 countries and helped non-profits craft a story that resonates with donors and volunteers. Her areas of expertise include presentation skills, speech coaching, fundraising, grassroots advocacy and women’s leadership training.

The author of “Go Fish: How to Catch (and Keep) Contributors: A Practical Guide to Fundraising,” Nancy is also a professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management where she teaches both online and classroom fundraising courses.

Nancy is on the board for Running Start, an organization that encourages young women to run for office and serves on the advisory board for the Center for Second Service, a program that trains veterans for public service. She also served on the board of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale for seven years, where she chaired the school’s Curriculum Committee for five years.

Most recently, she was selected by the Washington Academy of Political Arts & Sciences as one of the “Top 12 Women Changing the Face of Political Communications in Latin America.”

A graduate of Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, Nancy received the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award for “her passion to affect change in national and international communities, training and consulting with the nations and world's political leaders, and commitment to educate others, particularly women, around the world.”

Marilyn Yakowitz

Dr. Marilyn Yakowitz, an international executive for 30+ years, is the president of KG USA, a 501 (c) 3 charity. She is on the Boards of Directors of the Association of Americans Resident Abroad and the Rubisadt Foundation for girls’ education in Cameroon. An elected Member of the Board of Directors of the GW Alumni Association Board, she chairs its Advisory Group on Alumni Abroad, serves on its Executive Committee and heads the GW Alumni in France.

At the OECD for 20+ years, she headed key areas, including: the Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Baltic regional and country programs; Regulatory Reform; Sustainable Development; one of the organization’s largest programs and budgets; and consulted on Foreign Direct Investment and MNEs. In 2008, she became a University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School Senior Fellow for Global Environmental Leadership and served in the Wharton School MBA administration. Her work has involved cooperation with the World Bank, IMF, UN agencies, government, business and NGO leaders.

At GW, Marilyn was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, taking both the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress Programs. She holds a M.Phil and a PhD from GW, a BA from University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from University of Maryland MBA, and was an invited visiting graduate student at Yale.

Her dissertation about how the Smithsonian went from being a small, ill funded organization, focused on how funding and political acumen transformed it into a cultural and scientific powerhouse. Lessons from this study were essential to her future successes in fund raising and development of cooperative programs.

Among her publications and presentations, Dr. Yakowitz published the OECD "best seller",Sustainable Development: OECD Policy Approaches for the 21st Century. She was cited as an OECD Leader in Sustainable Development.

Marilyn also serves on the Board of the Yale Alumni of France and chaired the University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate Committee in France. She was Advisor for Business and Government Relations for Pro-Natura International (PNI), co-organizing the UNESCO Pro-Natura Conference on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Poverty Alleviation. She was appointed a Public Member of the USAID Promotion Board and was on the Board of the Joint Vienna Institute for officials of the former-USSR, teaching market economy principles and practice. She taught at Université of Paris IV (Sorbonne) and created the University of Maryland College Paris Program, which became the largest at any US Embassy.

Panel Moderator

Cynthia Steele Vance, MVC '79

Cynthia Steele Vance is a sought-after and widely experienced moderator, on-air host, and former news journalist. After she founded CSV Productions, Inc. in 2012, she teamed with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty to create an innovative new way to showcase luxury property using the power of video. Together they launched the Washington Luxury Channel, a web-based program that open doors to some of Sotheby’s International Realty’s most luxurious offerings around the metro DC beltway. In just twelve months, the WLC attracted over 250,000 viewers.

As a skilled moderator, Cynthia has hosted numerous events keeping thousands of guests entertained, and for charity events – the donations rolling in. In early 2016, Cynthia used her journalist background to appear in two episodes in a minor role in season four of the political drama, House of Cards.

Cynthia is a former co-host of the Emmy award winning television show “My Generation”, a lifestyle TV show that aired on 120 PBS stations nationwide. Her work on the show earned her the highly acclaimed DC Peer Award, recognizing Cynthia’s “outstanding work in media production”. In addition, the show was awarded a Communicator Award of Excellence and a Telly Award. Earlier in Cynthia’s career, she was a daytime news anchor for Fox News for both the morning and noon news. During her tenure on the “Fox 5 Morning Show”, it became the number one morning newscast in Washington, DC where she was nominated for an Emmy Award as Best Local Newscaster. Cynthia also worked for Fox News as a news reporter covering Capitol Hill, and the issues affecting the metropolitan area. Cynthia began her television news career at CNN’s Washington, DC bureau, coordinating daily news coverage of Capitol Hill, the White House, and breaking news. She then hit the road as a television news reporter covering local and national news in three major markets across the country. She was nominated for two Emmy’s for spot news coverage and won the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcast Award. Cynthia was also the host of BusinessNow, which was distributed by ABC NewsOne.

Cynthia holds a Bachelor or Arts in Communications from Mt. Vernon College for Women, which in 1999, merged with The George Washington University, where she now serves as a Trustee.


Claritza Jiménez, GW '05

Claritza Jiménez serves as the digital video editor for The Washington Post’s Metro section and its blogs, which include education, religion, and immigration coverage. In her role, Jiménez advocates for the use of video to complement news gathering and stories. Prior to The Post, Jiménez worked as a producer on the Latin America broadcast desk at Associated Press Television News (APTN). Jiménez started out her journalism career working at the CBS television stations in Chicago and Dallas. She graduated cum laude from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a B.A. in political communication. She spent her freshman year at GW living on the Mount Vernon Campus as a member of the The Elizabeth J. Somers Women's Leadership Program. Jiménez was a recipient of an Investigative Journalism Fellowship at American University’s School of Communication where she earned a Master of Arts in journalism while working as a reporting fellow at the Center for Public Integrity, a leading investigative journalism non-profit. While at CPI, she was part of the team that partnered with NPR on a series investigating how sexual assault cases are adjudicated on college campuses. Jiménez serves on the board of directors of the GW Alumni Association. She is a native Spanish speaker and conversant in French.

Gigi Schumm

Gigi Schumm is Vice President and General Manager of Symantec’s Public Sector organization. In this role, Ms. Schumm leads all sales, strategic, and operational functions associated with Symantec’s Public Sector business – working with US Federal, State, and Local governments as well as education institutions to improve their ability to protect and manage critical information. Specifically, she oversees sales, business development, alliances, program management, services, marketing, government relations, and contracts.

Immediately prior to her present position, Ms. Schumm led Symantec’s Government Security Group to bring comprehensive and long-term security solutions to the US public sector in cooperation with government organizations, integrators and other leading security vendors. In her 11-year tenure at Symantec, Ms. Schumm has served in a variety of leadership roles including Southeast Areas Sales, Emerging/Acquired Technology Sales, and Americas’ Services. She first joined Symantec in 1999 via the acquisition of Axent Technologies.

Prior to her time with Symantec, Ms. Schumm held management and sales leadership positions with notable IT hardware and software companies, including Sun, Oracle, and Tektronix. She maintains active memberships with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), the public sector Industry Advisory Council (IAC), and the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF). Ms. Schumm holds a BA from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. 

Chasity Cooper

Communications strategist and journalist, Chasity Cooper currently works with nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurs and small businesses to create and implement strategies to effectively tell their unique story. A self-proclaimed ‘Millennial On A Mission’ and lover of all things that intersect tech and media, Chasity frequently contributes to Teen Vogue, Her Agenda, and Technically DC, and has also contributed to Essence.com, LEVO League, and The Root.

As Director of Digital Community Development and Programming for Her Agenda, Chasity manages the 200+ members of the digital platform's subscription community, #theAgenda. Additionally, through the growing online community that she built, Millennial On A Mission, she has engaged with hundreds of millennial men and women about the importance of networking, personal branding and building credibility as a young professional both online and offline. Chasity received her undergraduate degree from Syracuse University.


Francesca Chambers

Francesca Chambers is the White House Correspondent for DailyMail.com. In addition to chronicling the final years of President Barack Obama’s White House, she covered Republicans and then Democrats in the 2016 presidential election. Francesca traveled extensively with Bernie Sanders in the primary and Hillary Clinton in the general before returning to the White House to report on President Donald Trump.

Prior to coming to DailyMail.com, Francesca was an employee of MediaDC, the parent company of Red Alert Politics, The Washington Examiner and The Weekly Standard.

She contributed to all three publications during her time at the company and helped cover the Republican primary for WEX in 2012. She has attended and reported on both the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions throughout the past three presidential cycles. Francesca lives in Washington with her husband, Michael.