Tom Belden is a retired journalist who worked more than 40 years as a newspaper and wire service reporter, writer and editor. He was editor of The Lariat in the 1969-70 school year and graduated from Baylor in 1970. He received a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1971. He was a reporter and editor for United Press International and a reporter for The Dallas Morning News in the 1970s. He joined The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1979 and wrote more than 4,500 bylined articles over the next 31 years, covering the transportation and travel industries and a variety of other business topics. He wrote a column on business travel for The Inquirer and Knight-Ridder Newspapers from 1989 to 2010. In 2007 he shared with an Inquirer colleague the Society of American Business Editors and Writers first-place national award for business enterprise reporting for stories on Philadelphia airline service.
Robert Davila is VP of Audience Development and Research at Texas Monthly. He started as an intern in the publisher’s department at Texas Monthly, working for Michael Levy, Founder and Publisher. He then interned in the research department before eventually starting his career in the research department in 1993. He left Texas Monthly in 2012 for a research position at Andrew Harper, a luxury travel company. He returned to Texas Monthly in 2016. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in advertising.
Kennedy Dendy is television news reporter for KEZI 9 News in Eugene, Oregon. During the summer of 2019, she interned with CBS This Morning in New York City. Dendy was born and raised in Grapevine, Texas. She graduated from Baylor University in December 2019 with a major in journalism and a minor film and digital media. At Baylor she served as the executive producer, broadcast reporter and news anchor for Lariat TV News. Kennedy was also a member and former vice president of the Baylor University chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and an ambassador for the Baylor Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media.
Jenna DeWitt is an editor at Esri, the world's leading software provider in geographic information systems, where she edits technical documents, books, blog posts, tutorials, and web pages. Previously, she was the copy editor of Christianity Today magazine. She has a Bachelor of Arts in news-editorial journalism from Baylor University (class of 2011) and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and ACES: The Society for Editing. She currently lives in Southern California.
John C. Drake is an experienced commercial litigator and a former journalist for major news organizations including The Boston Globe and the Associated Press. John earned his journalism degree from Baylor University in 2002, where he was selected outstanding journalism senior by the faculty. He served as editor in chief of the Baylor Lariat, was president of the Baylor Association of Black Students and played snare drum in the Golden Wave Band. While at Baylor, he interned at the Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, before beginning his journalism career as an education and city hall reporter for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., where he covered everything from suburban education policy to presidential politics. His reporting career then took him to the Associated Press in South Carolina and The Boston Globe, where he served as Boston city hall reporter. After earning his law degree magna cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in 2012, John worked as a litigator for global law firm Dentons and Midwestern firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale taking multiple cases to trial.
Monica Feid is the co-founder and president of BizCom Associates, an award-winning national marketing and communications firm specializing in franchise PR, brand development and consumer programs. The company includes PR, digital, design and publishing divisions supporting clients with a combined brand presence on every continent around the globe. Over three decades, her career has included client work in Super Bowl commercials, reality TV shows, national and international broadcast and print appearances and more. A regular ghostwriter for multiple CEOs, she is also the co-author of Live R.I.C.H.: How to build success in your company and your life with a proven Code of Values with Dina Dwyer-Owens, the former CEO of Dwyer Group [now Neighborly], the world’s largest franchisor of home service brands.
Deke Jones is Director of Media Relations at Baylor Scott & White Health. Prior to joining Baylor Scott & White in 2013, Deke enjoyed a career in television journalism in Austin and Dallas. As journalist, Deke served in a variety of roles, including producer, photojournalist, reporter, and news assignment manager before joining the healthcare industry as media and public relations professional. Deke’s current roles build upon previous experiences, while discovering new opportunities to help foster positive change. Whether people-centric stories or crisis events, Deke believes it take a village to be better, to build better, so we all can do better.
Preston F. Kirk has 55+ years of experience in working journalism and public relations consulting. He earned his APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1980. In 2014, his agency celebrated 30 years of serving clients in a wide variety of industries. He specialized in marketing-oriented counsel with emphasis on media and investor relations, crisis PR and special events. His clients have been in agribusiness, banking, consumer products, education, electronics, energy, entertainment, food and beverage, Internet, management consulting, office automation products, pharmaceuticals, real estate, semiconductors, telecommunications, outsourcing and tourism. He has counseled Fortune 500 executives and start-up firms in crisis-oriented situations and developed long-range strategic plans for their firms.
David McHam taught journalism at Texas colleges for 54 years. He was at Baylor (1961-1974), Southern Methodist University (1974-1998), the University of Texas at Arlington (1998-2001) and at the University of Houston (2001-2015). He was chosen the outstanding journalism teacher in the nation by the Society of Professional Journalists in 1994 and was given a president’s award by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2001. He is the author of Law and the Media in Texas. The handbook, first published in 1972, is a cooperative undertaking by the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and the Texas Press Association.
Selena Mejia is Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications for HCA Houston Healthcare. She has more than 20 years of healthcare experience with a strong emphasis on strategic communications, social perceptiveness and media relations. She joined HCA Houston Healthcare in February of 2015, and has served in various positions including director of south quadrant media relations and director of community and public relations. In 2016, she received the HCA Innovators Award in the quality and patient safety category, and in 2012 she and her team at AVANCE-Houston were recognized as PRSA’s Communications Team of the Year. Selena is also certified in crisis communication by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Selena earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Baylor University and in political science from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Lyndon Olson, Jr. is an American business executive and diplomat. He served as U.S Ambassador to Sweden between 1997 and 2001. Olson had a long career in insurance industry. From 1979 to 1987, he was Chairman of the Texas State Board of Insurance and in 1982 served as President of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. He worked for Citigroup between 1990-1998. Olson also served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1973 until 1979. In 1997 Olson was nominated by President Clinton to be Ambassador to Sweden and went on to serve in this capacity until 2001.
Andrew Ortiz is a Public & Government Affairs advisor at Exxon Mobil Corporation. In his current role, he supports media and community relations for ExxonMobil operations in Beaumont, including the refinery, chemical plant, polyethylene plant and lubricant blending and packaging plant. He began his career as a student reporter for the Houston Chronicle and production assistant for Houston Public Media. A third-generation Texan and first-generation college graduate, he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and telecommunication from Baylor University in 2007 where he completed multiple internships including with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and ABC News. For the past 14 years, Andrew has served in communications roles for non-profit organizations, Texas Workforce Commission, and Insperity, Inc.. Andrew also holds an MBA from Houston Baptist University and serves in the Young Leaders for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Ella Prichard is president of Prichard Oil Company and the author of Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows (2018)—inspired by the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. After her graduation from Baylor in 1963, Ella found myriad ways to share her talent through church and community service: writing Sunday School curriculum for the Southern Baptist Convention Sunday School Board (now LifeWay), writing and editing for local nonprofits, and producing promotional materials for nonprofit capital campaigns. A longtime member of First Baptist Church, she held leadership positions there and served on committees and boards of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She was a member of the Baylor Board of Regents and a director of the Baylor Alumni.
Claire St. Amant has worked as a field producer for CBS News “48 Hours” since 2014. She was part of the breaking news team nominated for an Emmy in 2016 for “Bringing a Nation Together,” a special report on the Dallas Police shooting. In 2019, she began contributing to “60 Minutes,” with “The Ranger and The Serial Killer.” St. Amant got her start as a reporter at People Newspapers. Before joining the national media, she was the managing editor for the popular daily news site Culture Map Dallas. A graduate of Baylor University and a returned Peace Corps volunteer, St. Amant is a native Texan who has also lived in South America and Eastern Europe. She loves few things more than a good story and a long run, though her husband and son are notable exceptions.
Jennifer Simmons is the Regional Director of Human Resources for Springstone Inc. In this position she leads the talent development, leadership development and training teams for the enterprise. Springstone is a network of mental health facilities with over 30 locations across the U.S. Prior to serving in this role, Jennifer held several leadership positions throughout the healthcare sector, including serving as Director of Talent Acquisition for Surgical Care Affiliates, a part of United Health Care’s Optum brand. Before entering into healthcare, Jennifer was the HR leader for a joint-venture startup between AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile that developed what is now known as the Google Wallet on Android devices. She’s a member of the Society of Human Resources, Dallas HR chapter, winner of the IABC award of excellence for internal communications and she has been recognized by HR Today for excellence in Employer Branding. Jennifer was previously a member of the Junior League of Dallas and served as an Associate Producer for Dallas Summer Musicals. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She graduated from Baylor University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, and she has a Master’s degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Chris Talley is founder of Talley Communication Strategies, LLC. For more than three decades, Talley has driven communication programs and achieved results from the front row, culminating in his role as a FORTUNE 100 chief communications officer. Through the years he has led teams at iconic brands USAA and Lockheed Martin and dozens of others while at one of the world’s most prestigious public relations agencies, Fleishman Hillard. Most recently, Chris was chief communications officer and SVP of Corporate Communications for USAA, one of America's leading financial services companies. Today, he leads Talley Communication Strategies, volunteers in the community and devotes time to supporting students seeking careers in communications.
Edward Wyatt began working in strategic communications and public relations after 28 years as a reporter, the last 20 of it for The New York Times in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In 2017, he moved to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he headed media relations, strategic communications and executive communications for the foundation’s U.S. Programs in Education and Economic Mobility & Opportunity. Ed graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and political science, serving as Editor in Chief of The Lariat in 1984. He earned an MBA degree from Syracuse University.
Melissa Cook Wilson is an anchor for FOX 26 Morning News weekdays. An Emmy Award-winning. A Texas native, Melissa received her Bachelor of Arts in Telecommunications from Baylor University. She began her career as the evening anchor at KAUZ-TV in Wichita Falls and then went on to anchor at Florida's News Channel. Houston Woman Magazine named Melissa one of the "Top 50 Most Influential Women in Houston.” American Women in Radio and Television nominated Melissa for "Personality of the Year.” She has been honored with the prestigious "Gracie Award" and Lone Star Emmy Awards. The Fair Care Center of Houston named Melissa a "Living Legend.” Melissa is a member of Baylor University Women's Association and Sigma Kappa's Alumnae Association. She is a "Friend" of Escape Family Resource Center. She has volunteered for the Christian Community Service Center and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and The Society of Professional Journalists.
Sarah Dodd is an expert public affairs strategist and award-winning former journalist. A graduate of Baylor University, Dodd has worked for ABC, NBC and CBS television stations, and her work has been featured on CNN and other network news programs. The book Media on the Frontline: Journalists Covering the War, dedicates a chapter to Sarah’s experience in Iraq. Locally, D Magazine, Dallas Observer and prominent bloggers have praised her work. Spending more than a decade uncovering stories as a television news reporter, Dodd has been around the world interviewing elected officials, four-star generals and corporate executives. In 2007, she started Dodd Communications, specializing in media strategy, crisis communications, public affairs and community relations. As a journalist, Dodd covered local, state and national politics. She worked as a television anchor/reporter in Dallas for seven years, and during that time she broke some of the most significant stories in the city. Her investigative work led to one of the largest federal corruption investigations in the history of Dallas politics. Dodd’s long-term relationships with media, elected officials and community leaders give her a unique insider’s advantage in developing unconventional strategies for public affairs and crisis communications issues.
Louis Moore is a 1968 journalism graduate of Baylor University and former editor of the Baylor Lariat 1968-69 (while a graduate student in religion at Baylor). He has written widely for newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada, and Europe but is perhaps most remembered for his work in the 1970s and 1980s as religion editor of the Houston Chronicle. He was president of the Religion Newswriters Association for religion reporters on secular daily newspapers in the U.S. and Canada 1984-86. President and founder, Friends of Garland’s Historic Magic 11th Street, a historical preservation group dedicated to spotlighting the history of the under-represented peoples in Garland, 2016 to present. Co-organizer with his wife, Kay Wheeler Moore, of Garland’s first historic district, the Travis College Hill National Register Historic District, approved by Garland City Council on May 20, 2014, and recognized by the U.S. Parks Service as a National Register Historic District in 2016. Nominated by the Houston Chronicle for the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for a series of articles on Soviet Jews called Refuseniks who were unable to flee the communist country; President of Religion Newswriters Association, 1984-1986; recipient of the Harold Schachern Award for the best religion section produced on a secular daily newspaper in 1975; named a lifetime fellow of the Religious Public Relations Council in America in 1975 as well as many other awards presented by the Associated Press, United Press International, RPRC, Baptist Communicators Council, and other media organizations. Technically Moore is retired, but he works as an investor, entrepreneur, and community leader.
As owner, president and CEO of Deane Smith Agency, Todd Smith has a vision, passion and fire for amplifying brands through innovation. He is a senior level PR expert with more than 30 years experience, and specializes in public affairs, government relations, branding, crisis communications, media relations and reputation management. A former staff writer for The Washington Times, Smith previously served on the executive team of Affinion Group, a global direct marketer, and has held senior public relations, marketing and advertising positions with HCA and Gaylord Entertainment Co. Smith began his agency career at Atkinson Public Relations, where he was a leader in creating the Nashville Health Care Council. A past president of the Public Relations Society of America | Nashville, he is also a syndicated columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal, and pens The Spin Cycle, a weekly take on the PR, marketing and advertising industries. Smith earned a degree in journalism, marketing and English at Baylor University, and an MBA on the streets inside the Beltway and traipsing around The Hill in D.C. He is a former speechwriter for the George H.W. Bush for President campaign.
Preston Lewis is a past president of WWA and the West Texas Historical Association, which named him a fellow in 2016. After beginning his journalism career at Texas newspapers in Waco, Abilene, Orange and Lubbock, Preston Lewis spent 35 years in higher education communications and marketing, first at Texas Tech University and then Angelo State University where he retired in 2014. During his academic career he won or shared more than 60 national, regional and state awards for his work. In addition to his university work, Lewis has published more than 40 novels and nonfiction works, earning him two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America (WWA) for best novel and best article; four Will Rogers Gold Medallion Awards for western humor and for short stories; and induction in the Texas Institute of Letters. Besides his Baylor journalism degree, he holds an M.A. in journalism from Ohio State University and a second M.A. in history from Angelo State.
Lisa Schwartz has been an employee of Taylor (now Balfour) Publishing Company since 1993. Prior to that, Lisa taught in the Spring Branch Independent School District for seven years. As the journalism teacher, yearbook advisor and newspaper advisor at Spring Woods High School from 1984-1988 and at Memorial High School from 1989-1992, Lisa’s yearbook staffs won the Distinguished Merit Rating for seven consecutive years from the state journalism association, the Interscholastic League Press Conference, which is the highest rating given to a state publication. The Texas High School Press Association awarded the State Champion Yearbook Trophy to five of Lisa’s high school yearbook staffs. Her 1992 Reata Memorial High School yearbook staff won the Silver Crown award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association which represents the top five percent of yearbooks in the nation. The 1992-1993 Memorial High School newspaper, the Anvil, won the Pacemaker Award from the National Scholastic Press Association representing the top two percent of high school newspapers in the nation.
While at Balfour Publishing Company, Lisa has been named one of eight outstanding sales representatives nationwide every year since 1995 and was a Rising Star (Newcomer Award) in 1996. The Houston Office has been recognized as one of the top ten sales offices nationwide nine times since 1996. Four times in the past 10 years, the Houston Office has been named Office of the Year by Balfour Publishing Company.
Lisa is currently the co-owner of the Houston/International Office of Taylor Publishing Company, the largest yearbook office of any yearbook publishing company in the world. She is the first female owner since the office was founded in 1949. In 2019, Lisa received the coveted Bill Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award from Balfour recognizing outstanding achievement in sales and service. She is the first female in the company to receive this award.
Lisa is a 1976 graduate of Alief Hastings High School and a 1980 graduate of Baylor University. She is a life member of the Baylor Alumni Association and is a member of the Baylor Bear Foundation which funds scholarships for Baylor athletes. She was also a member of Class XXV of Leadership Houston, the Junior League of Houston, the Houston Alumnae chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta and is an elder at Grace Presbyterian Church. Lisa and her husband, Bill, have two children – Brittany Schwartz Marrs, a 2008 Baylor University graduate and Cody Schwartz, a graduate of Texas A&M University. They have six grandchildren – Archer Marrs, Theodore Marrs, Piper Marrs, Lincoln Marrs, Spencer Schwartz and Sutton Schwartz.