Boston skyline

Change Can’t Wait Boston

Thank You, Boston

On June 1, 2023, American University hosted an evening of connection and conversation with our community of changemakers in Boston to experience Change Can't Wait: The Campaign for American University.

About the Speakers

Learn more about our distinguished guests below.

Elan Sassoon is managing partner of SMT Development, a real estate development firm he co-founded more than ten years ago outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Sassoon and his partners have quietly emerged as a dominant force in real estate in the gentrifying town of Somerville where they have developed nearly sixty projects. SMT is one of the most active developers of small to midsize projects in and around Somerville’s Union Square. Sassoon is the son of the late Vidal Sassoon, famed hairstylist, businessman, and philanthropist. Following in his father’s footsteps, early in his career Sassoon launched beauty product lines, and worked for a subsidiary of the luxury ­goods company LVMH, running its salons, spas, and medical centers.   

He is passionate about AU Men’s Basketball. Sassoon’s daughter is a future Eagle starting her first year at AU this fall. A native Californian, Sassoon currently lives in Newton, MA. 

AU Men’s Basketball Head Coach 

Nationally recognized assistant coach and legendary DMV basketball star Duane Simpkins was hired to usher in a new era of American University men’s basketball, announced Director of Athletics and Recreation Dr. Billy Walker on April 1, 2023. Simpkins is the 18th head coach in the history of the program.  
“We are thrilled to welcome Duane Simpkins, a proven talent and respected coach into our AU Athletics family,” said Walker. “His passion for positively shaping the lives of young student-athletes was evident during the selection process. His close ties to the area as a coach and player, along with a tremendous recruiting acumen and unbending character, make him an ideal choice to lead our program. Duane is truly a changemaker.  
“I want to thank all the quality coaches who showed interest in the position. It speaks volumes to the basketball tradition and current standing of American University. I also thank our alumni and members of the campus community who participated in the search and gave valuable insight throughout. I know Coach Simpkins is ready to hit the ground running, and the Eagles everywhere will be supporting him moving forward.”  
Simpkins comes to American after eight seasons on the staff at George Mason. During his time in Fairfax, Simpkins helped guide the Patriots to program bests within the Atlantic 10. Mason set or matched A-10 bests in league wins and tournament seeds in four seasons during his tenure. The Patriots matched a program best with 11 Atlantic 10 victories in 2022-23, and finished at 20-13 overall  
In 2020, Simpkins was named one of the country’s Top 50 Most Impactful Mid-Major Assistants by Silverwaves Media. He also earned an invite to Top Connect – which brings premier athletic directors and assistant coaches together – in each of the past two seasons. At the 2019 Final Four, Simpkins participated in the Collegiate Coaching Consortium, sponsored by AthleticDirectorU and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). 
While at Mason, Simpkins served on the A-10 Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the George Mason Athletics Diversity & Inclusion Committee.  
“Coach Simpkins’ outstanding basketball accomplishments and deep roots in the DC region will lead American University men’s basketball to great success," said American University President Sylvia Burwell. "A proven winner with integrity and character, he will help us compete and thrive at the highest levels of competition. Coach Simpkins exemplifies the American University spirit of community and will support our student-athletes on the court, in the classroom, and in their growth and pursuits as people. He will be a leader in our community for all AU Eagles.” 
Simpkins joined the Patriots after three seasons with the UNC Greensboro Spartans, where he served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. In his first full season, Simpkins brought in seven newcomers for 2013-14 that included three All-State selections from North Carolina.  
Prior to UNCG he served one year at Towson as the coordinator of basketball operations. Previously, Simpkins was the head coach at St. Albans School in D.C. from 2007-11 and at Sidwell Friends School from 2005-07. He also served as an assistant coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in 1999-2000. 
A DMV basketball legend, Simpkins earned McDonald’s High School All-America honors at DeMatha Catholic High School under legendary Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten, and was just the third freshman to make DeMatha’s varsity team. 
He was a three-time honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection at the University of Maryland, helping the Terrapins to three NCAA appearances, including a pair of Sweet 16 showings. A three-year starter and captain under coach Gary Williams from 1992-96, Simpkins finished his career with 1,123 points over 119 games. He was a career 81 percent free-throw shooter and his 483 career assists still rank him eighth on the Terrapins’ all-time list. 
Simpkins’ professional playing career took him to China, Italy, the Dominican, France and Belgium, as well as the United States. Simpkins, who concluded his professional career with the Shandong Tigers in Shandong, China, played in the USBL and the ABA in the U.S. from 2000-02. He also played with the Memphis Grizzlies in the Summer Pro League. 
The owner and director of “Power Through Sports” camps and clinics in Washington, Simpkins also has served as a basketball analyst for Comcast SportsNet. 
Simpkins and his wife Kirsten have three kids – Kai, Darian and Elijah.

President, American University 

Sylvia Burwell is AU's 15th president and the first woman to serve as president.  

Under her leadership, American University became the first carbon-neutral university in the United States and the first to launch an Antiracist Research and Policy Center.  

President Burwell has helped AU become a leading student-centered research university, more than doubling research funding from external organizations and helping to build a growing community of changemakers who are bold leaders, engaged scholars, innovators, and active citizens.  

She led the university through a historic pandemic, keeping the focus on our community of care. She also led the creation of AU’s comprehensive strategy, Changemakers for a Changing World, and launched the $500 million Change Can’t Wait campaign and the award-winning Plan for Inclusive Excellence to ensure all AU students thrive and reach their full potential.   

Before coming to AU, President Burwell held two Cabinet positions in the US government. She served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. She also held leadership positions at two of the largest foundations in the world – serving 11 years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation.  

President Burwell is the mother of two teenagers and hails from Hinton, West Virginia. 

Read her full biography here.  

Executive in Residence, School of Public Affairs 
Director, Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy Program

Sasha Cohen O’Connell, PhD is an Executive in Residence in the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, School of Public Affairs (SPA), American University where she currently teaches cyber policy at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Additionally, she serves as the Director of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy & Justice, Law, and Criminology Master’s programs and leads SPA's graduate certificate in Cyber Policy and Management. 
O'Connell's career in public service includes time in academia and the executive branch. She has spent the majority of her career at the FBI where she served most recently as the organization's Chief Policy Advisory, Science and Technology and as the Section Chief of Office of National Policy for the FBI's Deputy Director where she led policy engagement with the National Security Council on a wide breadth of issues. Among other roles, O'Connell ran the FBI's Strategy Management Office where she led implementation of the Balanced Scorecard for the FBI's Director and served as Chief of the Executive Staff for the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division where she led strategic planning, performance evaluation, training, and communications for the Bureau’s criminal programs. During her time at the FBI O'Connell focused her energy on enhancing strategic, risk-based decision making; driving cross-programmatic strategic initiatives; building partnerships across government and private sector; and driving strategic communications and outreach to enhance the public's understanding of the role of federal law enforcement. 
O’Connell holds a Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College as well as an MPA and Doctorate in Public Administration from American University. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter, dog and cat. 

Professor, School of International Service and Kogod School of Business 
Executive Director, Institute on Disability and Public Policy 
Faculty Co-Director, Internet Governance Lab

Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn is Professor at American University in Washington, DC. He has a joint appointment in the School of International Service where he serves in the International Communication and International Development Programs; and in the Kogod School of Business where he serves in the Department of Information Technology & Analytics. He also serves at the founding Executive Director of the AU Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP), is Faculty Co-Director of the Internet Governance Lab (IGL), and is Director of COTELCO the Collaboration Laboratory. Dr. Cogburn’s multifaceted research interests are located at the intersection of information technology, global governance, and socio-economic development. He uses a variety of computational text mining and data analytics approaches including unsupervised and supervised machine learning and artificial intelligence methodologies to better understand large-scale text based datasets in the areas of cybersecurity, disability policy, and distributed collaboration in knowledge work. He has published widely, with his most recent books being: Researching Internet Governance: Methods, Frameworks, Futures (MIT Press, 2020); Transnational Advocacy Networks in the Information Society: Partners or Pawns? (Palgrave-McMillian, 2017); Making Disability Rights Real in Southeast Asia: Implementing the CRPD in ASEAN (Lexington, 2016); and The Turn to Infrastructure in Internet Governance (Palgrave-McMillan, 2016). He is Editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Information Technology and Global Governance and serves on editorial boards for Journal of Information Technology and Politics, Review of Policy Research, and Journal of Political Science Education. He is former Chair of the Review Panel for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Diplomacy, Security and Development, Science Technology Policy Fellowships, and served as a member of the inaugural AAAS Big Data and Analytics Fellowship Committee and returned to serve as its chair. He served as a member of the High-Level Panel of Advisors for the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (UNGAID). Dr. Cogburn has been Principal Investigator on grants from a wide variety of government, private sector, and foundation sources including, the National Science Foundation Department of Education, Microsoft, Microsoft Research, Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, JPMorgan Chase, the WK Kellogg Foundation, and The Nippon Foundation. He also served on the Committee of Visitors for the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation. At Syracuse University, he was tenured Associate Professor in the School of Information Studies and Senior Research Associate in the Moynihan Institute at the Maxwell School. He is past president of the Information, Technology, and Politics section of the American Political Science Association and of the International Communication section of the International Studies Association. He served as Executive Director of the Global Information Infrastructure Commission-Africa and Vice Chair of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network. He holds a PhD in political science from Howard University in Washington, DC, where he was a W.K. Kellogg doctoral fellow at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center. 

Vice Provost, Research and Innovation 
Professor, School of Public Affairs and Kogod School of Business 

Dr. Diana L. Burley is an award-winning global cybersecurity expert with more than 25 years of experience building cybersecurity workforce programs and driving human-centered digital transformation. Named one of SC Magazine’s Eight Women in IT Security to Watch, Diana is a sought-after thought leader who advises Congress, federal agencies, national laboratories, and global CISOs on cybersecurity strategy. Diana recently assumed the directorship of the new Shahal M. Khan Cyber and Economic Security Institute. As Vice Provost for Research and Innovation at American University, she leads the university-wide research enterprise and advances faculty-led scholarship across all disciplines. She also serves as a professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the Kogod School of Business. In addition, Diana holds cleared research appointments with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Idaho National Laboratory. Prior to AU, she led the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P), a 26-member cybersecurity research consortium at George Washington University and managed a multi-million-dollar computer science education and research portfolio at the National Science Foundation. She has written more than 100 publications on the cybersecurity workforce, enterprise risk and digital transformation. She is a member of the U.S. National Academies Board on Human Systems Integration and the Cyber Future Foundation. Honors include: 2016 Woman of Influence by the Executive Women’s Forum in Information Security, Risk Management and Privacy; 2017 SC Magazine ReBoot awardee for educational leadership in IT security; 2014 Cybersecurity Educator of the Year; and a 2014 Top Ten Influencer in information security careers. She is the sole recipient of both educator of the year and government leader of the year awards from the Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education and has been honored by the U.S. Federal CIO Council. Diana holds two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in Organization Science and Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University where she studied as a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellow. 

Vice President of Operations, AU Alumni Board

A problem-solver with more than 25 years of experience, Patricia (Patty) Caballero develops and implements communication strategies that drive business results and corporate reputation. She works with companies facing complex communications issues to help position them for success.

Patty’s strategic communications experience includes corporate communications, marketing, product public relations, public affairs, crisis and issues management. Her unique blend of skills provides a holistic approach to communications and message development that looks across stakeholders and issues to be targeted, effective, and break though. She methodically looks at the business, the market, and other influences to create the strategies and tactics that grow the business.

She has held senior positions in corporate and agency environments, working with Fortune 500 companies, government entities, and strategic partners. Prior to her own consultancy, Patty was Managing Director, US Business Development for Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest communication agencies in the world. In this role, she managed the US region’s new business strategy to ensure growth and integration across the agency.

She was also Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications at greyhealth group (ghg) where she led the corporate communications practice and was responsible for growing client business. During her tenure at ghg, she worked with clients facing complex product launches and global supply chain issues impacting their business and helped to develop strategies and messaging to prepare for possible scenarios. Her close work with clients made her a trusted advisor.

Before joining ghg, she worked at global health insurance provider Cigna as Director of Marketing, overseeing message development and promotional strategy. In that role, Patty specialized in managing Cigna’s consumer and B2B sponsorships, developing activations and events to help position Cigna and its mission with key stakeholders. Her work helped extend Cigna’s event strategy beyond the actual event to resonate with stakeholders throughout the year. Some of her work is still part of Cigna’s core value and marketing strategies. She also served as Director of Public Relations, managing the development and implementation of public relations programs, issues management, and serving as a company spokesperson.

Earlier in her career, Patty worked at Burson-Marsteller in a variety of capacities in the Public Affairs & Crisis and Corporate & Financial practices. She earned her BA in communications from American University and her MBA from the American University Kogod School of Business.

Vice President, University Advancement

Courtney Surls, Vice President of University Advancement, arrived at American University in September 2015 to lead the university’s efforts to support strategic priorities, attract new sources of funding, and deepen lifelong relationships between AU and its more than 145,000 alumni.  

Before joining the American University community, she was responsible for providing strategic direction and leadership for all fundraising, membership, and stewardship activities at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC.  

Prior to moving to Washington in 2011, Surls served as vice president for development at the University of Southern California, where she played a leadership role in developing the fundraising programs and infrastructure to support the university’s $6 billion capital campaign. Surls joined USC in 2004 to lead a 25-person staff of advancement professionals at the Marshall School of Business.  

Previously, Surls was director of development for Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business Administration in Los Angeles and development director for St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey, California.  

She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Loyola Marymount University.