On February 10, 2022, American University hosted an evening of connection and conversation with President Sylvia M. Burwell for our community of changemakers in Fort Lauderdale to experience Change Can't Wait: The Campaign for American University.
Note: This event was held in accordance with AU COVID-related protocols for university gatherings. Visit our Event Protocols page for more information.
Learn more about our distinguished guests below.
President, AU Student Government
Chyna Brodie is a junior at American University. From New Jersey, she is majoring in political science with a minor in African American studies. Since May 2021, she has served as the AU undergraduate student body president. Prior to her term, she started the Black Student Success Series, weekly meetings for Black students to discuss their experiences at AU. In her first year, she ran and won the most contested seat in the undergraduate senate (senator at large) while simultaneously serving as a first-year fellow for the AU Student Government’s Women’s Initiative. Within her first three months on campus, she became the first-ever undergraduate representative in the School of Public Affair’s Women and Politics Institute. During her virtual sophomore year, she started the AU Advocacy Commission, which raised $2,000 for the incredible dining workers at AU. Brodie believes that her experience thus far has been wonderful, and she looks forward to continuing to give back and making an impact.
Member, AU Board of Trustees
Charles Lydecker began his insurance career more than 32 years ago and was instrumental in driving growth for one of the largest insurance firms in the US. He served as President of the firm’s retail division that generated revenues of $850 million. Today he leads Foundation Risk Partners in its mission to be a national insurance leader. Lydecker is a member of Florida’s Board of Governors for the State University System; a Board Trustee of American University; sits on NASCAR Foundation Board and the Halifax Health Foundation Board; and is Chairman of the Volusia/Flagler YMCA.
16th Secretary, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
2022 Fellow, AU Sine Institute of Policy & Politics
Julián Castro served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama from 2014-2017. Before that, he was Mayor of his native San Antonio, Texas — the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city at the time. In 2012, he gave a rousing keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, during which he described the American Dream as a relay to be passed from generation to generation. After his historic campaign for president in 2020, Secretary Castro launched People First Future in May to help elect bold, progressive candidates whose campaigns are focused on improving the lives of all people they hope to represent. In September, Secretary Castro launched "Our America with Julián Castro," a podcast with Lemonada Media that puts a spotlight on vulnerable communities and takes a humanizing and hopeful look at how drastically the American experience shifts from one person to the next. In July, Secretary Castro became an MSNBC/NBC Political Analyst.
13th Secretary, US Department of Housing and Urban Development
2020 Fellow, AU Sine Institute of Policy & Politics
Alphonso Jackson is chief executive of A.R. Jackson Advisors, LLC. Jackson has decades of experience in housing and community development. His expertise includes the development of affordable and market-rate housing, handling complex urban development issues, and housing finance. Jackson serves on the United States Institute for Peace International Advisory Board, Ford’s Theater Society Board of Trustees, Howard University Board of Trustees, and the United States Department of State Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. He is a member of The Alfalfa Club and Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors. After government service, Jackson served in senior management positions with JP Morgan Chase, followed by First Data Corporation (now Fiserv Corporation). Jackson was appointed the 13th secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in March 2004. Nominated by President George W. Bush, he was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on August 4, 2003. Before he was appointed Secretary, Jackson served as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, managing the daily operations of the $36 billion agency. Prior to his government service, Jackson was president and COO of American Electric Power, a $13 billion utility company in Texas. Early in his career, he was president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Dallas, ranked among the best-managed large-city housing agencies during his tenure. He has received many notable awards and honors, including The Aspen Institute – Aspen Fellow, The National Boys and Girls Clubs of America – Chairman's Award, The National Academy of Achievement – Golden Plate Award, American Family Life Assurance Company (AFLAC) – Lifetime Achievement Award, The Jewish National Fund, New York – National Tree of Life Award, Truman State University – Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Jackson holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and a master’s in education administration from Truman State University. He also received a Juris Doctor degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
Executive Director, AU Sine Institute of Policy & Politics
Amy K. Dacey is executive director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University. For more than two decades, she managed prominent national organizations, advised leading elected officials and candidates, including President Barack Obama and Senator John Kerry, and counseled a variety of nonprofits and companies.
Before joining AU, Amy was president of AKD Strategies, a strategic firm working with non-profits, and Foundations in the progressive policy space. During the 2016 presidential election, she served as the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2004 elections, she worked for then-Senator John Kerry on his presidential campaign and, following his narrow loss, helped to lead Kerry’s political operation. She also managed Representative Louise Slaughter’s congressional campaign in 1998.
From 2010 to 2013, Amy served as executive director of EMILY’s List, the organization dedicated to electing Democratic women to national, state, and local offices, and led the organization’s revitalization, restructuring and rebranding efforts. In addition, she served in various leadership positions for several other organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Fund for America, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Recently, Amy served as executive vice president and managing director for MWWPR, one of the world's top independent public relations agencies.
A native of Auburn, New York, Amy received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and her master’s degree in political science from American University.
President, American University
Sylvia M. Burwell is American University’s 15th president and the first woman to serve as president. A visionary leader with experience in the public and private sectors, President Burwell brings to American University a commitment to education and research, the ability to manage large and complex organizations, and experience helping to advance solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Burwell has held two cabinet positions in the United States government—serving as the 22nd secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services and as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Her additional government experience is extensive and includes roles at the Treasury and the National Economic Council. Burwell has also held leadership positions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation. Her private sector experience includes service on the Board of Directors of MetLife.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard University and a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Former Chair and Current Member, AU Board of Trustees
Member, University Campaign Committee
Dr. Jack C. Cassell is currently president and CEO of Cassell Global Investments, LLC, a venture capital firm located in Palm Beach County, Florida, and established in 2013. A few of his holdings include commercial and residential real estate in the US and the Bahamas, majority investments in Vortex Security Solutions of Palm Beach, Florida, Active Shooter Response, LLC of Palm Beach, FL, CGI Brasil, SA providing communication services and financing service in Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil. and several other minority interests in other investments. Cassell is Chairman and CEO of both Vortex Security Solutions, Active Shooter Response, LLC, and CGI Brasil, SA.
He is former chairman, CEO, and sole shareholder of Visual Aids Electronics Corporation (VAE), and its subsidiary, Conference Systems, Inc. (CSI), based in the Washington, DC area, with 83 offices nationally. The companies provide video, audio, lighting, and simultaneous interpretation equipment and services to major meetings, conventions, and concerts around the world. After 36 years of service to VAE Cassell sold 100 percent interest in VAE in November 2013 in a very successful sale to Presentation Services (PSAV) controlled by Goldman Sachs. PSAV is the largest video/audio visual rental company in the world.
Cassell attended American University in Washington, DC, and received his bachelor of arts from the School of Communication in 1977. After a short stint playing goalkeeper on the Washington Diplomat Professional Soccer reserve team, Cassell began his employment with VAE delivering equipment in Washington, DC.
While aiding in the development of VAE and CSI through the years, his outstanding efforts and leadership earned him promotions to various positions, and he became their president in 1985. In 1986, Cassell became the owner, acquiring 100 percent shares of VAE and CSI. Since his arrival in 1977, VAE grew from a company with three offices and 25 employees in the Washington, DC area to a very well-respected national company with 83 offices nationally and over 1,000 employees.
VAE and CSI provide services to some of the largest and most prestigious clients in the world including the President of the United States, US Department of State, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and NATO.
Cassell served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, American University from 2013 to 2018. He has served on their board since 2003. Cassell has served on the board of the International Communications Industry Association, and the Board of Trustees at Keystone College in LaPlume, Pennsylvania for 15 years. In 2006, he received an honorary doctoral degree of humane letters from Keystone College.
Cassell is the son of Dr. Stafford H. Cassell, Sr, former vice president of American University, and Carolyn Cassell Harrison. Dr. Cassell and his wife Denise reside in Palm Beach County, Florida with their four children, Robert, Jacqueline, Devon, and Dolan. He has an identical twin brother, Stafford H. Cassell, Jr. (Kogod/BA ’77) and a sister, Dr. Donna Cassell Ratcliffe.
As a philanthropist, Dr. Cassell has focused on assisting several institutions of higher education in the US. Including naming gifts to Keystone College, American University, and the Benjamin School in Palm Beach, Florida.
We invite you to join the campaign for change by making a gift today.