On February 1, 2023, American University hosted an evening of connection and conversation with President Sylvia M. Burwell for our community of changemakers in Miami to experience Change Can't Wait: The Campaign for American University.
Learn more about our distinguished guests below.
Member, AU Alumni Board
Daniel Alejandro Leon-Davis is a designer, entrepreneur, and cultural architect focused on using the power of art, media, and entertainment for social good. He is a proud co-founder and former partner at The Soze Agency, a trailblazing social impact agency dedicated to creating values-driven, innovative campaigns for social causes. A Venezuelan native, Daniel continues to use his experiences as a formerly undocumented immigrant and gay Latino as fuel to amplify the narratives of the underserved communities he is a part of. Influenced by his artistic roots, Daniel has helped curate art exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution and United Nations headquarters alongside his team. Daniel currently leads creative design and strategy for the #IStandWithImmigrants Initiative. In addition, in 2020, he was chosen as a University of Southern California Annenberg Innovation Lab civic media fellow, where he spent the year researching the power of design to effect social change through fashion, art, and the built environment. He currently resides in Atlanta with his husband Dom and is the proud father of 2 Mini Schnauzer puppies named Raj and Rowan.
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.
Executive Director, Center for Media & Social Impact
Associate Professor, School of Communication
Caty Borum is Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), a creative innovation lab and research center based at American University that creates and studies entertainment for social change; and a tenured Associate Professor in AU’s School of Communication. She is an award-winning media producer, scholar, and author of three books about entertainment media and social change: A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, with co-author Lauren Feldman (foreword by Norman Lear, University of California Press); The Revolution Will Be Hilarious: Comedy for Social Change and Civic Power (NYU Press), published in February 2023; and Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change (Oxford University Press). In 2021, she won American University’s annual “Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, and Other Professional Contributions Award,” a refereed honor that recognizes extraordinary faculty achievement. In 2020, she was nationally recognized as one of DOC NYC’s “New Documentary Leaders.”
Under Professor Borum’s leadership, CMSI founded and co-directs several large-scale national and international comedy programs: the Yes, And Laughter Lab, a first-of-its-kind creative incubator of comedy for social justice in partnership with Hollywood and social justice groups; and Comedy ThinkTanks and GoodLaugh, which bring together professional comedians and human rights organizations for comedy co-creation, convenings, and research. Prior to her career at American University, she was senior vice president of the Social Impact Group at FleishmanHillard International Communications, where she and her team received the Public Relations Society of America’s prestigious Silver Anvil Award for Public Service; philanthropy director and producer with legendary TV producer Norman Lear; and program officer in entertainment media & public health at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Founding Director, Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab
Professor, School of Public Affairs and School of Education
Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the School of Education at American University, where she is also the founding director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL). She is a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation entrepreneur and recently served as the inaugural creative lead for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s residency program on social cohesion in Berlin. Miller-Idriss regularly testifies before the US Congress and briefs policy, security, education, and intelligence agencies in the US, the United Nations, and other countries on trends in domestic violent extremism and strategies for prevention and disengagement. She is the author, co-author, or co-editor of six books, including her most recent book, Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right (Princeton University Press, 2022). Miller-Idriss writes frequently for mainstream audiences, as an opinion columnist for MSNBC and in other recent by-lines in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and more.
Advisory Board Member, Sine Institute of Policy & Politics
Janet Rodriguez is a seven-time regional and national Emmy Award winning journalist currently serving as the internal communications lead for WhatsApp. Prior to joining Meta, Rodriguez was a White House correspondent for Univision Network and spent 15 years as a broadcast journalist serving assignments in Washington, DC, Phoenix, and Chicago as Telemundo’s Midwest correspondent.
Rodriguez has traveled extensively on-assignment following the biggest national stories, including the riots in Ferguson, the migrant crisis at the Texas border, and Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. Additionally, Rodriguez was embedded in the Ted Cruz presidential campaign providing national coverage on matters impacting the Latino community.
A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Rodriguez was a Sine Fellow in 2020, leading a series of lectures on the presidential elections. Rodriguez began her broadcast career as a local reporter in Washington, DC, where she currently resides.
Member, University Campaign Committee
For over 50 years, Stuart Bernstein has been a recognized leader in real estate development and investment in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the focus of his business efforts centered in the Washington, DC, area. In 2001, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to represent the United States as Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark, where he served with distinction until January 2005.
A graduate of American University, Stuart was a member of AU’s Board of Trustees for twenty years. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Bernstein as a commissioner of the International Cultural and Trade Center. The following year, in recognition of his achievements, the President appointed him a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Currently, Bernstein serves on the boards of trustees of the Council of American Ambassadors, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the US Diplomacy Center Foundation and is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows.
He is a native Washingtonian and, with his wife Wilma, has three grown children, eleven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Vice President, Development and Alumni Relations
Courtney Surls, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, 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 135,000 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.
We invite you to join the campaign for change by making a gift today.