Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference

A day of immersive learning experiences for current and future leaders of the U.S. government and beyond.

10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference

Date: June 12, 2019
Time: (Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.)
8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with Networking Reception from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. 

Location: Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
2660 Woodley Rd NW
Washington, DC 20008

About the conference: 
The Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference is a 200-person conference provided by the School of Public Affairs Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University. This event provides participants with the opportunity to explore principles, industry trends, and best leadership practices through key plenary and concurrent session presentations given by exceptional leaders in the field. Set in the heart of Washington, D.C., Key conference participants are from the federal government and public sector as well as non-governmental and non-profit organizations.

For more about sponsorship opportunities, the Request for Session Proposals (RFPs), and a recap of the 10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference, please see the information below!

10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference Leadership & Culture | June 12, 2019 | Washington, DC

Collage of images from the 10th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference

The Tenth Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference took place at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 2019.  Hosting over 250 guests and three sponsors, Eagle Hill Consulting, LLCSenior Executives Association and American University School of Public Affairs’ Justice Programs Office, workers from the public and private sectors, students and curious minds convened to explore the year’s theme: Leadership and Culture.

Opening the conference was Dr. Patrick Malone, Key Programs Director, whose discussion on the culture of kindness in the federal workplace, especially following one of its most tumultuous moments and general times of divisiveness. Malone’s focus on the powerful impact kindness can have in the workplace for facilitating collaboration, creative, innovation and overall happiness energized the audience for the day to come.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to attend four breakout sessions throughout the day that fell under one of the following learning tracks: Vision, Networking, Conscious Collective, Diversity & Inclusion, and Communication.

Each track featured sessions focusing on unique and essentials points to contribute to the attendees’ overall understanding of what it means to lead and became an extraordinary leader regardless of their position in or out of the workplace. 

Michele Perez presenting at the Key Conference

Some of the sessions included: Managing Up: How to Succeed with Any Type of Boss with Mary Abbajay, CEO, Careerstone Group; Authentic Networking: How to Network without Being an A****** with Strother Gaines, Speaker, Trainer and Coach, But I’m a Unicorn, Dammit!; Presenting While Gendered: How Men and Women Can Make the Most Speaking Opportunities and Meetings with Meghan Dotter, CEO, Portico Presentations; Revitalizing the Human Spirit at Work with Andrew Bennett, President, Bennett Performance Group; From the “Outside-In” – How Investing in Women Worldwide Led to Investing in Ourselves with Michele Perez, Vice President, Department of Management and Administration, OPIC. All sessions and descriptions can be viewed here.

Presenters challenged attendees to reflect inward as illustrated by Jacqueline Garrick’s examination of whistleblower retaliation in relation to work culture and its symptoms.  Attendees were also presented with unique leadership tools and techniques that stimulated both mind and body as seen in Dr. Nicole Cutts’ session on yoga and managing change.  In the afternoon, Strother Gaines led a session encouraging everyone to be authentic in bringing out their inner networking genius and making the most of networking opportunities. 

With every session, attendees had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the unique stories and knowledge of the presenters. Each presented tools and best practices for how to engage in an evolving workplace and overall landscape while remaining true to one’s core values.

President Burwell at the 2019 Conference

Further deepening the experience, AU President Sylvia Burwell took the stage following lunch and addressed the entire conference, reminiscing about her time in the federal government and the transition outside of that field into her current role. As she recounter her own experiences, she encouraged everyone to reach across the aisle, even in hard times, and to always continue to embody the spirit of public service.

The conference ended with a networking reception featuring karaoke, a DJ and flipbook station. To round off the event, Key also featured signature cocktails for the special occassion - Leadership Journey  and #3 in the Nation.

The team at the Key Executive Leadership Programs invites all to attend the 11th Annual Key executive Leadership Conference next year – date to be determined – that will also host the 42nd Annual Roger Jones Award Ceremony for the 2019-2020 cycle.  Be on the lookout for more information coming soon!

Thank you to our 2019 Key Conference Sponsors!

Click here to read more about our gold sponsor, Eagle Hill Consulting
Click here to read more about our community sponsor, Senior Executives Association
Click here to read more about our community sponsor, Justice Programs Office

2019 Key Conference Scholars

The Key Executive Leadership Programs offers students the opportunity to attend the Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference for free and access to exclusive activities and networking opportunities.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students currently in degree-seeking programs (AU and non-AU) are welcome to apply for the award!
Two students are selected for the award each year. Read about the 2019 Key Conference Scholars below! 

Garrett Ramela, CISA, CGFM, CDFM, DFMCP1 is a senior information systems/financial consultant at Sehlke Consulting, LLC. Sehlke Consulting is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) providing professional services to the US government and commercial clients. He started his career in the Marine Corps working in finance and accounting and is currently supporting the Navy’s information system consolidation effort. He has a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Maryland University College and is pursuing a master’s in finance at American University. He intends to start the Key Executive Leadership MPA this fall.

Saherah Khan is a social justice advocate and a Housing and Outreach Specialist in Washington D.C. She was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia. Saherah is passionate about helping others and has a long-term goal of developing policies that provide equal educational and housing opportunities to all people. Currently, she works closely with the District’s homeless population and connects them with vital resources such as health care, food pantries, employment, and more. The main goal for the clients she serves is to help them secure housing through affordable housing programs. Saherah hopes to begin working in the policy field after completion of her master’s degree. 

To be eligible for consideration to become a Key Conference Scholar, the following information is required:

  • Completed online application
  • Resume/CV
  • Professional Bio (200 words or less)
  • Professional photo (professional-looking photo in .jpg or .jpeg with high resolution is ideal)
  • Photocopy of your current unexpired student ID

The application for the 2020 Key Conference will be available in the coming months. Check back for more details! 

11th Annual Key Conference

Interested in being a presenter or sponsor for the 11th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference? More information can be found below for both potential speakers and sponsorship partners.  

Share your skills, knowledge, personal experiences, and professional expertise with the Key community by participating as a speaker at our biggest conference yet! Submit your application to present at the 11th Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference on the Spring of 2020. For more information on the Request for Session Proposals, click here to review the guidelines from 2019 application process!

The RFP for the 2020 Key Conference is not yet available. The application will be available online in Fall 2019. Check back for details! 

For information on submitting your RFP, please contact Jennifer Tether at

Meghan Dotter presenting at the 2019 Key Conference

Meghan Dotter addressing attendees during her session Presenting While Gendered: How Men & Women Can Make the Most of Speaking Opportunities & Meetings at the 2019 Key Conference. 

Becoming a sponsor of the Key Annual Conference is about creating meaningful experiences for participants. Create a lasting impression with us.

Hosting over 200 participants, the Annual Key Executive Leadership Conference is a great opportunity for potential sponsors to expose a diverse audience to their work and brand.  Sponsors will have the unique opportunity to directly interact with students, federal and public sector workers and many more. To view our Sponsorship Brochure for 2019, click here!

The application to become a sponsor of the 11th Annual Key Executive Leaderhsip Conference is not available at this time. Please check back for updates in the coming months. The application is typically posted in the Fall.

Please contact Jennifer Tether at for more information on sponsorship opportunities

Conference attendees checking in at registration

Conference attendees check in at the registration desk during the 2017 Key Conference.