University Communications focuses on building the brand, enhancing the reputation and growing public understanding of the University of Chicago, where rigorous inquiry shapes fields, creates a transformative education and experience, and confronts the most important problems of our time. The communications team in collaboration with UChicago Creative, the University’s in-house creative agency, specializes in content creation, media relations, public affairs, brand strategy, and video and audio production for the University, while serving as a communication partner and center of excellence across UChicago.
Whether sharing field-defining research or highlighting UChicago’s impact on the world, University Communications tells the story of UChicago and strengthens the University’s brand by creating engaging, informative and timely content that ranges from podcasts to the latest university news in close collaboration with campus communication leaders.
From media requests to speak with leading experts on UChicago’s faculty to inquiries about University programs, the media relations and public affairs team works with University leadership, faculty and communications partners across UChicago to help broaden public understanding of the University and drive media engagement around key projects, initiatives and appointments.
Social media provides a growing opportunity to connect with an array of important audiences. University Communications leads planning, strategy and outreach for a range of University social channels, while working in close collaboration with schools, divisions and other partners across UChicago on their social media strategies.
There is no place like UChicago, and University Communication works to ensure that’s reflected through the unique visual identity of UChicago, building and growing the University’s brand. These efforts are led by UChicago Creative, which maintains the University’s identity guidelines, facilities licensing requests and serves as a key partner across the University.
Paul M. Rand
Vice President of Communications
Paul M. Rand joined the University of Chicago as Vice President for Communications in August 2017. Rand leads the development of strategic and digital communications in support of academic programs, University initiatives and institutional priorities.
Assistant Vice President of Communications
Jeremy oversees the University’s external communications and all interactions with news media, including strategies for outreach to increase public understanding of the University’s activities in research and education, and communications on institutional issues.
Assistant Vice President, Digital Communications
Ben Rissman joined the University of Chicago as Assistant Vice President for Digital Communications in October 2017. Ben oversees the development, adoption, and implementation of strategies to ensure that the University, its schools, divisions and units effectively leveraging the power of digital and social media as communications platforms.
Executive Director of Communications Strategy and Chief of Staff
Candace D. Mueller joined the University of Chicago as Executive Director of Communications Strategy and Chief of Staff in August 2017. Mueller ensures the Office of Communications is strategically and organizationally equipped to produce outstanding communications in support of the University’s mission, vision and distinctive strengths.
Associate Dean of the College, Senior Director of College Communications
Andrea A. Lewis is Associate Dean of the College and the Senior Director of College Communications at the University of Chicago, responsible for leading communications and reputation management for the College.
Executive Director of UChicago Creative
Karen Grotto joined the University of Chicago as the Executive Director of UChicago Creative in January 2018. Grotto is responsible for leading the team to deliver strategic, high-quality, carefully targeted and efficiently produced communications.
Senior Director of Internal Communications
Katherine Ritchey develops and leads internal communications and change management strategies for the campus community. She helps ensure effective communication between the University and its units and Implements communications solutions that support the University’s strategic and operational goals.
Office of Communications
Brian Battle, Assistant Director, Social Media Engagement
As the Assistant Director of Social Media Engagement in the Office of Communications, Brian Battle oversees the strategy of the university social media channels, as well as providing support for teams across other University of Chicago departments, entities, and partners. Prior to joining the communications team, Brian worked in the marketing industry as a social media strategist, and previously as an advertising executive with a background in digital, broadcast, print and direct marketing disciplines.
Kevin Castro, Social Media Specialist
Kevin Castro is a social media specialist, helping to manage UChicago’s main social media channels and support social media initiatives across the University. Kevin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business in December 2016. While an undergraduate, he worked in the University’s Communications office assisting in managing the UW-Madison social media channels. Kevin joined UChicago in 2018 after spending a year managing digital communications for a financial services firm in Madison, WI.
Michael Drapa, Director of News and Content
Michael Drapa leads the strategic planning and development of content across UChicago’s digital channels. Working with partners across campus, he collaborates on articles, videos and podcasts that highlight the University’s field-defining research while telling the unique stories and traditions of UChicago faculty and students.
He joined the University in 2008 following a career in sports writing and editing at daily newspapers. Most recently, he helped lead the redesign of the UChicago News site and wrote a number of features that added to the University’s rich history—including a story about scientists’ pioneering work to build the world’s first nuclear reactor in 1942, and an award-winning profile of renowned civil rights activist Timuel Black.
He is a graduate of the journalism program at the University of Illinois-Urbana.
Emily R. Ehret, Lawrence A. Kimpton Fellow
Emily Ehret is a Lawrence A. Kimpton Fellow in College Communications, writing content about undergraduate life and managing the College’s social media channels. A 2019 graduate of the University of Chicago, she studied creative writing and gender and sexuality studies. While an undergraduate, she worked in the editorial department of the University of Chicago Press and wrote for the College. She joined the Communications team full time in July 2019.
Mike Heslinga, Digital Content Strategist
Mike Heslinga is responsible for managing and distributing content for UChicago’s main digital platforms: the UChicago News site and the University homepage. With a background in journalism and marketing, Mike has managed digital properties at several organizations. He began his career with iHeartMedia in Tucson, where he managed web, social and email for seven different Arizona radio stations. Prior to joining UChicago in 2020, he worked for the American Student Dental Association, where he managed the nonprofit’s website and its email campaigns.
Ashley Johnson, Associate Director of Provost Communications
Ashley Johnson is the associate director of Provost Communications, providing support to the Office of the Provost leadership team and collaborating with academic divisions, professional schools, centers and institutes.
Before joining the University in May 2019, Ashley was a strategic communicator at The Boeing Company, where she focused on content development and employee engagement initiatives. She also held editorial roles at the National Safety Council and Atlantic Media Company.
Ashley received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Danika Kmetz, Assistant Director of College Communications
Danika Kmetz is the Assistant Director of College Communications at the University of Chicago. In this role, she collaborates with units across the University to implement internal communications, external communications, and social media and content initiatives on behalf of the University’s undergraduate College.
Before joining the University in January 2018, Danika was a Public Relations and Media Specialist at Thyssenkrupp, where she supported external communications for the company’s automotive business units and the North America region as a whole. She previously held positions at public relations agencies, including Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Golin.
Danika received her Bachelor of Arts in public relations from Illinois State University.
Louise Lerner, News Officer for Physical Sciences
Louise Lerner is the University’s news officer for sciences, focused on research in physics, chemistry, astronomy, molecular engineering, geology, math, statistics and more at the University and its affiliated laboratories. Previously she worked at Argonne National Laboratory as the editor of the lab’s science magazine. She is a 2009 graduate of the College.
Violet Li, Associate Director of Finance
Violet Li joined the University of Chicago as Associate Director of Finance in September 2018. In this role, Violet provides guidance to UChicago Creative on delivering financial targets while creating quality work and building strong brands. She also manages budget of the Office of Communications which help meet University operating budget goals.
Most recently Violet served as client finance director at Leo Burnett Chicago, where she managed financial operations of major global accounts, overseeing contract negotiations, resourcing and client profitability, and supported the launches of award-wining marketing campaigns. She also held finance positions at Kraft and Sears with increasing responsibilities in various functions, including operations finance, marketing finance and global strategies.
Violet holds a master’s degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University, and a bachelor’s degree from University of International Business and Economics.
Colleen Mastony, Senior Director of Media Relations
Colleen Mastony is the director of media relations at the University of Chicago. She works with reporters and editors, coordinating media coverage and contributing to key UChicago priorities by increasing public understanding of the University’s educational mission and impact. Colleen runs a daily news engine that drives proactive media engagement and collaborates closely with the digital, social and news content teams. Before joining the University, Colleen was a journalist and worked at the Chicago Tribune, the Palm Beach Post and Forbes. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Gerald McSwiggan, Assistant Director for Public Affairs
Gerald McSwiggan is the Assistant Director for Public Affairs at the University of Chicago. In this role, he is responsible for proactive reputation planning, issues management, and institutional communications.
Gerald comes to the University with extensive experience in communications planning, particularly in high-visibility situations. Most recently Gerald served as the Director of Global Issues Management for McDonald’s Corporation, where he coordinated a proactive and strategic approach to public affairs around the world. He has also advised businesses’ crisis preparedness and response strategies for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and served as a policy analyst for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Gerald holds a B.A. from Wake Forest University and an M.B.A from Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. In his spare time, he enjoys youth coaching and volunteering at his church and throughout the community.
Cynthia Medina, Manager of Media Relations
Cynthia Medina manages media relations for scientific units across campus where she works with reporters to increase coverage of the cutting-edge research and scientific advancement at UChicago, elevating faculty experts to a broader audience. She previously worked at Rutgers University as a senior public relations specialist, crafting and promoting stories from the arts, sciences and humanities. During her time at Rutgers, she landed faculty research and expertise in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, People, Washington Post, Billboard, HuffPost, The Atlantic, among many others.
Before her career in higher education communications, Cynthia worked as a journalist and producer for networks like CNN and NBC. She received a Master of Science from Loyola University Chicago and attended the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.
Mary Naset, Assistant Director of Media Relations, UChicago Urban Network
Mary Naset manages media relations for scientific units across campus where she works with reporters to increase coverage of the cutting-edge research and scientific advancement happening at UChicago. She has worked at the University of Chicago since 2015, previously handling external relations for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Before joining the university, Mary worked in political communications and served on both of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaigns as well as President Obama’s reelection campaign. She received her undergraduate degree from North Central College and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at UChicago’s Harris School.
David Sanders, University Website Senior Specialist
David manages the administration of campus web policies while acting as the point of contact for University of Chicago departments and units that are looking to launch new websites. He works closely with campus colleagues to understand project objectives, assess the technical and content requirements, and provide recommendations covering content platforms, resource requirements, and project architecture. He brings experience in the areas of Back-end Web Development, Front-end Web Development, and Technical Project Management.
David joined UChicago in 2019 after spending a year as Director of Programming Support for an Automotive Website Provider in Lisle, IL.
Meredith Shiner, Director of Communications for the UChicago Urban Network
Meredith Shiner is a veteran strategic communications professional and former Congressional reporter with a deep passion for public policy at every level of government. Most recently, she was a director of media at the global public relations firm, Golin.
Jack Wang, Editor of News & Content
Jack Wang writes about UChicago’s research in the social sciences and humanities, as well as the various arts programs and initiatives on campus. Before joining the University in 2018, he worked as a sportswriter for several years, serving most recently as an NFL beat writer for the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.
Nicole Watkins, Manager of Internal Communications & Content
Nicole Watkins creates strategy and manages content for the University of Chicago’s internal audiences in addition to serving various roles in news editing, social media management and website development for University Communications.
She joined the team in 2020 after leading all aspects of communication for University Athletics & Recreation’s 20 varsity sports for the previous three years.
Watkins holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art photography from Western Michigan and a master’s in sports and recreation management from Indiana State and brings with her over 12 years in athletic communication experience, including stops at Purdue University Northwest and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She was also on staff at two newspapers: The Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich.) and the Polk County Itemizer-Observer (Dallas, Ore.).
Rita Westenberger, Executive Assistant
Rita Westenberger joined the University of Chicago as the executive assistant in January 2018. In this role, Rita provides executive administrative and special projects support for the Vice President for Communications, the Assistant Vice President for Communications, and the Assistant Vice President for Digital Communications. With over 20 years of experience as an executive assistant and project manager, Rita has worked for C-suite executives in a number of industries including telecommunications, higher education and government defense contractors.
Rita holds a master’s degree in both project management and business administration with concentrations in international finance and human resources.
Laurie Buman, Director of Design and Identity
Laurie Buman is responsible for leading all aspects of design, including providing strategic and creative guidance and producing University-wide communications that span print, digital, social, and branding. She helps maintain the University’s brand identity standards and advises on the brand standards for other University departments. She oversees the University’s licensing review process, ensuring identity compliance for new merchandise in collaboration with the University Bookstore and University Communications leadership.
For more than 20 years Laurie led Pigment Design, a full-service boutique design rm. Her client list ranged from start-ups, non-profits, B2B, and B2C to retailers, technology, and global advertising agencies, including Cowboy Andy’s Relish, Friends of the Chicago River, The Field Museum, Office Depot, AT&T, and Critical Mass. She’s a “design geek” at heart and a fine artist.
Eric Fey, Senior Technology Producer
Since joining University Communications in 2010 Eric has managed all aspects of the University Communications infrastructure and technical operations. Eric manages the Communication department’s TV studio, radio studio, webcasting services, video server, media asset management system, and technical infrastructure. Prior to joining the University, Eric worked with many of Chicago’s top advertising agencies and postproduction studios.
John Hillman, Senior Producer
John joined UChicago Creative in 2017 as a producer. For more than 30 years, John has shared his passion for visual storytelling with such organizations as Loyola University Chicago, The Field Museum, and as a member of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee. While running a small video production company called The Video Department, John has worked on numerous grant-funded video projects and has worked internationally in India, Nepal, Italy, Costa Rica, Mexico, Africa, and China. His programs have received accolades including two Silver Apple Awards from the National Educational Film and Video Festival, a Blue Ribbon from the American Film and Video Festival, a Gold Philo from the International Television Association, and thirteen Telly awards, which honor the best in non-broadcast film and video productions. John’s other interests include acting and singing, having appeared in numerous community theater musical productions and also serving as a music minister at St. Linus Parish in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
Matthew Hodapp, Podcast Producer
Matt Hodapp launched his career at KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR Membership Station, as the lead podcast producer, launching such successful shows as Statehouse Blend Kansas, Statehouse Blend Missouri and Midwesternish. He was the founder of Fountain City Frequency, a podcast network that focuses on providing resources and knowledge to help people in the Midwest produce the shows they couldn’t create on their own. Most recently, he served as lead producer on a healthcare podcast run by Side Effects Public Media. Matt’s work is driven by a passion for the unique effectiveness of audio storytelling to intimately connect with audiences.
Robyn Hocker, Senior Project Manager
Robyn Hocker joined the University of Chicago as a for the UChicago Creative department in March 2018. In this role, Robyn helps guide process and communications between departments and vendors for all print, digital and editorial creative projects. She helps to ensure that deliverables are provided on time, within budget and meet creative expectations.
Prior to joining the University, Robyn spent the last 9 years working in downtown Chicago for leading advertising agencies as an Integrated Project Manager. She has worked on national brands such as McDonald’s, PlayStation, Citibank and State Farm.
Robyn originates from Indiana from where she graduated Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications.
Niki Hyde, Video Production / Project Manager
Niki has worked in television and theater for the past 16 years. Having spent the last 8 years as Production Coordinator for Columbia College Chicago’s Cinema & Television Arts Department, Niki has coordinated large-scale multi-faceted projects overseeing crews of up to 100 students, staff, and faculty members.
Over the course of her career Niki has also worked in live sports, community affairs, and created promotional video for local non-profits. When not working she enjoys spending time with her husband and dog on the nearest waterfront.
Renee Kuklenski, Designer
Renee joined UChicago Creative as a designer in October 2018 and is excited to contribute to the brand of the University through all things visual. She brings experience honed at a boutique creative agency specializing in luxury real estate branding and is excited to work in higher education. When not working, Renee loves lounging by the lake in the summer (and dreaming of her California hometown in the winter). She holds a BFA with a focus in Visual Communications and a BA in Visual and Critical Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Zach Love, Senior Producer
Zach joined the University of Chicago in 2009 as a videographer and became a producer in 2010. He began living behind a camera in eighth grade, when he discovered that doing a video for homework was a lot more fun than writing a paper, even if it was five times the amount of work. Zach brings his experience to UChicago Creative as a broadcast photojournalist, editor, live truck operator, and field producer. When Zach steps away from the camera, he enjoys hand developing black and white photos.
Ellen McGrew, Senior Editor
Ellen has worked in University communications since 1982. Over that time she has had varied responsibilities in editorial, management, and print production areas, and has enjoyed working with many, many people across campus and in the community. Known for her “eagle eye,” she is currently concentrating on editorial contributions to UChicago Creative’s projects. She has an undergraduate degree in English and did graduate work at the University of Chicago in classics. Her main interest outside of the office is music.
Jean Purcell, Brand Editorial Director
Jean Purcell is the editorial lead responsible for maintaining the University’s brand voice and tone in creative communications across campus. Her role includes concepting, writing and developing compelling content that raises the University’s profile, meets strategic goals, and translates complex research into accessible communications tools from print and digital to social and video.
For more than 20, years Jean spent her days as an award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director in both London and Chicago. She worked on a diverse range of clients from The National Geographic Channel and economist.com to MillerCoors and Peroni.
Armed with the belief that a good idea has the power to change things, Jean co-created The Angel Band Project–a national non-profit that provides life-affirming music therapy for sexual violence survivors in crisis.
Keith Purvis, Producer
Keith Purvis has worked as a film producer and videographer for documentaries, commercials and branded content for over ten years. Starting as an art director and working with high profile clients including Whirlpool, Nike and the AIGA, Keith began looking for ways to merge his love of filmmaking with new media. Purvis founded a new media production company that produced projects for the National Urban League, Martin Luther King Fair Housing Exhibit Center, and many more. A Columbia College graduate and alumnus of Kartemquin Film’s Diverse Voice in Docs program, Keith loves to use film to tell great stories.
Shawn Renee-Cadichon, Director, Multimedia
Shawn joined the University in 2012, overjoyed with the opportunity to return to her passion of film/video production. The three-time Chicago Midwest Emmy nominated and Telly award-winning producer has worked as a creative executive at Platinum Studios, a film and TV production company that produced Men in Black and Cowboys & Aliens. She has produced and managed production on a variety of independent film and video projects with budgets ranging from $10K–$1M and worked on several studio features for MGM, Warner Bros., ABC Television and New Line Cinema. Shawn also had a previous career in advertising as an account supervisor at Burrell Communications, an agency specializing in multicultural advertising and event marketing, where she consistently developed creative strategies and market-moving ideas for P&G, Sprite and L’Oreal SoftSheen-Carson. Shawn holds a project management certification from Caltech and a BS in communications from Florida State University.
Daniel Stremlau, Director of Creative Operations
Dan Stremlau joined the University of Chicago as the Director of Creative Operations in March 2019. Stremlau is responsible for providing strategic, operational, and functional leadership that helps ensure the UChicago Creative team is ready to excel at providing the various media needs of University partners.
Stremlau believes that everything revolves around a good story, and that making meaningful and emotional connections with an audience is crucial to successful execution across all creative productions and deliverables. He also believes that it should be fun.
Stremlau started his career as an award-winning video editor for national clients such as McDonald’s, UPS, Allstate, Motorola and Ameritech. He joined ComEd as a video editor and, over the course of his career there, transitioned from a hands-on team member to leading all operational initiatives for his creative groups. Most recently, Stremlau managed the Creative Media team for Exelon, a Fortune 100 corporation, producing branded content for a wide range of corporate and business unit needs. He helped build a national creative team with a focus on strategic communication partnerships and customer service. Over his 23 years at Exelon, he led their national satellite network, implemented a 15-channel cloud-based video and streaming network, and oversaw multiple SaaS solutions to provide efficient project and work management tools for both staff and client partners.
Stremlau attended Lewis University in Romeoville for a BA in Television Broadcasting, and received his Master of Science in Communication from Northwestern University in Evanston.
University Communications provides resources, tools, and services to the University community to promote a strong identity and consistent messaging. Among our roles is to set standards and guidelines for representing the University of Chicago and communicating about it. We account for both the importance of traditional media and the influence of mobile devices, social media, and other burgeoning ways to disseminate information.
Office of the Vice President for Communications
Edward H. Levi Hall
5801 South Ellis Avenue, Suite 120
Chicago, IL 60637
Edward H. Levi Hall
5801 South Ellis Avenue, Suite 120
Chicago, IL 60637