Philadelphia Skyline

Change Can’t Wait Philadelphia

Thank You, Philadelphia

On March 16, 2023, American University hosted an evening of connection and conversation with President Sylvia M. Burwell for our community of changemakers in Philadelphia to experience Change Can't Wait: The Campaign for American University.

About the Speakers

Learn more about our distinguished guests below.

Member, Board of Advisors, School of Public Affairs

Michael Eckhardt is the Senior Vice President – Chief Legal and Risk Officer and Secretary for Wawa, Inc. Michael has responsibility for the Company’s Internal Audit, Enterprise Risk Management, Legal, Loss Prevention, Quality Assurance, Risk Management and Safety teams. Michael joined Wawa in 2005 and became General Counsel in 2011. He previously held the position of Associate General Counsel at Wawa. Before joining Wawa, Michael worked for Dechert LLP and Pepper Hamilton LLP in the Corporate and Securities groups. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from American University and his law degree from Temple University.  

Michael serves on the Board of Directors of Terrazzo Marble and Supply Companies, a 100% ESOP owned company in Illinois, and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the School of Public Affairs at American University. Michael also serves on the Board of Directors, and as President, of the Wawa Associates In Need Fund, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to assisting Wawa associates suffering from catastrophic events in their lives. Michael currently is Vice-Chair of the Policy Committee and on the Board of Directors of ESCA (ESOP S-Corporations of America). Michael is a past president the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. 

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.  

Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences 

Jessica Gephart is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Science at American University. Her research focuses on the intersection of seafood globalization and environmental change, evaluating how seafood trade drives distant environmental impacts, as well as how environmental shocks disrupt seafood trade. Her work brings together global trade data, local consumption data, and environmental impact data to understand the opportunities and risks of seafood globalization for sustainable production and food security. Dr. Gephart received her PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. She served on the Scientific Leadership Team for of the Blue Food Assessment, where she co-led the environment and justice chapters and currently serves as a U.S. Science Envoy for the U.S. Department of State.

2020 Fellow, Sine Institute of Policy & Politics

Katherine Miller is an award-winning communications executive, campaign strategist, and social media expert who leads a team dedicated to engaging the culinary community in the ongoing process of creating a sustainable food system for all. She is the founding executive director of the Chef Action Network (CAN) and has served as the Foundation's senior director of policy and advocacy since 2016. She developed and leads the Foundation's signature training program, the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. In September 2017, Katherine was named one of "The 2017 Most Innovative Woman in Food and Drink" by Fortune and Food & Wine. Before joining the good food movement, she developed and managed integrated campaigns for many of the world's leading socially responsible corporations and foundations including TIAA-CREF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the United Nations Foundation. Her work has won numerous awards including the People's Choice Webby, Best Non-Profit Tagline of the Year, PR Grassroots Campaign of the year, and several Pollies (the political world's Academy Award). She is a board member of the New Venture Fund and RAINN (the U.S. national sexual assault hotline). She is a graduate of the Loyola University of New Orleans and, in her free time, she is perfecting her bread-baking techniques.

2023 Fellow, Sine Institute of Policy & Politics 

Terence Samuel is Vice President and Executive Editor at NPR, where he oversees all newsgathering for the broadcast network. He is the author of the 2010 book The Upper House: A Journey Behind the Closed Doors of the United States Senate.

He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, Washington Politics Editor at the Washington Post and a managing editor at National Journal. Samuel began his career as a writing fellow at the Village Voice and was a reporter as the Roanoke Times, a national correspondent at both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and chief congressional correspondent at U.S. News & World Report.

He was a director of editorial programming for AOL Black Voices before joining the Washington Post Company in 2007 to help launch He wrote a politics column for the American Prospect for six years and his work is featured in Best American Political Writing of 2009.

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.