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A Political Life

Alumna Amy Dacey reflects on nearly five years at the helm of AU’s Sine Institute of Policy and Politics—which this week announced its 2024 cohort of changemaking fellows

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Amy Dacey, executive director of the Sine Institute.

Amy Dacey, SPA/MA ’95, jokes she was tricked into politics.

At eight years old, she hit the campaign trail with her father, who was vying for a spot on the Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education in upstate New York. Dacey called constituents and knocked on doors—something her dad told her all kids did.

But by the time her classmates clued her in, it was already too late: Dacey’s interest in public service had been cemented.

“[My parents] were both active and engaged in the community, and they instilled that in me,” she said. “Politics is in my blood.”

Her father’s winning run was just the beginning for Dacey. She worked on former senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) 2004 presidential campaign, served as executive director of EMILY’s List from 2010 to 2013, and helmed the Democratic National Committee in 2016 as CEO. In 2019, Dacey returned to AU to serve as executive director of the groundbreaking Sine Institute of Policy and Politics.

“It was the perfect storm,” Dacey said. “I wanted to work with young people, and I wanted to make a difference in policy and politics. My alma mater—this school that I love, where I met such incredible people—was the place to do it.”

Launched in 2018 with a $10 million gift to the AU’s Change Can’t Wait campaign from Jeff Sine, SIS/BA ’76, and his wife, Samira, the institute is a laboratory for university-wide collaboration and an incubator for policy innovation. The Sine Institute, which marked its fifth anniversary this fall, has welcomed 29 fellows, 8 distinguished lecturers, and 265 guest speakers—changemaking experts in government, politics, academia, journalism, nonprofits, and business.

On November 14, the institute announced its sixth cohort of fellows:

  • Larry Hogan, former Republican governor of Maryland and former chair of the National Governors Association
  • Thomas Nides, former US ambassador to Israel and former managing director, COO, and vice chair of Morgan Stanley
  • Daniella Senior, CEO and founder of Colada Shop and a State Department culinary ambassador
  • Manisha Singh, WCL/LLM ’96, founder and principal of Sunstone Strategy Group and former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs
  • Kara Swisher, journalist, CNN contributor, and host of On with Kara Swisher
  • Patrice Willoughby, senior vice president of global policy and impact at NAACP

Former astronaut Pam Melory, NASA deputy administrator, and journalist Jim Sciutto, CNN’s chief national security analyst and anchor of CNN Newsroom with Jim Sciutto, will serve as distinguished lecturers.

“Where else can you engage with and learn from a former governor, ambassador, astronaut, entrepreneur, and more—all in one academic year?” asked AU president Sylvia Burwell. “The 2024 Sine fellows and distinguished lecturers all have one thing in common: They are changemakers with unparalleled expertise and continuing impact. We are excited to welcome them to the AU community and look forward to an engaging year of convening, communicating, and collaborating.”

The 2024 cohort will lead conversations on civility, collaboration, immigration and food policy, crisis communications, democracy, tech policy, artificial intelligence, and more. The fellows will be introduced to the campus community during an event on February 1.

Headshots of the 2024 Sine Fellows.

The Art of Curating a Cohort

The work to identify the fellows began more than a year ago.

The institute surveys students and groups like AU’s College Republicans and College Democrats to determine what speakers they’d like to see come to campus. With an eye toward diversity—including political ideology—Dacey compiles student feedback with her own list of names and contacts. From there, the process becomes more of an art than a science.

“It’s not like baking a cake,” Dacey said. “There are not detailed instructions. You just have to figure out what makes sense. At the end, we have these incredible cohorts who come to campus.”

Terence Samuel, editor in chief of USA Today and a 2023 Sine fellow, said Dacey is skilled at convening people with myriad viewpoints to engage in important conversations about issues that matter. Seeing Bill de Blasio, the former Democratic mayor of New York City, and Doug Ducey, the former Republican governor of Arizona—both 2023 fellows—come together was inspiring for Samuel, a longtime political reporter.

“It’s not that we’re more divided than ever—it’s that we have lost the ability to talk to each other about it,” he said. “My cohort reminded me that there’s still a lot of that happening, and people still have the capacity to do that.” 

Singh, a 2024 fellow, who will lead a seminar in the spring about how technology will shape the future of the economy, jumped at Dacey’s invitation to work with AU students.

“Amy is fantastic,” Singh said. “She’s done a great job at the Sine Institute. Her mission is what’s good for students and what is going to prepare [them] going forward—and that’s good policy.” 

A Sine of Hope for the Future

While Dacey enjoys engaging with Sine fellows, she finds the most meaning in collaborating with students—225 of whom have worked with the institute over the last five years as associates, advisory board members, event cosponsors, and graduate assistants.

She regularly meets with the Sine Student Advisory Board, 15 Eagles representing each of AU’s schools, who help guide student engagement and programming. To date, the institute has hosted 205 events that have drawn 12,050 people.

“I always learn something new when I spend time with our students,” Dacey said. “And I appreciate giving them opportunities to experience new things. They might say, ‘I don’t really care about that issue,’ but suddenly they attend an event and say, ‘Oh, this really opened my eyes.’”

Samantha Hessel, SPA/BA ’26, chair of the Student Advisory Board, was first introduced to the institute on move-in day when she saw a flyer for an event with Cody Keenan, chief speechwriter for President Barack Obama and a 2020 Sine fellow. The political science major also met Dacey at the event. She has since become Hessel’s mentor and friend—a key figure shaping her AU experience.

Hessel describes Dacey as endlessly kind. While that’s not a word commonly associated with politics, Hessel says Dacey embodies that every day, whether in how she treats those she works with or how she runs an Instagram account for her dog, Birdie.

“You can learn from watching a person more than anything else,” said Hessel, who also worked as a student associate for de Blasio earlier this year. “We go to AU to learn in the classroom, but so much of AU’s mentality of learning goes beyond the classroom itself. I’ve really gotten to know what it’s like to run a program by watching her do it.”

After a life in politics, Dacey continues learns from students too, who keep her optimistic about the future of our democracy.

“I think sometimes you can get jaded doing this work,” she said. “That’s why I like spending time with young people. They’re excited and interested to see how they can make an impact. They think constructively that they can come together to solve problems, and I want to be part of that.”