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StraightTalk Speakers 2018

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Whit Ayres, Ph.D. (Sept. 13)

Whit Ayres is a leading Washington, D.C. political consultant with over 30 years of experience in polling and survey research for high profile political campaigns and associations. As founder and president of North Star Opinion Research, Ayres provides message development advice and strategic insights to high level political clients including U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham, and corporate clients including Boy Scouts of America, the Federalist Society, and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. Whit is a frequent commentator on network and cable media outlets including NBC’s Meet the Press, FOX News, CNN, NPR and the BBC.  His comments and analysis appear in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and numerous regional newspapers.

Dr. Ayres founded his company after a career as a tenured professor in the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of "2016 and Beyond," which illustrates the ways in which new candidates, new messages, and a new tone can help Republicans win the presidency in the New America. Whit is a graduate of Davidson College and holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Basil Bacall (Sept. 6)

Basil Bacall is founder and chief executive officer of Elite Hospitality group, a premier hotel development and management firm. A Chaldean immigrant, Bacall arrived in Detroit in 1982 when he was 17 years old. He worked in a drugstore while earning his GED and a college degree, became a pilot for Northwest Airlines, and then began to seek a business opportunity. After first turning around a hotel that was losing money, Bacall went on to build a successful series of hotels in Michigan. Currently, he has nine new projects in different phases of development and employs over 1000 people. His focus is to “be the best at what you do” and that commitment to excellence extends to the non-profit organization he founded, “Adopt-a-Refugee Family Program,” which matches donors with persecuted Christian families in the Middle East in need of basic financial support. The organization has helped about 400,000 people and distributed $11 million. In addition to a Flight Engineer Certificate, he has a B.S. from Thomas Edison State University and has also completed advanced theology coursework.

The Honorable Neal Collins (Aug. 30)

Representative Neal Collins (R-District 5), an attorney with Hendricks Firm, has served in the South Carolina Statehouse since 2014. A strong conservative, Collins’s service on the Joint Legislative Committee on Children led him to sponsor H. 4435, “the DREAMers Act,” allowing DACA recipients (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals) to be eligible for in-state tuition rates, state-sponsored scholarships, and occupational and professional licensure. A native of Easley, Rep. Collins serves on several boards in his community. Collins is a 2004 graduate of Furman University and a 2007 graduate of University of South Carolina School of Law.

Peter Hart (Sept. 13)

Peter Hart is regarded as one of the top analysts of public opinion in the United States. He is a leading shaper of national trends and political messages. He founded Hart Research in 1971, and since 1989 has been the pollster for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. His political clients have included leaders in the forefront of American politics over the past half century, from Hubert Humphrey and Jay Rockefeller, to Edward Kennedy and Bill Clinton. He has represented more than 55 U.S. senators and 40 governors. His clients have also included the Smithsonian Institution, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the international realm, he has conducted studies in South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. He has conducted strategy planning projects for clients such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Tiffany & Co. The National Journal named Peter as one of its 150 national leaders who shape federal government policy.

Over the past decade, Hart has worked to spot society’s newest directions and trends, helping major companies such as 3M and CitiGroup navigate consumers’ ever-changing attitudes and expectations. Peter has appeared on Meet the Press, The Today Show, and Rock Center with Brian Williams.  In the fall of 2013, Hart was a Shorenstein visiting fellow teaching at the JFK School at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Colby College.

Anthony Herrera (Sept. 6)

Anthony Herrera serves as Furman University’s executive director for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Herrera most recently led a team responsible for Toyota Motor North America’s Executive Succession & Leadership Development. In that role, he led a team responsible for the growth of high-potential talent, fostering key talent pools, building bench strength, delivering performance management and addressing talent gaps. Prior to Toyota, Herrera served as Executive Director for SMU Cox Executive Education and launched a nationally recognized institute assisting the Fortune 1000 recruit, retain and develop Latino leaders. Herrera brings more than 15 years of experience in talent management and development for global organizations. Herrera earned his Master of Science in Accounting (2003) and BBA in Accounting (2002) from SMU Cox School of Business.

Stephen Legomsky, J.D., Ph.D. (Aug. 30)

Dr. Stephen H. Legomsky is the John S. Lehmann University Professor Emeritus at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.  Professor Legomsky took a leave of absence from 2011 to 2013 to serve as chief counsel of the federal immigration services agency in the Department of Homeland Security. After retiring in July 2015, he returned to Washington to serve as senior counselor to the Secretary of Homeland Security. He has been an advisor to both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and several foreign governments on immigration and refugee policies. His immigration coursebook (now in its 7th edition), has been the required text at 185 law schools. A former actuary, he graduated first in his class at the University of San Diego School of Law (Day Division) before earning the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University.  Professor Legomsky has been appointed to visiting positions at Oxford University, Cambridge University, and other universities in the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Australia, Suriname, Singapore, Israel, and Portugal. Last year, he published a sci fi novel that explores the meaning of life.

Akan Malici, Ph.D. (Aug. 30)

Dr. Akan Malici is a Furman professor of politics and international affairs. Born into a Turkish and Albanian family, he grew up in Germany and came to the United States in 2000. He joined Furman’s faculty in 2005,and in 2009, he became a U.S. citizen. Dr. Malici's scholarly interest is in the area of foreign policy decision-making and peace and conflict studies. He is the author of When Leaders Learn and When They Don't (SUNY Press, 2008) and The Search for a Common European Foreign and Security Policy (Palgrave Press, 2008), and co-author or co-editor of several other books on foreign policy, conflict and political science research. After receiving undergraduate education in literature and political science at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, Dr. Malici earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Arizona State University.

Garry McFadden (Aug. 30)

Garry McFadden is a 36-year veteran of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD), including 27 years as a detective and 20 years in the Homicide Unit. A highly decorated officer, he investigated more than 800 homicides, 90% of which were solved. In the 2018 primary race for sheriff of Mecklenburg County, McFadden defeated incumbent Sheriff Irwin Carmichael, promising to reverse some of Carmichael’s controversial policies, particularly the county’s participation in the federal 287(g) program.

McFadden retired from CMPD in 2011, but was rehired by the City of Charlotte, first in the Office of the Chief and later in the Community Relations Unit. In 2015, he and three barbers created “Cops and Barbers,” a community initiative considered by President Obama to be one of the top ten initiatives to create meaningful relationships in communities. McFadden has received numerous awards for both his police work and his community service, and he has been featured on America’s Most Wanted, the First 48, The Justice Files, and I am Homicide.  He is a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University.

Ken Peterson, Ph.D. (Sept. 6)

Dr. Ken Peterson is Furman University’s dean of faculty and John D. Hollingsworth, Jr. professor of economics.  A key driver of The Furman Advantage, Peterson was unanimously chosen by faculty to be interim dean of faculty, and in 2017 was named dean of faculty.  An outstanding teacher and mentor, he was a recipient of the Alester G. Furman, Jr. and Janie Earle Furman Award for Meritorious Teaching. From 2004- 2012, he was chair of the Department of Economics and from 2004 – 2012, he was director of Urban Studies at Furman. His teaching interests include microeconomic theory, urban economics, and population economics. Peterson received his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his B.S. in economics from Iowa State University.

Julie Smithwick (Sept.6)

As founder and executive director of PASOs, which means ‘steps” in Spanish, Smithwick works with Latino communities in 29 counties of South Carolina, advocating for systemic changes to improve health, early childhood development, and social services for Latinos.  She has over twenty years’ experience working with marginalized communities, both in Latin America and the southeastern United States. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she received a Master’s in social work from the University of South Carolina and a Bachelor’s in International Studies and Spanish from the University of Georgia.

Jessica Taylor (Sept. 13)

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, D.C., covering the 2018 midterm elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections, and will be a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics. Before joining NPR in May 2015, Taylor was the campaign editor for The Hill newspaper. Taylor has also reported for the NBC News Political Unit, The Rothenberg Political Report, National Journal, The Hotline and Politico. Taylor has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, CNN, and she is a regular on the weekly roundup on NPR’s “1A with Joshua Johnson.” On Election Night 2012, Jessica served as an off-air analyst for CBS News in New York. A native of Elizabethton, Tenn., she graduated magna cum laude in 2007 with a B.A. in political science from Furman University. 

Diane Vecchio, Ph.D. (Aug. 30)

Diane Vecchio has been a professor of history at Furman since 1996, where she has been an active member of the university community, serving on numerous university committees. She teaches American immigration history, an interest stirred by her background as the daughter of an Italian immigrant.  In addition to Italian immigration, Dr. Vecchio's research interests include Southern Jewish History, European women's resistance during World War II, and local history of the South Carolina Upcountry. She received her B.A. from State University of New York, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

Danielle Vinson, Ph.D. (Sept. 13)

Danielle Vinson, PhD, is professor of political science specializing in media and politics, the American presidency and American government. She is the author of two books Local Media Coverage of Congress and Its Members and Congress and the Media: Beyond Institutional Power and numerous articles and chapters relevant to media and politics. She is often called upon by local, national, and even international press, especially during presidential primaries, to make sense of South Carolina politics (not quite as impossible as it sounds). A graduate of Furman University, she received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University.