Category Archives: Public Affairs Lecture Series

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Crystal Young-Otterstrom

On Thursday, April5, 2018, Crystal Young-Otterstrom spoke to students about her career within the Utah Cultural Alliance and described her career path and life lessons. Young-Otterstrom is the executive director of Utah Cultural Alliance, the statewide advocacy voice for the arts, humanities, and cultural businesses of Utah; state treasurer of the Utah Democratic Party (elected position); and one of the managing editors of She serves as a co-chair for LDS Dems of America and as a co-founder and board chair for Salty Cricket Composers Collective. For eight years, she was the audience development manager for the Utah Symphony and seven years for the Utah Opera. A composer and coloratura soprano, Young-Otterstrom received a BA in music theory with minors in humanities, economics, and marketing at BYU and an MA in musicology and composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York.

She began her presentation explaining that her main priority within her career is to act as an advocacy voice for the arts and humanities. Demonstrating her involvement in the community and politics, she listed several boards and organizations that she participates in. Among these are Utah Women and Politics PAC, Americans for the Arts, BYU PAS, Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah, the School Community Council at Emerson Elementary, and Alliance for a Better Utah—to name a few. Quoting John Aster, she encapsulated her young-self’s motto, “what you can do or dream, you can begin it, boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” She then explained as she has learned and grown, her favorite quote has shifted to Ecclesiastes 3:1, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Speaking about her political interests, Young-Otterstrom started out as a republican, but after being involved with the republican club at BYU, she realized that she was more left learning than she originally thought. She explained that at BYU she felt free to explore her political identity and became involved with activism for a time. After leaving BYU she became increasingly more involved in the Democratic Party. In 2011, she helped form LDS Dems as the vice chair.

Elaborating on the purpose of the Utah Cultural Alliance, she explained that the focus of the organization is to act as an advocating voice for the arts and humanities, raise awareness on the impact of the cultural center on the community using supporting data, and provide accessible professional development for those working in the arts and humanities. The Utah Cultural Alliance advocated for keeping the arts a required course in Utah middle schools. By petitioning the school board and calling a special hearing, they helped broker a compromise where parents could opt their child out a subject if wanted, but would be required to replace it with a similar class. Young-Otterstrom explained that although she is involved in partisanship, she enjoys working for a non-partisan organization. It is her opinion that the arts and humanities is not a partisan issue, and as the number one state in arts participation, it is not hard to justify that claim in Utah. She explains that within a non-partisan organization, everyone is friends and have decided to never take things personally. She enjoys getting to work with people from the other side of the political spectrum on something that they both agree on. She explained that this has been a great way to grow the diversity within her personal network, and she has learned that the most effective elected officials are bridge builders.

Closing with lessons she has learned throughout her career. First, Young-Otterstrom encouraged students to diversify their skill sets. She said that it is vitally important to always continue learning how to do new things, because a career requires a variety of skills rather than one specialized task. Second, she stressed the importance of becoming a “bridge builder.” She said that people respect you when you take a stand for things, but if you become immoveable, nobody will want to work with you. Third, don’t be afraid to say yes to things. Do not think you are underqualified if you are being invited. And fourth, always make time for your family as you go about your career. She explained that it is very important to draw lines around your work and home life, but it is very possible to do both.

Young-Otterstrom closed her lecture with a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions. In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey Him is the indispensable harmony in it. With divine imperatives of love and faith, repentance and compassion, honesty and forgiveness, there is room in this choir for all who wish to be there.”

Thank you Crystal for your enthusiastic remarks!

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Frank Pignanelli

On Thursday, March 22, 2018, Frank Pignanelli gave students a brief look into his career as a lobbyist and also provided career advice and life lessons. Pignanelli is a founding partner in the law firm Foxley & Pignanelli, specializing in government relations and public affairs. Pignanelli served in the House of Representatives for ten years, as one of the youngest Utahns ever elected to state office. Currently he serves on the advisory board for the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah and The University of Utah Venture Fund. He also writes a Sunday column on political activities in Utah for the Deseret News.


Speaking as part of the Public Affairs Lecture Series, Pignanelli first explained what makes a good lobbyist. He is explained that it is critical that a lobbyist has strong communication skills, can think strategically and understand that the environment he or she is working in. Quoting Godfather, he said, “it is not personal, it’s strictly business.”
He addressed the fact that lobbyists as a profession are often perceived in a negative way, because their job is to educate lawmakers on issues and hope to influence their direction. He explained that lobbying is one of the primary functions of democracy, because it helps lawmakers understand what the citizen wants and needs. However, he explained that as a lobbyist, he will “always lose in a battle with a well organized citizen group.” Pignanelli used the words of Sun Tzu to emphasize his points, “Those who do not know the plans of competitors cannot prepare alliances. Those who do not know the lay of the land cannot maneuver their forces. Those who do not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground.”


In his opinion, there are many positive aspects to lobbying. It impacts public policy in the name of the people, it utilizes political and communication skills, and there is no pressure to hold office.


Pignanelli’s career path was not as direct as most lobbyists, but intriguing nonetheless. After attending the University of Utah law school, and gaining some experience in the field, he ran for the House of Representatives in 1986. He also worked as a trial attorney for a number of years and in October of 1997, formed his lobbying firm with his partner, Doug Foxley.


Highlighting his career and things that he has learned along the way, he stressed that employers look for somebody who can work well with others, communicate well, and work hard with a lot of dedication. His general advice included: learn how to work with others, think of ways to self improve, and communication skills are imperative. Above all, he stressed that treating people well—both clients and colleagues—is critical to your reputation and good career. Ann Landers said, “you can easily judge the character of a person by how he or she treats those who can do nothing for her or him.” He explained that this advice applies to all people, regardless of profession. In closing he stated that the skills needed to be a good lobbyist will serve well for any and all professions: effectively communicating, being a leader, treating others well and working hard.


Thank you Frank Pignanelli for sharing your career and insights with us!


Public Affairs Lecture Series: Royce Van Tassell

Royce Van Tassell, Executive Director of the Utah Association of Charter Schools, spoke on March 15 for the Public Affairs Lecture Series at BYU. He spoke about what life is like as a lobbyist, and director of Charter Schools. He said we have an extraordinary 135 Charter Schools in Utah, which give choice to students who do not prefer public schools.

He then delineated four “Flavors” of Lobbyists: Corporate Lobbyists, Think Tank Lobbyists, Industrial Association/Union Lobbyists, and Contract Lobbyists, each with a different role to play in promoting the agendas of different political interests. In order to be an influential lobbyist, he said, we need to gain trust, which is our biggest asset. He then gave four ways to earn the trust: First, feed your clients. They all need to eat. Second, entertain them, at golf other in other ways. It’s a great way to connect with people and to discuss important policy items in an informal setting. Third, help elect them. That will gain the most trust. Fourth, inform them. Good information is important to everyone, and if you deliver it, people will begin to rely on you and trust you.

Royce reviewed a day in the life of a lobbyist on Capitol Hill in Utah, similar to lobbyists everywhere including Washington, DC. It involves early reading and preparation in the morning, committee meetings, votes, lunch, more committee meetings, then time on the floor of the legislature.

Finally, Royce gave our students four points of advice: First, learn quantitative methods of analysis; Second, write precisely and concisely; Third, know all sides of an argument better than anyone else (that’s what a good advocate does); Fourth, separate policy from people—don’t hate the person, and make friends with opponents. Fifth, assume that the other side has good intentions until they prove you wrong. Most of the time, political people are honest and open. However, sometimes they burn you. That may be intentional, or circumstantial (out of their control). Sixth, and lastly, he recommended that we listen to news stories both federal, state and local. Listen and learn! Listen, listen, listen! Relationships matter, and listening can build relationships.

His lecture was a fascinating view into the life of a successful lobbyist, and into the Utah Charter School system. Thank you, Royce, for an amazing look into the political process.

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Peter Valcarce


On Thursday, March 8, 2018, Peter Valcarce spoke to students for another installment of the Public Affairs Lecture Series. Peter is the managing partner and founder of Arena Communications, a Republican-oriented direct mail company that has produced 8,500 unique pieces of mail sent to one billion mailboxes, bringing success to over 1,000 campaigns in forty-nine states. Arena Online has handled the web-based electioneering advertising as well.

Peter expanded on his company by explaining what services they provide: they determine target advertising, develop messaging, write, design and print mail and online advertising. Most the mail and advertising produced by Arena Communications finds the weaknesses of the political competitor, and uses them to inform and influence the public. Peter recounted that he was once called “the King of Sleaze” to which he appreciated greatly, because it meant that he was doing something effective.

The campaign industry is a 9-billion-dollar market, so he encouraged students to get involved if they are interested. He outlined the different career paths within campaigning: campaign manager, finance, communications, political, data and digital directors. Within the campaign manager sector are strategists, media consultants, pollsters, opposition researchers, and mail, digital, phone and fundraising consultants. Arena Communications and Arena Online acts as the mail consultant for its clients.

Speaking to students who want to work on the campaign or consulting track, Peter gave his advice. First, start volunteering now as a volunteer for campaigns to gain experience and see if it was you are interested in. Second, leave Utah and seek out states with competitive elections. Third, get regional diversity; work on campaigns in different areas of the country to better grasp the diversity of politics in the United States. Fourth, work different types of campaign jobs to see what you like. And fifth, don’t worry about changing jobs often, it’s going to happen regardless with the two-year campaign cycle.

Peter shared the advantages of owning his own consulting firm, including the flexibility of alternating “on” and “off” years, and the independence of being one’s own boss. Some of the disadvantages being lots of traveling around the country and being consumed in politics in all aspects.

At the close of his presentation, Peter shared some of the most important lessons he has learned over the course of his career: don’t be afraid to lose, be honest to your clients and colleagues, admit your mistakes and to always do your very best work.

He shared this quote by Dante Alighieri, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Thank you Peter Valcarce for your engaging presentation and insights!

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Christina Tomlinson


Christina Tomlinson, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs for the U.S. State Department in Brussels, Belgium, came to speak at the BYU Political Science Public Affairs Lecture series on Thursday, March 1, 2018. She described her career path, beginning with growing up in Virginia, in the Mount Vernon Stake, and then through the State Department in Islamabad, Pakistan, Istanbul, Turkey, Budapest, Hungary, Guangzhou, China and Vientiane, Laos, finally landing in Brussels where she currently serves. She has worked with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary Condoleezza Rice, among many other U.S. Government officials and Presidents. She reminded us that the State Department was the first Department created by the U.S. Government, and that Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, from March 1790 through December 1793.

When Christina first began to apply for a job at the State Department, she searched until she found someone to take her call at the Department, and in that fateful conversation she told the State Department official: “I will go anywhere, and I speak Lao.” The only vacancy the State Department had at the time was in Laos. So, they hired her, and she went to the Embassy in Laos. Based on that experience, her advice is that there is no typical career path, and that success is based on three things: “Luck, Providence, and Hard Work.” All of those helped her get to the State Department. One of her mentors told her, “Find something you love to do and get someone to pay you to do it.” And so, she did. Of the Foreign Service Exam, she said, “Take it until you pass.” She advised that we “Take the hard job,” and she did, in Pakistan and other places, where she helped natives learn to love the United States.

Christina learned that public service is important and that it is an honor to serve—an honorable experience and interesting. Specific lessons she has learned during her career, include: Have a life outside of your career; Have a well-rounded life; Have something that you are passionate about (she likes to collect rugs); Volunteerism develops character; Living overseas teaches about what is important, such as, some countries restrict religious freedom. We have religious freedom in America and we should be grateful for it. Finally, she said that if you want to make a change in your life, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or a “big” idea. Small ideas help us become what we need to be.

Thank you, Christina, for a wonderful presentation.

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Sam Lyman


On Thursday, February 22, 2018, Sam Lyman, chief speechwriter for Senator Orrin Hatch, spoke about his experience working on Capitol Hill as another installment for the Public Affairs Lecture Series.

Sam first gave a brief overview of what Capitol Hill, colloquially known as the hill, is; the beating heart of D.C. He shared the organization of congressional staffers: principal, chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, communications director, speechwriters, scheduler, and assistant to staff. He explained that there are three different tracks to working on Capitol Hill: communications, legislative, and administrative. Sam then went on to give details of the various career paths that a congressional staffer can take.

He then explained his personal interests in politics and what led him to his job today. Sam credited his interest in politics to his many family members (who have been involved in political careers), participating in grade school student government, and his favorite television show, The West Wing. Sam said that these things helped him learn that it was possible to have a job in politics without acting as a politician.

Sam first worked in Washington D.C. as an intern in 2013, and became hooked on speechwriting when Senator Hatch read one of his lines during a speech in Congress. After graduation from Brigham Young University, he was hired on as assistant to the chief of staff for Hatchs office. Sam knew that to get the kind of job he wanted, he was going to have to be more entrepreneurial. He started building up his reputation as a writer in the office and increasingly offered input until he was given the opportunity to write speeches and record statements. As the chief speechwriter, Sams responsibilities include drafting and/or editing speeches, op-eds, letters, press releases and newsletters, as well as coordinating the media strategy.

At the close of his lecture, he shared some of his life lessons learned with students. He encouraged students to be entrepreneurial by asking for opportunities to do what they want. He also explained that image matters in the professional world, so it is important to take time to cultivate and invest in your professional image. Sam advised students to know when to say no, because sometimes we are defined just as much by the opportunities we turn down as those we take. He also encouraged students to know their principles and stick to them, understand the necessary balance between professional advancement and personal progress, and to always follow the spirit.

Thank you, Sam Lyman, for sharing your advice with us.

Sams recommended media is linked below:

Books to read:

The Elements of Style

The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics

Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama

Films to watch:

Thirteen Days

Our Brand is Crisis


Public Affairs Lecture Series: Neylan McBaine


Neylan McBaine, Co-founder and CEO of Better Days 2020, and founder of the Mormon Women Project, delivered an inspiring presentation for the Public Affairs Lecture Series on Thursday, February 8, 2018, at the Kennedy Center conference room, 238 HRCB. She spoke about being raised by an opera singer and a Wall Street attorney in New York City, studying at Yale University, and working at in digital marketing. Currently she heads up the Better Days 2020 organization, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of women first voting in Utah (the first women to vote in the modern United States of America) and the centennial of the 19th Amendment, offering women the right to vote, and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement in the US. She is helping pass legislation to send the statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, Utah’s first elected female State Senator (the first in the country), to Washington, DC to stand in place of Philo T. Farnsworth (the “father of television”) in the main National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill, not far from the statue of Brigham Young.

She advised BYU students that it is possible to do something so interesting, and so different, from your original plan and formal education, different than anything you have ever planned before, and she wished she had been told that as a young student. She was raised to become a doctor, lawyer or investment banker. Those were her only options, at least that’s what she thought, as a Yale student with professional parents in New York City. Being an advocate for women was not on the table. She became a primary parent of three daughters while her husband worked, and as he studied at Harvard, and she had no model for how to juggle a career and marriage and a family.

Her advice to students: Get a strong foundation with the best education available, and the best job possible at the beginning of a career; find out what makes you happy; determine what success means to you (this takes courage), and it might be something other than making money, like, family, public speaking, managing people, teaching, etc.; be the kind of person you want to be, no matter your profession, things will build on each other if you are true to yourself; and be grateful for the unscripted changes that force you to be creative and to find out what makes you happy. Finally, she learned how to write well, and that was the most important thing to do in order to become a professional: learn how to craft an argument and write concisely.

Thank you, Neylan, for a wonderful presentation.

Public Affairs Lecture Series: Taryn Davis Holland

Taryn Davis Holland

On Thursday, February 1st, 2018, Taryn Davis Holland spoke to us via video call as part of the BYU Public Affairs Society lecture series. Taryn is a senior associate at Development Gateway and manages several large-scale technical projects focused on aid information and financial and geospatial data.

In her lecture, Taryn spoke about the importance of transparency when working with clients. She explained that one way she practices this is by writing blog posts to update clients on the progress of their current projects.

When talking about working with clients, Taryn stressed the importance of asking what it is that the client wants you do accomplish–what problem do they need solved?

After working at with the Red Cross in Provo, Taryn moved to Washington D.C. in search of a job. After running into some old coworkers, she found out about a job and applied at Development Gateway. After a fellowship in Laos, she was offered a full-time position with Development Gateway. Taryn credited some of her success to the importance of networking with as many people was possible, because you never know where it may lead.

She advised students to “be where you want to work.”

Thank you, Taryn Davis Holland, for giving us your time and advice.


Taryn suggested the following links as future job and internship resources for those interested in non-profit and international development:


Public Affairs Lecture Series: Rich McKeown

Rich McKeown (2)

On Thursday January 18, 2017, Rich McKeown, chairman of Leavitt Partners Board of Directors, delivered a lecture for the Public Affairs Lecture Series.

His lecture was centered around the lessons he learned over the course of his continuing career in public service. He quoted Mark Twain saying, “If you hold a cat by the tail, you’ll learn lessons you cannot learn any other way.”

McKeown shared how his experience as a 7th and 8th grade teacher showed him that the system of education needed to do better to accommodate the needs of the students.

He also emphasized the importance of communicating ideas clearly and effectively. He said, “your ability to speak clearly to people is essential.”

When recounting his experience running for Mayor of Salt Lake City, he explained to students that raising your hand to volunteer for hard things will end up connecting you with people that will be an important force in your life. McKeown’s campaign for mayor led him to work as chief of staff for Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and serve as senior counselor and chief of staff to Administrator Leavitt at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among many other notable accomplishments.

He closed by sharing his guiding principle of always striving to make a difference in the lives of the people he serves and works with.

Thank you, Rich McKeown, for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us.