Janelle Carter Brevard, Traci Scott among first cohort of Presidential Leadership Scholars graduates.
By James Irwin
Janelle Carter Brevard, M.A. ’01, and Traci Scott, M.A. ’96, are becoming quite familiar with the Old Southwest these days.
The George Washington University alumnae have spent parts of the last four months at the Arkansas- and Texas-based presidential libraries of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush, participating in the first cohort of the Presidential Leadership Scholars. Next month, they will become two of the first graduates of the leadership collaborative, which pools resources from the four libraries and features dozens of presenters from various industries.
Ms. Brevard and Ms. Scott, two of 60 professionals selected from more than 900 applicants, have been making the most of the opportunity.
“What we’ve been able to do is take these bits and pieces from the presidents' experiences and the people who worked for them and apply them to our daily lives as leaders,” Ms. Brevard said. “I’ve been amazed by all the libraries. And the program, in terms of a network, has been amazing.”
Janelle Carter Brevard, speaking in May at the launch event of The Moss Point Foundation for Academic Excellence, her nonprofit organization that promotes child literacy by putting books into the hands of young readers. (Courtesy photo)
A group of change agents
The cohort is made up of professionals in the private, public, nonprofit, military and academic sectors. As part of the program, members have individual projects they aim to launch.
Ms. Scott, a former CBS News reporter and currently regional liaison officer and political advisor to the commanding general at Fort Riley in Kansas, is working on a mentor program called the Green Dress Project that empowers women to transition from college into a professional environment. She launched the project May 1 at nearby Kansas State University, where she assembled a panel of military and civilian professionals and held a discussion with students.
“I went straight from college to working for CBS News, and I had that college mentality, and I took it into a professional environment,” Ms. Scott said. “And it would have been helpful if I would have had somebody mentor me and take me aside and tell me about the guidelines and rules of the professional environment.”
Traci Scott, the regional liaison officer and political advisor to the commanding general at Fort Riley, launched a project that empowers women in their transition from college into a professional environment. (Grant Miller/Presidential Leadership Scholars)
Ms. Brevard’s project also has an educational focus. A year ago, she began forming a foundation in her hometown of Moss Point, Miss., a small community along the Gulf of Mexico where schools have struggled since Hurricane Katrina. The Moss Point Foundation for Academic Excellence targets child literacy. In May, Ms. Brevard and her supporters distributed more than 1,000 books to kindergarten, first-, and second-grade students at a local primary school.
“This foundation’s goal is to put books in the hands of kids and get them excited about reading,” said Ms. Brevard, president of the Herndon, Va.-based J Carter Group and former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “My parents are both former presidents of the school board. I heard from a school principal that many of the students’ parents couldn’t afford to buy books at the book fair each year. The goal became ‘How do we get books in the hands of kids?’”
The Presidential Leadership Scholars, she said, has helped her build a coalition of supporters who have introduced her to people at foundations and organizations that want to help expand the reading program.
“As we are sitting in our groups and talking about our projects, we’ve been able to turn to each other,” Ms. Scott said. “Here we are, helping one another to make changes in society. And that’s the goal of the PLS program.”
Scholars tour the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. (Grant Miller/Presidential Leadership Scholars)
‘An unforgettable experience’
For Ms. Brevard, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, and Ms. Scott, who covered the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign for CBS, the visits to the presidential libraries also provided new perspective on leadership, diplomacy and the presidents themselves.
“It’s been an amazing experience walking in those footsteps, hearing and seeing firsthand how things happened,” Ms. Brevard said. “It’s been an unforgettable experience for me.”
Both Ms. Brevard and Ms. Scott said they were not allowed to divulge details discussed during the program. The focus shifted at each of the libraries, they said, covering pillars of public leadership, including communication, decision-making, negotiation and persuasion. Speakers included Burson-Marsteller CEO Don Baer, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff James Baker.
Along the way, the GW alumnae found new ways to appreciate the leaders they met and learned about.
“The funny thing is, when I worked as a journalist, I saw [the presidents] through a different lens,” said Ms. Scott, who this spring returned to the state house in Little Rock, Ark., where 23 years earlier she had covered Mr. Clinton’s acceptance speech the night he won the presidency.
“I remembered all of it,” she said. “And now, to be listening to them and hearing about the behind-the-scenes details of their respective presidencies, it’s been a real eye-opener for me.”