LBJ School Alumni Board

Executive Committee

President: Ariel Griffin       
President-elect: Phillip Nevels      
Recognition Committee Chair: Stephen Niemeyer       
Outreach Committee Chair: Vacant      
Career Committee Chair: Phillip Nevels     
Giving Committee Chair: Casey Kelley       
Nominations and Governance Chair: Ariel Griffin       
Past President: Lauren Oertel


Brencia Berry

 Brencia Berry (MPAff '16) is a political strategist and public policy expert focused on justice and equity. She is currently the vice president of equity & political strategy at Paid Leave for the United States. She served as the national deputy director of public engagement for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and her presidential campaign. Prior to joining Warren's team, Brencia was the first black woman named chief of staff for a council member in San Antonio's history. She played a role in passing the city's first-ever equity budget and removing a confederate statue from the city's center. She has also worked in intergovernmental relations and state legislative affairs. During her time in politics, she has had the opportunity to work for several candidates and surrogates including Secretary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Brencia is a Texas native and proud Louisiana State University and University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs alumna. Her ultimate goal is to build power and equitable outcomes for marginalized communities.

Ariel Griffin

 Ariel Griffin (MGPS '15) taught for seven years in private, charter and public schools in the Dominican Republic, México, Texas and Missouri. While teaching, she served on a district-wide committee for Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) and the school site team for AVID – a national program committed to closing the achievement gap in education. Griffin's most memorable experience at LBJ was her internship summer when she served as a director of a summer school in the Dominican Republic through the DREAM Project — an experience that allowed her to see how policy affects program implementation. Prior to attending LBJ, she was a Fulbright scholar and also holds a second master's degree in education. Now, Griffin works as a Program Officer for Education at Children International in Kansas City which allows her to combine her policy education along with her practical experience in the classroom. In her free time, she works as an independent contractor for organizations that need Spanish-language training and as a consultant for local faith-based nonprofits.

Johnie Jones

 Johnie Jones (MPAff '11) was appointed executive director of Bread of Life Inc. in July 2020. Prior to joining Bread of Life, Johnie served as executive pastor of Community of Faith Church (COF) located in Hockley, Texas, where his primary role was to oversee the church's operations, strategic planning, administration, finances and human resources to achieve their mission and vision. Johnie has a wide range of community development experience. Before his appointment he served as the Director of Community Partnerships and Volunteer Houston for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston (IM). In this role Johnie was IM's liaison to civic, community, corporate and government entities helping them create sustainable partnerships that address needs in the greater Houston community. Previous to his work at Interfaith Ministries, Johnie worked on agriculture policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC. At USDA, Johnie served as an Advisor on public-private partnerships to the Secretary of Agriculture, and was responsible for creating partnership opportunities for financial institutions, capital management firms and high net worth individuals to expand the amount of capital in rural America. Johnie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture with a concentration in economics from Prairie View A&M University. He holds a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and a Master of Arts in Religion from the Yale Divinity School at Yale University.

Casey Kelley

 Casey H. Kelley (EMPL '18) is director, state government affairs for the western and southern U.S. and the Canadian Province of Alberta for Exelon Corporation, monitoring and supporting state policy initiatives before government entities in the region. He has more than 16 years of experience, including private-sector consulting, governmental affairs and public service. Previously, he served as director, state government and regulatory affairs for ORYXE Energy International and has served as chief of staff to a member of both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate. He is active in several charities in Texas, which support the youth of our state. Kelley received a B.A. in human communications from Abilene Christian University in 2003, and graduated with an Executive Master in Public Leadership / Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ben Leffler

 Ben Leffler (MPAff '12) is a native Austinite. He went to public schools and earned a B.A. in government from UT before attending LBJ to study local governance and alternative energy policy, graduating with an MPAff degree in 2012. After LBJ, he worked at the City of Austin in the Auditor's Office and as a policy advisor to Council Member Chris Riley. As a policy advisor, he focused on affordable housing, parks and trails, economic development, transportation, and energy. In 2015, he transitioned his career into civic design and technology, and since then he has worked to improve government service delivery by making public websites more friendly, human and intuitive. Beyond work, he connects with his community through various mentorship programs and progressive advocacy, fundraising and organizing.

Josh Levine

 Josh Levine (MPAff '12) has served on the Alumni Board since 2013 (including as President from 2017-2019). He is the founder and CEO of Private Market Labs, a fintech company designed to support the M&A process for small businesses, and Admit Academy, an education technology company focused on the college admissions process. He previously worked at Lord Abbett, where he managed a $2B portfolio of tax-exempt fixed-income investments focused on the higher education, airport, state government and local government sectors. Prior to joining Lord Abbett, Josh worked at Moody's Investors Service, where he wrote the agency's methodology for analyzing community college bonds. He has published market research on a wide range of topics including higher ed enrollment, public pensions, the Higher Education Act, and Hurricane Harvey. Josh's LBJ Policy Research Project was on government transparency and accountability, and he also collaborated on a book chapter dealing with burdens of proof in sports doping cases. A native of Texas, Josh received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and recently moved back to Austin after seven years in New York City.

Phillip Nevels

 Phillip Nevels (MPAff '13) is a social entrepreneur and lover of the creative/arts, with expertise in nonprofit management, collective impact and capacity building for social impact organizations. In his current work as associate partner at the nonprofit Catalyst:Ed, Phillip leads a team supporting higher education reform efforts for multiple networks funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before this role, Phillip worked as a higher education consultant supporting senior leadership teams at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions through an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Education and White House. Phillip has served as executive director for a Texas-based college access organization. He has also managed equity-centered education programs as a funder (Houston Endowment Inc.) and at the University of Texas at Austin's Equal Opportunity in Engineering Program. Phillip volunteers at Green Gate Community Farm, an organic urban farm in East Austin. He also engages with other community members to support community and philanthropic initiatives primarily aligned with food security, economic empowerment, voter representation, and racial justice. As a former athlete, Phillip earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. Phillip also earned his master's in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin (2013).

Stephen Niemeyer

 Stephen M. Niemeyer (MPAff '92) has worked in state and local government for more than 25 years. He currently serves as deputy director, Environmental Services Department (ESD), at Jefferson County Commission, Alabama. ESD is the wastewater utility for Jefferson County. Previously, Niemeyer was the border affairs manager and colonias coordinator at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), where he worked for more than 20 years on U.S.-Mexico border environmental issues, especially water quality, hydrology and water quantity, and emergency response. At the TCEQ, the state environmental agency, he managed a USEPA Performance Partnership Grant, served as an agency resource witness at the Texas Legislature, and advised agency commissioners and the executive director. From 2005 to 2012, Niemeyer represented the State of Texas on the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, an advisory board to the President and Congress on U.S.-Mexico border environmental and infrastructure issues. He currently chairs the Border International Water Quality Standards Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and in 2017 was named the Government Civil Engineer of the Year by the Texas Section, ASCE. Niemeyer received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He is also a registered professional engineer in Texas and Alabama.

Lauren Oertel

 Lauren Oertel (MGPS '12) completed a Master of Global Policy Studies from the LBJ School where she focused on sustainable development in Latin America. She worked on water quality improvement projects across the state for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for six years. She then found her calling with criminal justice advocacy and policy work. She supports and collaborates with various justice and anti-racism organizations across Texas and continues these efforts (along with federal-level policy and electoral work) through her current role as senior regional organizer for Texas and New Mexico with the national organization Indivisible Project. Lauren has served as chair of the Recognition Committee and is now president of the LBJ School Alumni Board.

Rama Singh Rastogi

 Rama Singh Rastogi (EMPL '18) is an economist with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, focused on studying and recommending policy initiatives and tracking regulatory proceedings related to critical infrastructure services in the state. Previously, she worked for American Water Intelligence (AWI) based in Austin, Texas, managing U.S. water market research projects and conferences. Prior to this, she worked for AWI parent Global Water Intelligence in Singapore and India in varying capacities, primarily writing reports and articles on water markets in the Indian subcontinent and SouthEast Asia and consulting on projects. Rama graduated with an executive masters in public leadership/public affairs from the LBJ School in 2018. She also holds a postgraduate degree in Economics and an undergraduate degree in business administration from University of Lucknow, India. Her areas of interest include studying developments in government regulation for critical services and innovations in public finance.

Kirt Smith

 Kirt Smith (MGPS '17) works in the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service (CRS)—a unit of the Library of Congress that provides the U.S. Congress with authoritative, nonpartisan research and analysis. As the Asia Section Research Assistant, he supports projects for a wide range of committees, Members, and staff learning about Congressional priorities in the Indo-Pacific region. Prior to his time at CRS, Kirt worked on a number of research initiatives in collaboration within institutions such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Kirt spent over four years working and studying across Asia —first Japan, then South Korea, Thailand, and finally China. He holds a Master of Global Policy Studies from the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas –Austin and a B.A. in French from the University of New Orleans.

Jeffery Yorg

 Jeffery Yorg (MPAff '02) completed his Master of Public Affairs degree with a focus on urban and public economics. After graduating from the LBJ School he spend more than 10 years in public finance with both Moody's Investors Service as a fixed income investment analyst overseeing much of the Midwest, and Gurtin Municipal Bond Management overseeing their compliance and risk operations. In the middle of that period, he attended law school and spend three years in-house at a large Midwest law firm. Currently, he resides in St. Louis and is a managing director of compliance and risk and associate general counsel for Buckingham Wealth Partners. In addition to his MPAff, Jeffery holds a B.A. in history/political science from Webster University, an M.A. in political economy from Washington University and a J.D. from Saint Louis University.

Ex-Officio Members

  • JR DeShazo, Dean
  • Pat Wong, Faculty Representative
  • Rachel Ciullo, Alumni Relations
  • President, Graduate Public Affairs Council (GPAC)
  • Claudia Sandoval, Dallas Alumni Chapter
  • Isabel Nart, Houston Alumni Chapter
  • Rebecca De La Garza, San Antonio Alumni Chapter
  • Timothy Michalak, LBJ School DC Alumni Chapter President