Each year the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University nominates an alumnus or alumna for an Alumni Achievement award.
2021 WMU Distinguished Alumni
Dan Witt, Daniel Witt is president and director of the International Tax and Investment Center, based in Washington, DC, which he helped found in 1993. The nonprofit research and education organization promotes tax reform and public-private initiatives to improve the climate in transition and developing nations. Having worked with 85 countries, Daniel has co-developed a unique neutral table to bring together the public sector, private sector, and academics to advance pro-investment economic policy reforms. Dan has been an exceptionally engaged alumnus of WMU, regularly returning to campus to meet with participants in the Capital Intern Program, where he shares the lessons he has learned about networking and career development, and is a champion of the David G. Houghton Internship Endowment, which supports WMU students working internships in Washington, DC. Additionally, he is an inaugural member of the College of Arts and Sciences Comprehensive Campaign Committee, and was honored by the Department of Political Science with an Alumni Achievement Award in 2010. Read more at WMU Alumni Association.
“It’s been over 40 years since I arrived in Harrison Hall at WMU. No question about it: WMU is forever.”
2020 WMU Distinguished ALumni
Chris Womack, is the president of Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric provider, and will take on additional responsibilities as chairman and CEO in 2021. In his previous position with Southern Company, of which Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary and one of the largest energy providers in the U.S., Womack oversaw public policy strategies, corporate communications, and governmental and regulatory affairs. He joined the company in 1988 as a governmental affairs representative. He began his career as a legislative aide for U.S. Representative Leon Panetta of California, who at the time was chairman of the House Budget Committee. Read more at WMU Alumni Association.
Katia Levintova, Ekatrina (Katia) Levintova is a professor of political science and global studies at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. She received her Ph.D. from WMU’s political science department in 2004. A native of Russia, she earned a B.A. at Moscow State University and an M.A. at Appalachian State University prior to coming to WMU. Levintova is a two-time recipient of the UWGB Student Nominated Teaching Award and recently received the 2019 Founders Award for Excellence in Teaching, UWGB’s highest honor. She is lauded for her engaging teaching style and innovations, high teaching evaluations and her valuable mentorship of students. She blends innovative and student-focused work, such as simulations and experiential learning, with classroom discussion and lecture. Levintova is a former Wisconsin Teaching Fellow and co-editor of Gender in the Political Science Classroom. She has published more than 20 journal articles and book chapters on post-communist transitions and the scholarship of teaching and learning. She is also a recipient of multiple research grants dating back to her time in graduate school, including a grant from the U.S. State Department
Ryan Findlay, CEO of the American Soybean Association, a non-profit organization focused on agricultural policy affecting farmers nationwide. He is a native of Caro, Mich., where his family still farms row crops. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and secondary education from WMU in 2004 and an MBA from Northwood University in 2007. Prior to his appointment at ASA in 2018, Findlay worked four years as North American industry lead for the global agricultural company Syngenta, focusing on freedom-to-operate issues impacting farmers across the world. Previously, his nine-year tenure with the Michigan Farm Bureau included work on two farm bills, international trade, climate change and regulatory issues where his primary role was national lobbyist. While attending WMU, Findlay participated in the Capital Intern Program in Lansing. His internship with State Senator Cameron Brown turned into a full-time job after graduation and launched his career at the intersection of government and agriculture. On campus, he served as a WMU Student Ambassador and was active in Solid Grounds Lutheran Student Ministry. Findlay and his family live in the St. Louis, Mo. area, where he works out of ASA’s headquarters with frequent travel to manage the ASA office in Washington, D.C.
Ashley Horvat, vice president of Public and Private Partnerships at Greenlots, a premier provider of technology for the smart grid, with best-of-class energy-management systems based on its SKY platform, used in the US and a dozen other countries. Ashley received her Bachelor of Arts in American Public Policy and Environmental Studies in 2010. She was a member of the Lee Honors College in which she presented her thesis “The Northwest Forest Plan: Up to Our Neck in Owls? Encounters with Strix occidentalis caurina.” She received numerous awards while studying at WMU including: Mark Denenfeld Memorial Endowed Political Science Scholarship, Zoa D. Shilling Scholarship for Foreign Study in Political Science, and the Environmental Studies Award for Outstanding Research. She also won the “iOMe Challenge” in 2009. She currently lives with her husband and son in Oregon.
Kevin Knutson, director of academic advising in WMU’s College of Arts and Sciences, earned his M.A. in Political Science at WMU in 2001. He is a graduate of North Hennepin Community College and Minnesota State University at Moorhead. In 2011, the National Academic Advising Association selected him to receive its Outstanding Advising Award in the Academic Advising Administrator Category. He currently serves on NACADA’s Annual Conference Advisory Board. Closer to home, Kevin received WMU's Make a Difference Award in 2015, the highest honor WMU bestows specifically on non-faculty employees for their service. He previously received the Carl and Winifred Lee Honors College Distinguished Service Award in 2009 and was named "Supervisor of the Year" in 1997 while in Residence Halls. In addition to his advising work, Kevin serves as treasurer of the WMU chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation's oldest, largest, and most selective honor society for all academic disciplines.
James S. Brady is the Office Managing Member of Dykema Grand Rapids, a leading national law firm. Brady graduated from WMU with a B.S. degree in Political Science in 1966 and Notre Dame University with a law degree in 1969. Early in his legal career, U.S. President Jimmy Carter appointed him as U.S. Attorney for the Western Judicial District of Michigan. From 1977 to 1981 he was responsible for prosecuting white-collar criminal matters. In 1987, he was appointed to the WMU Board of Trustees by then-Governor James Blanchard. He currently serves as a member of the WMU Foundation Board of Directors. In 2009, James was recognized by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as a “Leader in the Law.” Additionally, he has been recognized in “Michigan Super Lawyers” for Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation Defense from 2006-2014. He is listed in “Who’s Who in America,” and is recognized in “The Best Layers in America” 2003-2015 for multiple practice areas.
Justice Patricia O’Brien Cotter is an associate justice on the Montana Supreme Court. Cotter graduated in 1972 with honors from WMU with a B.S. in political science and history and graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1977. After practicing law in her native South Bend, Indiana, for six years, she and her husband Michael moved to Montana, and in early 1984 began practicing law with John Hoyt in Great Falls. In 1985, they established the law firm, Cotter & Cotter. In 1992 and again in 1998, Cotter received the Montana Trial Lawyers Association's Public Service Award for her contributions in the preparation and filing of amicus curiae briefs before the Montana Supreme Court. On November 7, 2000, Cotter won the election to the Montana Supreme Court. She was elected to a second eight-year term in November 2008. Cotter and her husband Michael, U.S. Attorney for Montana, were named Montana’s "power couple” by the Great Falls Tribune in 2010.
Barbara Romzek is Dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC. A graduate of Oakland University, she earned her M.A in Political Science at Western Michigan University and her doctorate at the University of Texas. An accomplished scholar and administrator, Dean Romzek is widely recognized for her expertise in the area of public management and accountability. Dean Romzek has received research awards from the American Society for Public Administration and the American Political Science Association. She is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and has served on the governing boards for the Academy of Management, American Political Science Association, Midwest Political Science Association, and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration; she currently serves on the Board of the Public Management Research Association. Prior to joining American University, she held various academic leadership positions at the University of Kansas.
Erich Pica is president of Friends of the Earth, a Washington-based environmental group. He graduated magna cum laude from Western Michigan University in 1997 with majors in political science and environmental studies. Before becoming Friends of the Earth’s president in 2009, Pica served as the organization’s director of domestic programs. Washingtonian calls Pica one of Washington, D.C.’s “40 Power Brokers Under 40.” He was named by Washington Life Magazine as one of Washington’s “Green City Leaders.” Pica is a nationally recognized expert on energy subsidies who has worked to reform U.S. tax and budget policy in ways that reduce pollution and spark a transition to clean energy. He has testified before Congress and appeared extensively in the media, including on NBC Nightly News, the News Hour, National Public Radio and PRI’s Marketplace. Pica comes from a family of farmers and educators in southwest Michigan. He discovered his passion for the environment while attending WMU.
Dennis A. Swan is president and CEO of Sparrow Hospital and Health System in Lansing, Mich. He received his B.A. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1969 and later earned a law degree from Cooley Law School. Swan has served in various executive-level positions within Sparrow since 1981, such as senior vice president-operations and chief operating officer, before becoming president and CEO in 2005. Prior to that, he worked in the financial services industry.
Daniel A. Witt received his B.B.A. (’83) and M.B.A. (’84) from Western Michigan University. Witt is the president of the International Tax and Investment Center, which he helped found in September 1993. The center is a multinational, nonprofit organization that is helping facilitate the exchange of information between business executives, academic experts and government officials. Since 1991, Witt has led more than 30 private sector delegations to Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Libya, Azerbaijan and Vietnam to hold meetings with top finance, taxation and government and parliamentary officials. Previously, Witt was executive director of the Tax Foundation, the oldest tax and budget research organization in the United States, and vice president and director of membership with Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington-based public interest group.
Dr. John Petrocik is professor and chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He received his Ph.D. in 1976 from the University of Chicago. His specialty is electoral politics, with particular emphasis on public opinion, voting and political parties. Petrocik has authored or coauthored books and research articles on mass attitudes and behavior, political parties, and elections and campaigns. One of the books, The Changing American Voter (Harvard University Press, 1976, Revised 1979), received the Woodrow Wilson award in 1977 from the American Political Science Association for the best book on American politics in that year. In Unconventional Wisdom (Oxford University Press, 2008) with Darron Shaw and Karen Kaufman, he examines (and rejects) several popular myths about American voting and public opinion. Petrocik centers his research on social group dynamics and institutional structures that influence attitudes and behavior of individuals. His recent work has emphasized the social basis of politics and the influence of social divisions on electoral politics.
Lee Reno is a founding Member of Reno & Cavanaugh, a Washington, D.C., law firm established in 1977. Reno & Cavanaugh has been at the forefront of affordable housing and community development law and policy at a national level. Reno's experience in housing development began in 1970. He has practiced extensively in the affordable housing field during his legal career, with a special emphasis on public housing and rural housing. His practice consists of representing public housing authorities in their mixed finance transactions, serving as general counsel to the Housing Authority Insurance Group, Housing Assistance Council and other national nonprofit organizations. The practice also represents public housing authorities and their employees being investigated by the HUD Inspector General and in enforcement proceedings brought by the HUD Enforcement Branch. He was recognized by the District of Columbia Bar Association for his work in Pealo v. USDA (USDC for the District of Columbia, 1974), litigation that restored the USDA rural housing programs that had been suspended by the Nixon Administration. Reno received his B.S. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1963 and his law degree from Howard University. Prior to entering law school, Lee served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia West Africa from 1963 to 1965.
Nancy Diehl has worked as a prosecutor for more than 24 years and heads the Felony Trial Division in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, overseeing general trials, homicide, auto theft and major drugs prosecutions, and directing the Child and Family Abuse Bureau. According to the Michigan Bar Journal (October 2004), Diehl has received more than 20 professional and community awards. She had the distinction of being the first recipient of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association's Champion of Justice Award. She was the 1999 winner of the Federal Bar Association's Leonard Gilman Award to the Outstanding Practitioner of Criminal Law. She was also honored by the Alumni Association of the Wayne State University Law School. She is a past president of Michigan State Bar Association (2004-05), has served on the Prosecuting Attorney's Association of Michigan Family Law Committee and the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners, and is a member of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. Diehl served as chair of the Wayne County Council Against Family Violence, served on the Governor's Task Force on Children's Justice, on the Community Advisor Board for the Junior League of Detroit and the Archdiocesan Review Board, Archdiocese of Detroit. Diehl completed her political science degree at Western Michigan University in 1975.
Richard Reed is an attorney at the firm of Lewis, Reed and Allen in Kalamazoo. Reed earned his B.A. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1957 and went on to complete his J.D. at the Detroit College of Law in 1962. He is well-known as a participant in municipal tax disputes, frequently appearing as counsel to townships and other municipal interests. Reed has been very active in the legal profession as a commissioner of the State Bar, a member and chairman of the State Bar Representative Assembly and a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. He visited campus in November 2005 and led a discussion of "The Constitution, 'Under God' and the Pledge of Allegiance."
His Excellency Ambassador Omar Bader Al Dafa of the State of Qatar earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Western Michigan University in 1975 and went on to earn a master's degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University in 1979. Ambassador Al-Dafa is a career diplomat with more than 25 years experience. His diplomatic career began in 1976 when he was made diplomatic attaché at Qatar's Foreign Ministry in Doha. He served as ambassador to Spain from 1982 to 1988 and to Egypt from 1988 to 1993. While serving in Cairo, Ambassador Al-Dafa was also his country's permanent representative to the Arab League. From 1993 to 1995 he was ambassador to France. From 1995 to 1998 he served as ambassador to the Russian Federation. He then served as director of European and American affairs at the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Doha, Qatar. He was named Ambassador to the United States in September 2000 and continues in that post. He was the 2004 College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Achievement Award Recipient.
Christopher C. Womack received his B.S. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1979 and his M.P.A. from American University in 1985. Womack worked in Washington, D.C., from 1979 to 1987, serving as a legislative aide to Rep. Leon Panetta and as staff director for the Subcommittee on Personnel and Police for the Committee on House Administration. Womack was employed by the Alabama Power Company in 1988 as their Federal Governmental Affairs Representative. Womack is now the senior vice president and senior production officer for the Southern Company, the largest producer of electricity in the United States. He serves on seven boards including the Birmingham Museum of Arts, the Alabama Charitable Business Trust Fund and the National Hospice Organization.
John Daniel received his M.A. from Western Michigan University in 1970. Daniel is director of research for the Human Sciences Research Council that is South Africa's national social sciences research facility. Prior to this appointment in 2001, he served eight years at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa, first as professor and then chairperson of political science. Professor Daniel presented a lecture and also spoke with political science students during his October 2002 visit to campus.