The Washington Journalism and Media Conference


Dawn Aponte


Administrative Assistant, Washington Scholars Program

Dawn Aponte is an Administrative Assistant for the Washington Scholars Program (WSP) and K-12 Partnerships Program Office, within the Office of Admissions at George Mason University. Dawn joined the team in 2012, following a career with the U.S. Dept. of Justice. She loves supporting the WSP summer programs, the students and their families, and her teammates. In her opinion, Mason is an inspirational and progressive place to learn and serve. Dawn spends her free time outdoors as much as possible and loves to read and be with her young-adult children.


Lauryn Cantrell

Lauren is the President of The Society of Professional Journalists at George Mason University. She seeks to instill solid networking skills, strong ethical morals, and an appreciation for the history of journalism and those who have dedicated their lives practicing and defending their rights to the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press.


John Hollis


Media Relations Manager, George Mason University

John D. Hollis lists 17 years of daily newspaper experience, including nearly 10 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a lengthy stint as a correspondent for Time Magazine.  He has authored three books, including “Sgt. Rodney M. Davis: The Making of a Hero,” the 2018 hit that chronicles the inspirational life and death of the U.S. Marine who became Macon, Georgia’s lone Medal of Honor recipient following his death in Vietnam in 1967.  In 2013, Hollis teamed with former professional wrestler Lex Luger to pen “Wrestling with the Devil: The True Story of a World Champion Professional Wrestler – His Reign, Ruin, and Redemption.”  Over his career, Hollis has covered the Super Bowl, the Olympics, five college basketball Final Fours, the College World Series, the NBA and the NFL and major college football and basketball within both the ACC and SEC.  The University of Virginia and Woodberry Forest School alum is currently working as the Media Relations Manager at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.


Maria Peña

Nicaraguan-born María Peña has lived in the United States since 1978, and she has worked as a bilingual journalist in Washington for close to 30 years. Throughout her career, she has interviewed celebrities as well as local, state, and national leaders, including President Barack Obama, both as a candidate in 2008 and just prior to his reelection in 2012.

Maria has also interviewed foreign dignitaries, and she has covered international summits and various NGO events. Recently, she covered the move of the US and Guatemalan embassies in Israel, and in the Spring of 2016, she covered President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba. Later that year, she covered a world summit of mayors and regional leaders in Bogotá, Colombia.

She’s currently the Washington Senior Political Correspondent for La Opinion/Impremedia, covering all issues impacting the thriving Latino community in the US, including immigration, trade, foreign policy, education, housing, and electoral politics.

As part of her immigration coverage, she has traveled extensively throughout the southern border, visiting communities on both sides, and interviewing politicians and regular folks.

She has chronicled the deployment of the “Minutemen”, the congressional gridlock on immigration reform, the plight of undocumented workers at risk for deportation and, currently, the unprecedented activism in the immigrant community against president Donald Trump’s policies.

In the past, she has also worked for EFE, UPI, NBC Canal de Noticias, Univision, and Telemundo.
Maria is a regular panelist at prestigious TV talk shows, including Voice of America, Univisión’s “Al Punto”, CGTN America, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), CNN’s “Choque de Opiniones”, and Colombian NTN24’s “Club de Prensa”.

She also frequently participates in workshops, panels, media roundtables, and briefings organized by congressional committees, universities, NGOs, think tanks, and the State Department.

Maria is an active member of the White House Correspondents Association, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Her work got national recognition from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 2016.
She holds a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French from the American University (CAS ’90), where she has occasionally done graduate courses in human rights and conflict resolution.

She lives with her husband and two teenage daughters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her hobbies include reading, music, art, cooking, gardening, and other outdoor activities.


Mikayla Bouchard


Senior Staff Editor, The New York Times

Mikayla Bouchard is a senior staff editor at The New York Times, based in Washington, D.C., where she helps direct and execute multimedia coverage of major news events, including the presidential inauguration and the annual State of the Union address.

She works closely with The Times’s audio team on both “The Daily” podcast and “The New Washington” podcast, which featured interviews with some of the biggest names in American politics.

She also oversees The New York Times Politics Facebook and Twitter accounts and produced a daily show on Facebook Live during the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Originally from Michigan, she earned degrees in international relations and theatre from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Georgetown University. She’s a captain of the press team that competes in the annual Women’s Congressional Softball Game.


Lauren Ober


Host and Producer, Spectacular Failures Podcast

Lauren Ober is currently the host/producer of the hit podcast, Spectacular Failures from American Public Media.  TIME magazine named the show one of the top 10 podcasts of 2019 and in two seasons the show garnered more than 5.5 million downloads. Prior to that, Lauren hosted WAMU & NPR’s The Big Listen where she interviewed everyone from Katie Couric and Malcolm Gladwell to LeVar Burton and Tegan & Sara. She is also a noted speaker, host/voice coach and podcast consultant.

Before becoming a radio host, Lauren was an award-winning producer for WAMU’s weekly newsmagazine, Metro Connection. Her stories have been heard on public radio shows like NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition, as well as podcasts like Criminal and 99% Invisible. You can hear more of her reporting here. Lauren has served as a board member for AIR: the Association of Independents in Radio and was on the Advisory Board for Werk It: A Women’s Podcast Festival. In 2015 she traveled to Russia as a French American Foundation Immigration Journalism Fellow. She is a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop, Syracuse University and American University.

A proud Pittsburgh native, Lauren currently lives in the 51st state.

Advisory Board Speakers

Savannah Behrmann


Senate Correspondent, National Journal

Savannah Rose Behrmann is the Senate Correspondent for National Journal, where she roams the halls of Capitol Hill focusing on the legislative and bipartisan gridlock of Congress’ upper chamber.  Prior, she served as a Congressional Reporter at USA TODAY, where she led the newspaper’s coverage of both chambers of Congress. Previously, she worked as a Politics NOW Reporter at USA TODAY, covering breaking political news that ranged from the 2020 election, Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Beforehand, she was a News Associate at CNN. Savannah hails from Utah, and attended George Mason University, where she graduated in 2018. She is a proud alumna of the Washington Journalism and Media Conference, which she attended as a National Youth Correspondent in 2013, and then worked as a staff member for several years.


Michael Sandler

Director of Strategic Communications, George Mason University

Michael Sandler is the Director of Strategic Communications. He oversees external and internal communication for the university and leads a team that handles news, media relations, internal communications and crisis communications. Prior to joining Mason in 2014, Sandler spent nearly two decades as a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., and Florida, covering government, politics, and policy. He has been a reporter or editor at the Associated Press, Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, the Tampa Bay Times (formerly St. Petersburg Times) and The Washington Post.


Michelle Jaconi


Executive Producer, Washington Post Video Team

Michelle Jaconi is the Executive Producer of The Washington Post video team, where she oversees on-camera journalists and topical, satirical videos on politics and culture.

Michelle previously worked at Independent Journal Review (IJR), where she was a driving force behind some of their viral video journalism during the 2016 election campaign. Before joining IJR, Michelle spent six years at CNN as the executive producer on “State of the Union” and “Inside Politics,” before becoming the founding executive producer of CNN Politics’ Cross Platform Programming Unit. Before CNN, Michelle was a programming executive and political analyst at NBC’s “Meet the Press with Tim Russert.”

Michelle has won multiple Emmy Awards for her election coverage at NBC and CNN. She won a Peabody for CNN’s coverage of the Arab spring and a Cronkite Award for “Meet the Press.” She has a bachelor’s degree in international politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree from Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology program.


Nadjeena Jerome


Television Presenter and International Journalist, 2M Media Group

Nadgeena Jerome is an alumna of the 2012 Washington Journalism and Media Conference. Nadgeena’s most recent position has been as a Television Presenter and Editor at 2M Media Group (2M), where she contributes her talents as a host for Interview 360. Nadgeena was also a co-host and editor for the Trending China series. She brings her fresh and young perspective to 2M Media Group, immersing herself in work both in front of and behind the camera as a producer. Before joining 2M, Nadgeena co-founded the entertainment news segment On The Couch at George Mason University, as well as worked in several broadcast environments, including for the local Fox 5 affiliate in New York and as a Video Journalism Fellow for Circa News. Nadgeena credits the Washington Journalism and Media Conference as what solidified her desire to work in broadcast media. She is excited to be back as a speaker for the Washington Journalism and Media Conference, sharing her forward-thinking approach to media and experience as a young journalist, networking with industry leaders from international media outlets.