Institute Staff

Roderick P. Hart
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Dr. Roderick P. Hart

Founding Director

Dr. Hart holds the Allan Shivers Centennial Chair in Communication and Government at The University of Texas at Austin. His area of special interest is politics and the mass media, about which he has written numerous  books and articles. He has been named a Research Fellow by the International Communication Association, a Distinguished Scholar by the National Communication Association, and has received the Edelman Career Award from the American Political Science Association. He is also a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University. Click here to view Dr. Hart's website and full bio. 

Susan T. Nold


Before being named Director of the Annette Strauss Institute in September 2015, Nold worked as General Counsel to Texas Senator Kirk Watson and as a Staff Attorney for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Prior to working in the Texas Capitol, Susan practiced law as a Litigation Associate at Bracewell & Giuliani, volunteered as a Congressional Affairs Liaison for a presidential campaign, worked in development for a political committee in Washington, D.C. and was a White House intern. Nold’s appreciation for civic engagement is deeply rooted in the experiences of her upbringing in Crockett, Texas, where generations of her family engaged in public and community service, including her father, who served in the Texas House, Texas Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Nold has worked effectively with people of all political persuasions and she profoundly believes in the need to get all Texans involved in civic lives of their communities. Nold earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Southern Methodist University in 1999 and her law degree from The University of Texas School of Law in 2004. 

Sharon E. Jarvis
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Dr. Sharon E. Jarvis

Associate Director, Research

An Associate Professor for the Department of Communication Studies, Dr. Jarvis researches the intersection of language use, politics and persuasion and teaches a variety of courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels including political communication, campaign communication, and persuasion theory. She is the author of  The Talk of the Party: Political Labels, Symbolic Capital & American Life (Rowman & Littlefield) and a co-author of  Political Keywords: Using Language that Uses Us (Oxford University Press).  Dr. Jarvis has been the Principal Investigator on a $100,000 grant to investigate the political participation of college students and working youth (CIRCLE, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts) and a co Principal-Investigator on two related projects focusing on the politics of youth (over $550,000 in funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts).  She has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards and honors, including the Texas Exes Outstanding Professor for the Moody College of Communication, the Eyes of Texas Teaching Award, and the Outstanding Professor in the Moody College of Communication. In 2005, she was the second Assistant Professor in the history of the University to receive the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the largest undergraduate teaching honor at U.T. Austin.

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Tim Kubatzky

Associate Director, Development

Tim Kubatzky is a fundraiser with 30 years of experience in a variety of higher ed institutions in Texas. Since 2000, Tim has worked directly with board members, presidents, and deans to craft cases for support and deliver the institutions’ messages to potential donors and volunteers, and to secure funding at the highest levels. Tim is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and holds the CFRE designation and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  Tim and his wife Kathy are CASA volunteers in Williamson County for children in the foster care system. They have grown twin sons who are UT grads (Communications and Government) and an older son and a daughter-in-law. They live northeast of Georgetown with their mutts Stella and Walter, on a lot that is too big to be a yard and too small to be a ranch.

Melissa Huebsch
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Melissa Huebsch

Executive Assistant & Administrative Manager

Melissa assists the Institute's Director with special projects, manages the Institute's operations and program fulfillment, and serves as full-time accountant and purchaser for all research grant, endowment, and general accounts. Since joining the Annette Strauss Institute in 2003, Melissa has also provided event planning & coordination expertise, photography and design skills, developed staff training systems, and managed projects and events of all varieties. Melissa studied History and Vocal Performance at the University of Texas, and follows government and politics avidly in her personal time.

Taylor Foodie
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Taylor Foody

Program Coordinator, New Politics Forum

Taylor joins the Annette Strauss Institute as the New Politics Forum (NPF) Program Coordinator. She helps oversee NPF's digital platforms and coordinate events to bolster civic engagement amongst college-aged youth. While studying Government at the University of Texas at Austin, Taylor was awarded two Department of Education fellowships to India, where she studied Hindi and became familiar with the politics of the world's largest democracy. She has previously interned with Project Vote Smart as a Legislative Research Intern, so she loved to return to the Strauss family!

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Bianca Solis

Outreach Program Coordinator, New Politics Forum

Bianca Solis is the new Outreach Program Coordinator for New Politics Forum. She previously worked as a fundraising associate at Norma Denham & Associates, a full- service political consulting firm. She assisted political candidates in State, County, and City races in meeting their campaign fundraising goals by coordinating various fundraising events and growing their donor base. Prior to her active participation in local politics, she was an Assistant Program Manager for Student Services at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. There was she given the opportunity to work with students from across the country and was responsible for the recruitment and promotion of a national internship program and scholarship opportunities. She also assisted in the coordination of local professional development events, regional STEM Summits and an annual higher education conference. Bianca received her B.A. in Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Heather Vaughn

Sr. Educational Outreach Coordinator

As the Sr. Educational Outreach Coordinator at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, Ms. Vaughn has served many roles previously, including coordinator of advanced academics, district K-12 gifted and talented specialist, gifted and talented enrichment teacher, and core curriculum teacher in early childhood, elementary, and middle schools. Most of her career has been devoted to curriculum development and teacher training. At UT High School, she designed and facilitated online gifted/talented professional development for teachers and coordinated the AP Summer Institutes on campus, in addition to overseeing Credit by Exams and working with advanced students and school districts throughout the state. In Pflugerville ISD, she coordinated and developed curriculum for the ASCEND Program for highly gifted students, and conducted district-wide professional development. Ms. Vaughn has been recognized by the National Association for Gifted Children and the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented for her contributions in creating and championing services for gifted students. Ms. Vaughn holds a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction and Gifted & Talented from the University of Mississippi, and an Ed.S. in Educational Psychology from the University of Georgia.

Jay Jennings
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Dr. Jay Jennings

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Jennings studies the capacity of citizens to effectively participate in politics and his work draws on the fields of political psychology, public opinion, and political communication. His dissertation and recently published article investigates religion's role in shaping democratic citizens. He joins us from Philadelphia, PA where he received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Temple University. While at Temple he was the project manager for the Pennsylvania Policy Database Project and an affiliated researcher at the Behavioral Foundations Lab. You can read more about Dr. Jennings’ research and background by visiting his website.


Grace Thomas

K-12 Development Volunteer, AmeriCorps VISTA

Grace Thomas is the K-12 Development AmeriCorps VISTA for the K-12 programs. She recently received her BA in Philosophy and Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. Grace’s philosophical background inspires her to become civically engaged, and promote the civic engagement of all Americans. Before graduating, Grace was involved with the student-led Annette Strauss Institute program, TX Votes, in which she later assisted Kassie Barroquillo with the coordination of the Texas Voting Summit. She also served as a research assistant, studying the impacts of interest groups on federal agencies’ regulations during and after the public commenting periods. Grace aspires to one day earn a JD so that she may research public policy related to the democratic process and defend civil and voting rights.

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Simone Sawyer

K-12 Strategic Growth, AmeriCorps VISTA

Simone is currently serving as the K-12 Strategic Growth AmeriCorps Vista. She attended Huston Tillotson University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with her BA in Criminal Justice. After graduation, Simone worked as a Juvenile Supervision Officer in Williamson County and ultimately discovered her passion for working with at risk youth. After working with pre-adjudicated youth for a few years, she became determined to do more to divert these justice involved youth away from the criminal justice system. She began her AmeriCorps Vista service year working as the Program Enrichment Specialist for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). When the grant funding ended at TJJD, she was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to finish her service year here at the Annette Strauss Institute. 

Institute Fellows

Liz Chadderdon
Marjorie Clifton
Jenifer Sarver
Larry Schooler