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Five Questions with Holly Kuzmich

September 26, 2019 9 minute Read by Kevin Sullivan
Bush Institute Executive Director Holly Kuzmich joins us this month to reflect on her experience at the recent BCA reunion, leadership lessons learned from her time in the Administration, and an unforgettable moment between President Bush and a mom who wanted her son to be able to go to a better school.

Bush Institute Executive Director Holly Kuzmich joins us this month to reflect on her experience at the recent BCA reunion, leadership lessons learned from her time in the Administration, and an unforgettable moment between President Bush and a mom who wanted her son to be able to go to a better school. She also fills us in on the exciting announcement this week that our newly re-branded “Go Further” partnership with PEPFAR, Merck, and UNAIDs, we have screened over 500,000 women in sub-Saharan Africa for cervical cancer in the first year of this strategy.

Q: You had the honor at the recent Bush-Cheney Alumni reunion of moderating a “fireside chat” with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. What were the highlights of the conversation and did anything surprise you?

It was a lot of fun to be able to moderate that conversation, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney made it easy on me. The hardest part was trying to get a lot into a short period of time, because I know we all could have listened for a lot longer.

I loved the charges that both of them gave to everyone in the audience. Vice President Cheney reminded us that we all can have an impact even if we aren’t in that office, and President Bush asked everyone to stay engaged and defend democracy. Sometimes we need that reminder from them, and they can inspire us in ways that others can’t.

Q: Those charges are near and dear to you as executive director of the Bush Institute. What do you wish more BCAs knew about the work of the Bush Institute?

First, I hope everyone is following our work. While it’s not a look back at what President and Mrs. Bush worked on while at the White House, it is built on their shared values. The work we’ve done has an action orientation to it, which is not surprising working for the Bushes. They have high expectations that we’ll not just talk about an issue, but do something about it.

Among many other things, we have built up a significant body of work on leadership at the Bush Institute, with four leadership programs that we run and over 500 graduates of those programs to date. Through those programs, we work with rising leaders across the United States, young leaders in the transitioning democracy of Burma, women in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan, and leaders working to improve outcomes for veterans as they transition from the military to civilian life.

Our global health work continues to improve the lives of women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Building off of PEPFAR, we are now tackling cervical cancer among HIV-positive women, who are five times more likely to get cervical cancer than those who are HIV-negative. Just this week we announced that through our Go Further partnership with PEPFAR, Merck, and UNAIDs, we have screened over 500,000 women in sub-Saharan Africa for cervical cancer in the first year of this strategy, and importantly, 80% of those were first-time screenings.

And through a program like the Institute’s Warrior Wellness Alliance, we are working with peer-to-peer veteran organizations and high-quality care providers to get more wounded warriors into care for the invisible wounds of war. Half of veterans who have post-traumatic stress or a traumatic brain injury don’t seek care, and we aim to change that through the work we are doing with these organizations.

This is just a sampling of the work we do and why it’s so fun to come to work every day and tackle these challenges.

Q: How can BCAs become more involved?

There are lots of ways to get involved. Number one, help us stay connected to BCAs who are not on our mailing list. If your contact info changes we need you to help us keep that updated by logging into bushcenter.org/alumni. If you know someone who isn’t getting the Blue Goose or our weekly Bush Center emails, have them send a note to alumni@bushcenter.org. Those are the best ways to know what’s going on at the Bush Center, follow our work, and hear what’s going on with fellow BCAers.

 

Help us keep the alumni network together by staying in touch with your fellow BCAers in your region; if you live outside the beltway, help organize a get-together for alums, and if you live inside the beltway, you can reach out to volunteer DC chapter leads Julie Cram and Kerrie Rushton at bushcheneynetwork@gmail.com. There is also an unofficial BCA private Facebook page Julie and Kerrie administer.

Selfishly, I’d love it if BCAers would continue to spread the word about the work of the Bush Institute. There are so many people across the country who don’t know about the Institute and the work we are doing. Follow our work and find out more by reading our weekly emails, checking out bushcenter.org and follow and share our social media content @TheBushCenter.

And I’m eager to do more to engage with our alumni on the issues we work on at the Institute. Many are already involved in our work and serve on our advisory councils, but there’s more we can do to work together. If you have a particular idea for partnering on our work, please don’t hesitate to contact me at holly.kuzmich@bushcenter.org.

And finally, if you feel so moved, you can always donate to the Bush Center to continue the work that is inspired by President and Mrs. Bush.

Q: What is a leadership lesson that you learned during your time in the Administration that continues to serve you well today?

I appreciated so many things about working in the Administration, but two things stick out: We had a leader we believed in and admired, and a group of people we enjoyed working with. No matter what was happening on any given day—good or bad—those two things made me feel like it was the best job I will have ever had. I try and remember that now that I’m in a leadership role; you want to make sure that you earn the respect of your colleagues and those who work for you, and you should have some fun doing it. Those go a long way in building a culture and a team that can accomplish great things.

Q: Can you leave us with a favorite story or moment from your time at either the White House Domestic Policy Council or at the Department of Education?

One of my favorite responsibilities when I worked at the Domestic Policy Council was helping to organize education events for President Bush across the country. I’ll never forget the many events we did to advocate for passage of the DC School Choice bill to provide scholarships to low-income parents so that they could send their children to the school of their choice. In a private roundtable before President Bush gave remarks, one mother in particular was so overcome with emotion telling President Bush about her son and how important it was to get him into a good school that she was shedding tears, and of course I remember the way that President Bush gave her a hug and connected so personally with her. It was a direct example of seeing someone who would be the beneficiary of our collective work to get legislation passed to create that program. And the good news is we were successful and thousands of parents and kids in Washington, D.C. benefited from that program.


Author

Kevin Sullivan
Kevin Sullivan

As Senior Advisor for External Affairs, Kevin Sullivan provides guidance and counsel on the Bush Center's communications efforts, with special focus on the production of Engage at the Bush Center, Presented by Highland Capital Management public programs; thought leadership development and training programs for Bush Institute policy directors; communications training for participants in the Center’s leadership development programs; and outreach to Bush-Cheney alumni.  Sullivan is also a member of the editorial team of The Catalyst, the Bush Center’s digital journal of ideas.

Sullivan was appointed by President George W. Bush as Assistant to the President for Communications in July 2006, where he oversaw message development and communications planning.  His responsibilities also included oversight of the White House web site; the rapid response operation; outreach to regional and specialty media; and the production of Presidential events.  Prior to working in the White House, Sullivan served as the Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.  Before his move to Washington, Sullivan held senior leadership roles with NBC Universal, NBC Sports and the Dallas Mavericks.  

Sullivan also consults with outside clients and provides media training and presentation coaching as part of the strategic communications practice he established after leaving the White House in 2009. 

He holds a bachelor of science in management from Purdue University and a master of arts in mass communication from Iona College in New York. 

Sullivan is the author of Breaking Through: Communications Lessons From the Locker Room, the Board Room and the Oval Office, an eBook published in June 2015. He and his wife, Jo Anne, have five children. 

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