For press inquiries for David Axelrod, please contact Allyson Siegal at For inquiries about “The Axe Files” podcast and/or the Institute of Politics, please contact Matthew Jaffe at

David Axelrod, AB ’76

Institute Director

David Axelrod is a preeminent American political strategist and commentator and the former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Axelrod currently serves as the founding director of the University of Chicago's non-partisan Institute of Politics and as a senior political commentator for CNN.  He is the host of The Axe Files, a top-rated podcast featuring in depth conversations with public figures across the political spectrum.  A televised version of the show airs monthly on CNN.  A former political writer for the Chicago Tribune, Axelrod produced media strategy and advertising for 150 campaigns across the U.S., culminating in President Obama’s historic elections.  Axelrod is also the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Gretchen Crosby Sims

Executive Director

Gretchen Crosby Sims joined the IOP as Executive Director in January 2018. She has served in a variety of executive and strategy roles in the policy, politics, philanthropy, nonprofit, academic, and impact investing sectors. Most recently, she was a Director at London-based Social Finance UK, where she led policy efforts and the firm’s education practice. Until 2014, Gretchen was chief program executive at The Joyce Foundation, a private foundation in Chicago with assets of $900 million and $40 million in annual grants. In that role, she oversaw seven programs: education, environment, employment, gun violence prevention, democracy, culture, and special opportunities. Gretchen has also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations, CNN, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and as a policy adviser to presidential candidate Bill Bradley. She holds PhD and MA degrees in political science from Stanford University and a BA in government from Harvard University.  

Christine Hurley

Director, Speaker Series

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Christine joined the IOP in February 2014. Over the past 4 years she worked her way up from Associate Producer to Director of the Speaker Series. In this role she oversees the content development and logistics execution for the nearly 100 Speaker Series events each year. Prior to joining the Institute, Christine was Associate Producer for “Chicago Tonight” a nightly news magazine on Chicago’s PBS. During her time on the show she was nominated for three Midwest Emmy Awards. Christine grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and received her BA from Ohio Wesleyan University and MA from DePaul University.

Matthew Jaffe

Director, Communications

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For the past four years, Matt has been the Institute’s Communications Director, managing all video and written content at the IOP, including “The Axe Files” podcast. From August 2017 thru December 2017 he served as served as the Institute’s Interim Executive Director. Prior to joining the IOP, he covered national politics for eight years as a reporter and producer for ABC News, winning an Emmy Award in 2009 and a Peabody Award in 2013. Initially based in the network’s Washington, D.C., bureau, he was an embedded reporter with the 2008 campaign of then vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. After the campaign, he covered finance and the federal response to the nation’s economic crisis. In 2010, he was named ABC News’ digital reporter covering the U.S. Senate. The following year, Matthew covered the Republican presidential primary for both ABC News and Univision. In 2012, Matthew moved to ABC’s Chicago bureau, covering stories such as Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the election of Pope Francis.

Katrina Mertens

Director, Operations & Budget

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Katrina joined the IOP in the fall of 2012.  As Director of Operations and Budget, Katrina manages the IOP’s overall budget, personnel matters, and facilities operations under the guidance of the IOP’s Director and Executive Director.  Prior to joining the Institute, Katrina worked at the Illinois State Board of Education while she was completing an MA in counseling from Roosevelt University.  After earning a BS in criminal justice and urban studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2005, Katrina worked in the narcotics unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and moved to Chicago in 2008.

Alicia Sams

Director, Pritzker Fellows Program

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Alicia has managed the Pritzker Fellows program since spring quarter 2017, and prior to that was Speaker Series director.  Alicia Sams comes to the IOP with over 20 years of experience producing and directing award-winning documentaries and feature films for television and theatrical release. She has worked on films covering politics and public affairs, the arts, and cultural history for distributors including HBO, Amazon, IFC, PBS, AMC, Sony Pictures Classics, Sundance Channel, Koch-Lorber, and BBC. From 2006 to 2008, she chronicled the presidential campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama for HBO, a journey depicted in the Emmy Award-winning film “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama.” A frequent panelist and lecturer at festivals, colleges and universities around the country, Alicia is a native of Washington, D.C. and holds a BA in English from Harvard University.

Melissa Navas

Director, Career Development

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Melissa joined the IOP in January 2019 as Director of Career Development. Most recently, Melissa was deputy communications director for Multnomah County, Oregon's most populous county. Previously, Melissa served as press secretary to current Oregon Governor Kate Brown and her predecessor John Kitzhaber. Melissa began her career as a newspaper journalist at The Oregonian writing about K-12 education and health. While at the newspaper, she investigated Oregon teachers’ sexual misconduct of students and the state's backlog of educator discipline cases, which led to changes in state law and award recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Press Club of Atlantic City and Education Writers Association for the investigation. She is a graduate of Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. and the University of Nevada, Reno. In June 2019, Melissa will earn her Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. As a graduate student, Melissa served as Graduate Chair of the IOP Student Advisory Board and as an IOP Fellows Ambassador.

Purvi Patel

Director, Civic and Campus Engagement

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Purvi joined the IOP in February 2019 as the Director of Civic and Campus Engagement. In this role, she advises the IOP’s Civic Engagement student leadership, builds relationships with community partners, and works on civic engagement program development and strategy. Previously, Purvi worked as an administrator in diversity and student life at Washington University in St. Louis, Loyola University Maryland, and Oberlin College. Purvi is from Dallas, Tx and graduated with a B.A. in History from Loyola University Chicago, and a M.A. in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University.

Ashley Jorn

Assistant Director, Fellows Program

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Ashley joined the Institute in September 2015 as the Program Coordinator, working on logistics for the Fellows and Speaker Series teams. She now serves as the Assistant Director of the Fellows Program, a position she’s held since September 2017. In this role, Ashley manages all logistics for the program. She graduated from DePaul University with a B.A. in history. Prior to joining the IOP, Ashley worked in education as a teacher, tutor and coach.

Zane Maxwell

Assistant Director, Digital Communications

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Zane has been a member of the communications team at the IOP for the past four years. As the Assistant Director of Digital Communication, Zane oversees the creation and implementation of IOP materials and digital content across all of its channels. Previously Zane worked with the Heartland Alliance Policy and Advocacy team, where he served as the Communications and Policy Intern. He graduated in 2013 with a BA in Politics from Willamette University.

Jake Huff

Associate Producer, Speaker Series

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Since July 2017, Jake has worked with the Speaker Series team to develop the overall content and focus of IOP events, conducting research for potential programs and booking a variety of guests. He also manages off-the-record student sessions, in which many of our guests participate. Before joining the IOP team, Jake graduated with a BA in English from Indiana University, where he served as an event planner for both the Arts and Humanities Council and the Hutton Honors College. He spent three years as a writer and technical director for the University Twits sketch comedy group, overseeing their political satire.

Amani Zara

Digital Communications Specialist

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Amani joined the IOP team in June of 2018 as a Digital Communications Specialist. In this role, she manages the IOP website, social media platforms, newsletters, and all other digital material. Additionally, she works to widen the IOP’s outreach efforts and strengthen community engagement. Prior to joining the IOP, Amani worked as a Press/Communications Intern at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Office, as well as a Communications Intern at the Chicago Department of Public Health. A Chicago native, Amani graduated with a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2018.

Scott Davis

Program Coordinator, Career Development

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Scott joined the Career Development team at Institute of Politics in January 2018 where he coordinates with the IOP’s academic year and summer internship programs, connecting students and organizations to provide substantive professional experiences for UChicago students. He also supports students’ career development through workshops, advising, treks, and mentoring relationships, and works closely with the IOP's growing alumni community. Prior to the IOP, he worked at EAB, a higher education research firm in Washington, D.C. and Michigan State University's Office of Admissions, overseeing the university’s orientation program and prospective student tours. Scott graduated from Michigan State with degrees in International Relations and Political Theory.

Jennifer Huang

Program Coordinator, Civic Engagement

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Jenny joined the Institute of Politics in October 2017 as the Civic Engagement Program Coordinator. In this role, she advises the IOP’s Civic Engagement student leadership, builds relationships with community partners, and works on CE program development. Previously, Jenny worked as a policy and research assistant for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an intern for the Indiana University Office of the President, and an NSF Research Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. She studied mathematics, literature, and anthropology at Indiana University.