Roberta Graham joins SW in Restructured Public Affairs Role

Roberta (Robbie) Graham has joined the University of Alaska as associate vice president of public affairs and federal relations.   

This new position incorporates responsibilities of the public affairs director position, held previously by Kate Ripley, and oversight of system federal relations efforts, formerly provided by federal relations consultants, Squire Patton Boggs. Vice president of university relations Carla Beam recommended the change last spring as part of a larger plan to reduce costs, while at the same time better focusing the university’s government and public affairs functions.

In addition to eliminating the Squire Patton Boggs contract and redefining the public affairs role, the university’s state relations function was moved to the strategy, planning and budget office. As Beam looked at her remaining areas of accountability, she saw an opportunity to further focus and streamline by separating the vice president of university relations (VPUR) role from the foundation president role and eliminating the VPUR role.  This change will occur at the end of December when Beam retires. The UA Foundation board’s executive committee and UA president Johnsen are discussing the process for finding a new foundation president. The University and the Foundation will work together to fill the position which also typically serves as the University’s chief development officer.

According to Beam, three things prompted her recommendations, “Witnessing the fiscal challenges we face, hearing legislators and other state leaders express concerns about the number of executive and administrative positions we have, and participating on the SW Transformation Team caused me to take a serious look at what I could and, more importantly, should do to help.” Beam will stay in Alaska after her retirement and is considering enrolling in UAA’s Creative Writing MFA program. “That’s how much I believe in what we do.”

Beam expressed her excitement at finding someone with Graham’s experience, “While combining these roles made sense, I wondered how tough it was going to be to find a highly-qualified candidate. I figured we might have someone with strength in one area who would learn the other on the job. Robbie has a depth of experience in public affairs, journalism, and federal and state relations. She also knows the state, its issues and its people. We are lucky to have her.”

Graham is the former executive vice president of Alaska Dispatch News. She also served as Deputy Commissioner for the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. In her role, she supervised two divisions, Economic Development and Community and Regional Affairs, and was responsible for issues ranging from the marketing of Alaska as a domestic tourism destination to issues involving arctic development. She served as the department’s representative to the Statewide Broadband Task Force, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. As Deputy Commissioner, she worked closely with the Commissioner  on public affairs and was on the Commissioner’s team responsible for developing legislative initiatives, communication strategies and all strategic initiatives targeted at economic development.

In 2009, Graham served as the special assistant for public affairs in the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects [OFC] in Washington, D.C. From 2008 to 2015, she served on the Board of Trustees at Alaska Pacific University, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Institute of the North focusing on Arctic public diplomacy and strategic communications issues.

Prior to her tenure in public service, Graham was the CEO of the public relations firm of Bernholz & Graham, Inc. with offices in Anchorage, Alaska and New York City. As agency CEO, she was the lead strategist in designing and implementing campaigns for the agency’s myriad clients. She managed multi-million dollar budgets, the reputations of corporations and corporate executives, high profile events and was successful in building coalitions and grassroots communication efforts.

Graham holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and an interdisciplinary minor in U.S. – Canadian Relations from Michigan State University, East Lansing, as well as a Masters Degree in International Relations, with an emphasis on public diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts.

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