When Stephen Joel Trachtenberg left office this summer, he took his right-hand man, his special assistant Gerry Kauvar, with him as he moved on to jobs at a headhunting firm and as a professor.
As University President Steven Knapp moved into Rice Hall this August, he too was accompanied by assistants working closely by his side. Barbara Porter, chief of staff to the president, and Dawnita Chandler Altieri, administrator of operations for the president’s office, are already shuttling Knapp to and from meetings and making sure he is always on time and well-prepared.
Porter said right now she is acting as Knapp’s secretary on what she called his “listening tour,” a series of meetings around campus with administrators, deans, professors and student leaders.
“It’s really hard to get a sense of the GW campus without going to them,” Porter said.
From tagging along and “capturing the essence” of what Knapp says as he tours the campus, to speech writing, Porter is always working on Knapp’s image as the University president.
“Communicating is probably the number one requirement in the job . being the eyes and ears for him,” she said.
Knapp has said he wants to fundraise for the University by traveling around the world to meet potential donors. His assistants, although not traveling with him on these trips, will have to plan who he meets when he is on the road and how he can “maximize his time in a particular location,” Porter said.
Both assistants said they were excited to help Knapp carry out his visions for GW.
Porter said, “Knowing what more there is to do, and being a part of it, that is really exciting.”
Chandler Altieri works with Porter on “strategic scheduling” for the president, and she also manages his office. Previously the special assistant to the vice president for Advancement at GW, she has also worked on student aid issues with the American Council on Education. Before that, she worked as a press secretary and legislative assistant to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), and in the public affairs office of the Motion Picture Association of America.
In 1998, Porter started working for GW as director of public affairs and University spokeswoman and in 2000 she moved on to a role as the assistant vice president at the GW Medical Center. At the Medical Center she was in charge of communications for the GW Hospital, Medical Faculty Associates, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the School of Public Health and Health Services.
She played a role in communications efforts when Vice President Dick Cheney was in the GW Hospital, as well as in the relief efforts following Sept. 11.
An adjunct instructor of health care sciences, Porter teaches an online crisis communications course for law officials, firefighters and health professionals.
Both assistants have experience dealing with government officials – Porter was once a broadcast journalist who took assignments at the White House and Capitol Hill, and Chandler Altieri was a press secretary to a senator. Their current titles at GW, used more commonly in government than in academia, reflect their politically-laced backgrounds.
But Chandler Altieri said the similarities between the national government and universities are limited.
She said, “The academic experience is definitely unique.”