For press inquiries for David Axelrod, please contact Pete Jones at and 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

A University of Chicago alumnus, David Axelrod is a veteran of American politics and journalism and the former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama.  He currently serves as director of the University of Chicago's non-partisan Institute of Politics; senior political commentator for CNN; and host of The Axe Files, a top-rated podcast jointly produced by CNN and his institute.  Axelrod, a former political writer for the Chicago Tribune and, later, media strategist for 150 state, local and national political campaigns, is also the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. For media inquiries, please contact Allyson Siegal at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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.  

Crystal Coats

Director, Civic & Campus Engagement

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Prior to joining the IOP staff, Crystal served as the Senior Manager of Corporate and External Partnerships at the Chicago Housing Authority where she worked with partners to provide resources for CHA residents through special events and programs. Crystal also spent time as the Assistant Director at the University Community Service Center at the University of Chicago, focusing on connecting students to the communities surrounding the University through days of service, volunteerism, community partnerships and advising students interested in community service. Much of Crystal's work has focused on engaging young people through mentorship, professional development and education. Crystal received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Missouri - Columbia and her Masters Degree from the University of Chicago Master of Arts Program in the Humanities.

Christine Hurley

Director, Speaker Series

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Prior to joining the Institute of Politics team, Christine worked as an Associate Producer for "Chicago Tonight" on Chicago’s PBS. While at channel 11, Christine was nominated for three Midwest Emmy Awards. She is a native of Chicago’s southwest suburbs. She received her BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2009. Christine returned to Chicago after graduation and began work on her Master’s degree in Journalism at DePaul University, which she completed in 2011.

Karnika Iyengar, AB ‘11

Director, Career Development

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As a proud University of Chicago alumna, Karnika is thrilled to return to campus to serve the University community. Prior to joining the Institute, Karnika worked as a litigation paralegal at Covington & Burling LLP in New York City, focusing on intellectual property law, government, international affairs, and media. An Oklahoma native, she graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011 with a BA in Political Science.

Matthew Jaffe

Director, Communications

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For the past four years, Matthew Jaffe 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. A native of Philadelphia, he earned his B.A. from Georgetown University and has studied in Spain, England, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

Katrina Mertens

Director, Operations & Budget

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Prior to joining the Institute, Katrina most recently served as executive assistant to the general counsel and deputy superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education while she was completing an MA in counseling from Roosevelt University.  Prior to assisting the general counsel, she provided administrative support to the special education division for the Board. 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, Fellows Program

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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, 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.

Jondra Darden

Assistant Director, Speaker Series & Special Events

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Prior to joining the Institute of Politics, Jondra Darden served as Event Coordinator for Undergraduate Admissions at The University of Tennessee. In her role, she was responsible for creating events that embodied university traditions and campus pride into recruitment events for prospective students. During her time at UT, she also served as co-advisor of the student group ME4UT, a minority enhancement organization. Jondra's career experience includes conference and event planning, recruitment, and assisting student organizations seeking entertainers and speakers in the college market. Jondra graduated from The University of Tennessee with a Bachelors in English and focus in Creative Writing in 2011.

Ashley Jorn

Assistant Director, Fellows Program

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Prior to joining the Institute of Politics team, Ashley worked independently as a certified tutor and educational coach. She also spent nearly four years with The Metropolitan Club in Chicago, where she served as Program Coordinator in the Fitness Center and as Private Events Sales Coordinator for the Business & Dining sector of the club. Ashley has a B.A. in History from DePaul University.

Lucy Little, AB ‘12

Producer, Digital Communications

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Prior to joining the Institute of Politics, Lucy served as the 2012 - 2013 Dr. Aizik Wolf Human Rights Post-Baccaleaureate Fellow, where she worked with Heartland Alliance for Human Rights & Human Needs developing and implementing trauma-sensitive creative arts activities and group curricula for undocumented immigrant youth living in short-term residential programs in Chicago. A New York City native, she graduated from the University of Chicago in 2012 with a BA in music.

Zane Maxwell

Producer, Multimedia

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Zane Maxwell comes to the IOP from the Heartland Alliance Policy and Advocacy team, where he served as the Communications and Policy Intern. He has also worked with the Mikva Challenge, tutoring Chicago youth in social media advocacy and strategy. Zane is a long time filmmaker, graphic designer, and photographer and uses those skills to create everything from infographics to documentary films. He graduated in 2013 with a BA in Politics from Willamette University.

Jake Huff

Associate Producer, Speaker Series

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A lifelong Hoosier, Jake graduated from Indiana University with a BA in English. Prior to joining the IOP team, Jake served as an event planner for Indiana University’s Arts and Humanities Council, as well as the IU Hutton Honors College. He also spent three years as a writer and technical director for the University Twits sketch comedy group, overseeing the development of their political satire.

Scott Davis

Program Coordinator, Career Development

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Scott comes to the IOP from Washington, DC where he worked at EAB, a best practice research firm that focuses on generating insights to address top challenges at colleges and universities across the country. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2015 with a BA in International Relations and Political Theory within MSU’s James Madison College. At Michigan State, Scott worked in the Office of Admissions, overseeing the university’s orientation program and prospective student tours.

Jennifer Huang

Program Coordinator, Civic Engagement

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Prior to joining the Institute of Politics, Jenny worked as a research and writing assistant to 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, where she served on an advisory board to the IU President, carried out research and creative writing projects, and instructed climbing classes. She is passionate about politics that engage with and respond to everyday life.

Alexsandra Najda

Events Assistant, Speaker Series

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A native Chicagoan, Alexsandra hails from the Rogers Park neighborhood. She attended St. Ambrose University in Iowa where she graduated with degrees in History, with a focus on Cold War US-Soviet relations, and Political Science, minoring in International Politics. While attending school, Alexsandra was Student Body president, Model United Nations team captain and served on various other executive boards. She is enthused to be working with the IOP staff and students.