Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

20 in Their Twenties

by By Christopher Durso | Jan 01, 2015
The saying goes that youth is wasted on the young, but take a look at PCMA's 2015 crop of 20 in Their Twenties honorees.

The saying goes that youth is wasted on the young, but take a look at PCMA's 2015 crop of 20 in Their Twenties honorees and tell us if you think these emerging meetings industry leaders are wasting time, talent, or anything else.


“The quality of our applicants this year was outstanding,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA’s president and CEO. “While this is just our second PCMA 20 in Their Twenties class, it’s clear the young leaders in our industry have diverse talents and are making a true impact on the organizations they work for.”

See Also: PCMA's 20 in Their Twenties Class of 2014


20 in Their Twenties is supported by the PCMA Education Foundation, the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Austin Convention Center. Recognized at PCMA Convening Leaders 2015 in Chicago this month, this year’s honorees were selected by a panel of industry veterans and members of last year’s inaugural 20 in Their Twenties class. All of them are under 30 and employed full time in the meetings industry, and have demonstrated themselves to be industry leaders. Among other benefits, they receive complimentary registration for Convening Leaders 2015 as well as PCMA’s 2015 Education Conference, travel expenses for Convening Leaders 2015, discounted registration for Convening Leaders and Education Conference until they turn 30, and mentoring opportunities with current and past PCMA leaders.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty we all can learn from them.



Ashley Akright, CHS, CMP
Manager of Conference Coordinators,
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center,
National Harbor, Maryland, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I love leading a team of people. It is incredibly rewarding to mentor others and watch them grow in their career. The process of recruiting, training, and developing makes every day different, because each of my team members is unique. I got into this business because of serving people, which to me used to mean customers and partners. Now the people I serve are my team, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
My best days in the meetings industry so far have been my worst days. You learn the most from your worst, and it’s another feather in your cap of experience.

Where would you like your career to go?
My end goal is to do training and facilitation for professionals in the meetings industry. We are [in the] business of adult education, and I’m passionate about fostering that learning experience. To be qualified to teach others about this industry, I want to experience all aspects of the business. I want to be on both the supplier and planner sides. I want to see different types of suppliers. I want to see different types of planner roles. Most importantly, I want to impact the future of the meetings industry by teaching at the university level. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the education I received, so I owe it to give back for tomorrow’s leaders.



Danielle Foster
Education and Events Manager,
Certified Angus Beef LLC,
Wooster, Ohio, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I feel very fortunate to find a job that brings my passion to the table. Good days or bad, I know I am making a difference within the company and the beef community.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
Although my time in event planning has allowed for some incredible opportunities, I would choose the best day being when I was named to 20 in Their Twenties. I didn’t set out to be a meeting planner, but it is a career where I have found much fulfillment. Being named into this group is kind of the nudge saying, “You’re doing something right!”

Where would you like your career to go?

I look forward to increasing my skills in meeting planning and using them to achieve our company and attendee goals. I am passionate about helping farmers and ranchers bring premium beef to the table, and look forward to growing my career alongside of them.



Kristine Koonts, CMP
Executive Events Manager,
Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, Canada

What do you like most about your job?
I stumbled on the events industry a bit by accident, which I am sure many of us can relate to.  When I started in this industry almost 10 years ago, I was instantly drawn to the impact that it has on people’s lives and how it consistently challenges me. Being able to see someone learn something new, the joy in experiencing something different, and the excitement of attending a long-anticipated event is what drives my passion for my job. Our industry changes on a daily basis, and that challenges me to constantly push myself to learn new, innovative, unique ways to do what I do better and ensure that I am leaving my clients with that lasting memory.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

A few that stand out in my mind are some amazing events I’ve been involved with that are outside of our traditional business at the Vancouver Convention Centre: the “Mission: Impossible 4” film shoot that we held in January 2011; the first live DJ event with Armin Van Buuren, held in July 2010; and of course the first time we held the TED conference, in March 2014. Each of these events gave me the opportunity to push our comfort zone and do something we have never done before, which is one of the things I love most about my job.

Where would you like your career to go?

Since joining the Vancouver Convention Centre, I have been directly involved in developing a strategy to sell and execute unconventional events that we have never hosted before. Learning from these experiences has propelled my passion for this industry to new levels. I also have a great love for Vancouver, where I was born and have lived all my life; I want to share that with the world. Combining my passion for this industry and my love for Vancouver, my goal is to become a key influencer in the meetings and events industry in this city.



Michael Cubbage
Principal,
Meeting Contractors LLC,
Alexandria, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?
I love the logistics! I know that probably sounds pretty nerdy, but it is fun for me to pull all of the little pieces and details together into one cohesive package — and watching the whole process go from a collection of ideas to a phenomenal meeting, conference, or special event. Also, being an independent planner, I love the variety in my work. The different clients, the different types of programs, and different content all help to keep my work, and myself, from getting stagnant.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
I don’t know if I can pick just one best day. The moment when any of my conferences or events “come alive” still gives me goose bumps, every time. Nothing beats the feeling of the energy in a room when your first keynote or entertainment takes the stage and watching your many months, or even years, of hard work unfold in front of you — except maybe when it’s over, with no glitches, and the audience is energized, excited, ​and empowered.  

Where would you like your career to go?
I have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, so it was never a question for me of if I would start my own independent planning company, but more of a question of when. That happened a little over three years ago, and I am very fortunate to be right where I want to be in my career right now. I have wonderful clients, a great variety in my work, and even a pretty decent boss! In the long term, I’d like to add on more clients and therefore more employees — but I want to grow slowly and sustainably. I’ve seen too many independent planners have to close up shop because they tried to be too big too fast. I’m only 29 — so I’ve got plenty of time to grow, and I will use that to my advantage.



Kacie Hackett
Senior Coordinator,
CES Conferences, Consumer Electronics Association,
Arlington, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?
Nearly everyone in the industry that I’ve talked to has the same answer for this. I feel very fortunate to have a job that you can pour your heart and soul into, and then see your work come to life. I love talking to attendees and listening to what they like and dislike. I always find myself on site implementing an event while simultaneously planning to improve the next year.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
At an annual press event in New York. The previous year’s event was just one week after Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy created many challenges, and overall the event suffered. That year was the first time I had worked on this event, and its end result hung over me. I was determined to make sure that the next year’s surpassed everyone’s expectations. I needed to implement a lot of changes and new ideas. Some of the changes I made were risky, and not all of them were successful. However, reestablishing this event with the building blocks to make it great was the first step. Even before the final registration numbers and survey results came in, I knew that we had found a good formula.

Where would you like your career to go?

I think one of the most exciting things about being a meeting planner is the possibility of anything coming your way. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg suggests looking at your career as a jungle gym instead of the corporate ladder that is so often referenced. That analogy has always stuck with me. There’s never a bad time to gain new skill sets and perspectives. I’m looking forward to new challenges and new opportunities with this industry. I know I won’t be disappointed.



Magdalina Atanassova
Communication Manager,
AIM Group International
Sofia, Bulgaria

What do you like most about your job?
The fact that my days are very dynamic. It is challenging me every day to grow and be better, and honestly it never gets boring. Also, I am the proudest person in the company! I get to talk about the best achievements of my colleagues, and I am extremely happy to be in the position to hear the news first and spread it further.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
I have had many “best” days, if not every single day I have spent in the industry! I know it might sound a little clichéd, but it has been my dream to do exactly what I do, and I am cherishing each and every day. You know what they say: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Where would you like your career to go?
I have learned one thing — our industry is so dynamic, and no matter how carefully we plan our paths, there are surprises all along. So I keep my options open. What I hope is to get the chance to help grow the events industry in Bulgaria further; this is a goal I have set for the future that I am working hard to achieve.



Jenni Kuchenbecker, CMP
Director of Conferences and Meetings,
International Association of
Providers of AIDS Care
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?
I always compare a conference to a puzzle. I love the thought process that goes into making all of the pieces fit and seeing the end result! There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes from producing an event that goes smoothly and people enjoy.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
That’s an easy one! The day I got the call about being a part of the 2015 class of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties. The award is a great honor, and I feel it will open many doors in my future.

Where would you like your career to go?
Someday I would like to go back to school and eventually teach at a collegiate level. I think the events industry is so interesting, and I would really enjoy helping students find their calling within the industry.



Katrina Dunn
Meetings and Foundation
Senior Manager,
American Society for Nutrition
Bethesda, Maryland, USA

What do you like most about your job?
As a planner, you get to experience the full life cycle of a meeting. You’re involved in all aspects of the meeting, from the initial planning to the execution and the post-meeting reflection. Being involved in a project from start to finish is rare in many professions, and I love that meeting planning offers that closure. Secondly, I enjoy seeing guests experience the meeting. People arrive and the event comes to life. I also enjoy the creativity associated with meeting planning.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
One of my favorite annual events is our Membership Reception & University Mixer. This event has transformed from a “quick stop-by” into a signature kick-off event that our attendees look forward to every year. In 2010, my team was tasked with improving this event. Our first change was inviting universities to partner with us as event sponsors and positioning this event as a “homecoming” networking opportunity. We brought in a live band and picked a theme that was unique to our meeting location — a tradition we’ve since kept up.

That year there were many new elements — and I had injured myself a week before and was on crutches! This event could’ve been a nightmare. It wasn’t. Our team all chipped in to make the event a success. Team members jumped in wherever they were needed, even if it meant being an extra set of arms for me, the planner on crutches.

Where would you like your career to go?
In addition to event planning, I’m a marketing and fundraising geek. My experience in the nonprofit sector has made me aware of the importance of impactful and mission-driven activities — events with a story or purpose. I’d love to continue my career developing events where the impact goes beyond the event start and end times …. where a good time or a life-changing message extends beyond those who are in the room. And a total dream come true would be planning for a major event like the Olympics or Academy Awards!



Leucepe Martinez
Production Assistant,
Worldwide Business Research
New York, New York, USA

What do you like most about your job?
Being able to convene leading industry professionals, academic scholars, innovators, and members of both the private and public sectors is thus far the most rewarding aspect of my job. I enjoy learning about the latest trends from the leading industry experts and establishing relationships with them as well. It is important to bring together these stakeholders to discuss and share ideas as to the latest challenges that they are encountering, solutions, and actions needed that will foster change in the respective industry that the event is focused in.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

It has to be when I worked as a volunteer on the TEDxFultonStreet conference in New York City. The event itself was drastically different from the regular types of events that I am used to working on in the sense that the TEDx event was focused more on inspiring others, and it was a non-business/industry-focused event. For example, some of the speakers that presented were Tibetan monks, art curators, hostage negotiators, and conceptual artists. The event was an eye-opening experience and sort of a refresher as to the meaning of being “human” and the importance of actually living and enjoying your life.

Where would you like your career to go?
I would love to one day produce my own event that will cater to solving regional economic challenges, diplomatic conflicts, and finding opportunities that contribute to the economic and diplomatic agendas in the region and provide a better way of life to its citizens. I plan on pursuing my master’s degree in the near future and focus my studies on world trade, public administration, and international relations.



Alana Mallory, CWP
Meetings and Events Coordinator,
America’s Essential Hospitals
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?
As a hospitality-degreed wedding planner turned corporate meeting planner, my favorite part of my job is being able to use my creative background to craft memorable experiences for meeting and event attendees. In a fast-paced world where trimmed travel budgets and instant gratification are rapidly becoming the “new normal,” it is more imperative than ever to plan events that make people not only want to attend but also to keep attendees dialed-in while they are present. I really enjoy the challenge of incorporating details that tap the senses and subconsciously cause attendees to draw emotional connections to the event.

Where would you like your career to go?
My ultimate career goal within the meetings industry is to work in a position where I could utilize my talents for corporate coordination in a philanthropic way. Corporate social responsibility and giving back to others have always been very important to me, and I cannot imagine a more rewarding feeling than knowing I contributed to the success of something much greater than myself. For me, the meetings industry is where all of my passions collide, and where it is not even “work” because I am having such a great time giving from the heart. There is nothing like seeing an event come together, and it is even more powerful when those reaping the benefits and being honored are the silent soldiers who deserve them the most.



Samantha L. Moore
Meetings and Exhibits Manager,
The Community Anti-Drug
Coalition of America
Alexandria, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?
The process of planning a complex event that empowers the association and the attendees is like a puzzle. There are many different pieces of different sizes and shapes, and all are important in the big picture, and it is my job to make sure that the puzzle is completed and is exciting for the attendees. Working through the contracting, the logistics, the marketing, the creative items, and all that comes with the event gives me a sense of accomplishment.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I can’t pin down one exact day, but I can pinpoint one experience: the 2013 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), the largest U.S. wholesale baking trade show. I was tasked with sourcing, training, and managing over 120 volunteers throughout the show and managing the education sessions. This was my first trade show and it was complex, hectic, and took everything I had for over a week in Las Vegas, but I learned so much. It was the most successful IBIE to date, and I love that I was able to be an integral part of that accomplishment.

Where would you like your career to go?
I hope to continue to be highly involved with PCMA on a chapter and national level through committee participation and eventually even joining the Capital Chapter board. I am applying for my CMP exam this year, and hope to complete this process by this time next year. Professionally, I hope to be in a director-of-meetings position in the next 10 years.
One of my personal/career long-term goals is to create extensive meetings industry curricula that an accredited hospitality program can utilize to teach unified meetings principles. I am surrounded by professionals who have served the hospitality and meetings industry for over 30 years, love their jobs, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I want my career to go in that direction, too, and I think with the support from my mentors, employer, and PCMA, I am well on my way.



Jennifer Vaseleck
Assistant Director of Meetings,
NASPA – Student Affairs
Administrators in Higher Education
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?
Getting to be on site at one of our events and see all of our hard work come to life. When you work on an event for months or even years, it’s so rewarding to be on site and see the attendees having such an amazing time connecting and learning from their peers. It can be exhausting, and there are some points along the way where you don’t know how you’re going to get there, but when you do, it feels really good to know that you put on an amazing event for your attendees.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

One of my favorites was attending my first PCMA Convening Leaders in 2012. It was an experience that really confirmed for me that I was in the industry I was meant to be in. I attended so many amazing sessions and speakers, but the part I loved the most was meeting and networking with other planners and suppliers across the country. I left San Diego feeling refreshed and excited to take all the new things I learned and connections I made back to the office and really help my association move our events forward.

Where would you like your career to go?

I’m really enjoying the association world right now, but being a sports fan, I have always dreamed of working for a college athletic department or a professional sports team. It would be combining two things I enjoy the most, and I think sports have a way of bringing people together, just like events do. People have an emotional connection to sports, and there is so much good that comes from them that being able to be a part of that would be incredible.



Jessica Smith, CMP
Senior Meetings Planner,
American Bar Association
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?
I love putting the logistical puzzle pieces of a meeting together, making sure the programming, vendors, and member expectations all fall into place.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Winning PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties! I was on site at our fall conference in Buenos Aires, where our entire shipment had been stuck in customs for days. Getting the news really lifted my spirits. Luckily, right after that, we got our shipment cleared, so a double-win!

Where would you like your career to go?

I would love to stay with international conference planning. There is something so intriguing about seeing how different countries plan conferences. I learn something new in every country, and I hope to someday plan a conference in every region of the world.



Madeja Metcalf
Meeting Planner,
American Institute of Steel Construction
Chicago, Illinois, USA

What do you like most about your job?
There’s something really exciting about how our industry allows us to foster relationships and create friendships with lots of different people.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
The exciting days far outweigh the bad ones. I really enjoy having the opportunity to work with students and help them apply for jobs and decide which direction to go in the industry. This past month, the PCMA Greater Midwest Chapter put on a student day at a local university. I really enjoyed being on a young-professionals panel and helping to answer their questions about the industry.

Where would you like your career to go?
My dream job as a kid was to be the meeting planner for the Olympics, or a wedding planner. It’s fascinating to me the amount of organization, time, and energy that goes into planning a large-scale event. I can’t imagine how exciting it would be to see the event fully executed.



Janet Partlow, CMP
Senior Meetings Manager,
J. Spargo & Associates
Vienna, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?
I like that there are so many different facets to what we do, which means there are always new and unique challenges. It’s also really satisfying to watch an event you conceptualized and planned come to life. And I have great co-workers — it makes a big difference to come to work with fun and talented people who support each other and have a great time working together.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The last day of the 2012 American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting stands out for me, because that was the first real large-scale meeting I planned from start to finish. ASH is one of the largest medical meetings in the country, and it felt great to know that the reason a meeting that large ran so smoothly was due, in part, to me.

Where would you like your career to go?

I try not to have too extensive of a long-term career plan, because planning too far ahead would limit me to only the options I’m aware of now. I’m always looking for new opportunities and connections that will open up a broader realm of possibilities to me. I’m sure being a part of 20 in Their Twenties will expose me to new parts of the industry that I never even knew existed!



Kristina Simkins
Product Director,
onPeak | GES
Chicago, Illinois, USA

What do you like most about your job?
The opportunity to collaborate with others to identify ways to move our industry forward. Whether it’s the extremely talented group of individuals I am lucky enough to work alongside every day, our clients and their attendees and exhibitors, or other vendors within the industry — I enjoy being able to work together to solve problems in unique and creative ways.

Where would you like your career to go?

With each new challenge I dive into, I see so much potential for continued advancement in meetings and events technology. I hope to continue to grow my career by exploring those opportunities and identifying ways to provide innovative solutions while establishing myself professionally as a leader within the industry. I want to continue to dream up ways to make the user experience more enjoyable for those attending and/or exhibiting at an event and see those products make an impact. I hope to inspire a team of imaginative individuals with a passion for the same kind of innovation and continue to learn and grow alongside them as the industry evolves.



Katharine L. Gausmann
Meetings and Events Specialist,
American Feed Industry Association
Arlington, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?
Simply the thrill of executing an event — to receive those compliments of “great job” and “best meeting yet” after a journey of preparations and orchestration of the behind-the-scenes action. Focusing on the details, testing new ideas, customizing each event, resolving issues, and making quick decisions makes meeting planning an exciting career.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
Besides being named to PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties Class of 2015, being a part of the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club was one my favorite hospitality experiences yet. As the first one in and last one out, I saw this high-profile event from preparation through to the last putt on the 18th green. Exposure to catering logistics, media correspondence, city-wide to national transportation coordination, the uniqueness of an outdoor event, working with the PGA, and much more was simply an incredible opportunity.

Where would you like your career to go?

The possibilities are truly endless. Throughout my career, I look forward to traveling the world, meeting new people, engaging in other cultures, constantly learning, inspiring others, and giving back to the industry. I envision being a part of an organization or event that has a global impact, such as the Olympics. I plan to be the catalyst for progression in the meetings industry by leading process efficiency and customer-service standards.



Cara Pratt, DMCP
Director of Sales,
Destination Partners Inc.
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

What do you like most about your job?
My favorite part about my job is that every day is different and every event is different. I never get bored, and am always challenged to be creative to bring each client’s vision to life to exceed their attendees’ expectations.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
Some of my favorite days are the days that I am taking clients around the city of Boston to show them all of my favorite places throughout the city. I love getting to show off the city I live in and all the amazing dining options, venue options, and interactive experiences that can take place here.

Where would you like your career to go?

I can honestly say that being the director of sales at Destination Partners is the dream job that I never knew existed. I believe that the opportunities are endless in this position, and have been fortunate to meet so many interesting people, create an endless amount of unique and spectacular events, and also travel the world — what more could a girl ask for? I plan to continue to grow into a leader in the events industry in Boston, and I know that continuing to be involved in organizations like PCMA that further my education and networking opportunities are the important tools that will help me get to the top!



Madeleine Bart
Event Coordinator,
Chartered Professional
Accountants of Canada
Toronto, Canada

What do you like most about your job?
Creating memorable learning experiences for our customers. I especially love going on site and meeting everyone — customers, suppliers, and venue staff.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
The International Women’s Day Community Event that the PCMA Canada East Chapter is involved with holds a special place in my heart. I’m proud to be a part of an association that cares and donates its time, food, toiletries, and event expertise to host a special afternoon for more than 300 women in need.

Where would you like your career to go?
To become a senior-level executive for an organization in the meetings industry where I can cultivate excitement, dedication, and excellence from others in order to achieve our company’s objectives. I hope to challenge myself to continue developing as a leader. In order to help achieve this, I am currently pursuing my master of business administration.



Lindsay Pund
Management Associate,
BCD Travel
San Jose, California, USA

What do you like most about your job?
There are two aspects of my current job that I most enjoy. The first is looking at data from various views in order to analyze what it is really saying and to understand the full story. The second is having the opportunity to work with and learn from people in all aspects of the industry.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?
One morning, I walked into a conference room with my colleagues. The meeting turned into a 48-hour think tank where we were charged to come up with creative solutions to significant challenges from the unique perspective of young professionals. Two weeks later, I was selected, along with a colleague, to present the ideas from the group to our entire executive team. Their genuine interest in our ideas and the desire to continue the conversation was incredibly affirming and exciting.

Where would you like your career to go?
My ultimate career goal is to be a meetings and events writer/editor. I believe in the power of the written word to alter viewpoints, broaden horizons, and inspire change. I envision myself merging my passion for writing with my excitement about what the industry currently encompasses and the potential in its evolution over the next 10 years.

Christopher Durso is executive editor of
Convene.

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