Klein College of Media and Communication alumna Debra Silimeo, KLN '78, spent decades in the spotlight of the communications field, winning numerous awards over that span. What drove her was not the awards but the chance to make a difference in people's lives.
Silimeo is currently the executive vice president of the public relations firm Hager Sharp, which specializes in strategic communication for nonprofits as well as government programs including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We only do work for clients that want to make a difference in people's lives," Silimeo said.
One way she makes a difference is by leading Hager Sharp's education team that has worked with clients such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is commonly called the "Nation's Report Card." She's also worked with policy makers that encourage positive health movements.
When she joined Hager Sharp in 2000, there were 20 employees, with one large government contract at the time. Now, there is over 50 employees, with four large government contracts.
While at Klein College, she worked on-air at WRTI Radio. After graduating, she became a reporter at Washington D.C. TV and radio stations WAMU, NBC4, and WTOP. However, she said if it wasn't for her time at Temple University, those opportunities might not have come.
"To have the opportunity to intern at major-market newsrooms in Philadelphia was huge," Silimeo said.
Reporting on politics in Philadelphia made her realize another path in her career evolution.
"I was covering a lot of people that were making changes in the world," she said. "I wanted to be one of those change agents."
Therefore, she decided to leave political reporting to join political communication offices.
Her first job on Capitol Hill was as the communications director for the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, responsible for promoting economic change on the bipartisan committee.
In 1993, six years after joining the economic committee, she was recruited to the Senate Leadership Committee as deputy director to help Democratic Senators with communication aspects of their job. One aspect was assisting the Senators with ways to promote President Bill Clinton's economic policies to their constituents.
Her colleagues in the media industry have taken note of her ability to impact people's lives.
James Elias, vice president of Hager Sharp, said Debra has always been a change agent, dedicating her professional life to improving the lives of others.
"She does this through award-winning, national communications campaigns that have won hearts, opened minds, and changed behaviors," Elias said.
Wendy Rieger, a legendary anchor for NBC4 in Washington, D.C., also raved about Silimeo's impact.
"Even when she was young she was the most dedicated and focused person in the room. But her ambition has never been designed to put herself in the limelight," Rieger said. "She's about connecting people and making bridges that create a synergy that gets things accomplished even if she's just trying to bring wellness to her overstressed friends."
Rieger also noted that Silimeo is the type of person who's idea of relaxing is going on vacation to help Girl Scouts at a leadership camp.
"Debra is like a husky in a snowstorm. She loves a challenge and just keeps going," Rieger said.
Silimeo has been inducted to the P.R. Hall of Fame and the National Capital Chapter PR Hall of Fame as well as named the Washington "P.R. Woman of the Year." After more than a handful of honors, she still cites the same reasoning for her career choices.
"It's the same motivation," Silimeo said. "The reason I wanted to be a journalist in the first place was thinking that work would help people be better informed. If they had better information, it would help people live better lives."