Alumni Spotlight

2023 Outstanding Alumni Award Recipient– Department of Political Science

John Holcombe

  • John Holcombe
  • ’88 political science, economics
  • Miami, Florida

John Holcombe started his 30-year research career conducting cable TV demand studies. Door-to-door. In Tijuana, Mexico.

Over the years he’s worked in every country in the Americas. Some of his favorite projects have included conducting ethnographies with low-income families in the favelas of Brazil (and later establishing a scholarship fund for their children with the multinational client), a year-long digital and in-person ethnographic study with 22 Hispanic families in the U.S. (and also attending quite a few quinceañeras), shooting TV ads with Antonio Banderas in Mexico, and interviewing bar managers on almost every island in the Caribbean.

As the account planner for the advertising agency BBDO Miami/Latam, vice president of Latin America with the market research company Synovate, and principal at IMG & Wellspring, Holcombe has also conducted hundreds of quantitative and qualitative research projects in the region. He authored five editions of the Latin American Market Planning Report and three editions of the U.S. Hispanic Market Study, and served as co-chair of the Multicultural Advisory Committee with the Advertising Research Foundation.

Holcombe is a frequent speaker at conferences on international marketing and has contributed articles and interviews to several publications including Business Week, Advertising Age International, América Economía, Bloomberg Online, Latin Trade, The Wall Street Journal, and the EIU’s Business Latin America.

Holcombe received an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Connecticut Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, as a Title VI U.S. Department of Education Fellow.

Holcombe is sometimes found fishing the flats on Biscayne Bay or playing and singing in a bar with his Americana band. But he can always be found cooking dinner for his wife and three daughters in Coconut Grove, Florida. He is a life member of the ISU Alumni Association.

2023 Carrie Chapman Catt Public Engagement Award Recipient

Paxton Williams

  • Paxton Williams
  • ’00 political science
  • Des Moines, IA

Paxton Williams is an attorney, former nonprofit executive, and actor/playwright/producer who believes in the power of the arts and humanities to connect, convince, challenge, and change. He was elected to the Federation of State Humanities Councils Board of Directors in 2018, and was elected as its chair in November 2021. Williams is a former member of the National Bar Association’s Board of Governors, and is currently president of the Iowa National Bar Association. A skilled litigator and corporate and transactional attorney at Belin McCormick, he has appeared in the Iowa District Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and has prevailed before the Iowa Supreme Court.

As an artist, Williams has portrayed George Washington Carver over 400 times in 24 U.S. States and in England, and his play on the life and works of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar premiered in 2014 in Chicago at The Poetry Foundation. From 2005-2009, he was the executive director of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association and has continued to support and share Carver’s legacy by serving as associate producer for the Iowa PBS documentary on Carver; serving as a content expert on the National Geographic Reader series book on Carver; and by speaking to media such as National Public Radio and the Royal Horticultural Society’s podcast.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Williams also holds degrees in political science and public policy from Iowa State, the University of Michigan, and the University of Birmingham (UK), where he studied under the auspices of a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Williams is a lifetime member of the Iowa State University Alumni Association.

2023 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Citation of Merit

Danny Oneill

  • Danny O’Neill
  • ’83 political science, international studies
  • Kansas City, Missouri

Danny O’Neill grew up in Denison, Iowa, the fifth of ten children. He spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Costa Rica during his senior year of high school, enrolling at Iowa State for the Spring Quarter of 1979. He graduated in 1983 with a double major in political science and international studies and a structured minor in economics.

O’Neill earned an M.B.A. from Rockhurst University in 1993; he founded The Roasterie, Inc. later that same year. Loyal coffee customers at several of Iowa State’s campus cafés have been enjoying Iowa State specific blends from the coffee company, developed by O’Neill, since 2004. The “Rise Iowa State” blend, available since 2022, is the first blend officially licensed through Iowa State’s trademark licensing office. O’Neill successfully exited his company in 2022.

O’Neill and his wife, Carla, live in Kansas City and have a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. He is a lifetime member of the Iowa State University Alumni Association.

2022 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Award Recipient

  • Matthew Goodman
  • ’97 political science
  • Dike, IA

After earning his bachelor of arts in political science in 1997, Matt was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force through the air-defense analysts in Keflavik, Iceland, and integrating with a team of multinational analysts in the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at Geilenkirchen, Germany.

Matt went on to write exercise scenarios, bringing the then-new US Northern Command to full operational capability, then became a member of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command Operational Watch in Cheyenne Mountain. After teaching and leading new Airmen and Officers in Air Education and Training Command, Matt was assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where he led operations support efforts for global strategic airlift and humanitarian support efforts. He served as a Program Chief for Joint and NSC policy on the Air Staff in the Pentagon, then as a Commander of an Air Mobility Command Tactics Development Organization, and as a Deputy Group Commander, overseeing the efforts of over 1,000 Airmen.

Matt was most recently the Commander of AFROTC Detachment 640 and Chair of Aerospace Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After retiring in November 2021 with over 24 years of service in the Air Force, he currently serves as the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor for Air Force Junior ROTC in Waterloo, Iowa, teaching leadership, management, and aerospace science principles to the community’s future leaders.

Matt holds a master of arts in administrative leadership (2009) from the University of Oklahoma, and a master of science in strategic intelligence (2011) from the National Defense Intelligence College. He is also a graduate of the Defense Language Institute, the Joint Military Attaché Course in Washington, DC, and the USAF Air War College.


2021 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Award Recipients

  • Dianne (Kneeskern) Liepa
  • ’71 political science; M.S. ’75 political science
  • West Des Moines, IA

Dianne Liepa’s degrees in political science from Iowa State University served her well during her 33-year career in government service. After she earned her master’s degree in political science in 1975, Liepa served as an adjunct instructor at Des Moines Area Community College, teaching political science and community-organizing courses. In 1976, she joined U.S. Representative Tom Harkin’s Iowa staff. When Harkin was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1985, Liepa was by his side, first as deputy state director and then as state director, overseeing Harkin’s five Iowa offices.

Early in her career, Lie pa developed models for constituent service and outreach to help monitor the effectiveness of federal programs to keep Senator Harkin and legislative staff informed of Iowans’ concerns. As a direct result of these interventions, Senator Harkin helped resolve numerous problems Iowans had with federal agencies and introduced legislation to address a variety of issues, including veterans’ health care and disability services and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Liepa also partnered with the Iowa Department of Education to start an educational program in Iowa called Invent Iowa!, which sponsored local, regional and state invention ·conventions for K-12 students. The program, which is now housed at the Belin Center at the University of Iowa, has been in operation for more than 30 years and has served tens of thousands of students. In 2010, she was awarded with the Iowa Democratic Party’s Outstanding Supporter award.


  • David C. Morrison
  • ’10 genetics, international studies and political science
  • Washington, DC

After David Morrison triple-majored in genetics, international studies and political science at Iowa State, he went on to earn his master’s degree in German and European Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He has since incorporated all of those disciplines into a highly successful career as a researcher, policy analyst and foreign service officer.

Prior to joining the U.S. State Department, Morrison worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington and Shanghai, where he served as a liaison between U.S. exporters and Chinese importers. In this position, he prepared market reports, detailing strategic opportunities and concerns for new-to-market U.S. exporters. He also served as a consultant for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) at the U.S. Department of Defense, evaluating data and providing all source research and analysis in support of countering weapons of mass destruction. At DTRA, he also analyzed medical and infrastructure assets in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to help craft the U.S. Ebola response.

More recently, Morrison, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Arabic, has also served as a diplomat at the U.S. embassies in Beijing and Baghdad. He has also served at the U.S. consulates in Shanghai and Erbil, Iraq, where he conducted services for American citizens and adjudicated thousands of visa applications. He currently serves as the economic and environment, science, technology and health officer on the Canada Desk at the State Department where he acts as a liaison between the White House and various U.S. government agencies as well as the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and the Canadian government. Over the past year, Morrison’s work has focused on the pandemic response, in particular, its impact on the U.S./Canada border and vaccine coordination, shared boundary water and climate issues, and economic topics such as trade and tariffs. Morrison was recognized with an ISU STATEment Maker award in 2016.


Carrie Chapman Catt Public Engagement Award

Awarded to alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who have demonstrated outstanding achievement for their work with public entities at the local, state, national or international levels.

  • Evelio Otero Jr.
  • ’82 journalism and mass communication, political science
  • Lutz, FL

While at Iowa State, Evelia Otero Jr. joined the university’s ROTC program. Upon graduation in 1982, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, thus beginning a distinguished military career.

From 1984 to 1987, he was a senior member of the team tracking Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. In 1998, he authored the Department of Defense’s policy of reassimilation with North Korea. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was called upon to establish the intelligence division, which supported the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has advised senators, congressmen, congresswomen and national and international media.

Otero retired from the military in 2010 with the rank of Colonel. He now serves as a business development manager for Gemini Industries, which supports and consults on national security issues. He was also recently named to the Texas A&M George H.W. School of Public Policy guest lecturers.

Otero’s philanthropic endeavors are just as remarkable as his military ones. In 2013, he founded the Course of Action Foundation to promote Tampa trade, education programs for children and humanitarian relief activities. In 2017, the foundation operated the largest hurricane collection point in central Florida, shipping more than three million pounds of supplies via military planes and shipping containers to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands during Hurricane Maria. The foundation also coordinated the shipment of vital necessities to victims of Hurricanes Michael and Dorian, and the 2020 earthquake in Puerto Rico.

Otero has received numerous commendations and awards for both his military and humanitarian service, including Tampa Bay’s Human Rights award as well as Hispanic Man of the Year award in 2014, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.