Vision & Mission
Peterson Rudgers Group is a consulting firm focused on strategic planning, vision and goal setting, communications, leadership, governance, and organizational development for higher education and related institutions. We do this critical work in support of organizations that advance the world’s knowledge, including colleges and universities, independent schools, associations, foundations, cultural organizations, nonprofits, start-ups, and other entities with a related mission.
We believe in the power of these organizations to transform the world through research, analysis, education, and the development of human and intellectual capital. No other set of institutions in the world has generated as much societal benefit and impact over time. Yet this is a time of enormous change and challenge. The public compact and business models on which such institutions have relied face numerous threats: wavering demand, diminished public funding, questions about cost and value, ever-growing community expectations, and increasingly polarized beliefs about the roles of data and science in shaping policy.
As counselors to some of the nation’s leading universities and other mission-driven organizations, we understand higher education’s culture and complexity in the midst of this shifting landscape. Leadership teams need ever-more-sophisticated strategies to chart an ambitious course, carve out a distinctive position, convey the value they deliver, and build positive, long-term relationships with their stakeholders. Strength in reputation and market position require institutional focus, sharp messaging, and differentiation. Leaders must develop a distinctive voice and effective processes for successful change.
An institution’s public perception is deeply important, and this perception is driven first and foremost by what it chooses to invest in and how it prioritizes leadership attention. How does an institution best deliver on its promises to stakeholders and for the greater good? What decisions will an institution make that build momentum, spark investment, inspire partnerships, and increase demand? What distinctive characteristics and programs? What exciting future vision? What new knowledge and new value? What compelling leadership voices?
Portfolio of services
We partner with presidents, chancellors, boards, and leadership teams to facilitate and advance an institution’s vision, distinction, and reputation. To achieve these goals we:
- Assess the competitive landscape to anticipate opportunities to stake out a distinctive position and mitigate risks that can damage institutional standing
- Identify institutional strengths, vulnerabilities, opportunities, and competitive advantages
- Design research that delivers insights about how the institution fits into the competitive landscape, how it is regarded by important stakeholders, and how its potential directions and decisions will affect its relative position
- Conduct strategic planning retreats and processes for institutions, academic units, and strategic initiatives
- Work with governing boards to conduct self-assessments and align their structures and practices with the strategic imperatives of the institution
- Design and implement branding and brand refresh processes that reflect the institution’s distinct mission and offerings
- Develop processes for change that are biased toward action and responsive to market demand while effectively engaging internal and external communities
- Translate leadership vision and action plans into compelling messaging and communication strategies
- Work with new and current presidents and other senior leaders to establish voice, point of view, and thought leadership platforms via speeches, opinion essays, and other channels
- Provide expert guidance and counsel to navigate institutional change and leadership transitions
- Provide personalized coaching and support for emerging leaders and teams
- Deliver customized communication, media, and presentation training programs
- Assess organizational structures and effectiveness of leadership teams in a range of functional areas, with a particular expertise in communications and marketing
- Advise on leadership search processes that convey the institution’s distinctiveness and momentum to prospective candidates; recommend search firms and assist the organization in evaluating candidates
- Plan and help to launch exciting new initiatives and special projects for maximum impact
Current and past clients include:
- Academy of Management
- Associated Colleges of the Midwest
- Association of American Universities (AAU)
- Barnard College
- Bellarmine University
- Bentley University
- BigTen Academic Alliance (formerly CIC)
- The Bryn Mawr School
- The University at Buffalo
- Carnegie Mellon University
- University of Chicago
- University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy
- University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
- University of Chicago Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
- University of Chicago Urban Labs
- The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success
- Colby College
- Columbia College in Chicago
- Dartmouth Tuck School of Business
- University of Denver
- Eastern Michigan University
- Erikson Institute
- Furman University
- Grand Valley State University
- Fannie & John Hertz Foundation
- The Hockaday School
- University of Illinois
- University of Illinois Gies College of Business
- University of Illinois at Chicago
- Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
- The Juilliard School
- University of Michigan
- University of Michigan Law School
- University of Michigan Robotics Institute
- University of Michigan School of Dentistry
- University of Michigan School of Social Work
- University of Michigan-Flint
- University of Michigan-Dearborn
- University of Montana
- Mount Holyoke College
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- New York University
- Oakland University
- Oberlin College
- Princeton University Graduate School
- Simmons University
- The Sphinx Organization
- Stanford University
- Susquehanna University
- University of Texas at Arlington
- University of Texas at Austin
- Towson University
- University Research Corridor (Michigan)
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Yale University
- YMCA of Metro Chicago
Julie A. Peterson
Julie A. Peterson is co-founder and partner of Peterson Rudgers Group. Prior to launching a successful consulting practice in 2015, Peterson spent more than 30 years in higher education leadership roles, as well as teaching and presenting on strategy, leadership, communications, and issues management. She has led communications for a wide range of topics across higher education, including academic medical centers, college athletics, student life, fundraising campaigns, admissions and student recruitment, civic engagement, diversity and inclusion, and the launch of new academic programs.
As Vice President for Communications at the University of Chicago from 2007-15, Peterson was responsible for transforming the external visibility and reputation of the university among a broad range of audiences in the United States and around the world. Her work helped to elevate the university in the U.S. News rankings from 15 to 4, more than triple student applications to the College, strengthen faculty recruitment, and dramatically increase fundraising. The university’s homepage (www.uchicago.edu), developed under her creative leadership, won two prestigious Webby awards in 2014. She led the communications for the university’s successful bid to win the Barack Obama Presidential Library to Chicago’s South Side.
Before joining the University of Chicago, Peterson served as interim vice president for communications at the University of Michigan, overseeing all aspects of both internal and external communications. As associate vice president for media relations and public affairs at Michigan from 2000 to 2007, she managed emerging public issues, guided communications for university strategic priorities and initiatives, and became a senior adviser to the president and executive leadership team, providing critical leadership for a number of important challenges including the Michigan affirmative action lawsuits that went to the Supreme Court. Prior to that, she served 6 years as the news director at the University of Michigan and 10 years at Indiana University as managing editor of the news service and as a public relations representative for the business school.
Peterson holds a BA in journalism and psychology with high distinction from Indiana University and an MBA in marketing research from IU’s Kelley School of Business. She has taught in the University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy and Chicago Booth’s Advanced Management Program as well as its Executive Program for Emerging Leaders.
She is a member of the Public Relations Society of America, the American Marketing Association, and the Higher Education Roundtable. She has served on the UChicago Diversity Leadership Council, the public affairs committee of the Association of American Universities, the public issues committee of the Consortium on Financing of Higher Education, and the founding council of Futurity.
Lisa M. Rudgers
Lisa M. Rudgers is co-founder and partner of Peterson Rudgers Group, and has more than 30 years experience in higher education, strategy, marketing, public affairs, issues management and leadership coaching. She has served as in-house counsel to seven university presidents. Previously, Rudgers was the University of Michigan’s vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives. She served a total of 12 years in that role, and was responsible for developing communication strategies to enhance U-M’s visibility locally, nationally and internationally.
As an executive officer at the University of Michigan, Rudgers was a member of the cabinet-level leadership team and served as senior counselor to the president and other executive officers. She directed and managed the global communications division, including marketing, public affairs, internal communications, news, social media, photography, and presidential communications as well as the university’s top-ranked public radio station, Michigan Radio.
Rudgers played a crucial role in leading the public outreach messaging and related strategies surrounding the university’s historic defense of its admissions lawsuits up to the U.S. Supreme Court. She directed communication supporting many presidential and university initiatives, including the president’s international delegations to China, Brazil and India. She was one of the creators of the University Research Corridor, aligning the three largest research-intensive universities in the state to spark greater collaboration and economic prosperity. Her communications strategies supported U-M initiatives in diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship, library digitization, sustainability and the arts.
U-M efforts under her leadership also included revamping the university’s web presence called the Gateway, now with more than 20 million visits each year. She led the development of the Michigan Difference and Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign themes. She established the university’s first global communications initiative including the Global Michigan web portal in five languages and U-M’s Weibo presence. She launched the university’s first social media office and spearheaded a university-wide branding initiative and visual identity program recognized as best in class by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). She has managed several presidential transitions, including the introduction of U-M’s Mary Sue Coleman and Mark S. Schlissel.
Rudgers established her own consulting firm from 2007 – 2011, Lisa Rudgers & Associates, working with university presidents and other key leaders to develop strategic communications plans including institutional positioning, messaging and branding, assessment of in-house communications resources, media relations and issues management. She also held an appointment as special counsel for communications at Michigan Law.
Previously, Rudgers has served as assistant vice president and director of public relations at Michigan State University, marketing director and director of news and communications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and account executive at Media Logic Inc., a marketing and public relations firm in Albany, N.Y.
Rudgers is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Steve Kloehn is a partner in Peterson Rudgers Group. Over a three-decade career, Kloehn has been a leader and executive at two of the world’s top universities and a major national newspaper. Most recently at Carnegie Mellon University, he served as Vice President for Marketing & Communications, creating and leading a new division of 50 professionals who provide strategic communications planning, integrated marketing campaigns, media relations, social media, executive communications, web development, creative design, video, photo, visitor experience, and university events.
As one of Carnegie Mellon’s nine officers, Kloehn served as an advisor to two presidents, contributed to the university’s strategic plan, and helped set programmatic and budgetary priorities for the institution. He led the first university-wide plan to build global visibility, working with deans, officers, and more than 160 campus communicators to align unit needs with university goals and messaging. He developed and delivered critical communications for the university; initiated and led the in-house redesign of more than 300 websites; directed high-impact digital marketing campaigns and national media campaigns; spearheaded a university branding initiative; and helped drive a dramatic increase in the university’s social media following. That work contributed to a 19 percent increase in undergraduate applications in 2018.
Prior to Carnegie Mellon, Kloehn served for more than seven years as the University of Chicago’s associate vice president for news and public affairs. In that role, he was responsible for content creation and major announcements, issues management, media relations, and communications strategy for a wide variety of university leaders and programs. He led integrated communications in support of faculty Nobel prizes in 2008 and 2013, and helped orchestrate the opening of university centers in Beijing and New Delhi.
Kloehn was an award-winning newspaper reporter, columnist and editor for 21 years, rising from editor of a small-town weekly to deputy metropolitan editor for Sundays and Enterprise at the Chicago Tribune. At the Tribune, he chronicled popes and presidents, and created new teams that specialized in original, in-depth analysis of trends in education and urban affairs.
In 2018, Kloehn was elected to the Higher Education Roundtable and the Seminar, two of the nation’s most prestigious organizations for leaders in public relations. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University.
Colleen Newquist, an associate of the Peterson Rudgers Group, is a leader in creative strategy, development and execution, and an expert in building and nurturing successful creative teams. Over a 25-year career at the University of Chicago, Newquist restructured and led creative teams in the business school, university communications, and alumni relations and development, contributing to record-breaking increases in MBA and undergraduate applications and the business school’s first No. 1 U.S. News ranking, and launching the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the university’s history. As a consultant, she continues to provide creative leadership, most recently as Vice President for Marketing and Communication at Loyola University Chicago.
As Assistant Vice President of Creative Communications at the University of Chicago, she built UChicago Creative, a 25-person in-house creative agency that regularly competed with and rivaled outside agencies, increasing net revenue from $250,000 to $1.9 million in three years. She wrote the first identity and messaging guide for the University of Chicago, authored its strategic communications plan, and established the voice of the university through undergraduate admissions marketing communications that contributed to a 42 percent increase in applications and top 10 U.S. News rankings.
As Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations and Development communications, she reorganized the 35-person team to better meet the needs of alumni, donors, and the university, and injected fresh creativity into the organization, contributing to substantial increases in alumni engagement and annual giving. She was integral to the launch of the university’s $5 billion campaign, leading the teams responsible for the campaign case statement, video, website, annual publication, and live performances at the launch event.
A consultant since 2016, Newquist has provided creative content and leadership for the Association of American Universities, Furman University, Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, and Loyola University of Chicago, where over 11 months she restructured the marketing and communications team, redesigned the alumni magazine, and led university communications in support of the men’s basketball team’s first NCAA tournament appearance in over 35 years.
Newquist began her career as a lifestyles editor for The Star newspaper chain in suburban Chicago, from 1987 to 1991. A feature writer and columnist, she received national first-place awards every year. A first-generation college graduate, she is an alumna of Governors State University.
Anthony Ruth, an associate of Peterson Rudgers Group, is a creative and strategic marketing and communications leader who has focused the majority of his career on the education and nonprofit sectors. At the University of Chicago, where he served as Executive Director of the in-house marketing and creative agency, he led branding projects for major units and initiatives, created CASE and Webby award-winning marketing materials, and helped bring the Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President for Marketing & Communications at One Hope United, a multistate human service organization with over 10,000 clients annually.
Ruth began his UChicago career as an editorial intern at the business school and served as the senior writer and strategist during its rebranding as Chicago Booth. He went on to lead UChicago Creative, a 25-person agency consisting of editorial, design, and multimedia teams and a central resource for all university departments. Working with deans and officers from every unit, Ruth led the branding and communications for the university’s 125th anniversary, and he led the rebranding of the Harris School of Public Policy, which since experienced dramatic increases in enrollment and is now the university’s second-largest professional program after Booth.
At One Hope United, Ruth was responsible for all internal and external marketing and communications including media relations and crisis communications. He led a major overhaul of the Wishbook fundraising campaign that resulted in nearly triple year-over-year donations, which led to an invitation to present at the American Marketing Association Nonprofit Conference. As a consultant, Ruth collaborated with Loyola University Chicago senior leadership on their brand-level “We Are Called” campaign and advised the AIDS Foundation of Chicago on the branding and launch of Getting to Zero Illinois, the initiative to end HIV in Illinois by 2030.
He holds a BA with general honors and an MA from the University of Chicago. In 2019, he was named a Notable LGBTQ Executive by Crain’s Chicago Business.
Toni Shears brings to PRG more than 30 years’ experience telling the stories and raising the profiles of higher education and nonprofit organizations. She has broad expertise across the full spectrum of print, digital, and social marketing communications. She excels at synthesizing complex or technical information into clear, accessible summaries and tailoring messages to target audiences.
As the managing director of communications for the University of Chicago Becker Friedman Institute, she developed and executed a strategic communications plan that raised awareness of a new institute, building and engaging an audience of more than 14,000 with a robust schedule of e-newsletters, videos, events, and media relations. She played a key role in managing the renaming and rebranding of the institute. Recognizing an opportunity to preserve and promote the rich legacy of University of Chicago economics, she strategized and steered the development and installation of a mini museum highlighting that history.
Toni directed executive communications at the American Osteopathic Association, partnering with the chief executive officer and physician leadership to create and implement key messages, communicate a major market-driven change to a key product offering, and support advocacy. She advised a national working group on crafting messages that more clearly defined osteopathic medicine and co-authored a journal article to disseminate findings from this work.
Toni successfully elevated public relations and media efforts at Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development, by engaging an online audience and adopting cutting-edge technologies. Previously, in nine years at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, she held various editorial, website management, and marketing roles. A prolific and versatile writer and experienced editor, she managed and published staff and alumni publications at University of Michigan Medical Center and the U-M Law School while handling extensive media relations.A consultant since 2017, Toni has handled change management communications for the University of Chicago Shared Services office and provided marketing and editorial services, web management, research, and analysis for clients ranging from a civic governmental watchdog organization and early childhood advocacy group to an economics research project and a boutique marketing firm.
A former journalist, Toni is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan.
Grant Schexnider is an award-winning designer and marketing communications professional with over 25 years of design, branding, and marketing experience, with a focus on higher education and non-profits. Schexnider spent much of his career at the University of Chicago, joining as Design Director in 1998 and rising to Brand Manager and university-wide Creative Director. For over 17 years he helped lead, grow and invigorate the communications teams within the Graduate School of Business and University Communications, and developed the visual language and standards of the university.
In partnership with senior leadership, Schexnider led the development and implementation of the University of Chicago’s first-ever branding initiative. He was also integral to the launch of the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry & Impact, developing the logo and identity for the campaign and overseeing its implementation across media and platforms.
In 2015 Schexnider became Creative Director for Loyola University New Orleans, where he again helped to lead a university rebrand and initiated and launched a revamp of the alumni magazine.
In the summer of 2016, he established his own creative agency, GSC. Current and past clients include the Association of American Universities (AAU), the University of Chicago (including UChicago Communications, Harris Public Policy, UChicagoGRAD, myCHOICE, International House, and Alumni Relations and Development), Silva Content Solutions, Loyola University New Orleans, Hyde Park Refugee Project, Faith In Practice, Citybase, Charge Savvy, and the Illinois Arts Council.
Prior to 1998, he served as Creative Director for Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and various creative agencies in Chicago.
Schexnider received his BFA in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University in 1993 and his MFA from the University of Chicago in 2006. He also holds a certificate in Executive Leadership from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (2011). He has been recognized by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the University and College Designers Association (UCDA), and other professional organizations.
A seasoned communications, marketing and compliance professional, Diane Brown serves Peterson Rudgers Group as an executive assistant and project manager. While providing administrative support to the organization, she also is responsible for tracking and monitoring project deadlines and organization documentation.
Diane’s communications career includes two periods at the University of Michigan in media relations and compliance, marketing and outreach roles at a regional financial institution and numerous officer terms on non-profit boards.
While an undergraduate journalism student at Central Michigan University, Diane found a love for media relations while working as a student assistant in the Sports Information office. She then completed her first tour at the University of Michigan as an assistant sports information director, creating the first recruiting materials for U-M women’s athletic teams and assisting in computerizing the football game-day information.
While pursuing a masters in business administration from U-M, Diane turned to a financial career at First of America Bank, ultimately serving as a regional assistant vice president for community outreach and compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act. During her tenure, the bank received high marks during federal compliance reviews, and Diane served as board president for the Housing Bureau for Seniors and Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley. She also co-founded the Washtenaw HomeBuyers Program and the Central Michigan University Honors Program Alumni Advisory Board.
Diane returned to the U-M as the public information officer for facilities and operations, serving as the University’s primary spokesperson for crime, emergencies and construction. Later she became the University’s first Clery Act compliance officer, training hundreds of staff, student employees and faculty regarding their reporting responsibilities. U-M was not assessed any fines for Clery Act non-compliance during her tenure. She also assisted the Clery Center as a freelance trainer for several years.
In recent years, Diane has served as development director for the Wesley Foundation of Ann Arbor, a campus ministry of the United Methodist Church, and a freelance writer for the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Sandra Mars is a graphic and web designer and has led her own design practice, Sandra Mars Design, for more than 15 years. She specializes in clean, smart, stylish design combined with technical savvy to create unique, engaging websites, logos and print media. Mars developed PRG’s visual identity, website and social media sites, and serves as the firm’s webmaster.
Her creative projects have included responsive, mobile-friendly websites; CMS implementation; WordPress and blog development; logo design and corporate identity; and marketing and print collateral for a wide range of clients including: MacArthur Foundation, National Center on Domestic violence, Trauma & Mental Health, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Chicago Foundation for Women, Business & Professional People for the Public Interest, Planned Parenthood, The Wright Foundation, Gannett Company Inc., HS2 Solutions, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), Wyzant Tutoring, Kapow!, Steve Trautman Co., Closerlook, Metromix, Freedman Seating, Mars Gallery, Valerie Denney Communications.
Previously she was a web designer and developer for Web Services at the University of Chicago, where she successfully managed a wide range of website projects across the campus. Earlier in her career she also worked as a senior designer with DHI Visual Communication, Axis Creative and Ralph Marlin. She studied graphic design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Omeca Wilkins Wadley
Omeca Wilkins Wadley serves as an executive assistant for the Peterson Rudgers Group. Wadley served in senior administrative support roles to several University of Chicago executives, including the Vice President for Communications, Vice President for Research and National Labs, and the Arts and Public Life team. Her portfolio also includes several years of development experience as Assistant Director of Annual Giving at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Wadley is an avid crafter who loves handmade paper and designing unique invitations.
Debra J. Serwach
Debra J. Serwach serves as an executive assistant for the Peterson Rudgers Group. Serwach previously spent 40 years at the University of a Michigan, working in executive assistant roles to senior University of Michigan executives, including two Athletic Directors, top development officers, President’s Office leadership, and two Vice Presidents for Communications. Serwach’s detail-oriented approach holds organizations and families together. She and her husband reside in Michigan and are the proud parents of three grown children and one grandchild.