Top Young Professionals Under 37





In celebration of young government meeting talent, SGMP set out on a search for the top young professionals Under 37. The program recognizes individuals with proven leadership skills and a dedication to the betterment and sustainability of SGMP. 

Members were nominated by their peers and honorees were selected by a panel of industry professionals. Congratulations to the Top Young Professionals Under 37 for 2019-2020! These honorees were also recognized at the SGMP State of Society virtual event on June 30, 2020.

Read on to learn about their stories of accomplishments within the government meetings industry.
 





Nadine Edwards
Program Manager, Senate Restaurants & Events
Architect of the Capitol
SGMP National Capital Chapter
 



Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
Over the course of my career in the hospitality and events industry, I have played multiple roles: hotel supplier, government sales representative, customer, manager, government meetings Contract Specialist and Contract Officer Technical Representative. This duality has given me a unique perspective to understand all sides of the government meeting field and the needs of suppliers, meeting planners and participants. The range of my experiences within the Government Meetings Industry allows me to speak knowledgeably from multiple perspectives and provide both client- and customer-focused service awareness and focus on industry standards and government policy. As a Government Sales Executive in Las Vegas working for Marriott, I managed a portfolio of 250 clients to secure contracts and billeting for government personnel and coordinated with government agencies and foreign military from 12 countries to deliver excellence in the meetings and events industry. In my military career as a Captain in the US Air Force, I have used my industry expertise to coordinate and oversee lodging operations for more than 175 service men and women in three countries and plan Group-level exercises and training workshops.

As an 18-year US Air Force veteran and an 8-year full-time civil servant meeting planner, my government experience affords me unique insight into the needs of the government. In my current role as the Manager for Restaurants and Events at the US Senate, I have firsthand knowledge of how the government meetings industry operates, certification in government acquisitions and a background in private sector hotel administration. My knowledge, skills and abilities facilitate a deeper understanding of the industry and guarantee excellence.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
I had the esteemed pleasure of working with a military group from the Middle East while I worked in Las Vegas. This was at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom and tensions between the US and the Middle East were fragile. In addition to diplomatic tensions, there were vast cultural differences between our countries, not to mention the culture shock of Las Vegas! There were also religious differences that needed to be observed: the group was visiting during Ramadan, had strict dietary concerns and would be working with myself, a female coordinator.

It wasn’t unusual for me to stay late at the office for conference calls and to respond to emails due to the international time difference. I personally met with Halal chefs to determine feasibility and alternatives. I used my free time to study up on Middle Eastern culture, tradition and business practices in my client’s home nation so I was better prepared to exceed expectations and maintain the highest level of respect. When the group’s POCs came for the site visit, I had built a solid relationship rooted in trust, which guaranteed a successful interaction and business relationship. During their group’s stay at our properties, I was personally available on site and continued to coordinate with the clients, though my job as a salesperson was technically complete.

This was the first time the foreign entity was partnering with the US; the ability to use my role as a government planner to act as an ambassador for the United States was truly a unique and profound experience of which I am extremely proud. 
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I believe adaptability is key in order for the government meeting industry to be successful. Adaptability is an invaluable skill I have developed and seen the value of while in deployed environments, working for the private sector and in the government meetings industry. As technology changes on a daily basis, understanding key markets and trends will enable the government meeting industry to strategically place itself at the forefront of business in order to stay relevant, successful, and answer the needs of the government as a leader in the industry.



Shannon Gallagher, CGMP
Senior Sales Manager

Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards
SGMP National Capital Chapter 




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?

My first interaction with the Government Market was from my previous Director, Erik Weinert. He helped me join SGMP NATCAP and get registered to get my CGMP (Certified Government Meeting Professional designation). At my first NATCAP meeting, I met Jesse Strauss, which was the beginning of my love for the Government Market. Jesse’s enthusiasm, helpfulness and willingness to introduce me to government planners made the transition into the new group easy. Jesse helped me join a committee, and from there, I have been a dedicated member, learning so much. I enjoy meeting various colleagues and learning new ways to improve government meetings at my hotel. 
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
I am very proud to have become a board member of the NATCAP chapter. I am humbled to be recognized with such an amazing group of individuals.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Communication and adaptability. It is incredibly important to have constant communication with the ever-changing laws and policies of the government industry. To be successful meeting professionals, we need to be open to adapting to changes that are communicated to exceed the expectations of the attendees, while ensuring the safety of their privacy.
 



Jean Kim
Sales Manager

Holiday Inn Denver-Cherry Creek
SGMP Rocky Mountain Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
My career in hotel sales led me to managing the government segment. At first, I found the rules, regulations and the cut and dry way that government agencies do business a bit challenging, but this eventually grew into something I constantly wanted to learn more about as it was fascinating. As every supplier knows, the hardest thing with the government segment is getting your foot in the door with a contact. The relationships I have made with our chapter's government meeting planners and the education I have received at our monthly meetings have helped me grow both professionally and personally.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
I was completely shocked when I received the SGMP Rocky Mountain Chapter's Supplier of the Year Award at our Annual Awards Gala in June!
  
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
My personal goal is to bring in two planners to SGMP within the next year. I also want to help grow our chapter's planner membership by revamping our Ambassador Program and spreading the word about SGMP.
 



Laura Lange, CGMP
Senior Sales Manager

LTD Hospitality
SGMP Old Dominion Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
I am a wife to a serviceman and know the rules and regulations for government meeting planning and purchase orders. I enjoy working in that market, serving service members and government planners.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
Receiving my CGMP was a very proud moment for me. That had been a personal goal of mine for several years. It was an especially proud moment to receive it at the National Education Conference in my hometown of Norfolk, VA.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Staying very active in the local/state SGMP organization, expanding knowledge, being up to date on trends as it relates to government meetings, to look at ways to harness technology to benefit meetings, and to continue to focus on engaging the younger generation of meeting professionals to deliver value.
 



Taylor Mauldin Wagner
Sales Manager

Visit Norman, OK
SGMP Oklahoma Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
The foundation for the Oklahoma Chapter of SGMP—formerly known as the Wild West Chapter—was built by some of the most intelligent and steadfast women whom I have come to know. Through my involvement in SGMP, I have not only established long-lasting relationships (both personal and professional), but I have also learned the value of ongoing education as it relates to the ever-evolving government meetings industry. In a time when politics are proving downright painful, it is important to remember that we—SGMP—are all in this together, as we strive to grow and support this multi-billion dollar industry - in spite of strict regulations and shrinking budgets. And, when you surround yourself with members such as those that paved the way for my chapter back in 2001, you can rest assured that we will continue to get things done!
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
My husband and I recently started a side hustle—well, HOBBY—consisting of a mobile flower cart “pop up shop.” It was an idea that was five years in the making until about five months ago when our dream started to become reality. From paperwork and pushbacks to brainstorming and the ultimate build-out, our “Parisian-inspired, prairie-based” flower cart became a vehicle—quite literally—for us to get out in the community and bring flowers (and fun!) to all of our favorite Okies.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
The economic impact of the government meetings industry is something that is all too often overlooked. In order to remain relevant and successful, it is important that both government meeting planners and suppliers work closely with their legislators in an effort to further educate them on our industry and advocate for travel—in other words, for face-to-face meetings that encourage conversation, collaboration and creativity among colleagues. As we know, “meetings mean business.”
 



Lauran Peoples, CGMP
Convention Sales Manager

Richmond Region Tourism
SGMP National Capital Chapter 




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
I grew up in a military family - both my father and grandfather served in the armed forces and were stationed at Langley Air Force Base. Growing up in Hampton Roads also made military and government presence a huge part of my daily life.

Also, working with the NATCAP and Old Dominion government professionals influenced me to become involved in the government meeting field. 
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
This year was full of wonderful and successful outcomes. I was able to bring NOMADNESS Annual Tribe Event to Richmond, Virginia. NOMADNESS represents the underrepresented demographic in mainstream travel through NOMADNESS Travel Tribe. It is a group of 20,000 black and brown influencers and innovators. This event was extremely important for Richmond and we were honored to be selected out of more than 20 cities. Also, earlier this year, I was asked to give a convocation speech to more than 500 professionals. I have never done anything like that and I was nervous! I had many people who came to me after the speech and it was wonderful to hear that my words resonated with them. I also was asked to lead an education session at CMCA's Spring Showcase. I followed up with an article on the benefits of working with second-tier cities which was just published by Christian Meetings and Convention Association.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I am studying for my CGMP exam that I will take in August. I am also getting more active in the Old Dominion and NATCAP chapters, working and learning from my colleagues at both.
 



Carly Sanford
Trainings and Meetings Planner

Community Mental Health Association of Michigan
SGMP Michigan Chapter 




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field? 
After graduating, I knew that I wanted to be working in the non-profit sector of the meeting planner industry, but the government meetings fell into my lap as part of a grant opportunity. I was able to absorb and experience so many different aspects that weren’t part of the curriculum in college, which enabled me to learn and be prepared for the job I have now. I plan 30-40 trainings per fiscal year for a federal block grant through Community Mental Health and feel such a passion and purpose for what I do. 
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
I signed up to be a part of our chapter’s communications committee more than one year ago and am so proud of how far I have come and what I have learned along the way. I am a lead contact for the entire chapter and my first big project was redesigning the website. With having limited experience with website design and implementation, this was a big task to do in my own free time. It has been a stressful task but has resulted in such rewards. I am able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my job and helping co-workers and staff with our own association’s website & database re-design. I’m a firm believer that all experiences we go through help us learn and grow for another experience further down the road.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I want to be an advocate for the hotelier’s side of the government meetings industry. It’s important to me that the approved hotel per diem rates are within the market standards for these properties that work with government groups. If the per diem rates stay low compared to the market standards, it’s going to be more difficult for these hotels to accept government rates. This will then affect the meeting planners trying to book these crucial trainings with professional development if there are limited properties available fighting for meeting space and overnight rooms.
 



Christina Saragnese, CGMP
National Sales Manager
Hilton Worldwide Sales
SGMP National Capital Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
Having worked in the government market in sales for Hilton more than six years, I've become increasingly passionate about serving those who serve our country in and out of uniform. Knowing that I get to play a part in facilitating such events is my daily motivation! 
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
Some of my most unique experiences were while working at the Washington Hilton, where we often hosted government leaders from all over the world in our ballroom. Knowing the types of decisions made and or celebrated during those types of meetings and getting to feel like I was a part of them was incredible. One of my proudest moments in this role was getting to present awards for the Warrior Games, an Olympic type event held at Soldier Field in Chicago for wounded veterans.

How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
In order for us to be most successful, we must do it together. I look forward to elevating communication and education with my supplier partners, as well as government planners to ensure we are all working together to be the best in the industry.
 



Theresa Thomas
Area Sales Manager
Drury Hotels
SGMP Lonestar Capital Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
Being in the hotel industry for more than 15 years, one market I hadn’t experienced working with was Government. A colleague of mine worked with Government for years and always seemed so fulfilled with her work. When I decided to move to Austin (Texas), from San Antonio, to take on a vacant role within my company, I knew I would be tasked with the Government market. It has been the most rewarding and eye-opening part of my career yet.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
An accomplishment I am beyond proud of is going back to school to obtain my Masters in Education. My goal is to teach undergrad Hospitality students and show them all that the Hotel Industry / Meeting Planning Industry has to offer. The industry is rapidly growing and changing. There is amazing growth potential – if that is what you want. I can be that encouraging mentor that leads and shows them to keep growing and learning in a flexible, ever-changing environment.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
By constantly seeking to understand how the industry is changing and growing daily. The key to success is adapting to change. I would make sure I am continually knowledgeable of travel trends and government safety procedures.
 



Ashley Wray
Sales Manager

Denver Airport Marriott at Gateway Park
SGMP Rocky Mountain Chapter




Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meetings field?
Ever since I started my role as a Sales Manager in hotels, I have handled the Government Market Segment. Working with this market has helped me make and build strong relationships within the Government Sector.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are are very proud of *or* Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
One of my accomplishments would be that I can get creative when it comes to working with the Government Market needs and wants for their meetings. With their need for per diem pricing, I have come up with unique ways to accommodate this, like creating all-inclusive menus, to help ease the planning process.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Continue to work with the planners to ensure we can accommodate their requests to ensure relationships maintain intact.



Congratulations again to this year’s Top Young Professionals Under 37!