Emerging Leaders

In celebration of Emerging Leaders within SGMP, SGMP set out on a search for the Emerging Leaders that volunteer across SGMP. The program recognizes individuals with less than 5 years of membership, 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 Emerging Leaders for 2022-2023! These honorees will also be recognized at the SGMP State of Society at NEC in Pittsburgh on June 16, 2022.

Let’s learn about their stories of accomplishments within the government meetings industry.

Jennifer Graffeo | Willma Harvey | Travis Swanson | Narimel Tarver | Jessup Thomas | Theresa Thomas | | Wendy Whitaker | Melissa Woodruff

Jennifer Graffeo, CGMP - Team Dynamics, LLC (Louisana Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
I was looking for a career change that challenged me in a different way. I was a Pre-K teacher and wanted to learn more about how the meeting industry worked. I learned from my boss Susan Shaffette, CGMP all about this organization and it felt right to me. I found what I was looking for.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
I am very proud of me becoming a CGMP. It was hard for me at first but with the encouragement from other members I was able to pass and become a CGMP.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I will be more aware of what is going on in the world and listen to others about how things will be changing.
 
Willma Harvey, CGMP - Louisiana River Parishes (Louisiana Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry? 
At the Holiday Inn Emerald Beach in Corpus Christi, Texas, the sales manager, Debi Tomberlin, influenced me to become involved in the government meeting industry. In the role of Senior Sales Manager at the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau, my initial primary market was state associations. Debi’s market was government meetings, generating many room nights for the hotel and thousands of dollars in revenue. I discovered the significant economic impact from government meetings, joined the SGMP Texas Lone Star Capital Chapter, and I was successful in booking local, state, and government meetings.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
I am very proud of securing the movie, One Night in Miami, filmed in LaPlace, Louisiana. I successfully promoted the city, local venues, and the St. John the Baptist Parish Community Center, the film site for the movie. In addition, I was thrilled to be involved in every facet of the film production, which included adding incentives to the standard government contract, working directly with the vital movie producers, and setting up numerous meetings with the parish government and the film production team. As a result, the movie received a nomination for a Golden Globe Award, and I am proud of taking part in making the movie.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Maintaining my membership in SGMP is essential to prepare me for success in the government meeting industry. I plan to continue taking advantage of the association's professional development programs, and I look forward to acquiring the CGMP. In addition, as a supplier, I must work with the local venues in the River Parishes to create sustainable environments for meetings and events. I look forward to contributing to the success of this future endeavor.
 
Travis Swanson - Courtyard Bloominton By Mall of America/Residence Inn Bloomington By Mall of America (Northern Lights Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
I was introduced to SGMP through the hotel when he was hired and assigned the government market.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
I think the most unique experience I have had would be assisting with the coordination and execution of lodging for Bonnie Raitt during one of her tours. Growing up her music was always playing at home, so getting to meet her in person was almost surreal.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I think that staying current on industry trends, as well as being up-to-date on hybrid technology, is going to be very important for their future success of the government meetings industry."
 
Narimel Tarver - Visit Sacramento (Golden State Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
Visit Sacramento encouraged participation for the government segment, particularly Sacramento based agencies, as the capitol for our State.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
Advancements in my career, starting in the hotel industry in reservations, then revenue management, catering, sales and now holding the position of Director of Convention Sales with Visit Sacramento.
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Education, specifically during this challenging time of change for our industry, loss of jobs, retention of members.
 
Jessup Thomas - Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (Oklahoma Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
My boss and previous Oklahoma SGMP President, Allison Woodard, has been a major influence during my time in the government meeting industry. She was the Oklahoma chapter president when I entered my current role. Allison jumpstarted my participation and continues to support my involvement in SGMP. I feel extremely fortunate knowing that I have a boss that backs my commitment to being the current Oklahoma chapter president.
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
One of the most unique experiences of my meeting professional career was helping with Russell Westbrook's Oklahoma Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Guests included local government officials, the owner of The Oklahoma City Thunder, all Thunder players and coaching staff, and Michael Jordan. Being a basketball fanatic, I was thrilled about the opportunity to help with this event. After helping set up the hospitality room, I was asked to help escort special guests through the previous OKC Convention Center. This was an experience that ended up being educational and helped ignite my passion for the meeting industry. 
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Learning to be adaptable has been extremely important for the progress within my job and SGMP. Coming from an Audio/Video background, I have created a habit of troubleshooting issues that seem to be hindering progress. Troubleshooting is the process of identifying a specific issue and working to find a solution or alternative option to correct the problem. I continue to approach issues with an open viewpoint. If an immediate solution is not available, work to find an alternative option. Whether it is an issue with a process or an event, adaptability is an extremely important skill for success in this industry. 
  
Theresa Thomas - Drury Hotels (Texas Lone Star Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
I was given the opportunity to relocate to Austin with my company to focus solely on the government market. Little did I know how much it would truly change my perspective on the hospitality industry. Stepping into this role, I was able to learn more on a new market and how unique and truly special the government meeting industry is and how important it is for our hotels regardless of the brand. Government business truly keeps our hotels alive.
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.
I am most proud of completing my Graduate program (Masters of Education) in May of 2020. My intention with going back to school, was to obtain a degree that I could spread awareness of the hospitality world and how wide the scope is with options for us to grow and learn. This Masters will allow me to teach college hospitality students all about the options we have available including the opportunity to work the Government market, my favorite yet during my almost 15-year career journey.
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
Learning and adapting with clear communication. If we have learned one thing over the past year in our industry, it is to adapt to any situation we are given. We can all grow together and succeed if we have clear communication on our expectations. Which means communicating to the fullest on both sides. We know times have changed for our industries, but we can still be successful and pull off amazing events in person, virtually or hybrid. If we just stand together.
  
Wendy Whitaker, CGMP - Wyndham Orlando Resort (National Capital Chapter and Central Florida Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
My prior Associate Director of Sales, Frankie Stua. When my position became available within our team, Frankie was the one who encouraged me. She felt my meticulous nature and attention to detail would prove to be an asset when working government planners. She also believed that the relationships I held with my clients at the time would prove invaluable with the new relationships I would encounter my role.  
I am grateful for Frankie’s belief in me and her support as I initially made my way into the Society and navigated my way in to learning the nuances of government planning.
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
I’m proud of every program I’ve supported: DVA programs teaching nurses and doctors who learn the best care for our country’s veterans, United States Air Force bringing together contractors to share best practices, Department of Treasury and the delegates from 200 nations working on international policymaking on financial terrorism and the Florida National Guard with their ongoing training support. 
My most unique experience was with the United States Special Operations Command by hosting the Warrior Care Program (Care Coalition) Conference in 2019. An event in which active and veteran service men and women to participate in series of adaptive sports events. 
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
I love to learn and share with others. The unique group of professionals within SGMP have been vital to the accomplishments of my career to date. It is my deepest desire to support the Society as the landscape of meetings evolves and we evolve along with it. Success doesn’t lie with one person but the whole of our efforts. Therefore, I will continue to be with SGMP in any role which aides in the development of our professionals. The future success of SGMP is the future success of the government meetings industry.
 
Melissa Woodruff, CGMP, CMP - Tech Trans International (National Capital Chapter and Chapter Alliance - Northern Lights Chapter)
Who/What influenced you to become involved in the government meeting industry?
Marie Ahrigi!  I met Marie though my time at the Association of the US Army.  Marie convinced me to join the BEST meeting planning organization due to its networking and education. Since becoming a member of SGMP, it's opened up my eyes to the vast world of government meetings. 
 
Share an accomplishment that you are very proud of …OR…Share your most unique experience as a meeting professional.  
My most unique experience as a meeting professional was planning several inaugural events during the 2008 inauguration of President Barak Obama.  It was a lot of blood, sweat and even more tears, but so worth the experience. Not many people can say they helped plan inauguration events for a president!
 
How would you prepare for the future success of the government meeting industry?
To prepare for the future success of the government meetings industry, I plan on continuing to learn as much as I can about government and the business it does; and to share that knowledge with others.  I also plan on informing other suppliers and planners that are not members or not aware of SGMP of the benefits of an SGMP membership.