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Rob Fojtik is Vice President for Neighborhood Strategy at Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism and convention promotion bureau. In this capacity, Rob oversees efforts to promote and support Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods to visitors from near and far. Programs include the award-winning Neighborhood Content Creator program that leverages resident-made digital content, and Chicago Alfresco, a $2.5 million placemaking initiative created in partnership with the Chicago Department of Transportation to transform public spaces into community plazas for outdoor enjoyment.
Before coming to Choose Chicago, Rob was a Senior Advisor to Mayor Lightfoot on economic development and international relations at City Hall, as well as LGTBQ+ affairs and the expanded outdoor dining program. In this role, he also worked to recommend and place over 150 civic leaders and residents onto City boards and commissions. Prior to government service in the Lightfoot administration, Rob ran her winning campaign in the crowded 2019 Chicago mayoral race as Chief of Staff. In past lives, Rob has worked as a public affairs manager for a Fortune 500 company downtown; had misadventures in management consulting, art sales, and personal cheffing; and spent time in Washington DC working for former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Rob also served a one-year appointment at the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence as a policy advisor on Central and Eastern Europe. In this role, he was part of the NSC’s interagency process to develop a comprehensive sanctions regime on Russia as a consequence of its 2014 invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
After receiving his BA in Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University, Rob lived and worked in the Czech Republic teaching English and tending bar before moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue a MA from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies (CERES). He enjoys cooking, learning foreign languages, hiking with his partner and their dog, and visiting Chicago’s many neighborhoods.
Dr. Paul Durica is the Director of Exhibitions at the Chicago History Museums and worked in a similar capacity at The Newberry Library. From 2015-2020, he served as the Director of Programs and Exhibitions with Illinois Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Prior to that he drew upon his work as a writer, researcher, and teacher to produce a series of free and interactive talks, walks, and reenactments focused on narratives from Chicago’s past that resonate with its present.
These public history programs led to collaborations with cultural institutions in the city such as the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Chicago History Museum, Newberry Library, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Chicago Cultural Center among others.
Each program made use of both his original research and the skills of the arts organizations, community groups, local businesses, and publications that acted as my partners. Some of these programs, such as the full-scale reenactment of the Haymarket Affair in 2011, involved recruiting and directing over 300 volunteers and 1,000 participants.
To produce these programs successfully, he wrote grants; managed budgets; generated web content; worked closely with program partners of varying sizes and resources; and identified, engaged, and sustained a diverse multi-generational audience.
Dr. Lynessa M. Rico is the Associate Chair of the Business Psychology Department at the The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Chicago campus. She is also a business mentor at 1871.
Lynessa is a results-driven Strategic Consultant with over 25 years of experience enabling leaders to meet strategic business objectives by identifying and aligning business growth opportunities with strategic direction of culturally diverse organizations. By leveraging her strategic experience in identifying and impacting business growth opportunities and maximizing profits in retail firms and higher education institutions, Lynessa leads workshops focused on the creative mindset, women’s entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence, and the value and application of design thinking within entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Her services also include consulting with and educating leadership on emotional intelligence, the power of design thinking and the creative mindset, and leadership styles to support inclusive, creative workplaces. She has presented to leadership and innovation teams in small, mid-size, and Fortune 500 companies.
Lynessa received her undergraduate degrees in Marketing and Management from Wichita State University. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in Business Administration from Wichita State University with a focus in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. After earning her master’s degree, Lynessa received her doctorate in Business Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology where she successfully completed her dissertation titled, “The Relationship Between Personality Types and Color Preference for Color Combinations.” Her current research interests include women’s entrepreneurship, design thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurship self-efficacy.
Outside of work and research, Lynessa enjoys mentoring start-ups and judging pitch competitions. Lynessa currently resides in Chicago, Illinois with her four cats. She is an avid long-distance runner, having completed 5 full marathons (and counting), and enjoys watching musical theater.
Briana Thomas is the Museum Associate at the Abrahamic Center for Cultural Education (a core member of the Chicago Cultural Alliance). She wears many hats including developing exhibition content, facilitating community programs (children and adults), liaising with visitor artists, and other responsibilities. Her previous experience in the nonprofit space includes her tenure as the Financial Empowerment Coordinator at AMERICORPS Sharing Life Center as well as engaging with the public at the Dallas Arboretum. Her past professional experience has remained rooted in marginalized communities. It is their needs,discourse and histories that she has routinely been tasked with protecting and showcasing in the face of poor infrastructure, and willing ignorance. Creating safe spaces is an ancestral practice she has inherited.