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David Wenhold '90

Our Man in Washington

by Susan Peery

When Dave Wenhold matriculated at Keene State College in 1986, he was a self-described introvert. "I still think of myself as an average guy from Portsmouth," he says. "At Keene State, I learned how to interact, how to make friends. I joined a fraternity, Phi Kappa Theta, and got the full college experience. I was a bartender at the campus pub, which is a lot like being a sociologist. You learn how to talk to anyone."

Dave majored in political science and found his academic niche. "I credit professors Chuck Weed and Jo Beth Wolf – they got me on track. I worked on some political campaigns in Connecticut, and Jo Beth said, 'You need to get to Washington and the big scene.'"

First, Dave interned with New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman during the time Pease Air Force Base was being developed into a civilian airport and commercial center. This was a complicated regional issue and an education in itself. He worked on other political campaigns, then took a position in Washington with a lobbying firm that specialized in strategic planning and troubleshooting for legislative issues.

All those lessons from political science classes and bartending stood him in good stead. "I've never forgotten my roots," Dave said. "It's not where you go to school, it's what you learn. Keene State was the perfect size, the perfect place for me. In Washington, you have to prove yourself every day. I've learned that it's OK to be myself, and I've learned to stay cool in demanding situations – these things are skills you acquire."

Today, Dave is a founding partner of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, a leading lobbying firm in Washington. Moreover, he is the unpaid president of the American League of Lobbyists, making him a kind of super-advocate who lobbies for his own profession. In this role, he has honed his media skills, going head-to-head with Dan Rather and other journalists last spring over the proper role of lobbyists in government. ("You can see that interview on YouTube," Dave remarks).

The organization Dave founded has collected nearly 50,000 outfits and given them to local nonprofit agencies to provide proper wardrobe – and a big boost of confidence – to aspiring workers.

To prepare for media interviews, he first does his research. "I get my 'sound bites' down, add a little humor, and try to be completely prepared with talking points. When I go live on FOX or CNN, I just want to be treated fairly, and I think they know I will give it to them straight. But it is hard when they throw something at me out of the blue."

Miller/Wenhold does both paid and pro bono work in Washington. One thing Dave is particularly proud of is the Capitol PurSuit Drive, a charity that he founded six years ago. The PurSuit Drive is an annual clothing drive on Capitol Hill to collect and distribute "gently used" business attire for low-income men and women and at-risk youth transitioning to the workforce.

The first year, Dave and his staff collected 5,000 suits in four hours. The White House even had its own mini-drive to help out. Since then, the organization Dave founded has collected nearly 50,000 outfits and given them to local nonprofit agencies to provide proper wardrobe – and a big boost of confidence – to aspiring workers.

Dave has often advised prospective students interested in Keene State and has offered internships for promising political science students. About three years ago, he took his Keene State involvement to another level. "President Giles-Gee was interested in a listening tour on Capitol Hill," Dave said, "and after talking more with her and with Sean Gillery [major gifts officer in the Advancement Division], I set it up and took her around the Capitol. We have a great story to tell, and I wanted to show President Giles-Gee that we could be as active as other schools are."

Dave developed an advocacy campaign for Keene State to help secure funds for the Monadnock Biodiesel Cooperative (MBC) and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), two innovative partnerships between Keene State and the regional business community (see sidebar for more on MBC and RCAM).

He introduced President Giles-Gee and Dean of Professional and Graduate Studies Melinda Treadwell '90 to congressional staffers and representatives who could push for Keene State's programs. New Hampshire Representative Paul Hodes proposed and supported targeted funding of $300,000 for RCAM in the FY2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, and the legislation passed.

The money will be used to buy machining equipment for a high-tech Rapid Prototype Laboratory in the Adams Technology Building at Keene State. Through Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Dave helped Keene State get $100,000 for MBC and helped craft a follow-up proposal for $814,116, which Senator Shaheen added to the FY2011 Appropriations Bill.

For Keene State, obtaining funding is essential to success. Said Dave, who helped make those critical connections, "This is a story of innovation and initiative. If we don't try for the money, another school will. Private-public partnerships are critical in this economy. The global economy demands collaboration, and old ways of doing business don't work.

"Institutions can become isolated," he continued. "Projects like RCAM add a new demographic. Manufacturing represents 26 percent of the economy in southern New Hampshire. Our students all need jobs, and businesses need skilled employees. What a partnership like RCAM says is, 'We will give you those top-notch students.'"

If lobbying is all about making connections, Keene State has benefited from an alumnus who makes that direct link between Oja Hill and Capitol Hill. President Giles-Gee concludes, "We are fortunate to have the support of David Wenhold. He has been a crucial link to New Hampshire's federal delegation and has also gone above and beyond to share his expertise and insight with Keene State students – engaging them during guest lectures and through internships in our nation's capital. I am very pleased to work with an alumnus who is so knowledgeable and respected in Washington, D.C."

It's quite an endorsement of that average guy from Portsmouth who decided to make it in the "big scene" of Washington, D.C.

Dave developed an advocacy campaign for Keene State to help secure funds for the Monadnock Biodiesel Cooperative and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

The ABCs of MBC and RCAM

MBC: Monadnock Biodiesel Cooperative, a cooperative effort of Keene State College, the city of Keene, and biodiesel refiners to convert yellow and brown waste grease collected in the region into high-quality biodiesel to power engines and heat homes.

MBC has already reduced fuel costs for the College and the city of Keene, improved air quality by reducing fine particulate emissions, and provided research opportunities for KSC students and faculty and jobs for community partners.

In accepting the initial $100,000 in federal funds, President Helen Giles-Gee noted that Keene State is "driving the kind of community-based innovation that will make energy independence and environmentally conscious economic development a reality."

RCAM: Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), a new partnership between Keene State College, the Keene School District, River Valley Community College, and the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce.

RCAM, based at Keene State, will offer educational and training opportunities and access to equipment and labs for new students and experienced workers, providing skilled employees for more than 70 high-tech manufacturing firms in the region.

In meshing college curriculum with the needs of the business community, RCAM will be a force in retaining the region's manufacturing base and attracting new industry to the area.