New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Leadership in Transformative Times

Melody C. Barnes

Melody C. Barnes

Diahann Billings-Burford

Diahann Billings-Burford

Brad Hargreaves

Brad Hargreaves

Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma

Dr. Wendy Suzuki

Dr. Wendy Suzuki

NOVEMBER 13, 2013

This event offered members of the NYU community  an opportunity to connect with one another, hear from renowned leaders, and begin a dialogue about how we can best support students in developing ethical and inclusive leadership.

At the networking reception, faculty, students and administrators weighed in on the most important leadership skills and attributes, pressing leadership issues in their respective fields, and the leadership development they could use most. Then in a lively moderated panel discussion, highly regarded leaders across sectors discussed the leadership required in moments of transformation, leadership lessons they have learned, and the role higher education can play in preparing tomorrow's leaders.



Melody C. Barnes

Melody C. Barnes is the Vice Provost for Global Student Leadership Initiatives, and Senior Fellow at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Ms. Barnes is responsible for developing a wide-ranging set of initiatives across our campuses to prepare our students more fully for leadership roles – to arrange opportunities to interact with world leaders who visit us, to ensure that our most outstanding students are successfully availing themselves of opportunities for major scholarships and fellowships, and to look for areas of collaboration among our existing programs to recognize and cultivate student merit and leadership.

A former Assistant to President Barack Obama and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Ms. Barnes has most recently been working as a private consultant and as chair of a new initiative at the Aspen Institute. From January 2009 to January 2012, she provided policy and strategic advice to President Obama and worked closely with members of the Cabinet coordinating the domestic policy agenda across the Administration. Prior to her work in the White House, she served on the leadership team for the Obama-Biden Transition Project and as Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to the Obama for America campaign.

From 2003 to July 2008, she worked at the Center for American Progress, a progressive research institute and think tank, where she was named Executive Vice President for Policy in 2005. From 1995 to 2003, she worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving as his chief counsel from 1998 onwards. Melody began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City.

Barnes received her bachelor's degree in 1986 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors. She received her law degree in 1989 from the University of Michigan Law School.

Diahann Billings-Burford

As Chief Service Officer for the City of New York, Diahann Billings-Burford heads NYC Service, a division of the Mayor’s Office with the mission of tapping the power of the people to meet pressing challenges. NYC Service meets the Mayor’s State of the City pledge for New York City to lead the way in answering President Obama’s nationwide call to service. The NYC Service program has three main goals: help more New Yorkers connect to service opportunities more easily, target volunteers to address the city’s greatest needs, and promote service as a core part of what it means to be a citizen in the greatest City in the world. NYC Service implements 25 initiatives to meet these goals. NYC Service initiatives target six impact areas: strengthening communities, helping neighbors in need, education, environment, health, and emergency preparedness.

Prior to this appointment, Ms. Billings-Burford served as Deputy Executive Director of External Affairs for City Year New York, a nonprofit organization. In that position, she established and maintained relationships with politicians, community leaders and stakeholders and oversaw recruitment and communications.

Ms. Billings-Burford is a very proud Brooklyn native and currently lives there with her husband and their two children.

Brad Hargreaves

Brad Hargreaves is a co-founder at General Assembly, an urban campus for technology, design and entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur Mr. Hargreaves has created products and companies that bridge online and offline worlds including GoCrossCampus, Aloysius Properties and General Assembly.

Prior to co-founding General Assembly, Mr. Hargreaves was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Tipping Point Partners, an early-stage investor and incubator in Tribeca. He attended Yale, where he co-founded Yale’s first university-run entrepreneurship initiative. He writes about entrepreneurship, New York City and life at

Yo-Yo Ma

The many-faceted career of cellist Yo-Yo Ma is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Mr. Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras worldwide and his recital and chamber music activities. His discography includes over 90 albums, including more than 17 Grammy award winners.

Mr. Ma serves as the Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project, an organization he founded to promote the study of cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade routes. Since the Project’s inception, more than 60 works have been commissioned specifically for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually. Mr. Ma also serves as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training. His work focuses on the transformative power music can have in individuals’ lives, and on increasing the number and variety of opportunities audiences have to experience music in their communities.

Mr. Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents who later moved the family to New York. He began to study cello at the age of four, attended the Juilliard School and in 1976 graduated from Harvard University. He has received numerous awards, among them the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the National Medal of Arts (2001), the Sonning Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), the Polar Music Prize (2012) and the Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music (2013). In 2011, Mr. Ma was recognized as a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Mr. Ma serves as a UN Messenger of Peace and as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities. He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the invitation of President Obama on the occasion of the 56th Inaugural Ceremony.

Wendy Suzuki

Wendy Suzuki, PhD is a Professor of Neural Science and psychology at New York University. She received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in the Department of Physiology/Anatomy and her PhD in Neuroscience from UC San Diego. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health before starting her faculty position in the Center for Neural Science at New York University in 1998.

Her research focuses on two main questions. First, she is interested in understanding how our brains allow us to learn and retain new long-term memories for facts and events. Second, she is interested in understanding the effects of aerobic exercise on our brain’s learning memory and cognitive abilities.

Dr. Suzuki is a recipient of numerous grants and awards for her research including the Lindsley Prize from the Society for Neuroscience, the prestigious Troland Research award from the National Academy of Sciences and NYU’s Golden Dozen Teaching award. She is also a popular lecturer at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

In addition to research and teaching she is also passionate about supporting women in science. Together with the head of the education division of a professional and life coaching company based in New York City, she has founded an organization called “Empowering Women in Science” that runs leadership training seminars for undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs and faculty across the NYU campus as well as for other universities around the country.

All photos on this page: © NYU Photo Bureau: Gallo


  • Association for Latin@s & Allies in Public Service (ALAS)
  • Greek Allies
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars
  • NYU Athletics
  • NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs
  • NYU Entrepreneurs Network
  • NYU Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship
  • NYU-Poly Student Affairs
  • NYU Wagner Student Affairs
  • Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership
  • Office of Residential Life & Housing Services
  • Research Center for Leadership in Action
  • Silver School of Social Work
  • Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development
  • Tisch School of the Arts
  • Violet Leadership Institute

The NYU Leadership Initiative would like to offer special thanks to the following:

  • Ford Foundation
  • HashtagNYU
  • NYU Advertising and Publications
  • NYU Global Technology Services
  • NYU School of Law
  • NYU-TV


Networking Event
Networking Event

Networking event participants
Networking Event


Leadership in Transformative Times panel
Leadership in Tranformative Times audience
Leadership in Transformative Times audience
Leadership in Transformative Times
Wendy Suzuki
NYU Footer