Today our new Innovation Team (i-team), funded by a $3 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, begins work at City Hall.
The i-team, led by my office and City Manager Pat West, is comprised of creative thinkers, and will function as an in-house research and development unit. The i-team will be able to work on a number of city priorities, focusing first on economic development, and advising the City on how best to stimulate growth, create jobs, and leverage City resources, including through online delivery of City services. The i-team will also help the City develop and implement solutions to improve city services, enhance civic engagement, and improve neighborhoods and business districts, among other efforts.
The City of Long Beach is focused on innovative economic development for the 21st Century, and we are honored and grateful to Michael Bloomberg and his team at Bloomberg Philanthropies for providing the resources to put this amazing team together. The new team includes Innovation Team Director John Keisler, Innovation Deputy Ryan Murray, Researcher Kelly Okonkwo, Programmer Alex Chavez, and Innovation Fellows Alma Flores, Eric Romero, and Heidi Wiersma.
Long Beach was one of more than 90 cities invited to apply for this grant in August 2014. As I announced at the State of the City speech in January, the the i-team is a key component of our economic development strategy, and will help connect residents to city services, and improve efficiency, through technology.
In addition to the grants, we will receive implementation support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and opportunities to exchange lessons learned and best practices with peers in other cities. Newly formed innovation teams will also go to Albuquerque, NM; Boston, MA; Centennial, CO; Jersey City, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; Mobile, AL; Minneapolis, MN; Peoria, IL; Rochester, NY; Seattle, WA; and Syracuse, NY. Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced that two international cities will receive innovation team grants: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel.
Below is a summary of the team members’ backgrounds, with expertise that ranges from anthropology to industrial design. They’re an incredible addition to our City team and I want to welcome and congratulate all of them.
Go Long Beach!
Innovation Delivery Team members:
John Keisler, Innovation Team Director: After completing Bachelor Degrees in Philosophy and Religion at St. Olaf College, Mr. Keisler joined Teach For America, teaching middle school English and civics in Newark, NJ. To address the chronic community challenges facing his students, he turned to a career in city management, working with the League of California Cities and completing his Master of Public Administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy. In 2005, John was hired as a Management Assistant by the City of Long Beach, and rotated through four departments. Over the next few years, he led multiple change-management projects throughout the City, serving as the Animal Care Services Bureau Manager, Business Operations Manager for the Parks, Recreation & Marine Department, and CFO for the Police Department. He has lived in Long Beach for the past 12 years.
Ryan A. Murray, Innovation Deputy: Mr. Murray worked in government and nonprofit settings in New York City for more than fifteen years, after moving from his childhood home of Barbados. His career has focused on building partnerships to address social and economic justice issues and create opportunity for those most vulnerable. Most recently, he oversaw external affairs, learning and change management for New York City Mayor’s Office innovation initiatives designed to reduce administrative burdens faced by human services providers and improve residents’ access to programs and benefits. Ryan has also served as a direct social service and HIV/AIDS education practitioner; community organizer; and capacity building manager for a City Agency which administered youth, workforce and community development programs. Ryan holds a Master’s in Public Health Degree from Hunter College, City University of New York.
Holly Okonkwo, Researcher: Ms. Okonkwo is a cultural anthropologist specializing in issues of diversity and change in the United States. Her work and research focus on the broad question of the origins of social inequity and ways to systemically better the lives of others through the use of mixed methods and developing innovative research projects. She has explored gender and class disparities in science education, labor and technological innovation in Southern California, Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. Holly completed her Doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. She also has a Master’s in Education Policy. Holly serves on the Committee for Gender Equity in Anthropology and volunteers on a number of committees and mentorship programs in the local community.
Alex Chavez, Programmer: Mr. Chavez is a software developer who graduated locally from Cabrillo High School and California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in 2013. Previously, Alex worked as a Programmer Analyst at Kaiser Permanente solving problems in IT infrastructure and implementing innovative solutions for displaying and analyzing data. Using a customer-centered approach, he has demonstrated the ability to work with a variety of systems and stakeholders, and to use technology to simplify complex processes. Upon realizing his experience and skills in technology can help address community challenges, he has joined the City of Long Beach to make his hometown a more connected place.
Harrison Huynh, Designer: Mr. Huynh completed a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Design at California State University, Long Beach, and then joined Atlantic Inc. in 2006 to be an Industrial Designer. In 2007, he won an Innovations Award for his design work at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. His designs and concepts were eventually released into big box retail. In 2009, Harrison joined Solar Monkey as a Designer, to help give direction and build the overall brand of the company. After several years, he was able to help Solar Monkey become acquired by Hanwha Solar to become one of the biggest premier solar companies in the world. Harrison currently resides in Garden Grove with his wife.
Alma Castro, Innovation Fellow: Ms. Castro’s passion for public service has provided her with a diverse set of skills and experiences. She received her double Bachelor in Political Science and Women’s Studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her dedication to her profession led her to complete her Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2011 from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. She has worked as a HIV prevention coordinator in Los Angeles, engaged young women in global advocacy at Girl Scouts of the USA, and has recently lived abroad in Guatemala. While abroad, she had the unique privilege of being an observer during the genocide trial in 2013 and was part of a consultant team at UN Women. There, she helped complete a two-part-diagnostic examining the quality of care and services to victims of crimes and on gender equality within Guatemala’s prosecution offices. She currently lives in Long Beach.
Eric Romero, Innovation Fellow: Mr Romero became passionate about studying social issues and actively engaging in local community development efforts addressing issues of poverty, housing, and immigrant integration while an undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach. After completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Eric pursued a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a focus on economic development. Furthermore, Eric worked as a Project Manager for Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, a school-wide initiative focused on preparing graduate students for careers in global governance, where he oversaw operations and program development. Eric lives in Long Beach and seeks to bring innovative solutions to difficult problems.
Heidi Wiersma, Innovation Fellow: Ms. Wiersma earned her Bachelor’s in Community Health from Western Washington University before beginning her career in chronic disease prevention for a county health department. It was while co-facilitating a community health improvement process that she began to understand the influence local government policies can have on enhancing people’s lives. From May 2011 to June 2013 Heidi served as a Community Health and Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda where she helped increase program awareness by facilitating regional life skills camps for youth. In her host community, Heidi mobilized community partners to obtain a USAID grant to address child malnutrition and its primary contributing factor, poverty through an income generating project. In August 2013 Heidi began the Master of Public Administration program at the USC Price School of Public Policy. She currently lives in Long Beach.
Chase Airmet, Designmatters Fellow: Mr. Airmet completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah in Design Theory & Practice. While in Utah he worked as a research fellow for the Spark Health Innovation Lab, as a draftsmen for a number of Architectural Firms and as a junior product designer for Espiritu Design. Currently, Chase is a graduate Industrial Design candidate at the Art Center College of Design. He has a drive and passion to create objects, services and experiences that excite and delight users. Inspired by nature and simple clean designs, Chase seeks to design new growth and value for companies through a trend and research based iterative design process considering all aspects of the product from the end use to the manufacturing and business opportunities.