Inspired by her Panetta Institute Congressional Internship through Dominican University of California, Kat Skiles ’07 launched a career that has led her to key jobs with Nancy Pelosi and Beto O’Rourke and now two new titles: CEO and Video Producer of Narrative Creative Agency and a spot on the list of a Fortune magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40.”
“The Panetta Institute internship was my `aha’ moment at Dominican,” says Kat, who majored in Political Science and double minored in Pre-Law and Religion. “That internship was everything — the first of many dominos that would propel my career forward.”
The impact was so powerful that one of the first people Kat contacted after hearing about being included on the Fortune list was her former faculty mentor, Alison Howard, now chair of the Political Science and International Studies department. She encouraged Kat to serve as Dominican’s Panetta intern in 2006.
“It's hard to imagine I'd be where I am without that internship or the support of my professors, Alison Howard in particular,” Kat says.
Certainly Kat never imagined in 2020 that her resume would include Top 40 Under 40 in Fortune. It made her feel really fortunate that she was considered to be among the most influential young leaders for the year.
“I woke up to emails from friends and loved ones who saw the article before I did,” Kat says. “When I saw that Beyoncé and Dan Levy (multiple Emmy Award-winning co-creator, executive producer, and costar of the recently-concluded Canadian sitcom Schitt's Creek) were on the list at first glance, I was certain there was a mistake!”
Make no mistake about it. Kat earned the honor.
While working as Senior Advisor and Digital Director for House Minority Leader Pelosi from 2014-016, Kat was named to Washingtonian magazine’s list of “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington.” She also was named one of “The 20 Most Powerful Women Staffers on Capitol Hill” by National Journal.
Thereafter, Kat worked as Senior Marketing Strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, Message Mobilization for the Democratic National Committee and, from July to November in 2019, she was Senior Advisor for Digital Content for Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign.
In addition, Kat has been recognized as Washington City Paper’s Best Gay Activist and the Washington Blade’s Best LGBT Hill Staffer.
The road to all things Washington, however, started in 2006 when Alison Howard recommended Kat apply for a Congressional internship at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.
Kat came to Dominican and the School of Liberal Arts and Education from Salt Lake City with, in her words, “an open heart and an open mind, excited for the opportunity to grow as a human being and as a student.” She saw drawn by Dominican’s small class sizes that foster a close student-faculty relationship, a fun campus community, an opportunity to play on the Penguins’ women’s basketball team, rich traditions rooted in service passed on from the Dominican nuns, “and perhaps one of the most beautiful college settings in America.”
In the end Kat was selected to give the undergraduate address at Commencement her senior year before she began an internship in the office of then San Francisco Mayor – now Governor of California – Gavin Newsom.
"Our university was established over 100 years ago by the Dominican Order of Sisters in San Rafael. Fostered by the virtues of these brilliant women, our founders, the growth of the Dominican student is based upon the development of self - of learning to walk the talk,” Kat said that day in her Commencement speech. “The Dominican education does more than develop knowledge. It moves far beyond that, to develop conscience. `This Place Changes People’ means maturing the mind while simultaneously maturing the heart. As we graduate, we have to take our Dominican values with us and look beyond ourselves into the world at large. More urgently than ever, our world needs leaders with the desire to serve others."
Kat heeded her own advice to her classmates. She has carried Dominican’s values of Study, Community, Reflection, and Service all the way to her current role as CEO of her own company, Narrative Creative Agency. It’s based in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“Dominican prepares students to be ethical leaders and socially responsible citizens. My undergraduate education showed me that I could make an impact on the world and that all of us have a responsibility to do so,” Kat says. “The goal of my work is to elect leaders and support causes that will build a better future for our country.”
Kat started that work on Capitol Hill. Her video expertise, she says, seeks to win the hearts and minds of viewers by amplifying the voices of real people where they live, learn, work, and pray. Her aim is to turn the concept of political and advocacy video on its head, defying the traditional aspects of cheesy, over-polished ads and utilizing documentary storytelling as the north-star of all production principles.
However, going from video producer to owning her own company was a leap of faith. She has had to steer Narrative Creative Agency through a pandemic and a presidential election campaign.
“The public health crisis compels each of us to use our talents and abilities to fight on for the causes that matter now more than ever. While this pandemic has had a huge impact on my work — both in nature and in substance, I’ve continued to get after it, changing things up with video production techniques that adhere to the social distancing practices that will keep ourselves and others safe during these trying times,” Kat says.
“COVID-19 has shined a harsh light on longstanding systemic disparities that have made some individuals more vulnerable to the consequences of this virus than others. That’s why I’ve begun production on a documentary video series called American Exceptionalism. Between my regular political client works I will be spending the next few months capturing the stories of the pandemic that aren’t getting the attention they deserve and working to amplify the voices of those who have been hardest hit by Coronavirus due to enduring and systemic inequality.”
And then there was the morning she woke up and learned she was on Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list. It’s much different than the feeling she had when she was named among the “20 Most Powerful Women Staffers on Capitol Hill.”
“It validates the risks that I took when I went out on my own to follow my dreams of video production,” says Kat, who now lives with her fiancé in Annapolis, Md.
Kat is also thankful for all the support she has received from her days at Dominican to the long nights she has worked to receive such accolades.
“My family — they've always been my biggest cheerleaders. They were so supportive when I started my company a few years ago. I threw caution to the wind and set out on my own to follow my passion for video storytelling,” Kat says. “I'm grateful for them and to everyone who has supported my crazy dreams and helped me to share the lived experience of others. I reached out to Alison Howard — we've stayed in touch over the years — sent a quick note that had the article link and a simple note: `No way would I be where I am without you. Deeply grateful.’ ”