By Christine Cole
A version of this article originally appeared on the GW Alumni News blog.
Given their academic interests and pursuits, it was inevitable that Colleen Connors, B.A. ’91, and Howard Opinsky, B.A. ’91, would cross paths at GW.
As a senior in high school in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Colleen realized she had a passion for promoting social justice by influencing the political process to bring about change. “GW was the first, and at that time the only, university with a political communication program that tied together all of the aspects of politics and advocacy that I thought were required,” she says. It was exactly what she wanted to study, and it allowed her to be in the nation’s capital.
Howard, who was inspired by political journalists and consultants of the Reagan/Bush era, had an interest in elections and political power. “GW offered an opportunity to mix classroom learning with practical experiences that were unmatched by any other university,” he says. Howard, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, decided to commit to GW after a cold February visit to D.C., where he attended a press conference in the White House Briefing Room. He “caught Potomac fever” and knew he wanted to move in down the street, so GW’s political communication program was a perfect fit.
The couple first met in a public relations class their sophomore year and had mutual friends, but, it wasn’t until their senior year, in Professor Jarol Manheim’s senior seminar for political communication majors, that they got to know each other better.
“It was during those classes that we began to see one another more without the distractions of our friends,” says Howard.
Colleen was on crutches for a broken foot and Howard would carry her books so they could continue their after-class chats. When Howard needed help staying calm so he could finish his final projects, he turned to Colleen for support.
“The shared experiences and trust we developed in and out of the classroom helped propel our relationship forward,” says Colleen.
And the rest is history, as the saying goes.
After graduation, they both stayed in D.C. to start their careers. They lived a block apart but eventually moved in together in Dupont Circle and got married in 1995.
Howard went into politics for a decade, working on election campaigns for several federal and presidential candidates, including John McCain's 2004 campaign. He then spent 15 years as a crisis communication and public affairs consultant at two global PR agencies and JPMorgan Chase. Now, he helps clients manage their online reputations as a partner at Five Blocks, a digital reputation management firm.
Colleen started in international public affairs and communications before leading advocacy campaigns, including the Save Darfur Coalition. She shifted into talent management and human resources later in her career, serving as the global talent leader at Porter Novelli, and she recently joined the ONE Campaign as their chief talent officer.
But through the years, their GW connection has stayed strong. In 1996, they had their first daughter at the old GW Hospital. “It was surreal to have that experience join the many others we had on campus,” says Colleen.
They lived in San Antonio, Texas for a stint and welcomed a second daughter, but D.C. beckoned them back and they returned to the Chevy Chase area to raise their daughters who are now both in college.
“We’ve taken them to Colonials games over the years, and they’ve sat through endless stories told by us and our GW classmates about our days on campus,” says Howard.
There are fond memories of becoming “D.C. insiders”; visiting Dupont Circle and Georgetown; taking the metro; frequenting local haunts (many of which are no longer there), such as The Twenty-First Amendment, The Exchange, The Black Rooster Pub, the milkshake counter in a drugstore on Pennsylvania Ave; and enjoying late-night Menush hot-dogs and sandwiches at Lindy’s “the Bon” Apetit.
Howard remembers how “the world came to GW” their freshman year, when President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev held a summit meeting on campus.
Colleen recalls how “the best class ever,” with Professor Steven Roberts, would often continue outside the classroom at TGI Friday's. “Most of us would follow Steve and be joined by others, including Howard,” she says. “I made great friends and a life-long beloved mentor in that class.”
“It was great fun to enjoy ordinary activities, like homework, a sports activity, or just hanging around amid the symbols of our country that people travel to see from all over the world,” says Howard. “Some of our favorite memories are of debating politics, policy and life with friends in our dorm rooms, at meals, on the quad, wherever we were on campus. We learned to debate the issues intelligently, with facts, and respect for our friends’ point of view. You always learned something about a friend in those conversations and rarely left one feeling worse about them.”
GW is a special place for the couple, notes Howard. “It’s where we met, made friends, found mentors, and learned things that would shape the rest of our lives together.”