StratCom Staff


Thomas Bruch Writer/Editor 217-265-0990

Thomas Bruch is a writer and editor. He received a journalism degree from Illinois and started his career at the Peoria Journal Star newspaper before taking on writing roles in higher education. Outside of work, Thomas enjoys running, reading nonfiction, playing volleyball and watching basketball. Number of times he has seen his favorite band, My Morning Jacket, in concert: 8 and counting.

Phil Ciciora
Phil Ciciora Editor for Business, Labor and Law 217-333-2177

Phil Ciciora is the business and law editor with the Illinois News Bureau. He writes and edits news releases that spotlight the innovative research and expertise in the Gies College of Business, College of Law and other units on the Urbana campus. Stories based on his releases have appeared in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on television and radio.

Portrait of Andrea Darlas
Andrea Darlas Senior Director of Constituent Engagement

Andrea Darlas is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning radio and television news anchor/reporter and talk show host based in Chicago. She currently works with StratCom, the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of Advancement as a media liaison, promoting and advancing the U. of I. throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. Andrea has served on the U. of I. College of Media’s National Alumni Board, the university’s Alumni Association and the Campus Alumni Advisory Boards. In 2019, she was inducted in the prestigious WGN Radio Walk of Fame and in 2023 she was inducted into the Illini Media Hall of Fame.

Sharita Forrest Editor for Education and Social Work 217-244-1072

Sharita Forrest is a research editor in the News Bureau who enjoys telling the Illinois story through engaging narratives about the discoveries of its educators, researchers and scholars.She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication and journalism, respectively, at Illinois and joined the News Bureau’s staff full-time in 2001. She has covered various campus units over the years but her beat currently includes communication; education; food science and human nutrition; recreation, sport and tourism; sociology; and social work. A lifelong bibliophile, she is a longtime trustee and officer on her local library board who also explores the roads less traveled on her motorcycle or can be found cuddling her rescue kitties and Yorkshire terrier.

Jodi Heckel
Jodi Heckel Editor for Arts and Humanities 217-300-2751

Jodi Heckel is the arts and humanities editor for the News Bureau. She writes about the disciplines within the College of Fine and Applied Arts, as well as humanities, the University Library and the School of Information Sciences. When she’s not at work, she likes to spend time outdoors running, biking, swimming and sailing.

Anthony Hicks Writer/Editor 217-265-4083

Anthony Hicks is a writer and editor. In his role, he provides editorial expertise to departments across StratCom as well as across campus. In addition to professional writing, he spends his time critically reading literary novels and studying fiction writing. He enjoys exploring new vacation spots with his family and taking long nature walks.

Diana Melstrad's portrait
Diana Melstrad Media Relations Associate 2173330333

Diana is a media relations associate who works to broaden the university's compelling narratives. She is a proud Illinois alumna and is currently working towards earning her J.D. degree. Outside of work, Diana enjoys spending time with family and friends, solving crossword puzzles and reading.

Maeve Reilly Writer/Editor 217-244-5646

Maeve Reilly is a writer and editor. She started her career at Illinois in Public Affairs but has had a few diversions along the way, mainly in various campus communications units. When not at work, Maeve enjoys gardening, reading, cooking (and eating) and hanging out with her four adult children.

Liz Ahlberg Touchstone Editor for Biomedical Sciences 217-244-1073

Liz Ahlberg Touchstone covers biomedical sciences for the News Bureau. She works with faculty and researchers to make health, medicine and biomedical research news accessible to the public. When not working, she can be found chasing after two small children and playing board games with her husband, if said children ever go to sleep.

Allison Copenbarger Vance Director of Messaging 217-300-6171

Allison Vance leads messaging for the university and assists with crisis communications. She supervises the institutional communications, media relations and News Bureau teams and manages the marketing and communications team for the Office of the Provost. She also teaches public relations courses in the department of advertising and is a proud two-time alumna (journalism and advertising) of the College of Media.

Katie Watson's portrait
Katie Watson Associate Director of Institutional Communications 217-300-7230

Katie Watson leads campuswide communications in close collaboration with colleges, departments and units. She also serves as the chief communications officer for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Operations and supports major projects for the Office of the Chancellor. Katie holds a master's degree in information science.

Diana Yates Editor for Agriculture, Applied Health Sciences and Life Sciences 217-333-5802

Diana Yates writes about all facets of biology, from the scale of individual atoms to biological and ecological factors affecting landscapes, people and other organisms. She also covers new findings in anthropology and psychology. She has a background in field and laboratory research, journalism and public health. She loves writing about science and is grateful for the opportunity to discover, explore and describe new findings from Illinois. faculty members, students, postdocs and other researchers. She also enjoys recruiting writers, editing and writing for Behind the Scenes, a blog that explores moments in the life of the university. She is married and has two cats.

Lois Yoksoulian Editor for Engineering and Physical Sciences 217-244-2788

Lois Yoksoulian covers physical sciences and the media. After a career as a geologist and infamous “shop talker,” she realized she was better suited for a gig discussing science’s bigger picture. She relishes talking shop with some of the world’s brightest minds and translating what she learned for the News Bureau audience. She lives for live music and recently became an official cat lady by adopting a third feline.