Durham-Based Staff
2127 Campus Drive Annex
Suite 233

Chris Simmons headshot

Chris Simmons
Vice President for Government Relations
(919) 668-6270

Chris Simmons is the  Vice President for Government Relations at Duke. In this capacity, he oversees all facets of government relations at Duke and serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet.  He arrived at Duke in 2006 after serving in lead advocacy roles for the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the American Council on Education (ACE) in Washington, DC. Simmons is Duke’s principal point of contact and spokesperson on legislative and regulatory issues involving the federal government, Congress, and the Administration, in areas such as student financial aid, academic research, international education, tax policy, intellectual property, and immigration. He also oversees Duke in DC, Duke’s academic center and home for research and official events in Washington, DC.

Prior to working in higher education advocacy, Chris was the policy analyst for the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education. Authorized by Congress, the bi-partisan appointed commission produced the report, Straight Talk About College Costs and Prices. Before entering the world of higher education politics, he was the Assistant Director of Admissions at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

Chris currently serves as the Chair of the Public Issues Committee for the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE). He is the past Chairman of the Board for the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science and co-chaired the Ad-Hoc Tax Group. Chris is a former member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) Board of Directors and AAU Council of Federal Relations Steering Committee. He is the inaugural director of the Nakayama Public Service Scholars Program at Duke and serves as an undergraduate academic advisor for the University. For many years he has worked with students in the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as a mentor and coach. He is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Executive Leadership Expedition, and teaches cycle classes several times a week at the YMCA. In 2020, Chris was recognized for career excellence and distinguished contributions to national leadership in higher education with the AAU Legacy Award.

Simmons is a graduate of Willamette University where he majored in rhetoric and art. He received his graduate degree from Harvard University. He lives in Chapel Hill with his wife Lisa. They are the proud parents of Isabel, Scarlett, Noah, and all-American mutt, Oliver.

Melissa Vetterkind

Melissa Vetterkind
Assistant Vice President, Office of Government Relations
(919) 668-0761

Melissa Vetterkind has primary responsibility for the development, coordination and implementation of Duke’s priorities on federal scientific research issues with the legislative and executive branches of the federal government in addition to federal policy issues related to the humanities and intellectual property.

She is past chair of the Association of American Universities (AAU) Council on Federal Relations’ Steering Committee and past co-chair of the Coalition for National Security Research. She is the current co-chair of the AAU Council on Federal Relations’ Task Force on Intellectual Property-Information Technology and previously chaired the Task Forces on Defense, Homeland Security Funding, and Humanities. She is also a member of the Duke Leadership Academy Class of 2018.

Melissa came to Duke in 2003 after serving for almost six years in the office of former Congressman David Obey (D-WI).  A native cheesehead, Melissa currently lives in Durham and is a proud member of the Triangle Curling Club.

Arlene Melchiorre
Project Coordinator, Office of Government Relations
(919) 668-6286
Arlene Melchiorre is project coordinator in the Office of Government Relations. In this role, Arlene has primary responsibilities for managing the day-to-day office operation including reporting Duke’s lobbying efforts to the federal government on a quarterly basis. She also supports the Duke in DC office with the planning and coordination of events held in DC. Prior to joining the Office of Government Relations she was a staff assistant in Duke’s Office of Durham & Regional Affairs. Arlene completed her BA in Information Management and Technology at Syracuse University and her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Duke’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program. Arlene lives in Fuquay Varina with her husband Gary. She is the proud mother of Barbra, an Army veteran who continues to work with veterans at the VA in Fayetteville, and Garrett, a partner in the law firm of Cotton, Bledsoe, Tighe and Dawson in Midland, Texas. Her greatest joy is being known as “Ma” to her grandson, Johan.

Washington, DC-Based Staff
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Suite 500

Jeff Harris
Director, Duke in DC
Associate Director, Government Relations
(202) 524-4992

Jeff (T ’07) returned to Duke in June of 2015 where he oversees all programming and communications at the Duke in DC office. Within the Office of Government Relations, Jeff works on issues involving student aid and immigration. He currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Higher Education Task Force for the AAU Council on Federal Relations. Jeff was a graduate of the inaugural cohort Duke Management Academy Program in 2019.

Prior to Duke, Jeff spent six years at the Aspen Institute working in public affairs. Before the Aspen Institute, Jeff worked for President Obama’s first Inaugural Committee, the Center for American Progress, and various state and national political campaigns. He also earned a Master’s in Public Management degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2014.

Jeff lives in Virginia with his wife Amanda, former Duke fencer and the athlete of the family, as well as their two children Maxwell and Claire.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Devitt
Assistant Director, Duke in DC
(202) 524-4997

Lizzie joined Duke in DC and the Duke Office of Government Relations in July of 2019 where she serves as a communication liaison between Washington and Duke’s campus. Lizzie works with faculty and administrators to educate and engage policymakers on Duke’s research and interests in Washington.

A Duke 2018 graduate who majored in Public Policy, Lizzie was previously a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton supporting the firm’s Finance, Energy and Economic markets.

At Duke, Lizzie was a four-year varsity member of the women’s swimming and diving team and to this day, holds the school record in the 400 IM. She also participated in the inaugural class of the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement (ACE) Program where she helped support community programs focused on health care, early childhood development, teaching and sports in Cape Town, South Africa.