Washington, DC – IRI today announced the following staff changes: Michelle Bekkering, Director of the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN); Hal Ferguson, Director of Iraq Programs; Erika Veberyte Deputy Director of the WDN; and Susan Yang, Director of External Affairs.

Bekkering joined IRI in 2005, working in the Eurasia division to support the democratic development of the former soviet republics. As Deputy Director for Eurasia, she oversaw programming in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia.  Prior to joining IRI, Bekkering served in numerous positions within the U.S. government.  She served in the European and Eurasian Affairs Directorate of the National Security Council and worked on Capitol Hill as an aide to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46).  A native of Iowa, she graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  As part of her education, she studied at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Ferguson joined IRI in 2004 working in Afghanistan, where he worked with independent tribal figures to engage them in their country’s political process.  After a year and a half in Kabul, Ferguson returned to Washington to oversee programs in Iran and Syria.  In 2008 he was named Director of Operations for IRI’s program in Iraq.  During his year and a half in Iraq, Ferguson oversaw IRI efforts to incorporate tribal sheikhs into the democratic political process and assisted in three national and local elections.  In January 2010, he returned to Washington as Iraq Program Director.  Prior to joining IRI, Ferguson received a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University, and has a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Colby College.

Veberyte previously served as Political Counselor at the Embassy of Lithuania in Washington, DC and as Acting Head of the Americas Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Prior to joining Lithuania’s Foreign Service, she served as Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to the Speaker of the Seimas (parliament) and Diplomatic Advisor to the Acting President of Lithuania.  Veberyte has also worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, the US Embassy in Lithuania and IRI’s office in Vilnius, Lithuania.  She received a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, where she was a Muskie Fellow and a degree from Vilnius University Philology faculty.  She has completed additional studies at Aalborg University (Denmark) and the University of Colorado.

Yang joined IRI in 2009 working on IRI’s Iraq program.  Her background includes working in the executive and legislative branches of government, as well as in both the public and private sectors.  Prior to joining IRI, Yang served as Director for Senate Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Her time in government included work at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Office of the Speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Yang has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

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