From Student to Coach: Dan Hess ’05
As an O’Dowd Mock Trial team member, Dan Hess ’05 was one of the few students who never started off as a witness. “The norm is for a student to be a witness, watching the attorneys, and then move into that role if he/she chooses,” social studies teacher and longtime Mock Trial coach Bonnie Sussman said. “But Dan had such a natural talent and public speaking ability he was an attorney for four years.”
Today, Hess is helping cultivate the latest generation of O’Dowd “mockers.” He’s served as an assistant coach since 2016, volunteering twice a week during Mock Trial season and sharing his knowledge of the ins and outs of the process.
“His dedication to helping the team succeed has greatly impacted the quality of our program,” Sussman said. “The team members respect him and appreciate his commitment to their improvement.”
He’s got plenty of street cred, too. He was a member of the only O’Dowd Mock Trial team that qualified for the state competition.
Past O’Dowd parent and attorney Anne Bookin, who has coached Mock Trial with Sussman for the past 21 years, says Hess is smart, funny, hardworking, broadly skilled and an ultimate team player.
“He is willing to take on whatever role is needed, whether minor background player or primary leader. He has mastered the performance, analytical and legal skills necessary to be a fabulous Mock Trial coach without spending a day in law school. He is a delight in every way,” Bookin said.
After graduating from O’Dowd, Hess earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Gonzaga University and a master’s degree in American Government from Georgetown University. While in grad school, he had an internship with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, blending classroom learning with real life experience.
After graduate school, Hess lived in Washington, D.C. working as a political fundraiser, political campaign consultant and pollster, and as a Policy Fellow at the ocean conservation organization Oceana. At Oceana, he was the lead author and analyst for a report describing Global Fishing Watch, a tool he worked with Google and SkyTruth to create that maps and measures all commercial fishing activity worldwide. Global Fishing Watch’s cutting-edge technology has gone on to promote ocean sustainability through helping enable scientific research, increasing transparency, fostering better policies and marine protection, and improving the way fishing is managed across the globe.
“I want the students that I work with to leave JSA knowing that they have a voice, and that they also have the confidence to make it be heard.”
Hess is currently a Senior Program Director for the Junior State of America, a nationwide, non-profit, student-run and student-led, civics education organization that gets high school students active and engaged in politics, debate, and advocacy. Hess works with high schools across Northern California, largely focusing on strengthening existing JSA chapters, expanding JSA to new high schools, and raising money to lower costs for students to participate in JSA events. “It’s incredibly fulfilling and rewarding,” he said of the work.
Hess is also the Director of the JSA Summer School at Georgetown, and previously served as the deputy director at JSA’s Stanford Summer School (2016) and Georgetown Summer School (2015).
Working for JSA is an instance of Hess coming full circle. As an O’Dowd student, he was a member of the school’s JSA chapter for four years, serving as an East Bay Region Senator as a sophomore before becoming chapter president and resurrecting the Northern California Public Relations Department as a junior and senior.
Hess says his work is vitally important in creating a sense of civic engagement in teenagers. “Studies have found that if people start voting when they are 18, they continue to vote at a much higher rate across the rest of their lives,” he said. “And so the ability of organizations like JSA to get students to be civically engaged and involved, and help them find their voice and confidence to not only become leaders but become engaged and feel they can make a difference, is incredibly important.”
Last year, several weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives, Hess encouraged students gathered at a JSA convention to speak up on issues that matter to them. “I pointed out that students in Parkland were already making their voices heard – organizing rallies and reaching out to their legislators – and were not letting anyone tell them they were too young to have opinions or take action.”
Later that evening, students from a NorCal JSA chapter approached him to say that they, as a chapter, had just called their elected representatives to let them know that gun control was an issue they cared about. “It was all because of the speech I had given. It was humbling and inspiring,” he said. “I want the students that I work with to leave JSA knowing that they have a voice, and that they also have the confidence to make it be heard.”