Staff Biographies


Meet Vice Chancellor Jason Smith

Jason Smith is the Vice Chancellor of Government and Community Relations for the University of Houston System. In this position, Jason is responsible for managing all communications with elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. While in his position, he led the University of Houston team that secured and hosted the CNN Republican Primary Debate in 2016, secured more $1 billion in state supported bonds to fund much needed academic buildings and student recreational centers throughout the UH System, two federal academic centers of excellence and obtained the funds to hire five members of the national academy of sciences.

Jason also leads the University of Houston’s Community Relations team. In the Spring of each year, UH hosts the March of Dimes March of Babies, an event that most recently attracted 35,000 and raised $2.8 million in funds to combat birth defects and ensure healthy pregnancies for mom’s and their babies. The Houston March for Babies is the largest in the country. In August of every year, his office hosts the annual Mayor’s Back 2 School Fest, an event that ensures Houston area schoolchildren begin school healthy and with supplies, they need to be successful. In 2017, 8,000 backpacks with school supplies were distributed, UH College of Optometry conducted 753 vision tests, and UH College of Pharmacy assisted in providing 2,801 immunizations.

During the 2019 Texas Legislative Session, Jason worked tirelessly to secure funds in order to establish the University Of Houston College Of Medicine, which focuses on producing high quality primary care physicians that will lead the world in population health and team based healthcare delivery.

In 2023 he led the University of Houston’s efforts to establish the Texas University Fund (TUF), a permanent $3.5 billion endowment to expand the university’s research capabilities and more importantly, help the university achieve its goal of becoming a Top 50 ranked Public University.

Prior to his appointment to his current position, he was the principal of Smith Capitol Strategies, a Texas based public affairs firm specializing in legislative lobbying & political consulting. 

Prior to August of 2009, he spent seven years serving as a staff member in both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate, working two sessions in each body. In the House, Jason served as Committee Clerk and Policy Director for the Urban Affairs Committee. During his tenure in the Texas Senate, he worked for State Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) as Legislative Policy & Budget Advisor.

In 2007, Jason served as the lead policy advisor on SB 792, establishing a statewide policy on toll roads in the state’s transportation system and was recognized as one of the Capitol’s premier transportation policy experts among capitol staff, lobbyists, & legislators during that period.

In 2013, Jason was a key lobbyist for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild in its efforts to pass legislation 20 years in the making. After failing during the previous 9 regular sessions, the Craft Beer industry successfully earned the right to sell beer at their own breweries after turning to Jason for help in this important economic development initiative. As a result, hundreds of new craft breweries were established throughout the state.

Since 2002, Jason has worked on more than 30 campaigns for both local and state offices. Most prominently, Jason served as National Deputy Political Director for the Rick Perry Presidential Campaign during the 2012 Primary. During his time working to elect federal, state and local officials, he specialized in campaign strategy, message creation, & grassroots organization.

Jason is fourth generation Texan, a native Houstonian, received his B.A. from the University of Houston and his Masters of Communication Management (M.C.M.) from University of Southern California. In 2013, Jason was named a "Rising Star" Lobbyist by Capitol Inside & was included in the Houston Business Journal's prestigious "40 under 40" in 2018. He and his wife, Erin, are proud parents of triplet boys, Connor, Cooper and Cullen.

Federal Relations

website_headshot_1_pages-to-jpg-00011.jpgMegan Schneider

Megan Schneider joined the University of Houston System in February 2022 and currently serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations. Before joining the University of Houston, she spent five and a half years with the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), where she most recently filled the role of Senior Director of Government Affairs. Megan has also previously worked in the Federal Relations Office of the University of Arizona, acting as a liaison between the university and the federal government.

Megan previously served as a law clerk on Capitol Hill to Senator John McCain and for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation. 

Megan holds degrees from the University of Arizona and American University’s Washington College of Law. Megan is headquartered in Washington, DC, to raise the UH System's visibility on Capitol Hill and within federal agencies. Already, her work has paid dividends in this newly created position, most notably, helping to secure a $63 million grant from the Department of Defense in 2023, the University of Houston’s single largest federal grant.

State Relations

demetrio.jpgDemetrio Hernandez

Demetrio Hernandez joined the University of Houston System’s Government Relations Team in January 2020 as Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Budget. He is responsible for working with system and university leadership to formulate and communicate the Legislative Appropriations Requests for the University of Houston System and the University of Houston to the Legislature. He works directly with the Senate Finance Committee, House Appropriations Committee and the Legislative Budget Board to communicate the priorities of the University of Houston System as the state’s biennial budget is developed.

Prior to joining the University of Houston System, Demetrio worked for 12 years at the Legislative Budget Board. For the first four years, he served as a budget analyst overseeing the budget of several General Government agencies, including Employees Retirement System, the Pension Review Board, and Texas Facilities Commission. Demetrio then joined the LBB’s Higher Education Team as a budget analyst for the Health Related Institutions, and was soon promoted to Higher Education Team Manager, a position he held until joining the University of Houston System.

Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Demetrio has been married to his wife Carmen for 20 years. They are the proud parents of three children: Ariana, Allie, and Jordan. 

gedp-picture-dcg-1.jpgDeidra Garcia

Deidra Garcia serves as Associate Vice Chancellor for State Government Relations for the University of Houston System.  In her role, she works to secure state government support for the UH System and its four academic institutions by focusing on public policy initiatives that significantly impact higher education and legislative strategy to procure critical state funding.  With over 24 years of state legislative experience, Deidra has an extensive knowledge of the state political process and has cultivated strong relationships with state legislators and their staffs to advocate the interests important to the UH System.

Before joining the University of Houston System, Ms. Garcia worked at Jackson Walker L.L.P as a government relations consultant, lobbying on behalf of clients of the firm in a wide variety of matters, and as a legislative aide for Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, during his tenure as a State Senator, analyzing property tax, public education and higher education legislation for district impact and political intent.  Prior to those roles, Deidra worked as a lobby consultant in a private lobby practice and received her start in state politics in the Texas House of Representatives Chief Clerk’s Office as a bill clerk.

A lifelong Texan, Deidra grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, College Station.

Department Operation and Community Relations

SaraSara Lujan Donatto

Sara Lujan Donatto serves as the Executive Director of Operations and Local Relations and leads Community Relations in her role. Sara has been a part of the Government and Community Relations team for 11 years, as September 2023. She has nearly 14 years of experience in higher education and 19 years of experience in leadership roles.

In her pivotal role, Sara orchestrates the seamless operations of the department, extending across offices in Houston, Austin, and the Washington DC. She steers the course but charts new territories, ensuring that the department operates like a well-oiled machine. Simultaneously, Sara takes the helm in community relations, leading the charge with a visionary zeal. Her influence reverberates not only within the department's walls but extends outward, creating bridges and fostering relationships that echo the department's commitment to community engagement. Sara's dual mastery of both operational intricacies and the delicate dance of community relations sets her apart as a dynamic force in steering the department toward unparalleled success.

She holds an Executive MBA from Sam Houston State University and serves on multiple boards in the community. Most importantly, Sara considers herself an honorary UHS alumna after a decade of service at the UH System. Her passion for the work done in government and community relations is reflected in her unwavering commitment to the success of our Department, University, and UH System. Sara and her dear husband Adam Donatto, have two amazing boys Alec 7 and Amir 5.

Ilze Ilze Benavides

Ilze Benavides serves as the Administrative Operations Coordinator and has brought over twenty years of experience in her field to the Government and Community Relations Department. As a Southern New Hampshire Graduate, she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies with a minor in Child and Adolescent Development. After attaining her BA, Ilze worked with Conroe ISD as an administrative assistant. Ilze has proven to be indispensable in organizing, scheduling, and managing schedules and resources while innovating successful projects to improve office operations.

ximena-crop2.jpgXimena Mondragon

Ximena Mondragon is the Community Relations Director at the University of Houston. In this capacity she serves an essential role in fostering and developing reciprocal partnerships with local businesses, educational institutions, civic groups and community stakeholders. As a native Houstonian, Ximena has focused her career in helping uplift communities through advocacy, public policy, government relations and coalition building.

Prior to this role, she was a Policy Analyst for the Government Relations Department at the Houston Independent School District. In this role, she collaborated with local, state, and federal elected officials to bring forth legislation, statutes and regulations that enhance public education opportunities for the students, teachers and staff. Before joining the Houston Independent School District, Ximena served as the Manager of Civic Engagement at BakerRipley. She focused on increasing advocacy and civic engagement in the Northside, East End and Third Ward by coordinating special projects with community partners, government offices and external stakeholders. Ximena was also the former District Director for Texas State Representative Christina Morales, she established the Texas House District 145 office as a trusted resource for the community and key stakeholders. She coordinated food distributions, vaccine clinics, townhalls, job and career fairs and other events that addressed the needs of the communities in Texas House District 145.

Ximena earned a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from St. Mary’s University. She serves on League of Women Voters of Houston Board as a Trustee At Large and as a board member of the IGNITE Executive Board.