Penn Wharton Budget Model Certificate for Policy Professionals

Issued August 11, 2020

The Penn Wharton Budget Model Certificate for Policy Professionals is geared toward congressional staffers and other public policy professionals who work in the Washington, DC area. The program trains students in the economics of public policies and the process of how policies are made. After completing the program, certificate earners are better prepared to understand and articulate the economic trade-offs of legislation.

Commencement Address – River Forest c/o 2020

Greetings and congratulations, Class of 2020. Here we are, you made it! Graduating high school is a major accomplishment, and one of the first of many milestones in your life.

I must, however, also offer my condolences. For the rest of your years, wherever you may go, you will have to explain to people what an Ingot is…. and hopefully they won’t ask what the school colors are. They say its red and gold but is it, Vegas gold, orange gold or mustard yellow? I guess it depends on which sport and what year we’re talking about.

Thank you to administrators, faculty, staff as well as parents, family and friends, for allowing me the honor and privilege to speak to you.

When I originally wrote this speech last fall, we were living in a different world, one with an economy flying high and opportunities abound. While Class of 2020 slogans included “Perfect Vision” and “The future is clear”, I think a more appropriate one now is “Hindsight is 2020”. Because as time goes on, you will look back at this year, and know, despite the adversity that was endured from this pandemic, you came out as a stronger person, class and community.

It is the sacrifices and support over the years, by the families here today, that helped you reach this point of accomplishment. It is the faculty and staff that put in more than just a 40-hour work week, as they also served as coaches, mentors and sometimes, just a person that was there to listen. Some staff have actually been here since the time of Abraham Lincoln. I’m looking at you Burton, Cullison, Thompson, Weitzel. But seeing as how they still have some hair on their heads, it looks like the jokes on me. In all seriousness, your investment in these young leaders cannot go without appreciation. Please give yourself a round of applause.

Many years ago, when I first started my career, a family member of modest means from rural-Kentucky, left me with two points of timeless wisdom that I would like to share with you. He said “Robert, never be ashamed of what you do for a living and never forget where you came from.”

Number 1. Never be ashamed of what you do for a living. The education you received here at RF should lead to a life of service, action and leadership. My generation was told that college was the only path to success, but there are many ways to pursue your passion. At the end of the day, there is dignity in all work, whether you’re white-collar or blue-collar or somewhere in-between. It takes all kinds of kinds to make the world go round. One of my mentors said there are five pillars to a strong community: That is, education, business and labor, non-profits, government and faith-based organizations. While your job will fall into one of these buckets, I encourage you to participate in another. Whether its running for public office or volunteering at a local soup-kitchen, serving others is a very rewarding experience, and a great way to make your community a better place to work, live and play.

Number 2: never forget where you came from. That’s why I’ve returned from Washington DC for such a great event. When you leave RF this evening, always be proud to be an Ingot. As a bedroom community to US Steel in Gary, this place was never home to silver spoons much less trust-fund kids. You might have started on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, but being from the working-class is a real badge of honor. Despite minimum resources, I can see from test scores, sports teams and other accolades reported in the media, that you’ve outperformed all expectations set by the experts. As the story of David and Goliath reminds us, some disadvantages, may actually indeed, be advantages.

Speaking of advantages, when did River Forest get air conditioning? Hard to believe the school didn’t even have AC when I graduated. But really, the advantage RF has, is the diversity of its student body, which is now minority-majority. That strength is something few schools in the Region, much less state, have accomplished. While others talk about integration and inclusion, you actually live it. As our historical challenge with race relations moves to the forefront once again, you are uniquely positioned to advocate for the values of liberty, freedom and justice as espoused by our constitution. I challenge you to take action in a positive and thoughtful way, to help build a more perfect union.

To do this, it starts right here, by being present… and off your phone. Social media profits through the addiction to manufactured outrage. And while it’s a great source of entertainment at times, very few of society’s problems will be figured out on the internet. Finding solutions requires us to live outside our comfort zones, by engaging others in an authentic way, which takes time and can only happen in person.

Now that I sound like an old-timer ranting about the ills of technology and the internet, let’s finish this on a high note, which means for some of you, you can wake up now. I wish the Class of 2020 all the best in your endeavors. Maintain humility in your successes, learn from your failures, and always pay it forward. Thank you.

Why E-Commerce And Physical Stores Are A Perfect Marriage

Reposted from MR-Mag on February 10, 2020

For the past few years, every article I have read about the retail industry indicates an e-commerce apocalypse that was prophesized in the late ‘90s. To me, this data and message are more reflective of big box stores, which have always tried to compete on price alone since the ‘70s. While the internet is here to stay, independent retailers should remain optimistic and think outside the box. There is a synergy between online brands and retail that has yet to be tapped much less reach its full potential.

Nearly 20 years after the dot com bubble, Google search and social media changed the landscape of consumerism forever. The youngest generation of Americans now entering the workforce grew up with smartphones and were raised with online purchasing at their finger-tips. In addition, the clothing industry is no longer controlled by corporations along with U.S. trade quotas in textiles. Any person can gain access to overseas manufacturing and with a few targeted Instagram ads, a brand can get off the ground faster than ever before.

This must spell the end of brick-and-mortar retail as we know it right? First off, the e-commerce market is now completely saturated much like the micro-brewing industry. While brick and mortar stores talk about overhead, e-commerce platforms are knee-deep in marketing and advertising budgets with a lot of time invested in digital strategy. Second, it’s easy to forget that humans are hyper-social creatures. When buying luxury goods, people (men in particular) need to see and touch a product. In addition, they need a salesperson to explain the justification in various price points before separating with their hard-earned dollars.

As a former retailer (and now custom clothier), I can say, there are so many activities in the business that do not directly contribute to the bottom line and take up considerable time. From buying, receiving, adding SKUs, tagging and merchandising – just getting the product on the shelf is a lift in itself. Further, several boutique brands at the trade shows make an amazing product but they don’t have a marketing budget and are truly dependent on the retailer to create brand recognition and customer loyalty. Retailers have the steak but rarely the time to create the sizzle to keep the floor traffic rolling. This includes content creation, marketing and the like.

The retailer is limited in their marketing bandwidth but that’s where e-commerce thrives. Building a brand through expertise with Google SEO and retargeting ads, online companies have the data to truly hone in on who their client is…and fast. They’re also more focused on selling a lifestyle and telling a story through photos and videos.

I’ve had e-commerce brands come to me and say “Robert, I’ve got this really great product but at my price point, it’s hard to get people to take that risk online.” Like retail, e-commerce is still dependent in its own way on referrals, whether they are through online reviews or in-person. E-commerce brands like this would love to get into stores but they face an uphill battle in two ways: 1. Retailers won’t let them in the door for fear that the customer will merely use the store as a “try on” then purchase directly from the e-commerce company. 2. Many online brands have priced themselves in such a way that moving to a wholesale model would require a hard adjustment in pricing which might not be feasible.

E-commerce is the sizzle but retail is the steak and the future of this industry has them working hand and hand. For online brands, the key is to establish trust with retailers that they won’t undercut them. This is done by creating a unique and separate product line or perhaps alternative colors of a given garment style. The online platform can show such items as “only available in stores” with a quick Google Map as a guide. E-commerce brands can also provide local sales data to prospective retailers as proof of success. For the retailers, this is a way to sell emerging brands that are making money without the race to the bottom margins that have become all too familiar in the industry.

An innovative company that is currently working on this strategy is Beardbrand. Under ten years old, it is now an eight-figure business that is selling in Target stores. They were one of the first brands I worked with from an introduction by Fred Derring of DLS Outfitters. With two separate product lines from its website to wholesale, this created a win-win situation where both parties benefited. As the online market becomes more saturated, smart e-commerce companies will pivot and seek to build long-term partnerships with retails. What seems like an unlikely marriage will actually be the best for both worlds and they don’t even know it yet.

Dominion Strength Training Review

Originally Posted on The Modest Man on August 30, 2019


Thinking about buying a new weightlifting belt? This detailed Dominion Strength Training review will help.

Robert wearing belt
Photography by Anthony Bolognese

If you’re going to start barbell training, there’s some equipment you’ll want to purchase beforehand.

The first item you should pick up is a set of lifting shoes. They are relatively inexpensive and will keep your feet flat with a little but of lift in the heel. The second item of importance is a weightlifting belt.

Dominion Strength Weightlifting Belt

Today, we’re going to review a belt from Dominion Strength. As an avid listener of the Barbell Logic Podcast, I came across Dominion Strength Training., as they were a featured in one of the episodes.

After learning that the company was a small family owned business, I decided to reach out.


For many years, there was a conventional wisdom out there that belts were a crutch and should not be used for any form of exercise if one wanted to develop a strong core.

Putting on lifting belt

Once the bro science subsided, people used actual science to prove that belts are beneficial for use in many exercises. Which is harder? Flexing your abs against the air or having them push against something? That’s Physics 101.

Your body works as a complete system and by taking a deep breath, using the Valsalva maneuver, you are engaging the entire core, not just your abs or lower back. This is crucial for keeping your spine in the correct position. People mistake the belt as a crutch because nearly all lifts become easier.

Suede lifting belt stitching

The pressure should be distributed evenly so if you see a belt with a thicker backside or it’s so thin it can be folded along the short side, you are looking at a company that fundamentally doesn’t understand basic physics much less strength training. A belt like this could get you seriously injured.

I use a weightlifting belt for the squat, deadlift and press. For standing accessory exercises such as a barbell curl, the belt provides me with a ‘cue’, a mental reminder to lock out my core, hips and knees to prevent energy leaks and focus on the muscle I am training.


I love telling the story of small business owners and entrepreneurship, people who take risks to provide value to society. The money is always an afterthought when it comes to following a passion.

Weighted pull ups

Dominion Strength is owned by Blake and Katie Roache. They manufacture the belts down in Orlando, Florida. He’s a mechanical engineer by trade and she’s a microbiologist.

As crossfitters, they moved into Starting Strength training and discovered that they could not find a quality belt on the market.

Their move into making belts started with a botched attempted working with overseas suppliers who sent them 1000 belts with inferior hardware that was rusted upon delivery.

That mistake led them to move the entire concept to the U.S. I think they made the right move…


While Dominion has several belt designs, this review is on their original design, a 3-inch, single prong belt. It has grey suede on both sides which gives it a good feel but also helps keep it in place.

Dominion Strength 3 Inch Leather Weightlifting Belt Single Prong

A 3-inch belt is the most universal size as its designed to fit above your hips and below your ribcage. For men of modest height, this will definitely be your choice.

The stock color grey is great because it matches everything, is unisex, highly functional and hides any chalk you get on it over time.

Dominion Strength Weightlifting Belt

It’s made from high-quality top-grain cow leather and the hardware is second to none. What makes Dominion Strength different from other belt companies is they produce stock sizes.

Suede lifting belt stitching

I chose size small which covers a waist between 25-35”. The site says they are able to ship belts in a week but I received one in just a few days. They found a unique need in the market.

Other companies offer customization to varying degrees but expect to wait a minimum of six weeks before receiving your belt. What will you do until then?


When I first received the belt, I put it through a break-in process. Many suggest rolling up the belt and tying it up for a few days.

I also used a second method which is done by folding over the belt and rolling it through the hands while trying to crush it along the way.

Dominion Strength grey suede belt

The belt broke in very fast and was comfortable on the first wearing. Many belts are stiff as a board and feel like they are cutting into you. A belt isn’t meant to wear like silk but we can all only tolerate so much discomfort.

Barbell squat

My first use was in this order: squat, deadlift and press. The belt performed like a champ and was easy to take off in-between sets. If you enjoy wearing a belt through the entire workout, it’s not tight enough.

The roller is the best part of the hardware and made levering the belt on and off easy.

After my time at the Fivex3 gym, I have been using the belt for a few months and it only gets better with each wearing. While belts aren’t complicated, they can do wonders for your training when used properly.


After learning how to barbell train with the basic lefts such as squats, deadlifts, presses and bench press, you’ll move to accessory lifts and alternate ways to target muscles.

Dominion Strength dip belt

The dip belts primary use in its name, for tricep dips. Now you’ll need a set of bars to dip between and for some people, their shoulders won’t like such a movement.

The dip belt is a great way to harness gravity in a new way without using a barbell.

Dominion Strength dip belt

In addition, the dip belt can be used for chin-ups. Usually, it takes people a while before there are up to this level. Heck, even the world’s strongest man can only do six.


Dominion Strength Training is an excellent company run by a couple that believe in the power of the barbell. Their product is one of the best on the market with speedy delivery and excellent customer service.

Dominion Strength belt

A good belt should last you a lifetime and theirs are guaranteed for just such a timeline. If you are looking to get into fitness training, start with barbells.

Dominion Strength dip belt details

When you do that, shoes and a belt will be your first investment. If you get that far, give this company a look before taking action.

You won’t be disappointed.

Hugh & Crye Review: Better Fitting Menswear

Originally posted at The Modest Man on August 27, 2019

In this Hugh & Crye review, we take a detailed look at an e-commerce brand that takes a distinct approach to fit.


The landscape of menswear has changed substantially in the last decade. On the first go around, e-commerce sites led to the dot com bubble which popped in 2000.

Hugh and Crye tee
Photography by Anthony Bolognese

Years ago, marketing teams weren’t needed during good times but the Great Recession forced everyone to reassessed how they created value for customers.

Stack it high and watch it fly.

The old saying in retail was “stack it high and watch it fly”. This was the running trend of big box retailers since the 70s and they competed on price alone.

Millennials, which are now the largest percentage of the workforce in America, are far more diverse in ethnic, racial and religious background but also in body type.

Activities like CrossFit and Starting Strength have produced a generation of men with butts, hips and thighs.

At the same time, this group is demanding clothing be near skin tight but also comfortable. Such expectations have put retailers in a bind as foot traffic has slowed in malls, consumers are pickier and more price points sensitive.

The advent of smart phones and a 24/7 connection to the internet has pivoted consumers to browse and shop online without ever having to step foot in a store much less have to travel across town.


The U.S. had a long-standing quota system when it came to the importation of textiles. That all ceased in 2005 which has allowed for the slow dismantling of control through a select few companies.

With decentralization in the garment manufacturing world, an astute business person can travel overseas and develop relationships with factories for production.

The trick is ironing out production issues before mass quantities are made while creating a streamlined website that can interface with a reliable third-party logistics company (3PL).

Such direct-to-consumer brands offer a better value because of the lack of brick and mortar overhead, however, there are many other costs associated with running a digital brand that keep folks out of the business.

Being able to keep up with fresh designs, turning inventory each season still prove that such an industry is not one for those looking to make ‘easy money’.


The company Hugh & Crye is a small business that was started by a few gents in 2008. Their goal was to solve a problem in the retail industry by creating a shirt that had a better fit and feel.

Armed with reams of data on men’s sizing, they developed 12 unique fits that span across a matrix of three height ranges (short, average, tall) across four torso builds (skinny, slim, athletic, broad). The result: a lot of happy customers.

Hugh and Crye button down shirt

What makes this company interesting from an e-commerce perspective is how they have grown the business with one original brick and mortar location in Washington, DC.

It’s the only city in the nation where the terms professional and transient are in the same sentence. These young go-getters find themselves in DC looking for the next career move but in the long haul, find themselves transplanted over the world depending on where their passion lies.

With that, relationships with Hugh & Crye that were developed in DC remain. H&C has customers in all 50 states and in several countries. That in itself should be a testament to the staying power of selling a product that is built to last.


Hugh & Crye has an interesting product selection and I wanted to try a little bit of everything just to get a feel for their offerings. The piece I found most unique was the popover with a banded collar.

Hugh and Crye short-sleeve collarless popover Indigo blue

This is the only shirt that didn’t have a height specification so I merely selected the Pampelonne ‘skinny’ model in Indigo Blue. At first, I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the shirt design buts its grown on me and when rolling the sleeve a few times, is quite light weight and comfortable.

Hugh and Crye henley placket

The second piece I tried on was Hugh & Crye’s signature t-shirt. It has their logo on the front and is a great throwback. I selected this in size Short-Slim.

Hugh and Crye t-shirt

Looking back, I would have like to have tried the Skinny version just to see how much slimmer it would be through the midsection but the shirt overall made for a great weekend warrior with jeans.

To give the review a little diversity, I brought in my friend, Chris Williams to try on a few pieces. He’s the same height as me at 5’7” but 10lbs heavier at 170 with slightly broader shoulders and bigger arms.

The first shirt we put him in was the Ogden button-down in Teal, size Short-Slim. H&C shirts are a better fit on Chris and probably couldn’t have been designed better by a custom tailor.

Hugh and Crye button-down collar Teal, white check brushed twill

In the shot we did together, I am wearing the Rock Creek in Short-Slim and Chris is in the Georgetown Short-Slim colored pink dress shirt.

Hugh and Crye shirts

As you can see, the length and fit overall are great. We both have the sleeves rolled up but those are also just right at about 32”. They placed the sleeve button in the right spot so the shirt sits nicely on your wrist and doesn’t ‘eat’ your hand, a common issue for guys with small wrists.


All of the pieces we received were made from 100% cotton but did not shrink much after washing and were very comfortable.

One part where I think H&C has nailed it is on shirt length. Tucked or untucked, the shirts looked and felt great. The ‘tail’ design was done just right so even the dress shirts look good worn casually.

The website offers a LOT of specs with various models (which are real guys by the way) and designs to see how the shirts would look on you. As blousy as the popover was in size Skinny, I do wish they provided the finished measurements but that’s coming from a perfectionist technocrat.

These shirts are by no means ‘the perfect’ fit but it’s about as close as its going to get for a retail shirt with a variety of options. H&C has added their monogram to various shirts, contrast details and reinforcing where it is needed.

Hugh and Crye shirt

I would say that their styles are both timeless and modern. Guys of all ages can wear these without feeling like they are out of their element.

The final word is that the sport shirts are a must grab. I have seen others such as the flannel in person and believe they are worth picking up. The popovers will appeal to a unique set of guys and they are growing on me.

Lastly, the dress shirt collection covers the basic colors and collar styles, but at the price point, I think this is a very crowded market and there are other options that might be better.

At minimum, it’s worth picking up a shirt or two after reviewing their fit page to find what is right for you. I know I’ll be wearing mine for years to come.

I hope this Hugh & Crye review helped you determine whether this brand is right for you. Leave any questions in the comments sections below!

Op-Ed: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge 5th anniversary

Reposted from NWI TImes

ALS research has come a long way in the past few years. While a cure has yet to be found, current research has slowed progression for many patients, giving them more time while the hunt goes on. In addition to those affected, survivors, family and friends should be optimistic that tomorrow will bring us ever closer to the answers needed to defeat ALS for good. My positive outlook is backed by the progress I have witnessed for over 15 years since my dad passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the fall of 2003.

Doug Ordway was your average American, a steelworker from the Midwest just raising his family while enjoying weekends out hunting and fishing. It was the noticeably slurred speech at work that caused coworkers to believe he started showing up drunk. He also experienced muscle cramping in his legs and knew something wasn’t right. A few five-hour drives to the Cleveland Clinic led to his diagnoses in 1998 at the age of 39. I was 13, and my sister Jennifer just 10. Mom worked as a custodian in the school district and was also a reservist in the Navy but was pulled away when the war in Iraq started in 2003. Having lived through that experience, I’d say no patient or family is ever prepared for the financial, emotional and physical demands that caretaking requires. It is a ride for which there is no seat belt, only a bar to hang onto.

Back then, there wasn’t much in way of support groups. The social workers I met with in school were of little help because of their limited understanding of ALS and how it impacts family dynamics. The only assistive technology we had was a ramp to the front door for dad’s wheelchair and a sawed-off broomstick we used as a handle to help his walk to the bathroom. Converting the bathtub to a shower stall was probably the biggest game-changer to help him in the later years. While dad was given roughly three years to live, he made it over five, just long enough to see me graduate from high school and become the first person in my family to attend college.

Since his passing, I had little faith that any progress would be made to cure ALS because of its obscurity among other well-known diseases and cancers. That was until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge came about in 2014 and raised $115 million — creating the biggest medical movement in history. Despite the fanfare triggering some childhood trauma, it created an unbreakable level of optimism that after so many years, this disease was finally getting the recognition it deserved and that it would indeed be defeated.

Between the computer-operated technology, assistive speech devices and support groups, the ALS Association and its chapters are helping people through the day to day grind while providing patients with resources to help them maintain their independence for as long as possible. Donations have helped open several ALS Certified Treatment Centers of Excellence, and research has led to the discovery and validation of five genes. Lastly, there have been dozens of drug and observational trials.

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Ice Bucket Challenge this July and August, it is important to reflect on all the progress that has been made with those proceeds in the last few years. Going forward, it is imperative that we continue to push for education and funding by getting others to join us at the Annual Walk to Defeat ALS, the ALS Youth Challenge or the new “Challenge Me” campaign. Any bit of effort to raise money, raise awareness and continue the fight to defeat ALS will make all the difference moving forward.


Originally Posted at  Famous DC on July 11, 2019

Most people come to The Hill by way of an internship during or just after college and work their way up in time. After working in both the public and private sector for a decade, Robert is a recent transplant to DC and landed in the US Senate at the beginning of 2019. While most professionals in this space strive to be specialists, Robert’s many life experiences led him to become a generalist. In addition to working on The Hill, he writes about professional development and uses his fashion knowledge to dress professionals for success.

Tell us about your transition to DC and what you’ve learned so far.

Well, I moved here in January 2017 at the tender age of 31 and must have been one of the oldest interns in the history of The Heritage Foundation. I’ve really enjoyed the energy of the city but as a forever ‘early to bed early to rise’ person, I still haven’t quite adapted to this Eastern time zone, much less the late-night lifestyle. The diversity of folks from across the country as well as around the world is probably the best part, not to mention there are unlimited things to see and do here. Can’t say I enjoy paying my rent though…

How is being a generalist an asset on The Hill?

My resume is an unusual one. I was appointed to sit on a Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for a city, a commercial assessor for a county and a securities regulator for the State of Indiana so I’ve seen government at every level. In addition, I’ve worked for sole proprietors, small and large LLCs, multi-national corporations and even owned my own business. My approach is more like a Renaissance man, try to be as generally good at as many things as possible and understand how various disciplines are interwoven. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re always in the weeds. My overarching approach is to engage in what I believe are the five pillars of a strong community: faith, education, business/labor, non-profit and government. 

What is Capitol Hill Clothiers?

After owning a clothing store in Indiana, CHC was a hobby I started as a way to build a personal brand in DC and help other interns that were ‘balling on a budget’. While I don’t have much time for it other than the weekends, it has allowed me to stay close to the clothing industry while building meaningful relationships around the city. There are some things that unite people and putting a smile on someone’s face when I help them dress for their first interview, a big presentation or even a wedding is surreal. I find a lot of fulfillment in giving others the confidence to be successful in their endeavors, whatever they may be.

Overall, where do you see the clothing industry going?

Some believe that old retail is dying and being replaced by e-commerce, such was the same thought just before the dot com bubble. I think the future is much more of a hybrid. Humans are hyper-social creatures and to sell luxury items, they want to “see, smell and taste” things. Clothing is also the paradox where people’s actions rarely represent their proposed values. As the nation moves more caused and toward athleisure and tech fabrics, there is also a sustainability movement regarding fair trade, workers’ rights as well as air and water environmental protections. Only time will tell before we know where the industry is going as a whole.

Any books you are reading or recommend?

With the demands of the day job I don’t have as much time to pleasure read, however, there are some books I never get tired of and wish more folks in the policy work would consider and reform their approach. Many thinkers and academics are still looking at issues from an industrial revolution era which is ‘scale’ but they haven’t considered complexity which is really the forefront of problem solving in the 21st century. It’s why we won World Wars 1 and 2 but lost in Vietnam. Complexity > Scale

A New Kind of Science by Steven Wolfram tackles the randomness in physical systems and the limitation of mathematics. The Incerto series by Nassim Taleb is the greatest treatise on uncertainty, chance, volatility, risk, and decision-making. Lastly, Dynamics of Complex Systems and Making Things Work by Yaneer Bar-Yam have helped him solve the ebola crisis in Liberia and track the drivers of ethnic violence in various countries. His work is very important if we want to solve complex issues like housing and healthcare in America.