Alumni Profile: Ryan Colaianni

Posted on Mar 8, 2017 in Alumni News and News

Ryan Colaianni, j’07, c’07, is vice president of Edelman in Washington, D.C. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, where he leads the Washington, D.C. Alumni Network and has hosted numerous student recruitment and alumni events. In 2011, he received the Dick Wintermote Award, which honors network volunteers who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership to their network and the alumni association. Ryan is a Life Member and Presidents Club member and is also a member of the KU Alumni Association’s national board of directors.

I became a Jayhawk because…

Ryan Colaianni, j'07, c'07I knew that I wanted to study journalism at a university that allowed me to write for the student paper my freshman year. I started working for the Kansan before my first class and by my sophomore year, I was traveling the country covering the KU football team. By my junior year I was covering the men’s basketball team. I was writing professionally for the Lawrence Journal-World and the Topeka Capital Journal before I graduated.

How has KU propelled you into your current career?

The hands-on experience I gained at KU through a variety of activities, including the University Daily Kansan, and spending a summer as an orientation assistant helped develop my writing skills and instilled an ability to meet any deadline.

Where is the most unexpected place you’ve ever heard someone yell, “Rock Chalk”?

I’ve heard it everywhere! From Copenhagen to Florence to Jamaica, there is not a place I have been while wearing a KU shirt that I haven’t heard “Rock Chalk.” That bird helps make real connections in the places you least expect it.

What made your degree program distinctly KU?

I visited a number of journalism schools while looking at colleges and most provided a bland presentation with dozens of other prospective students. When I visited KU, I toured with just one other potential student and got to meet real students and professors to hear firsthand how I could succeed at KU. That experience carried over throughout my four years.

How did KU push you to try harder or to try something new?

I didn’t know a soul when I arrived at KU from the east coast. The campus community was unbelievably accepting, and I quickly had a number of different niches and groups to be a part of. From Greek life, to my classes, to the campus activities I picked, I was always challenged to go further and try something new.

My best advice for college students is…

Go to class. It will save you hours of pain when you try to cram for that exam or write that paper.

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Alumnus and former CIA officer helps tell story of secret communications that reached POWs held in infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’

Posted on Apr 24, 2015 in Alumni News and News

The thrilling story behind clandestine communications that linked U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam with military and intelligence officials in Washington, D.C., will be told in a “first-ever report” to be broadcast April 27 on the Smithsonian Channel.

Bob Wallace“The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton” will feature interviews with veterans of the secret operation, along with commentary by Robert Wallace, g’68, a retired Central Intelligence Agency operations officer, chief of station and director of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services [“Cold War Wizards,” Kansas Alumni magazine, issue No. 4, 2008].

“The program is a Smithsonian Channel exclusive,” Wallace writes in an email to the Alumni Association, “a first-ever report on the clandestine network inside the POW camps of the Vietnam War, linking Americans imprisoned inside Hanoi directly to the Pentagon and the CIA. Secret for 40 years, this story is told through historical film clips, reenactments, and interviews of former POWs.”

Wallace, who earned a KU master’s degree in political science before serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in Vietnam and eventually joining the CIA, recounted his agency’s involvement in the POW communications network in his 2008 history of the Office of Technical Services, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda.

In his book, written with intelligence historian H. Keith Melton and approved for publication by the CIA, Wallace described the daring and brilliant work by CIA Technical Services Division officer Brian Lipton, who spent long, late-night hours toiling in secret—even from his colleagues—to devise ways to send and receive coded information in letters and photographs exchanged by Sybil Stockdale and her husband, prisoner James Stockdale, a future vice admiral and Medal of Honor winner who was then a U.S. Navy captain who had been shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

“Over the time that I worked at night on the project, I had the deeply satisfying personal pleasure of seeing how grateful the military was that they had this channel,” Lipton told Wallace, as recounted in Spycraft. “For years, it had been unknown what happened to many of the guys, whether they were KIA or MIA or POWs. After we had the communications link, not only did the military know, but a lot of these families also began to get reliable information about their sons, fathers, and husbands.”

Lipton was later declared an honorary “prisoner of war in Vietnam” by an association of American POWs.

“A heck of a lot of the guys came up to me and said, ‘I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for what the CIA did. That’s what kept me going,'” Lipton told Wallace. “That’s how I was able to go in and work all night long, then come back and work the next day. I knew that we were doing things that really made a difference; not only in military value, but for those warriors and their families.”

The Smithsonian Channel’s broadcast coincides with nationwide commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 start of the Vietnam War. “The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton” premiered for a standing-room-only audience April 22 at the U.S. Naval Academy.

—Chris Lazzarino

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