Interview with Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director, Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah 

This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.

From an early age, Morgan Lyon Cotti caught the political bug.

She grew up in a family that was active in the community and state politics. Excitement over government and elections led her to complete three internships before starting a career focusing on policy and politics.

As a former intern for the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Lyon Cotti knows first hand the profound impact internships can have on a person and their career. She credits the skills, lessons learned and network she developed during her internships with creating a solid foundation for her career.

Lyon Cotti now serves as the associate director of the institute, where she manages local and legislative internships. She also contributes to the institute’s political analysis and research. Each day she works to provide students the same type of transformative internships that helped define her college and early professional experiences.

One of the first of its kind in the nation, the non-partisan Hinckley Institute, was founded with the mission to engage students in governmental, civic and political processes. Since its founding, the Hinckley Institute has engaged students, community leaders and the general public by extending opportunities in the form of internships, annual forums, lecture series, publications and university-level courses. It remains wholly committed to serving students — enhancing their educational experiences and preparing them for their careers

How did you get started in the industry?
I got my foot in the political door by completing several internships. My first internship was when I was 16 years old as a U.S. Senate Page in Washington, D.C. That led to another college internship, also in Washington D.C., working on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In graduate school, I interned for one year at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

The experience, skills and network I fostered completing these internships provided a solid foundation for my professional career and created every opportunity that came after.

What recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
The growth of the local and legislative internship programs at the Hinckley Institute. In 2019, the institute had nearly 350 students working throughout the Wasatch Front in a variety of fields (and approximately 200 more in Washington, D.C., and across the globe). As the program grew, it discovered ways to increase scholarship funding to support its students. Our organization works with host offices to secure more paid internships so that no students are denied these life-changing experiences because of financial reasons.

In 2016, the Hinckley Institute and PBS Utah began a weekly public affairs show. This show convenes journalists, elected officials and thought leaders to discuss the news of the week. We built the show from the ground up and created a new community resource. The show has been nominated for an Emmy and continues to grow its viewership each week and is now available as a podcast.

What drew you to Utah?
I was born and raised in Utah. I lived in the Washington, D.C. area while doing my graduate work and thought we would remain there permanently. However, job opportunities and family brought us back. Returning to Utah gave us an even greater appreciation for the wonderful quality of life, economic opportunities and access to recreation.

What do you like most about living in Utah?
My family appreciates the deep roots we have in Utah. We make an effort to spend time with loved ones regularly, whether that means having dinner, meeting at a park to let the kids play, or just watching the Utes or Jazz play on television. 

We also take advantage of the many recreation opportunities Utah has to offer. In the summer, you will find us cheering on our kids at their games or hiking the trails or biking. In the winter, we love to ski and head to southern Utah to spend time in our state and national parks. Our three kids love the mountains as much as my husband and I do.

What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
There are so many wonderful people trying to create positive change in the community through business, nonprofits and public policy. I often have the opportunity to interact with business and community leaders when they hire new staff or interns. It is inspiring to learn about their mission and goals and witness community members working for the greater good.

I also love the fact that I get to work at my alma mater, The University of Utah. I am a third-generation graduate, and so lucky to have that legacy. I grew up in a family that placed a high value on higher education, and was fortunate enough to know how to access the benefits of a college education. I’m very grateful to be a part of the institution that had such an impact on me and now enjoy providing those life-changing opportunities to others.

What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
Working to ensure all community members are represented in businesses and government. My students are primarily Millennials and Gen Z, and those generations are much more diverse than older generations who serve in leadership roles in the state. I work every day to ensure these students have every opportunity available to them, regardless of their background. 

What is your business philosophy?
Growing up, my family’s mantra was, “Think, play hard, and have fun.” My siblings and I heard this phrase countless times, especially before soccer games. I still think of it often and use it in my professional career.

Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I’m a sporty nerd.

Morgan Lyon Cotti is the associate director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics where she manages local and legislative internships and contributes to the institute’s political analysis and research.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.