Truman Alumna: Serving Those Who've Served

Julie Anderson at a War MemorialCJ Koozer leads our Student Pride section for a reason. Winning the Harry S. Truman Scholarship is a great accomplishment.

If you’re not familiar with the Truman, you needn’t take our word for it when we say the Truman is a big deal. Put Koozer’s achievement in context by seeing what NWU’s past Truman winners are doing.

Desereé Johnston (’09) won the Truman last year. She graduated from NWU this May.

Xuan-Trang Thi Ho (’06) won her Truman in 2005. Ho went on to win the Rhodes, studied Latin America at Oxford, and now works for UNICEF in New York.

NWU’s first Truman scholar was Jana (Beddow) Johnson (’94) in 1993. Johnson went to medical school at the Mayo Clinic, became a dermatologist, and has conducted medical missionary trips to Tanzania and Guatemala.

And Julie Anderson (’97), NWU’s second Truman scholar, went on to earn a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago and an MBA from Duke University. She began a new job in January in the Obama Administration. Anderson is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

She’s one of two political appointees focused on policy at the VA, the government’s second largest cabinet-level agency. Her office is across the street from the White House. “We have a nice view,” she said.

Julie Anderson Then and NowHer path there began with the Truman. “It changed my life. It’s why I moved to Washington 12 years ago.” She credited Professor of Political Science Jan Vermeer who advised her through the Truman’s rigorous application.

After NWU, she served in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Next, she worked for Sen. Bob Kerrey. Then came a seven-year stint with IBM’s public sector strategy group. In the summer of 2007, Anderson got involved in the Obama campaign as a veterans’ policy advisor.

She served on the Presidential Transition Team and began her work at the VA following the inauguration. “I was there on the very first day… when we were still figuring out how to turn the lights on,” she said.

Anderson manages a team “responsible for developing policies about health care, education, employment and training, housing, homelessness, disability benefits and life insurance programs for more than 24 million vets across the country.” She also leads the strategic planning and strategy development for the department.

Much has been made of Obama staffers’ difficult transition from a campaign reputed for its efficiency and technological savvy into the intricate bureaucracy of the federal government. But Anderson didn’t suffer the same growing pains. She understood from the outset how private and governmental organizations work.

“In a company, everything flows up through the CEO… [who makes] decisions that are carried out throughout the company. In government… it’s not always a linear path because of Congress, constituents, interest groups and the media,” she said. “I’m going to use a math term, which is maybe appropriate for our liberal arts magazine. [Government] is more multivariate than linear.”

She said, “For an idea to be accepted… in government, it takes a lot of people to say yes, and only one person to say no.”

That frustrating nature has been known to jade good people. To thrive in that environment with such broad responsibilities for America’s veterans, people must be smart communicators with a relentless belief in what they’re doing. Anderson is exactly this.

Anderson, who is not a veteran herself, described her motivation this way. “It stems from my grandpa who is a World War II vet and still lives on the family farm outside Elmwood. I grew up with an appreciation for his service in the war because it has always been important to my family. So when I had the opportunity to work on these issues… I took it.”

When Anderson considers what her father, grandfather and millions of other American veterans have sacrificed, braving a sometimes-messy bureaucracy to serve them doesn’t require so much courage after all.