Anna Burns Furman University Alumni

Anna Burns '11

— Communications and Public Policy Manager, School Based Health Alliance

Even if you have a job you love, keep checking job boards in the field. You never know what may become available—something that’s even more up your alley. I’d recommend finding a website or blog that posts only jobs in the field you’re interested in and bookmarking it.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I graduated from Furman as a Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in political science and Spanish, along with a minor in Latin American studies. After graduation, I relocated to Madrid, Spain, where I spent the next 2.5 years teaching English as a cultural ambassador through the Ministry of Education of Spain.

Upon my return to my home state of South Carolina, I accepted a position as program coordinator of the legislative and Public Affairs at the SC Department of Education (SCDE) under Superintendent Mick Zais. I worked as his speechwriter and representative at public events in his absence, SCDE spokesperson, and I managed relations with public education organizations and represented the department before state legislative education committees. After that, I worked as the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Columbia chamber, the largest business organization in central South Carolina with over 1,500 member businesses. As director, I handled all external and internal communications, public and media relations, local policy priorities and messaging, and partner relations with the state chamber of commerce. In February 2015, I relocated to Washington, DC to join the national School-Based Health Alliance as an outreach and engagement associate. The Alliance works to ensure access to critical health services for children and adolescents around the country through a network of 2,315 school-based health centers in 49 states and the District of Columbia. In this position, I work collaboratively with other like-minded organizations and children's health policy coalitions to advance shared national policy priorities through policy research, Congressional briefings, and meetings with Hill staffers. I'm also responsible for rallying the Alliance's 22 state affiliate organizations and our partners behind a common vision of redefining health delivery services for kids and teens.
What motivations fueled your career path?

First, I know the general public has a deep skepticism of government, and I can certainly understand why. However, for me, I see its potential: transforming the lives of disadvantaged communities across the country. In my work, I hold onto that belief. Working in the policy world, and especially in the education and public health sectors, I can help ensure that citizens in our country benefit from the legislation that flows from Capitol Hill. The first step to improving our laws and making sure they work for our nation's most underserved populations is understanding what they include and what the potential effects may be. I spend time considering complex legislative proposals and translating them into plain language that advocates can understand. This process allows grassroots supporters to rally behind important advocacy proposals—and ultimately help shape laws that benefit their communities.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

Networking has such a bad reputation, but it really is critical in a place like DC. Seek out networking opportunities through professional organizations (I’m a member of PCDC, Progressive Communicators of DC). Make sure your LinkedIn page is always up-to-date and that you always have business cards on hand. My organization recently offered the DISC personality assessment. One of the tools was a brochure that explains how each personality type best works with each of the other personality types—advice that I’ve used on more than one occasion. For women, definitely read Lean In and other feminist business books.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

Even if you have a job you love, keep checking job boards in the field. You never know what may become available—something that's even more up your alley. I'd recommend finding a website or blog that posts only jobs in the field you're interested in and bookmarking it. Use connections you may not know you even have by staying current on LinkedIn. Even though you may not have talked to a particular connection in years, having them on LinkedIn allows you to check back in with them and potentially use that connection to get a job.

What are some challenges you face in your industry?

Being a female in a male-dominated industry like policy can be difficult sometimes, but walking the line between being assertive and diplomatic is something that's necessary in this career field.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

I wish someone had told me to make sure I negotiate salary when I was first getting started. In certain fields, like government, your entry salary is the starting point for all of your future promotions—so you have to make sure it's as high as your cost-of-living necessitates.
How could Furman help with getting someone started?

Networking, networking, networking. Make sure there are plenty of networking opportunities with alumni.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

Soft skills and critical thinking are essential in a field like policy. Those skills were definitely fostered through a liberal arts education at Furman.
What are other courses you took or you wish you would have taken that would also add value in your career?

I would have loved to take a personal finance course or computer science intro class.

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