KRISTIN UNDERWOOD ’13, MARKETING + COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
TFAS students know firsthand the transformational benefits of our programs. Some alumni participate in multiple programs to see more of what TFAS has to offer, and some alumni are so captivated by TFAS’s impact they return as staff members. This affords them the opportunity to pass along their enthusiasm for liberty and leadership to the next generation of TFAS students. In our interview series with these individuals, we’re introducing the alumni staff members to showcase the people behind our programs. You can find the other featured interviews linked at the bottom of this page.
In this feature, we’ll hear from Kristin Underwood ’13, an alumna of TFAS D.C. Academic Internship Programs, who returned to TFAS as a program advisor (TFAS summer assistant) in the summer of 2014. Kristin began working full time at TFAS in May 2015 as a communications associate, and she now serves as the marketing and communications director.
TFAS: How did you first learn about TFAS, and what kept you here?
Kristin Underwood: During my sophomore year at Oklahoma State University, an advisor suggested I apply for the TFAS D.C. program because of a philanthropy program track. I had only dreamt about going to D.C., and I knew this was my chance to see – and maybe make a difference in – the world. I applied and was accepted. Within a few months, and thanks to a generous donor, I was off to D.C. for the first time. I’m one of those who can say I truly caught “Potomac Fever.” I fell in love with this city, and I was lucky to assist the TFAS programs team as a program advisor the next summer. I started working as the communications associate just five days after graduating college, and I haven’t looked back.
TFAS: Which memory stands out to you as a key part of your TFAS student experience?
KU: My TFAS classmates became my best friends. I had never been around so many driven, passionate individuals as these peers. We spent every waking hour together. Whether it was exploring all the many places D.C. had to offer or debating and discussing ideas from our courses, I was thrilled to be around such passionate people. It’s hard to choose just one, but spending Fourth of July in the nation’s capital with my classmates is one of my favorite memories. I felt like I had truly gotten the full “D.C. experience:” a picnic on the National Mall, watching military bands perform in the parade and concert, and ending the day with the largest fireworks display I had ever seen! Little did I know, that was just a taste, and there was so much more to experience in the coming years.
TFAS: What is the most important lesson you learned from participating in a TFAS program?
KU: I always considered myself a “conservative” growing up, but I never really had a good reason, nor did I know what it really meant. In the TFAS classroom, I was able to dive deep into texts that uncovered reason and meaning behind our nation’s founding documents and American values. For the first time, I studied real economics, and I was introduced to the concepts of voluntary associations and philanthropy. It all clicked for me at TFAS. During the program, I discovered the power of the individual and personal responsibility. Reading the works of Tocqueville, Adam Smith and today’s scholars like Arthur Brooks, combined with the guest lectures and other classroom activities, really sealed the deal for me. I walked away understanding what it means to be an American, and I developed the leadership and networking skills I needed to get my start in the professional world.
TFAS: What is the most rewarding part of working for TFAS?
KU: The most rewarding part of my job is getting to talk to alumni! TFAS alumni represent driven, outstanding individuals who are making a difference in the world. Through my role in the communications team these past six years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to talk to TFAS alumni from across the globe. From Ohio to Malaysia, Armenia to Ukraine, and so many more, I’ve heard countless times how a two, three or eight week TFAS program can be a life-changing experience, and as an alumna myself, I can attest to that.
TFAS: How did your TFAS program introduce you to the world of philanthropy and nonprofits?
KU: TFAS was the first time I was introduced to the real meaning of voluntary associations and philanthropy. Through our courses, we studied Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” and learned the unique American experience of remaining individualistic while still coming together to support a fellow man through charity (rather than, as I had been previously taught, that the state should be the sole provider for its citizens). I learned about the value of civic groups and institutions and how they should operate outside the realm of government. In studying liberty and equality, we uncovered the true underpinnings of American democracy.
TFAS: How have those lessons stayed with you and influenced you since?
KU: The lessons I learned as a TFAS student have stayed with me throughout my career. I now understand that the work of nonprofits, through organizations like TFAS, is how someone can make a real difference in the world. Through our generous supporters, TFAS impacts thousands of students – just like they did for me – each year.