Sara Armstrong, '94, '99
on December 14, 2009
Sara Wardrip Armstrong, ’94, ’99 M.B.A, has worked in the White House, attended ceremonies including the arrival of the Queen of England, and witnessed a speech by the Pope. Now living in Alexandria, VA, the 37-year-old currently works for the Republican National Committee and is the 2009 Recipient of the University of South Carolina Outstanding Young Alumni Award, which was presented during the Homecoming Gala in October.
Born in Austin, TX, and later living in Lubbock where her father, Jon Wardrip taught at Texas Tech, Sara moved across the country to South Carolina at age 14. Her father joined the faculty in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at Carolina. For Sara, getting her education at Carolina was a no-brainer.
“Although I visited different colleges around the state when I was deciding where to attend, I always had a strong connection to Carolina,” Sara says. “And since I wanted to study business, Carolina’s nationally recognized business program was a big selling point.”
Like many students, Sara wasn’t sure what career path to follow, but she decided that a degree in business would give her a solid educational foundation and allow her to have a variety of opportunities to pursue.
“I was intrigued by marketing because I liked the creative side of business, and was probably influenced by my father who was an advertising professor,” Sara recalls. “My favorite professor was Dr. Terence Shimp. His marketing classes were challenging and I loved them. I was also impressed that he really connected with his students. I was thrilled that my MBA class nominated him as an outstanding professor in 1999, and I still stay in touch with Dr. Shimp.”
As she looks back on her days on the Columbia campus, Sara has a hard time narrowing down her favorite memories.
“I had a great time at Carolina,” Sara says. “Some of my fondest memories are the friendships I made, football games, sorority events, walking around campus on a crisp fall morning, participating in the marching band my freshman year, and of course meeting my husband there. There are countless other wonderful memories.”
From SC to DC
After earning her Master’s in Business Administration in 1999, Sara went to work for General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Atlanta, initially as a Sales Business Analyst and later a Regional Marketing Manager where she designed and implemented promotional activities for a $16 million annual revenue product, the General Motors Protection Plan and managed and monitored a $1.5 million marketing budget. She left that position in 2001 after husband David (’90, ’99 MBA) accepted a position in Washington, D.C.
“I remember my husband Dave asking me, ‘What do you think about Washington, DC,’ “Sara recalls. “We had just moved into a house in Atlanta and still had boxes to unpack. I was excited about the new adventure and had always liked Washington, so we decided to make the move. I gave up my job at GM, repacked our boxes and we headed north.”
Jobs were initially scarce after 9/11, but Sara got her foot in the door with a volunteer position in the White House. Networking with Carolina alumni helped her in the job search.
“When we moved to Washington, I never dreamed I’d wind up at the White House,” Sara says. “I started looking for jobs in business, but was drawn to becoming involved in politics. I researched opportunities on Capitol Hill and began meeting with people to try and make connections. I even had a few Carolina alumni help introduce me around town. One of the contacts I made along the way helped me get a volunteer position at the White House in the office of Presidential Scheduling.”
Sara volunteered for three months responding to invitations for the President to attend various events, and then interviewed for a full-time position in the First Lady’s Office. It was an entry level position, but she knew there was an opportunity to move up.
“In the First Lady’s Correspondence Office, I oversaw the process of responding to incoming mail from the public,” Sara explains. “Mrs. Bush would receive about 100-200 letters per day ranging from letters from school children to letters of support about her important domestic and international efforts.”
After being promoted to Deputy Director of the First Lady’s Correspondence Office in December 2002, Sara later became the Director of the Visitors Office in 2004. For this position she coordinated the public events of the White House including the Easter Egg Roll, Garden Tours and daily White House tours.
“I also coordinated the 4th of July event for White House staff and the annual holiday tours,” Sara says. “One of the most memorable parts of that job was greeting wounded warriors from Walter Reed Army Medical Center when we would host them for tours. I was fortunate to meet these brave men and women and their families.”
In the summer of 2007, Sara rejoined the First Lady’s Office to serve as Mrs. Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff. She coordinated office operations and oversaw special projects including interior renovations in the East and West Wings, a botanical artwork series and Presidential historical photo project for Camp David, and the design and distribution of the annual White House Christmas Card.
“I also had the opportunity to travel with Mrs. Bush on several domestic trips and particularly enjoyed accompanying her to Japan for the 2008 G8 Summit,” Sara says. “In February of 2008, I was appointed as a commissioned officer by President Bush and became Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Receiving this appointment by the President was a tremendous honor.”
After finishing with the Bush Administration in January, Sara now works as the Director of Member Services for the Republican National Committee. Her division supports the 168 National Committee Members across the country, and she serves as a liaison between the RNC and the members to assist in recruiting and helping candidates become elected at the national, state and local level. She also assists in the coordination of annual meetings for the RNC.
Pros and Cons of Life in Politics
As you might guess, being closely tied to politics can be exciting, interesting and exhausting. Sara also enjoys the educational aspects of her current position.
“This is a fascinating time to be at the heart of the Republican Party,” Sara says.” I have enjoyed learning more about politics, the process of elections and campaigns, and the operations of the state parties.”
Sara adds that there are far more pros than cons from her work experiences.
“Working in the White House was an amazing experience and to work for President and Mrs. Bush was an honor,” Sara says. “To witness history in the making and to play a part of that history is something I will always treasure. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people from around the world and have witnessed a variety of events ranging from bill signings, to celebrations of the arts, to the Medal of Freedom award presentations. I also enjoyed attending State Arrival Ceremonies, especially the arrival of the Queen of England, and the opportunity to hear Pope Benedict speak on the South Lawn. It’s absolutely amazing to walk the halls were so many presidents and first families have lived. To be surrounded by all of that history is overwhelming.”
Sara admits the only cons of these jobs were the long hours and stress, but she still loved all of her positions in the White House.
“Fortunately, my husband is very supportive which helped me through the six and a half years I worked there,” Sara says. “He was also busy with his career and started his own business, Monument Wealth Management, in May 2008. So we had equally long days and learned how to balance our busy schedules.”
David is also in the Marine Reserves and was in the Navy ROTC program at Carolina. He went on to serve seven years full-time in the Marine Corps, eventually going back to Carolina for his MBA . After 9/11, David went back in the Marine Corps Reserves and continues to serve one weekend per month.
Still a Gamecock
Sara and David met while classmates in the MBA program at Carolina. With her mother still living in Columbia, Sara tries to get back to campus at least once per year for a football game. Sara enjoys a strong family connection to the University.
“Not only did my father (now deceased) teach there, but my brother attended there as well,” Sara says. “And since my husband and I met at Carolina, we decided to have our wedding reception at the Faculty House on the Horseshoe. I also came back in April 2007 to speak at I-Comm week hosted by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications where I shared my experiences of planning events at the White House.”