At 24, Elsa Alvarado ’18 is the youngest director at the Pentagon, appointed by President Biden to work as director of strategic communications for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs. The office provides support to the Secretary of Defense in communication with the White House, Cabinet Members, members of Congress and the Department of State.
But before Alvarado’s work at the Pentagon, she was a political science major at Middlebury College, where she was most interested in American politics and government. As the first in her family to attend college, moving to rural Vermont and attending a primarily white institution was a contrast from her home in Queens, New York, but Alvarado found that in such a small community she really could hone her interests and find her voice.
“I grew up in NYC in public school with classes that had 40–50 students at a time. In those environments, it is easy to feel like your voice does not matter or gets outshined by others. But because Middlebury fosters a tight-knit community and offers small classes, I developed relationships and found that my opinion mattered,” Alvarado said in an email to The Campus.
Alvarado excelled during her time at Middlebury, receiving a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which provided a stipend that allowed her to study abroad in a program that aims to broaden the global perspective of American students.
“Every student should have the opportunity to study abroad even if they’re low-income and first generation students like myself,” she told The Campus in 2016. “Studying abroad is an experience that allows students to see the world with a different lens and it offers an opportunity to grow academically and emotionally.”
After graduating, she was named a Schwarzman Scholar, joining a program that allows students to study fully funded at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing for a one-year master’s program in global affairs. After the program ended, Alvarado struggled to find a job as the Covid-19 pandemic limited job opportunities.
Alvarado decided to lean into her passions and work on the Biden 2020 campaign, applying to every available position before landing the job of vetting analyst. In that role, she primarily vetted potential speaking opportunities for Dr. Jill Biden, assessing every event and person Dr. Biden would attend and meet with to best promote the Biden campaign. After President Biden’s win, Alvarado joined the 59th Presidential Inaugural Committee as a senior vetting analyst before being offered her current position in the Pentagon.
During the 18 months that Alvarado has served as director, she has learned how to readjust to a place foreign to her, much like when she first arrived at Middlebury. Alvarado said that even to this day she has worries about whether her colleagues will respect her position.
“I would be lying if I said I did not feel insecure every once in a while when I go to a meeting and I'm the only woman there. But I have to remind myself that I am here for a reason. I was not given this political appointment randomly — I was given the job because I have proven that I can do high-intensity work,” she said in an email to The Campus.
Alvarado attributes much of her success to the mentors and organizations that helped guide her path. Due to this, Alvarado voluntarily runs an internship for college students through the Pentagon that is specifically geared towards creating pipelines into government for women and students of color.
“When I walk into a room, I am usually the only woman and Latina, and I do not want that to be the case in 10 years. That is why I started this program and that is why I mentor the interns for their long-term careers,” Alvarado said.
Reika Herman ’24 participated in this program over the summer, first working as a strategic communications intern where she helped prepare members of the Department of Defense for meetings with members of Congress, before changing focus to work on personnel and readiness issues relating to service member well-being.
“I was writing on stuff from artificial intelligence to abortion policy to ship building to relations in the Arctic — everything,” Herman said.
When asked what advice she would give to other first-generation students, Alvarado emphasized that taking time to adjust to the new environment is essential, and that the number one advice she had was to be patient with yourself.
“When I moved to Vermont, I spent the first months just trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I was in a new state with people from all over the world. But as I got used to my environment, opened up and made connections, I genuinely fell in love with Middlebury,” she said.
Correction 03/02/23 - A previous version of this article misspelled Elsa Alvarado's last name in the first line of the story. This error has been corrected.
Orly Berke '25 (she/her) is a News Editor.
This is Orly’s second year as news editor with previous experience as a staff writer.
She is a joint political science - art history major. Outside of academics she is a member of the College Democrats as well as Darkroom club. She enjoys watching movies, cooking, and spending time with friends, oftentimes in Proctor, her favorite dining hall.