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Making D.C. Work

May 16, 2017

UMD grad Drew Sandquist masters technology across the Washington, D.C. landscape

When UMD alumnus Drew Sandquist ’05,’12, was offered a position as field organizer for the Minnesota Obama campaign in 2008, he briefly weighed the pros and cons, and then jumped at the opportunity. That led to a position in the White House, and gave Drew stories (and secrets). There's one moment he can’t forget. Drew Sandquist

One of Drew’s duties while at the White House was to prepare and support the President's Blackberry. “I can't go into much detail regarding what that entailed,” he says. But he can share this. “One day, I walked into the Outer Oval Office to collect the President's Blackberry for a security scan,” Drew says. The President's secretary, Katie Johnson, was there and as soon as she saw Drew, she realized she'd forgotten he was coming.

“She dropped what she was doing and popped into the Oval Office and told the President I was there for his phone.” The President said that was fine, and handed it to her.  

“She came right back out of the Oval Office and threw the Blackberry at me from about 20 feet away!”

“Now granted, it was a nice soft underhanded toss,” Drew says, “and I had no trouble catching it, but I'm sure, if you could freeze that moment in time, you'd see the unmistakable look of pure panic on my face.” Drew says that in retrospect, it wouldn't have been the end of the world if he had dropped it. “But I definitely didn't know that at the time.”

Drew has juggled more than phones. From the work he did as IT support specialist for the White House, to security engineer for the Office of the President, to his current position as director of technology for Atlantic Media, Drew has consistently employed cutting edge technology to create successful systems for some of the nation’s top employers.

Take Atlantic Media. The firm began with The Atlantic, a monthly magazine founded in 1857 that covers politics, foreign affairs, economics, and culture. It now leads the pack of digital-first news publications by offering fast, insightful news to help readers cut through the never-ending mass of content.

Atlantic Media needs Drew. And Drew thrives because he doesn’t simply run systems; he’s part of a larger, more important mission. “My work is more than just a paycheck,” he says. “I’m at my best when I work for a cause I can believe in.”

Drew gives a lot of the credit for his success to the support he gets from his friends and family in his hometown of Watertown, Minn., his friends from his days in Duluth, and those new friends he's made in Washington D.C.

He is also quick to mention the help he received from his contacts in the UMD Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership (MAPL) program, which was offered at UMD until 2011. He took a class with Jeff Blodgett, who became state director of Barack Obama’s campaign, and subsequently offered Drew the campaign organizing position. He’s stayed friends with MAPL classmate Cathleen Cotter, the one person who fervently encouraged Drew to take the campaign job.

Atlantic Media is a whirlwind of breaking news, and Drew’s career is flourishing. However, he admits, “My most vivid stories are about my two years in the White House.”

Here’s one last memory from Drew.

“On one of my very first days in the White House, I was assigned to assist a contractor in a survey of all of the phones in the executive residence. While the First Family was away, we made sure each phone was in working order. We left no room untouched!  We went everywhere from the solarium and Truman Balcony to the kitchen, flower shop, and bowling alley.  It was quite the introduction to the job. It was truly an incredible experience for me to be able to read a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address while standing in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

Like so many other CLA grads, Drew's career has taken him to unexpected places. Be on the watch for more news about what's in store for him next.

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