October 2022
Julia Anderson.

After completing a master’s degree at Harvard University, Julia Anderson (MNLEND 2016-17) is turning her experience in disability policy to a new task: innovating state programs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In January, she became director of strategic innovation for Gov. Charlie Baker’s cabinet relations/strategic operations team, reporting to Robert Garrity, deputy chief of staff for strategic innovation.

“Bureaucracy so often obscures the needs of the family and the child,” she said. “We’re looking at how low-income families or families with high needs – and this includes those with disabilities – apply for financial assistance for childcare. It’s a paperwork-heavy, long process that is confusing for families.”

She’s leading a pilot project to test a new digital application to see if it results in speeding access to childcare for families. She’s also helping assess policies and regulations to discover other potential reforms.

While finishing her master’s degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she worked as an intern for the Department of Developmental Services, which led to becoming manager of statewide autism supports. This work followed her extensive contributions to building accessible programs for diverse communities at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. As a MNLEND fellow, she developed Sensory Friendly Sunday , a free monthly event for children, teenagers, and adults with autism or sensory sensitivities, and their families. Inspired by MNLEND’s model of bringing together professionals and community members from a wide cross section of disciplines, she formed a community advisory group of parents, professionals, and self-advocates to serve as advisers to the museum’s program developers.

“When I think of the core takeaways from LEND, a big one was working in an interdisciplinary way with teams; the benefits of getting out of your silo, whether it’s as government administrator, or psychologist, or pediatrician, and talking to other people,” she said. “Right now, I’m helping organize focus groups of families, advocates, childcare and other providers to talk about the challenges in childcare and come up with solutions. So, you need to listen, but you also need to come back to them and be accountable for the outcome, and I think LEND taught us that lesson.”

Rebecca Dosch Brown, MNLEND’s training director, said Anderson is a proven innovator and problem solver.

“She’s always looking for ways to improve systems by listening to the disability community directly,” said Brown. “It’s a testament to her ability to bring people together to build inclusive systems that her brainchild - the Walker’s Sensory Friendly Sundays - continues to be offered each month. That’s her legacy, and we’re thrilled she’s still innovating.”

The MNLEND fellowship application for the 2023-2024 training cohort opened on October 15, with an early consideration deadline of January 6, 2023, and a general deadline of March 1, 2023. Applicants from historically underrepresented racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.