Data-Driven to Excel
When it comes to data, Anna Cooper ’13 has been cracking the political code since she was a teenager. By combining her passion for social justice with the data skills she’s learned volunteering for political campaigns, Cooper went from registering people to vote to working in the White House, and she now manages data for an organization with nearly half a million members.
Cooper was recognized with a 2018 DCFemTech Award, awarded to “Power Women in Code, Design, and Data,” at the Washington Post building on May 7, for her coding work with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and developing an in-house polling program for the organization. She also designed and implemented a voter turnout mail experiment for the 2017 mayoral races of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and served as a member of the organizational committee for Crack the Code, an event for women and “genderqueer” people working in data, technology, and analytics.
Cooper now works as the director of data and information systems for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union representing more than 400,000 members across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. She collects and organizes data on all active members. “I have an opportunity to use my privilege and expertise to contribute to something larger than myself,” she says.
“I’m also constantly inspired by our members — the hard work they do in factories, call centers, airplanes, newsrooms, and how they’ll put themselves on the line for the working conditions they and their colleagues deserve.”
Though Cooper originally thought she might go into the sciences, she became interested in community activism through her involvement at OWU as an intern at the Women’s Resource Center, as a sister of Delta Zeta, as president of the Panhellenic Council, and as a member of the House of Peace and Justice. “I had this pivotal moment where I thought, ‘What’s stopping me from going into that kind of work?’ ” she says.
She decided to take the fall semester of her senior year off to organize in Knox County for Barack Obama’s re-election, and spent her senior year semester interning for the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, a nonprofit that advocates for gender equality.
Cooper got her start in the political field at the age of 17, when her mother signed her up to help register people to vote. “I was so nervous to talk to strangers, but I set a 2008 county record for the most voter registrations in a day,” she says.
Working in different field roles inspired Cooper to explore the targeting behind campaigning. She found her niche in 2014 by landing her first data-based role in the Senate campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, who took on 30-year Senate veteran Mitch McConnell. “I committed to learning everything I needed to know about ‘data’ on the job. I had a can-do attitude, passion for the job, a team of supportive women, and folks who could vouch for the fact that I’m reliable and learn quickly,” Cooper says. “It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had, but I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Cooper cites President Obama as the reason she fell in love with political work. “I started volunteering and felt so affirmed and empowered by how I could contribute to a movement when I push myself beyond what’s comfortable. Campaign politics became a venue for me to unite my passion for social justice and discover my confidence,” she says.
After a few years of working on campaigns across Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia, Cooper secured a position in the Presidential Personnel Office of the Obama White House as associate director of technology and operations. In this position, she managed logistics for all political appointments, focusing on Senate nominations. “It was an incredible honor to serve in the Obama administration and work in the White House after all the work I’d done in Ohio on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns,” Cooper says.
In addition to passing a six-month FBI background check that made her eligible for top-secret clearance, Cooper also got to participate in women’s leadership panels with NASA rocket scientists and the head of the National Science Foundation, attend an arrival ceremony for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and breathe the rarefied air of the West Wing.
Because data management is such a new field, Cooper has had most of her training and education on the job. Her broad liberal arts education, which features a major in French and a double minor in women's and gender studies (WGS) and biology, has also given her career advantages.
“The WGS coursework has been the most practical. Learning about the history of work, gendered communication styles, and socialization has been wildly helpful to navigating male-dominated fields and learning how to trust my own voice,” she says.
Cooper has been fortunate to combine her seemingly disparate interests. “One of the things I love about my current job is that it’s a combination of every job I’ve had, plus a lot of new challenges,” she says. “It requires the creativity, persistence, and ‘hard asks’ of a field organizer, targeting and systems know-how from someone who’s been on the ground with data and tech tools, and the political acumen, tact, and understanding of bureaucracy of a White House position.”
By A.L. Davies ’19