Nicole Anderson '11 (International Studies)

Made at Sac State

Nicole Anderson knows how to keep busy. A student trustee for the California State University system before she graduated in May from Sacramento State with a bachelor’s in International Studies, Anderson is starting law school at Penn State. And on Aug. 20, she was commissioned in a ceremony at Sac State as an officer in the Marine Corps, where she plans to put her law degree to work. (View a video and photo album of her commissioning ceremony.) Despite her busy schedule, Anderson, 22, who also is featured in the California State Student Association campaign “Made in the CSU” (,  found time to talk recently about how Sac State helped shape her leadership skills.

Q: How did Sac State prepare you to be a leader?

A: It started out my freshman year. I came from Redding, so I was not really familiar with the Sacramento area. I quickly started getting involved on campus in different clubs that were just interesting to me. … I volunteered with UNIQUE, did some stuff with the Spanish club, Toastmasters. And it snowballed. I moved into leadership positions, and as that progressed, I gained the confidence to take on larger roles and responsibilities. By my sophomore year, I was appointed secretary of state affairs with ASI (Associated Students, Inc.), and from there, I was able to have the relationship with the staff and faculty on campus who were able to help me network and get things going, whether on campus or systemwide.

Q: How did you end up on the Board of Trustees?

A: I was in the Honors Program, and both the director, Dr. (Roberto) Pomo, and a student named Roberto Torres, who ended up being the ASI president, really mentored me and helped me along, introducing me to people. I was able to see different leadership styles. When I was in ASI, I was particularly involved with the California State Student Association – I was the representative for Sac State. So it was there that I was able to see, “OK, here’s what the ASI leaders look like from across the system. How are they successful? What attributes do they have that I like?” And I was able to take in the best from a lot of different people, and eventually it worked out for me.

Q: What spurred your interest in public policy?

A: My freshman year, I was actually a civil engineering major  – I literally have an entire family of engineers. So when I told my parents I was switching over to government, they about had a heart attack at first. And I don’t have any family that has gone military, so I kind of went a whole 180. But after I got involved, my mom started doing the same thing with Caltrans. She’s actually now in an elected position within the union for engineers in California. … She’s a very strong leader and really from the beginning has been the one who’s encouraged me to take opportunities and put myself out there and get over the fear of rejection, and so I think that helped me a lot.

Q: In the “Made in the CSU” video, you mention the perception that UCs merit greater prestige than CSUs. Obviously, the “Made in the CSU” campaign is designed to rebuke that. Where do you think the perception originated, and how do you think it can be overcome?

A: Some of it comes from the fact that the UCs still have the monopoly for the most part on research and doctoral-level education, so it’s an automatic assumption that if you’re able to do x-y-z, you must be better. … But if you’re looking at who is actually generating the workforce that California needs right now and who is producing the skilled laborers, the practical graduate is coming from the CSU at a much larger number. … I think the (“Made in the CSU”) campaign is trying to make the general population realize why having that practical graduate is so important.

Q: Tell us why you think education is an investment that ultimately enriches all of society.

A: I would hope that the general population, which would be older and wiser, would realize this is not only an investment in an individual but in the entire community because it transcends just a job – you have a more educated electorate, you have more engaged citizens. It’s kind of a ripple effect.

Q: So, the Marines, huh?

A: The military provides opportunities that I wouldn’t have as a civilian lawyer. And I really have a lot of respect for the camaraderie and support Marines provide to each other. Also, the Marines have more of an emphasis on international and criminal law than some of the other branches do. And I think I’ve always thrived on a challenge. I am intrigued about being a female Marine officer – only 10 percent of the Marine Corps’ officers are female. To me, that’s exciting.

Article written by Ahmed Ortiz, Sacramento State's Office of Public Affairs, published August 2011.