The American population has diversified faster than the group of people who hold leadership roles within the government. This has been a problematic trend in the U.S. where representative democracy often fails to reflect the actual diversity of the population. However, in recent years there has been a shift in this trend.
Julie Thuy Underwood will be the first Asian American and “the first [female] city manager for Shoreline,” said the city’s finance director, Debbie Tarry.
According to Dick Deal, Shoreline’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, the city manager is the top staff position in the city.
Since “the city manager field still remains a male-dominated profession,” said Tarry, Underwood’s appointment makes her a positive role model for women.
She is also a role model for the Asian American community, said Sally Eppard, manager of Aurora Oriental Market in Shoreline. “I think it’s great. She represents the [Asian] community in a positive way,” the manager said.
Underwood said that ambition, commitment to public service, a resilient attitude and strong leadership skills set the foundation for success in her life.
After getting a bachelor’s degree in government and politics from George Mason University and a master’s in public administration from Virginia Tech, Underwood went to work for the city of Rockville, Md., where she discovered her passion for public service.
“I got hooked,” Underwood said. “I loved working in the manager’s office and I knew from that point on that I wanted to be a city manager.”
Eventually, Underwood made the transition from Maryland to Washington. She was drawn to the Pacific Northwest by “the environmental ethos and the beauty,” and saw Shoreline as a place where she could really make a difference.
Shoreline was officially designated as a city for only 6 years when Underwood joined the team, she said.
After serving as the assistant to the city manager, Underwood was promoted. She will assume the manager’s position on Feb. 25, replacing Robert Olander who held the office for the past five years.
Underwood “was selected because of her skill set, enthusiasm, and experience,” said Deal. “I have yet to meet a city employee who is not excited about [her] appointment.”
Olander, Deal and Tarry are confident in Underwood’s abilities to perform as the new city manager based on her previous work for Shoreline.
“She has all the right qualifications and attributes to be an excellent city manager for Shoreline,” said Olander.
Underwood has overseen many projects while working for the city, including “construction [work on] the first mile of Aurora [in Shoreline] and significant improvements to [the] park system,” Underwood said.
The redevelopment of subsequent sections of Aurora Avenue North (State Route 99) that run through Shoreline is a significant project that Underwood has been working on, and will continue to oversee as city manager.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is “working with the public,” she said. “You can’t help but feel like you’re really making a difference.”
Underwood attributes much of her success to the fact that she gets to help her community and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
“I have my dream job and I’m really lucky to do what I love,” she said. “I take great pride in helping shape the kind of community we live in … especially since I was the first in my family to go to college.”
Moving to the U.S. at the age of 2, Underwood grew up in rural parts of the South where her ethnic heritage often posed challenges.
“I have felt the hurtfulness of prejudice,” said Underwood, “and it hurt, but having people think that way of me made me want to work harder.”
Turning the challenge of being a minority into a strength, she said, rests in appreciating that which makes you unique and recognizing that your perspective is a valuable one.