"Dickinson is extremely focused on giving students a high-quality, personalized education. My classes were small, and I had the time and the support to really engage with the materials and develop a deeper understanding."
—Liz Ryan '86
Liz Ryan ’86 (international studies) is the administrator of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a position 20 years in the making. She was appointed in May 2022 by President Biden, and the position comes on the heels of Ryan serving as president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative, a national campaign that has achieved the closure of youth prisons in six states and redirected more than $50 million to community-based alternatives to incarceration.
Tell us a little about your career.
During my first visit to a juvenile detention facility, I was truly outraged by how we were treating kids. I don’t see kids who are in the juvenile justice system as any different; they are still kids. That fundamental belief drives my work to this day.
After holding a variety of positions in juvenile justice advocacy, I founded the Campaign for Youth Justice in 2005 and served as its president and CEO until 2014. The campaign’s work led to legislative and policy changes in more than 30 states, a 60% decrease in the number of youth in adult courts and a greater than 50% decrease in the number of youth placed in adult jails and prisons. Serving in my current position is both a tremendous honor and an enormous responsibility, and I am proud to be the first youth advocate to hold this position.
What was your Dickinson experience like?
I had a wonderful experience at Dickinson. I was on the swim team, and I ran cross country. I was a resident advisor to first-year students when I was a junior, and I loved getting to support the younger students. I also did a study-abroad program, and that was a life-changing experience. I lived in Bologna, Italy, for my senior year. It was incredible to get to study international studies and Italian there for one year. I received a world-class education at Dickinson. I am always happy to share my experience with anyone—especially alums and upcoming grads who are thinking about coming to work in D.C.
How did Dickinson help prepare you for where you are today?
Dickinson is extremely focused on giving students a high-quality, personalized education. My classes were small, and I had the time and the support to really engage with the materials and develop a deeper understanding. Spending my senior year in Italy helped prepare me for the future by exposing me to diverse types of people, environments and ideas. More than anything else, I developed a genuine appreciation for how fortunate I was. It was the first time I fully realized how many opportunities and resources I had at my disposal. That drove me to help provide those same types of opportunities to people who were not as fortunate.
There is also a really strong alumni community at Dickinson, and I got my first job on Capitol Hill through a connection with a Dickinson alum. Those connections really matter—whether you are just starting out or are decades into your career.
Published September 1, 2022