Alumna Follows Her Dreams to White House and Back
By Savannah Tranchell
Danielle Garbe Reser '97 knows the value of the Whitman College network.
It was, after all, a Whitman alumnus who helped set her on a career path that took her overseas and to the White House, twice. Now Garbe Reser is back in Walla Walla, giving back to the community that gave her so much, and serving current students at Whitman.
The Power of the Network
Originally from Moses Lake, Washington, Garbe Reser was interested in politics as a student at Whitman, but she was having trouble narrowing her focus.
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to do American or international politics," she said. "But I spent my junior year in Paris studying abroad, and I really liked the international part."
In her senior year, Garbe Reser took an international theory class with Miles C. Moore Professor of Political Science Phil Brick. One day, alumnus Ryan Crocker '71 spoke to the students about his perspective on politics and careers in the U.S. Foreign Service.
Garbe Reser was hooked.
"I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that,'" she said. "And he told me, ‘I'll hope to see you in the Foreign Service.'"
By 2011, Garbe Reser was the head of the political and economic team at the embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, at the beginning of the Syrian war. Crocker had held the same position early in his career, and later was an ambassador to Lebanon.
"I did, in fact, follow in his footsteps," Garbe Reser said.
Finding a Path
The journey from a politics classroom to the Foreign Service wasn't a perfectly straight line. After graduating with her politics degree in 1997, Garbe Reser worked for two years in the Office of Admission at Whitman while she figured out her next steps.
She stayed connected with her faculty thesis advisor, though, and one day Brick sent her an application for the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
"He sent me the notice in campus mail and said, ‘You should look at this!' I realized the program would pay me to do exactly what I wanted to do," she said.
She received the fellowship in 1999. In exchange for a minimum three-year commitment to the Foreign Service, the fellowship covered the costs for her graduate degree in public administration from Columbia University. During her studies, Garbe Reser interned with the State Department in Washington, D.C., and Papua New Guinea.
Her first official day at the Foreign Service was Sept. 10, 2001. The training center was evacuated the next day.
"Our whole class came back on Sept. 12, and that was the day we got the list of jobs that were available in the world," Garbe Reser said. "Everyone wanted to be in a position to be able to help our country."
Prior to Sept. 11, Garbe Reser was thinking about studying Spanish and serving in South America.
"Then by Sept. 12, what was interesting to me was completely different," she said. Garbe Reser ranked the jobs in the Muslim world at the top of her list and was assigned to go to Indonesia.
Completing the Circle
In 2015, after nearly 14 years with the Foreign Service, Garbe Reser returned to Walla Walla. Now she's the CEO for Sherwood Trust, a private foundation and nonprofit. It's another full-circle moment for Garbe Reser: As a student at Whitman, she received the Claire Sherwood Memorial Scholarship, a prestigious award that covers the full cost of tuition. Sherwood Trust had been led for nearly two decades by another Whitman alumnus, Jock Edwards '66.
The Sherwoods' history with Walla Walla and Whitman College dates back to the early 1900s. Donald Sherwood '22 was a successful businessman and entrepreneur in the Valley. He and his wife, Virginia, were active in the community, supporting Whitman College, the library and many other initiatives. The scholarship was named in honor of their late daughter. Sherwood Trust was established in 1991 to continue the family's legacy of investing in the Walla Walla Valley.
As CEO, Garbe Reser oversees the trust's operations, from investments to grant management and awards, and community professional development and leadership programs.
"We've invested over $30 million back into the region," she said. "It's been a fun way to come back to Walla Walla, and a privilege to repay the generosity of the Sherwood family."
Through it all, she's always kept her connections to Whitman.
"I've volunteered every year since I graduated," she said. She has held positions on the college's Alumni Board and currently sits on the President's Advisory Board. In January 2019, she was the keynote speaker for Whitman's first Sophomore Summit program.
"I think I will probably spend my entire life feeling like I could never give back enough for the investment that Whitman made in me," she said. "I got a wonderful education and great community. I'm giving back in all the various ways I can so that future generations continue to have really great educational and extracurricular experiences."