Tracy Walder: From Sisterhood to CIA

As a sorority woman at the University of Southern California and majoring in History, Tracy Walder thought she had her career path figured out. She wanted to be a history teacher and teach students about the world around them. When she was a junior in college, it was her intention to apply for a job at her campus career fair for that exact position. But, seeing the CIA table at the career fair completely empty, Tracy went and talked to the recruiter realizing that, as she writes in her book The Unexpected Spy, “making history would be way better than teaching it.” Just a few short months later, she found herself sitting in front of a CIA recruiter taking a polygraph test and telling her entire life story to a stranger.

Tracy, The Spy 

Tracy seemed to have her whole life planned out. No part of her plan involved being a CIA or FBI agent. But, when you hear her story it seems like a logical career move. She had always been someone who focused on the larger scale problems of the world. In her book, she talks about being different than girls who were talking about the cutest boys and other kids who were excited about the latest movie release. Tracy was consumed with thoughts of the Oklahoma City bomber and worrying about Nelson Mandela.

This whole journey is laid out in Tracy’s new book, The Unexpected Spy. She shares her account of being at the CIA headquarters during 9/11, fighting terrorism, interrogating terrorists, bringing down foreign spies and so much more. We won’t spoil too much from the book, but Tracy’s story only continues to get more interesting on each page.

Working With Women

After leaving the FBI Tracy found herself right where she intended – teaching students. This time her goal was to educate women on the opportunities they have in public service and in intelligence jobs. 

When Tracy talks about her work as a former teacher and now serving Girls Security on the Board of Directors, you can hear her passion for the work. She talks about the benefit of men and women working together and how she strives to teach this to young women. Their presence in these spaces is vital because women offer a unique perspective. But, the representation of women is so small that you typically see the males in these roles. “Women in the CIA, law enforcement, etc. are severely underrepresented,” Tracy says. This leaves a gap of young girls having no one to look up to. “What example are we setting for women if they’re only seeing males?” She asks. 

Tracy also recognizes that the only way to see true change is to get women into these professions. For these organizations to see a need to change, there have to be women on the inside that inspire and demand that change. “Women have to be there to provide their perspectives if we want to see any change,” Tracy says.

Tracy’s Lifelong Sorority Membership

When she was in college, Tracy experienced the power of women coming together by joining Delta Gamma. She herself grew as a leader and her membership is something she has enjoyed since being initiated. Joining Delta Gamma gave Tracy a network of women, not only in college but also in her professional career. When Tracy started at the CIA, she says that one of her closest friends was a sorority woman from another organization. “We didn’t care that we were in different organizations, we bonded over the experience,” she says. 

Tracy joined an alumnae group when she moved across the country to be in the CIA, as a way to meet new people. “It helped anchor me. When you’re in college, you don’t expect that to happen,” Tracy says.  “I got way more out of my sorority experience out of college.”

Her college membership did have an impact on Tracy when she applied for a job at the CIA. As a collegian, Tracy held a leadership role as the vice president of social standards. A role the CIA was quite interested in. “I was shocked,” she said. “The CIA recruiter was very interested in what I had been doing as standards. He felt it helped me be a good candidate.”

Tracy now lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and her daughter. While she isn’t teaching anymore, she still strives to inspire young women on their opportunities for intelligence jobs. She continues to serve on the board of directors of Girls Security, a non-partisan nonprofit focused on encouraging girls in high school to pursue careers in national security. 

Emma Austin

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