Alexandra Abboud Miller ’00: From Philadelphia to Scranton, and Then the White House

Throughout her career in national security, Alexandra Abboud Miller ’00 has created and implemented policies that impact hostages, their families, and fellow government employees.

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Growing up in Philadelphia, Alexandra Abboud Miller ’00 always watched the national news and Sunday news programs like “Meet the Press” with her parents, brother, and sister.

“My parents quizzed us on current events, so I knew from a very young age that the world was a big place,” Miller says. “I knew I wanted to know more and see more, and I think that’s a real gift from my parents, Khalil and Maureen. My father was an immigrant from Lebanon and had such a unique perspective, coming here from Lebanon and seeing the way our government works. He had a deep love for our democracy and our government, and because I grew up with that, I always knew I wanted to go to the center of that. And for me, that was DC.”

Miller has spent her career working for the federal government, starting in 2003 as a Presidential Management Fellow, which is a two-year training and leadership development program in public policy. In the years since, she worked in public affairs at the State Department, managing web and social media tools, and then transitioned to national security. Miller served on the National Security Council at the White House from 2021-2022 as the Director for Counterterrorism, Hostage and Detainee Affairs.

Her work involves tact and discretion, and sometimes, emotionally demanding situations. Through it all, Miller stays focused on the people who government policy can impact.

“While I was at the State Department, I had the ability to both manage amazing people and develop new policies and procedures to try to engage foreign audiences — it was where policy and people meet,” Miller says. “I knew I found what I love to do, and that has continued through my entire career.”

Securing Safe Recovery of Hostages

Today, Miller is an officer in the Senior National Intelligence Service at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She also served there as the Deputy Director of National Policy, and at the National Counterterrorism Center.

“In 2015, I had the privilege to work with government partners, former hostages and the families of hostages to develop Presidential Policy Directive 30, which supports the safe and rapid recovery of U.S. nationals taken hostage or wrongfully detained outside of the United States,” she says. “I use the word privilege a lot, but I really feel that way. I have had such a privileged career, to support these efforts. At the White House, I worked to continue to implement the policy and goals I helped develop in 2015.”

As she thinks back on her career journey, Miller admits that she never expected to work in the hostage and detainee sector of national security.

“I was really worried that I wasn’t equipped to do it, but a leader and mentor in my organization told me that I could. Frankly, it changed my life in many ways,” she says.

“When I talk to folks early in their career, and I do that a lot, the first advice I give is to take risks. If something feels like a stretch, it absolutely means you will grow. You are stronger than you think.

I have been lucky to have mentors who have believed in me and really pushed me to my limit ... when I doubted myself.”

On Mentors and Life’s Defining Moments

At The University of Scranton, those mentors included her political science professors, Dr. Gretchen Van Dyke and Dr. William Parente. As a history and political science major, Miller participated in Van Dyke’s annual European Union simulation in Washington, a program that Miller likened to a Model United Nations experience.

“I remember I gave a speech at that simulation, and it felt so good to see people responding to what I was saying.

“It was one of the first times that I had to present large amounts of information that I had just learned to a very large audience. I remember how nervous I was. Now I find myself in situations where I must express large amounts of information to our government’s most senior leaders in a succinct way. That EU simulation and those experiences were the start of building confidence in my ability to do that,” Miller says.

"If something feels like a stretch, it absolutely means you will grow. You are stronger than you think." — Alexandra Abboud Miller ’00

After graduating from Scranton, Miller attended law school at the Catholic University of America. She was in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, living in Dupont Circle with her Scranton roommate, Anne Marie Mulcahy ’00.

“We could see the plumes of smoke from the Pentagon from our rooftop. As you can imagine, it was a defining moment for so many of us,” Miller recalls. “And so, my upbringing and my experiences culminated in my career in public service in government.”

Seeing the Whole Picture is Critical

Miller says that her support system — including her husband, Richard, and daughter Layla, plus Mulcahy and the friends who lived in the house at 416 Taylor in Scranton — have helped her succeed in her work. Layla is 10 and in fifth grade, and the family spends most weekends at her swim meets and with their dogs.

With such a dedicated support system of her own, Miller has made it a point throughout her career to encourage the next generation of government public servants. Miller says she has mentored both informally and officially, the latter as chief of workforce planning and recruitment at the National Counterterrorism Center. In that role, she traveled the country to recruit a diverse network of students for government occupations.

“In life and work, without perspectives that are different than your own, you miss critical details and don’t see the full picture,” Miller says. “Especially in national security, seeing the whole picture is critical.”

On the 50th anniversary of coeducation at the University, Miller says she is inspired by the women who came before her at Scranton. “I won’t forget those who came before me, and I will do everything I can to pave the way for folks to succeed. That is how we pay our gratitude to those who took the hard route.”

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