Julia Sanderson arrived at Yale in 2017 from South Dakota as a well-travelled daughter of an Air Force officer, sister to a brother who urged her to study Russian, and an eager student with vague interest in psychology.
Since then, it seems her academic interests have followed a course taken right out of the international news headlines.
Sanderson, who will graduate this week with a degree in psychology, will become an intelligence officer in the Air Force with a focus on Chinese and Russian disinformation campaigns. She has spent time studying in war-torn Kviv, Ukraine — through her Yale studies and Project Global Officer — where at the urging of her brother she learned the Russian language during two separate visits.
These experiences have given her a distinctly personal perspective on the ongoing Russian invasion. “I have heard the first-hand experiences of people I met in Ukraine,” she said. “The news there has been pretty jarring.”
It was during her first year at Branford College that Sanderson decided to enlist in the Air Force ROTC program. “They let you try out the program for the entire first year,” she said. “Despite having uncertainty about whether the Air Force would be a good fit for me, the people in the program kept bringing me back. I was surrounded by a great community that was looking out for each other.”
During that same year she also ditched plans to major in economics, deciding to instead focus on the courses in psychology that she found more enjoyable.
Eventually she became interested in how disinformation is spread, such as methods used by Russia to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. During an internship last summer at the Advanced Research Lab for Intelligence and Security at the University of Maryland, she studied Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns during the pandemic.
After graduation Sanderson, who received Yale’s Hiram Bingham III Leadership Award, which recognizes performance by Air Force cadets, will be stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.
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