Alumnae Spotlight: Susanne Brunhart Wiggins, Class of 1987
Holy Child’s motto, “Actions, not words” has guided Susanne Brunhart Wiggins in every facet of her life, ever since she completed her required community service in her 10th grade Religion class at Holy Child. Her career path was not a direct one; it has been filled with numerous curves. As a person who innately wants to help people, her current role as a Senior Information Technology Specialist in the Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions for Montgomery County, Maryland Government allows her to do just that! She helps those she knows and those she doesn’t know every day.
Tell us about your job/role.
I work for the Montgomery County Government as a Senior Information Technology Specialist in the Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions. My office is in Rockville, Maryland, and I also telework. I’ve been a Montgomery County employee since 1999.
I help local government agencies provide information and services on websites that are easy to use and understand. Through sites I’ve supported, people find COVID-19 tests and schedule vaccine appointments, check schedules for buses that take them to their jobs, learn about recreation programs for their families and themselves, access support services, get details about their trash and recycling pickups, and more.
On any given day, I might write code for a web page, follow up with a resident on feedback they shared, analyze site data, host a community of practice, consult on a navigation change, brainstorm ways to resolve a display challenge, manage translated content, or edit a text in plain language.
What path did you take to get where you are?
Today, my degree in Psychology, a persistent tech theme, and my interest in making things better intersect nicely in user experience and service design. However, the path to my current role was anything but direct!
I entered college as an Undecided major. After narrowing that down to a specific field, I ended up in fields – literally! A seminar on agriculture in Maryland turned into a job developing new varieties of wheat, barley, and oats. That led me to a class on soils, and a class project on composting. Meanwhile, the work in my major leaned to social psychology. A research job there had me designing interfaces, editing texts we presented to participants, managing studies, and analyzing data.
As I finished college, I began volunteering with Montgomery County’s then-new recycling program. What I’d learned about composting and soils came in handy for teaching residents about using compost bins in their yards. And, when I became the volunteer program manager, I discovered that the skills for recruiting and nurturing volunteers were remarkably similar to those I’d refined for the research lab participants. At the same time, I became active in the local volunteer program manager community, serving on the board and organizing professional development opportunities.
I then shifted from managing volunteers to managing pixels. I became a County employee as a Public Outreach Specialist just as the Internet was getting started. HTML seemed like a good thing to know, and “view code” was my friend as I figured it out. I was given responsibility for the trash and recycling information website. Our call center was right outside my office door, and overhearing the conversations let me know the day’s hot topics. I used that insight to shape website content. To help residents know about their collection schedule around holidays and weather events, I started an email notification list. What started as a small bcc: group in my email account grew to thousands of subscribers. I ended each notice with a poem, attracting some subscribers who joined just to read the selections, and the attention of the Washington Post!
In my current role I support websites, and the colleagues who manage them, across the County. My tasks range from simple content updates to complex code challenges. I still pop open the “view code” display many times a day. Sometimes that’s to troubleshoot, and often, it’s to learn. Our internal innovation community inspires me to explore and realize possibilities for change.
What is something about your career/position that you're proud of?
I grew up in Montgomery County, and the people I serve in my role are my family, my friends, my neighbors, and many of you reading this article. I carry that privilege and responsibility into each day.
What is your favorite Holy Child memory? Does one teacher or class stand out to you?
My sisters and I commuted to school in a memorable, and very yellow, manual transmission car - what an adventure! Mornings often found us quizzing each other in preparation for class, and warm afternoons had us running the heat to avoid engine overheating.
More seriously, community service that was required for Grade 10 Religion became a permanent part of my life’s fabric. My current projects find me at loading docks for a food reuse ministry, at my computer providing tech support to our parish, and meeting neighbors to build community.
What event or tradition each school year did you enjoy the most?
I had fun with the Secret Santas, dropping little notes and gifts to brighten someone’s day without being discovered.
Are you still in touch with Holy Child classmates?
Yes, and there is such richness in sharing our life journeys!
Is there a class that should be offered in high school or college that you think every student should take/would benefit from taking it?
Jump at the opportunity to explore human-centered design, ideally by practicing it. And, if you prefer a quick shot, there’s a powerful Cleveland Clinic YouTube video on empathy. Its 4 minutes and 23 seconds will change the way you encounter others – grab a tissue before hitting “play”.
Is there something about your Holy Child experience that continues to guide you today?
Holy Child’s “Actions, Not Words” motto speaks directly to my heart!
What's one adjective that describes you that's been a positive attribute for your role?
Human. Empathy is a critical part of improving user experience. The more deeply we understand the people participating in a service – their joys, fears, concerns, decisions, and more – the more effective the outcome can be.
Name three things you would like to do in the next 5-10 years.
- Foster participatory design at work and in the community
- Hand-sew my way through repurposing that towering stash of old t-shirts
- Grow more of what I eat with native and edible landscaping, amid suburbia
What advice do you have for a Holy Child student or alumna who is pursuing her career/dream?
Extend grace, generously - everyone is doing the best they can. Fail forward, often - the only misstep is the one you don’t learn from. Reach back, kindly - bring those behind you forward, and grow with them.
Please feel welcome to be in touch. I’m eager to continue the conversation around public service, user experience, civic tech, community work, gardening, crafting, and other topics this article might inspire for you.
Susanne graduated University of Maryland at College Park in 1992 with a B.S. degree in Psychology (Exchange student: University of Vienna, Austria, 1990-1991)
Written by: Suzi Norris Montes de Oca ’74
Do you know of a Holy Child alumna with an interesting career, service project, or hobby that we should spotlight? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org!