First, she was a candy striper with dreams of becoming a nurse. Then, she found her niche in sociology and business, where she went on to gain more than 30 years’ experience as a vendor, contractor and consultant.
Now, after spending the last four years as deputy chief information officer for policy and planning at the Agriculture Department, Joyce Hunter has returned to the private sector in her former role as CEO of Vulcan Enterprises. The Maryland-based business provides IT services and strategic management consulting to federal, industry, academic and nonprofit organizations.
A self-dubbed “strategic doer,” Hunter said her strength and focus are helping companies update or implement their strategic plans.
“Most companies already have a strategic plan, so I don’t usually come in and do it,” she said. “I want to come in and take your strategic plan off the shelf, read it over and work with you to implement it.”
Hunter was CEO of Vulcan from 2009 until after she was appointed to her role at USDA.
“I was an appointee in the Obama administration, and when Jan. 20 came, I had to leave just as he did,” she said.
Hunter said she enjoys her work at Vulcan but also misses pursuing the mission of USDA.
“I enjoyed merging technology solutions with policy innovation to connect people to the health, economic and social security we all deserve,” she said. “I worked with our internal USDA partners to push the limits of creativity and innovation to create opportunities for people to live successful lives.”
That role included overseeing her department’s $3.4 billion IT investment portfolio and creating the Open Data Science Technology Engineering Agriculture and Math summer camp for underserved youth. Hunter said creating the STEAM summer camps is one of her top career accomplishments. The program for middle and high school students included such projects as urban forestry and urban agriculture and continues today under the new presidential administration.
Under her leadership, students in the STEAM program mapped trees in Washington, D.C., and analyzed the benefits of those trees in preventing flood and storm damage as well as boosting energy savings through local climate moderation and pollution reduction.
Teams of students also studied the impact of community gardens on “food deserts” — areas in which residents have limited access to grocery stores — and how those gardens work to reduce pollution and increase food’s nutrient value by the time it reaches consumers.
Her work with STEAM camps led to her current involvement with the University of California, where she is helping create a similar camp.
Hunter has a lifelong history of philanthropic involvement and working toward social change. Her passion, Hunter said, might have begun when she was growing up in Philadelphia as an only child who watched her parents give of themselves.
“I always did volunteer work, starting way back when my mother got me involved in doing candy striping at a local hospital,” she said.
Her mother was involved with a church group who visited nursing homes, and her father offered his services as a master electrician free of charge on many occasions. When Hunter was asked in 2011 to serve as interim CEO of HavServe — a nonprofit focused on health, education and economic initiatives in Haiti — she said yes.
“I just like being able to help people,” she said.
That enthusiasm for helping people extends to the business side. One of her greatest career accomplishments was managing the worldwide installation, implementation and execution of Lotus Notes for Ernst and Young International while a global project manager for Lotus in the 1990s, she said.
“We went live in 46 countries within 12 months,” she said. “What I learned from that is that the world is small. It gave me a bigger appreciation for diversity of culture. Getting people of different cultures and different backgrounds to collaborate was an eye opener, and it prepared me for dealing with all kinds of businesses and being able to build coalitions of the willing wherever I went.”
Hunter said that experience still helps her today as she shares inside knowledge and perspectives in her consulting role at Vulcan.
“Our mission is simply to connect people to the technology and social sector resources and supports using technology solutions driven by policy innovation,” she said.
Highly recognized, Hunter was included among the list of “D.C.’s Top 50 Women in Technology” lists for 2016 and 2017 by federal technology news site FedScoop. The news site included her among the 2016 Top 50 Federal Leaders during her time with USDA. She has received numerous other recognitions and recently contributed a chapter to the Routledge’s 2017 book “The Handbook of Federal Government Leadership and Administration: Transforming, Performing and Innovating in a Complex World.”
She continues to serve on the Global Women in STEM steering committee and STEMConnector’s Million Women Mentors.
In addition to her involvement in several professional organizations, she is a director at the Piggy Bank Foundation, which works toward responsible farming practices, and she is a board member of the National Health Information Technology Collaborative for the Underserved. She is also involved with My Golf My Game, an organization that promotes diversity in the game, business and science of golf.
Mother of two grown sons, she enjoys spending time with her six grandchildren whom she claims “by birth, by marriage and just because.” They range in age 10-20 years old. In her spare time, Hunter enjoys reading — “Jerk” by Christopher Surdak is a recent favorite — and attending lectures at the Smithsonian. A self-described “Trekkie,” Hunter is a fan of the original “Star Trek” series and new movies.
“I also like the movie “Sneakers” with Dan Ackroyd, Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford, which, even back then said, ‘Whoever has the information has power,’” she said. “How true that has become.”
Hunter holds an undergraduate degree in sociology from Villanova University and an MBA in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business. She also has a certificate in emotional intelligence.
So, what’s next for Hunter?
She wants to continue her work with Vulcan and the STEAM program at the University of California, which she plans to scale to other academic institutions and communities. At some point in her career, she would like to become CIO at an institution of higher education, or CIO of the NFL.
An avid football fan, Hunter said she continues to follow her Philadelphia Eagles. She said the idea of being on a college campus also appeals to her.
“I like the learning, the collaborative environment, and I believe with my many years of experience, I have something of value to offer,” she said. “I have both the practical and theoretical experience to offer. I would call myself a ‘prac-a-demic.”