Iowa City native Elizabeth Summy — who has worked on Capitol Hill and for prominent health care associations since graduating from the University of Iowa — recently returned to campus as an alumni fellow.
Monday, December 4, 2023

By Izabela Zaluska

Portrait of Elizabeth Summy

University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate Elizabeth Summy (86BA), who graduated with a degree in political science, said hard work, timing, and building connections helped her develop a career at the intersection of politics, health care, and nonprofit leadership.

Her career has spanned working as deputy chief of staff for a federal agency to holding senior roles at prominent health care associations. Summy is currently a regional executive for the American Hospital Association, which includes working with hospital leaders from across the upper Midwest. Elizabeth Summy

It’s been important to Summy throughout her career to support current students and other graduates from the Department of Political Science. She currently serves on the department’s alumni advisory board and was recently selected as a CLAS alumni fellow.  

The alumni fellows program was established in 1999 and recognizes CLAS graduates for their outstanding contributions to society, their professions, the college, and university.

“I'm so happy to be supporting the students because the people that have come through this program are absolutely amazing,” Summy said. “There are people that have influenced politics and policy around the world that have walked in Schaeffer Hall.”

Early interest in politics

Summy always had an interest in politics and said growing up in Iowa City gave her a unique opportunity to see presidential candidates and other campaigns “right here in our backyard.”

“I remember my dad came home one evening and said that Jimmy Carter was staying at a friend's house,” Summy recalled. “And I was like who is Jimmy Carter? Why is he staying here? It began this discussion around how candidates come to Iowa to meet people before they launch their campaigns. I just found that really interesting.”

Summy was drawn to the University of Iowa because of its political science program within CLAS, as well as its reputation as a Big Ten university. She recalls enjoying her classes and getting a well-rounded, immersive education that prepared her for after graduation.  

It also helped that she graduated in an election year, which allowed her to work on a congressional campaign after graduation. The successful campaign took her to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a legislative assistant focusing on health care, housing, and senior services.

"Timing can matter a lot, but so does being willing to take chances,” Summy said.

Unique career spanning politics, healthcare

Summy’s career also includes working at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the late 90s during the Clinton administration. Moving up to the deputy chief of staff role was an amazing experience, she said.

Summy was involved in the department's main initiatives at the time, including welfare reform, children’s health insurance, the food pyramid, and creating consumer friendly labels for medicine.  

“I was in a lot of meetings with smart people all around the table who were sharing their perspective and their advice to counsel Secretary Donna Shalala on certain issues so that she could make a well-informed decision,” Summy said. “It was just a really interesting lesson in leadership and decision making. I'll never forget it.”

In addition to working on various campaigns, Summy has held senior roles at prominent health care associations, including the American Society for Health Care Risk Management, American Hospital Assocation and American College of Healthcare Executives. She also has a master’s in healthcare administration from Des Moines University.

In her current role as a regional executive for the American Hospital Association, Summy works with hospital leaders from across the upper Midwest — including UI Hospitals and Clinics.  

Summy has gained additional appreciation of the “groundbreaking work” of UIHC through her current role.

“They recruit amazing physicians from all over the place, and they train amazing clinicians who are making huge impacts all over the world,” Summy said. “That's another fun angle to my current role is being able to work with the university hospital.”

Connecting with students

There weren’t the same opportunities to connect with alumni when Summy was a UI student, which is why it’s so important to her to be involved in supporting current students.  

"My big message for students is ‘You're in a great program and you have support here — take advantage of it,’” Summy said.

Brian Lai, associate professor and department chair of political science, said the department nominated Summy for the CLAS alumni fellow program because of her devotion to the department and her career accomplishments.

“Liz's career path is a great story for our students,” Lai said. “She has continued to develop her knowledge and skills through her work experiences and graduate degree and has used her experience, knowledge, and preparation to engage and excel in new opportunities.”

Summy returned to the UI campus in October to give a talk as part of the alumni fellow program. She is eager anytime she gets to return to Iowa City and connect with students.

“When I was in school, I never would have thought I could be back here doing the political science volunteer work that I do, but also professionally working with the university hospital,” Summy said. “I've got this convergence of policy and health care politics, and it's pretty great.”

And even though she lives in Chicago now, Summy said she still signs a lot of her text messages with a yellow heart and a black heart.