For Jonah Czerwinski ’97, the only routine in his workday is logging into his computer in the morning and logging out at day’s end. In between, his duties as director of the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) might find him presenting a budget analysis to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or negotiating a better return on taxpayer dollars with one of the companies with which VAi2 invests.
The VA Innovation Initiative creates new avenues to innovation for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. With a focus on improving access, quality, performance and cost, VAi2 identifies, funds and tests new ideas from VA employees, academia and the private sector.
“At the end of the day, progress in these areas greatly enhances the VA’s ability to serve veterans in the 21st century,” Czerwinski says. “It is a central part of our effort to transform the VA into a people-centric, results-focused and future-oriented organization. And with an organization this size – 300,000 employees and a $125 billion annual budget – transformation is a pretty big opportunity.”
Czerwinski’s own transformation from philosophy student at Salve Regina to director of a $100 million initiative is a long and winding road, weaving through both the public and private sectors. In previous positions, he has participated in efforts to reorganize the federal government to better address 21st century national security threats and served as a senior fellow and managing consultant for IBM, providing strategic thought leadership on similar homeland security policy issues.
“I learned from my family that you owe something to your community, your society, your country,” Czerwinski says. “You can make that contribution in a number of meaningful ways, but know that your career is also your contribution.”
Czerwinski says his philosophy degree has played a central role in his career. “My degree helps me better understand how we learn and collaborate with one another – a critical enabler in today’s economy,” he adds. “I’d also credit the philosophy degree with differentiating me from all the marketing and finance majors (helpful disciplines, to be sure) in a global economy that values uniqueness and independent thinking.”
While initially unsure about philosophy as a major, Czerwinski was attracted to the department’s “vibrant, diverse and active community of students all interested in learning about and addressing the big questions.”
Czerwinski credits Salve Regina for cultivating what he believes is one of the best philosophy departments in the country, offering everything from the ancient insights of the Greeks to the modern inquiries of dreams and the collective unconscious.
“And let’s face it, the faculty is amazing,” he adds. “I’ve met some of the new professors, and they carry on the same spirit of the professors from when I was there. And several, fortunately, are still there, such as Dr. Lois Eveleth, Dr. George Luzitano and Dr. Michael DiMaio.”