The U.S. Secret Service has its first female director – and she’s a UCF Knight.

Julia Pierson, an Orlando native, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UCF in 1981 and worked at the Orlando Police Department before joining the Secret Service in 1983.

She worked in a Miami field office until 1985, when she transferred to the Orlando office. In 1988 she was promoted to the Presidential Protective Division, which is in charge of protecting current and former presidents. She eventually ran the division and served on security details for presidents George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Pierson continued to rise through the ranks and in 2008 was named chief of staff for the agency.

“Over her 30 years of experience with the Secret Service, Julia has consistently exemplified the spirit and dedication the men and women of the service demonstrate every day,” said President Barack Obama in a statement about his choice to lead the agency.

Obama added that Pierson was “eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own. Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency.”

Pierson has strong roots in Central Florida. According to a 2007 Smithsonian Magazine article, one of her jobs in high school was working at Disney World. She said she wore a character costume and got her first taste of working large crowds at the theme parks.