Posts Tagged ‘White House’

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Last month, Ojewumi spoke with the White House’s Andrea Turk about how she became the director of services at the president’s house.

photo courtesy of Florida A&M UniversityWhat does it mean to you, as an African American woman, to work for the first African American president?

It means a lot, but probably not for the reasons you might think. As a returning student, I was enrolled in the seminar in political science course. My professor asked the students who believed that Sen. Obama would win the Democratic nomination and win the presidency to sit on one side. Those who thought otherwise were [asked] to sit on the opposite side. I was sitting by myself! Some thought he would win the nomination but lose the race, and others didn’t give him a chance at either. Not only did I believe both, but I predicted that he would be president of the United States after hearing him speak during the Democratic convention in 2004. Yes, this presidency means a lot to me, but not only because I’m an African American woman. This presidency means a lot because the president has been an incredible leader who energized so many Americans — and it allows me to say “I told you so” to everyone who doubted what I was saying.

In 1987, you began your academic career as a student at Florida A&M University. You returned to college much later in life upon realizing the importance of an education. Can you describe the struggles and challenges you faced as an older student returning to college?

Honestly, my main challenge was convincing people that I was 37 years old. I may have pulled out my driver’s license 40 times before word spread around campus that I was telling the truth about my age. When I left school in the early 1990s, it was because I wasn’t focused or mature enough to apply myself. … While I didn’t do well in school, I continued to work hard and gained a lot of valuable experience working in the private and public sectors. My work experience actually helped shape my educational goals, and this experience allowed me to bring a lot of professional experience into the classroom. My maturity and focus made me rise above potential distractions and keep my eye on earning my degrees — with honors.

Your journey to the White House has been remarkable. You began as an intern, and now you serve as director of White House services. Can you describe your experiences as one of the administration’s first interns during the summer of 2009?

As an intern, I realized the magnitude of the opportunity and was determined not to squander one moment of it. I didn’t know what the organization’s personnel structure would be, but I assumed that I would be one of the older interns. I knew that I probably had more real-world work experience than most of the interns would have, so I decided I didn’t want to force myself or what I knew on anyone. I did, however, want to be a resource to my team and to be looked upon as someone that everyone could count on. I worked hard and volunteered for every event. I absorbed everything and noted whenever someone made a statement that motivated me. The experience was, and is, awesome. I am still giddy whenever I go in to work.

What has been the biggest struggle or obstacle you have faced in your journey to the White House?

My main struggle has been the time I’ve spent away from my two daughters. When I came to D.C. for the internship, it was the first time that I had been away from my daughters [for] longer than a week. I had to keep telling myself that I was doing it for them. After being offered a job, I relocated to Maryland without my daughters so I could get things ready for them to join me. I was here for three months looking for good middle schools, preschools, and a place for us to live. My parents moved into my home in Tallahassee, Florida, during the week and took my daughters to school and all of their extracurricular activities. They took them to their home in Gainesville, Florida, on the weekends so they could maintain their own home.

I love and miss my family dearly, but I truly missed my girls and am excited because they were able to join me early in 2010.

Can you describe your experience during your tenure as director of White House services?

My experience has been great. I always brag about my department, the Office of Management and Administration, because the leadership team has a genuine interest in the success of everyone. We say, “We are committed to the success of those who serve the president,” but I think that statement should be expanded to include the commitment to our M&A team members. Everyone’s job is critically important to the overall success of the team. I feel blessed to be a part of a team whose leadership takes time to express how important everyone’s role is.

As a single mother of two, you undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to your daughters and countless mothers who wish to restart their careers and education in spite of many obstacles. What has been your greatest challenge as a working mother or student?

Getting enough sleep!

When I was in school, I thought it was really neat for my older daughter, Ariyana, and me to study together. I would come in and get to work and would tell her that she didn’t have any excuses because “mommy has to cook, clean, tutor, and do her own work.” There were times when my younger daughter, Summer, would be fussy, and so I would put my study time off until she settled down and was sound asleep. Sometimes that was at 3 a.m., so I would look at my lack of sleep as a small sacrifice. The only thing I knew for sure was that I could not preach education to my daughters without finishing mine.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give to the thousands of young women and girls across the nation who wish to follow in the footsteps of successful women like you?

Don’t give up on your personal goals and dreams. Don’t compare your status to anyone else’s or allow anyone else’s successes to deter you from trying to be just as successful. Look for perfect examples of how you’d like things to turn out, but don’t get caught up in a perfect way to make it happen for yourself.

I looked at working mothers who were married, single mothers who finished school, single mothers who never went to school, pastors, heads of service organizations, members of sororities and fraternities, and numerous others. From these individuals, I found a good batch of perfect outcomes. I was never afraid to ask how they got there, I was never embarrassed about asking for help, and I will always be willing to learn new things. Now that I have achieved several items on my list of goals, it is my responsibility to reach back and help others.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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Ever wish that you could send an AAUW student affiliate member to the White House?

Well, you now can. Kam Phillips, who is a senior at the University of Missouri (an AAUW college/university partner member!) has a chance to meet the president at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and share her organization, Dream outside the Box, with the world. She’s a finalist in the White House Campus Champions of Change Challenge. The top five vote-getters will go to the White House. Read more about this opportunity in today’s press release.

Dream outside the Box exposes underprivileged children to new and exciting endeavors — such as fencing and rodeo — and breaks stereotypes, broadens horizons, and instills in young people of color a positive self-image and the resolve to realize their dreams.

Anyone with an e-mail address can vote for Phillips. Vote now, and vote often — up to three times a day. The polls close on March 3 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, so we still have a chance to get Phillips to the White House!

As the director of AAUW’s Leadership Programs, I’m pleased to see such great drive from this incredible young woman. I’m certainly on Team Kam. What about you?

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This afternoon, the Obama administration decided to exempt religious employers from covering birth control for employees, but the new rules will require insurance companies to provide free contraception.

The president’s decision is the perfect foil to the political games we’ve seen this past month, and it’s a relief to see women’s health prioritized over politics. People are going to see real benefits from this decision, which will likely lead to fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer abortions, and a better quality of life for women. Unlike the recent congressional bills around the issue of birth control, this decision is not a compromise on women’s health. Instead, it is an accommodation for people who are truly concerned about religious liberty.

The details of the decision will need to be worked out in the next year. But what is clear is that all insured women will be able to access birth control — without a co-pay — regardless of where they work or learn. Furthermore, important religious liberties continue to be appropriately respected and reflected in the policy. AAUW applauds both outcomes.

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On Friday, December 9, President Obama’s top science advisers honored 12 community heroes, including AAUW member and former president of the AAUW Buffalo (NY) Branch Tamara Brown, as leaders in engaging women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This event was part of a White House effort to increase the number of women engaged in STEM to ensure global competitiveness and promote economic opportunities for women.

Brown was recognized for inspiring thousands of young women and their parents to consider education and career opportunities in STEM through her program Tech Savvy, a one-day conference designed to introduce middle school girls to the exciting opportunities available in STEM. This annual event is held at the University at Buffalo and has been embraced by the local community.

During the ceremony, Brown’s accomplishments were highlighted by Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president; John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer. You can watch a video of the ceremony online.

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In recognition of AAUW’s long-standing commitment to opening STEM fields to women and girls, Catherine Hill and Christianne Corbett — co-authors of AAUW’s report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — and Lisa Maatz and Erin Prangley from the AAUW Public Policy team were invited to participate in a roundtable discussion preceding the awards ceremony. At the discussion, Corbett presented Chopra with a copy of the executive summary of Why So Few?

AAUW is proud of Tamara Brown and all of our members who work hard to promote quality education and career opportunities for young women in STEM. Congratulations, Tamara!

UPDATE: Read Brown’s guest post, which was featured on the White House blog.

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At a National Science Foundation event on Monday, the White House took a significant step toward advancing women’s and girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. AAUW President Carolyn Garfein, Executive Director Linda Hallman, and Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz attended the event, which featured a speech by first lady Michelle Obama. She spoke about the vital role that women play in advancing America’s economy and global status. “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone,” she said. “We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

AAUW’s regional STEM programs were highlighted in the speeches, and we were lauded as one of the administration’s top partners in higher education policy development.

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The event followed an announcement the same morning of the Obama administration’s new NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, which will boost recruitment and retention of women in STEM careers. The initiative is a 10-year plan to improve work-life flexibility for individuals receiving federal grants in STEM research fields and includes provisions such as the ability to delay or suspend federal grants for parental leave or to accommodate the birth or adoption of a child.

With this initiative, the NSF will make a huge dent in the environmental and social barriers that currently face women entering STEM careers. AAUW’s Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics research report found that women academics and researchers in STEM fields are much more likely than men to end or change their careers due to the lack of career-life balance support provided by the typically male-dominated fields. As the leading source of federal grants for technology development in the United States, the NSF has extensive power to encourage women to enter the STEM arena and, once there, to provide them with the support they need to excel in both their careers and lives.

AAUW is proud to partner with the Obama administration and the NSF in implementing such a significant program, and we encourage other organizations, universities, and businesses to develop work-life balance initiatives that will boost women’s critical participation in STEM programs across the United States.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Fellow Katie Donlevie.

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Have you ever looked at the plans and proposals put forth by your elected officials and said, “I could do better”? (If you’re an AAUW member, I bet you have!) Well, it seems Congress and the White House might agree with you, and they’re trying to make it easier for you to contribute to overcoming America’s challenges.

Welcome to our crowdsourced government, where every single American can help govern from the comfort of her couch. You may have heard about crowdsourcing though social media — it means asking a large group of people to participate in something online. Whether it’s the Republicans’ YouCut tool, where you can vote on which government programs to slash, or the Obama administration’s new We the People petition website, in which White House officials will review and respond to popular ideas and proposals, government wants your input. Sure, you’re one voice of many, but that’s the advantage of crowdsourcing — if an idea can surface above the background noise of the Internet, it may have merit.

Now, government has been soliciting public input for a long time. Sometimes overshadowed by its big sister, free speech, the right to petition government is among the five freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment. We petition government and seek to influence elected officials when we send AAUW Action Network messages or when we rally outside the Supreme Court; we provide feedback to Congress in opinion polls and on Election Day.

But the beauty of We the People, YouCut, or the new commenting tool for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (which we affectionately refer to as the debt “super committee”) is that government is now welcoming the public’s proactive participation in creating policy. If voting is reactive, in that we punish or reward officials for their beliefs and voting behavior, these tools allow us to take the initiative. You could suggest, for example, that the debt super committee stay the heck away from Social Security because it’s an off-budget item; it did not contribute to the deficit; and it is critical to the economic security of elderly women, more than 50 percent of whom would live in poverty without it. Oh, and it pays more benefits to children than any other federal program, including welfare.

But that’s just an example.

The point is that it’s getting easier and easier to add your two cents. And if you’re like me and think you’ve a got a few ideas that would change this country for the better, then assert your right to petition — jump in to the crowd.

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Recent media reports have suggested that the White House, along with congressional leaders from both parties, might consider proposing cuts to Social Security benefits. While we hope the reports are untrue, this is the right moment to tell President Obama and our political leaders to leave Social Security alone.

Social Security must not be a bargaining chip during deficit-reduction negotiations. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit — in fact, the program is “off budget” — and it should not be looted to address America’s financial problems, especially at the expense of working families who depend on its programs the most. AAUW has long believed in the idea of shared sacrifice and budgets that balance individual rights with responsibilities to the greater community.

Cuts to this vital program would be all pain, no gain for countless Americans, especially for older women, more than half of whom would fall into poverty without Social Security benefits. While these are tough economic times, there is a right way and a wrong way to balance the budget. In the end, it comes down to priorities. The budget must not be balanced on the backs of those who can least afford it. AAUW urges policy makers to stand strong and keep Social Security cuts off the negotiating table.

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