4 UAA Alums in the Obama Administration
Ever wonder how people end up in careers at the White House? We spoke with four alums to learn about what they do and how they got there.
Buffy Wicks, ‘99, History & Political Science
Carlson Center Service Learning Fellow
Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement
As a UW student and Service Learning Fellow in the Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center, Buffy organized opportunities for students to engage with Seattle-area nonprofits in community service projects. Her foundation for her political philosophy came out of her time with the Carlson Center. "I took my classroom experience [as a political science and history major] and saw how to be part of change. Being an active participant in service learning led to empowerment for me."
Buffy’s work in public service continued after graduation, working on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress and for the United Food and Commercial Workers union advocating for better health care and wages for disenfranchised workers. When the Obama for America campaign began, Buffy got to work assisting with the development of national grassroots field strategy in California, Missouri and Texas and most recently was the director of the Renew America Together effort, the call to service issued by then President-elect Obama. Buffy’s current role in the Office of Public Engagement (formerly the Office of Public Liaison) is to create opportunities for the public to communicate with President Obama—ensuring that all constituent voices and concerns are heard by policy makers.
Motivated by her advocacy background, Buffy works to provide a venue to engage people in the process of policymaking. She sees a direct correlation between her work at the Carlson Center and her work now, "Both share similar themes; then I engaged students with local nonprofits and now my goal is to ensure Americans have access and are engaged with the White House." Buffy shared that the most interesting part of her job is strategizing and ensuring that they are reaching out to the American public on current issues like health care, energy and the H1N1 virus.
Buffy’s advice for anyone interested in a career in public service? "Get involved as soon as possible. Be open to learning and engaging and find the time—even a couple of hours here and there—to get the real life experience. Academics plus real life understanding equal a powerful experience."
Cammie Croft, ‘05, Communication & Political Science
Undergraduate Research Symposium, Honors Program
Deputy New Media Director
Cammie originally entered the UW because she eventually wanted to attend medical school here. Her plans changed her first day on campus when she signed up to volunteer for Washington Student Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG), an experience that caused her interest to shift to public service and led to her double major in communication and political science. As a WashPIRG volunteer Cammie registered students to vote—feeling empowered by the direct impact voting has to change the country. Cammie also got involved in student government—serving on the ASUW Board of Directors and as Senate Chair. She was eventually inducted into the HUB Hall of Fame for her campus service efforts.
In the classroom, Cammie was able to further explore her interest in the political process by participating in the 2005 Undergraduate Research Symposium by researching and presenting "'Flip-Flop,’ A Rhetorical Analysis of the 2004 Presidential Election’s Stickiest Catch Phrase."
"I adored my experience [at UW]," Cammie shared; "being in an environment where students have a real voice and the opportunity to directly impact their community for the better was a tremendously rewarding and empwering experience."
Cammie’s communication know-how, involvement with advocacy and organizing combined with her passion for the political process led her to several important jobs. She was Rep. Jamie Pedersen’s campaign manager in his successful bid to the Washington State Llegislature, built the tracking and media monitoring program at Progressive Accountability, a rapid-response communications advocacy campaign that provided video of Republican presidential candidates for the mass public, worked as the Rapid Response Mobilization Director for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, and most recently she was the new media rapid response director for the Obama for America campaign, overseeing efforts to integrate new media and communications.
Now, as the deputy new media director at the White House, she helps manage all online communication for the White House including WhiteHouse.gov, Serve.gov, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail communication. For Cammie, trying to figure out how to bring greater access and transparency through new media is the most interesting part of her role. "We try to create a better user experience online so it’s easy for the American public to find information and, further, to be empowered by that information and more easily hold us accountable." For those interested in a public service career Cammie says, "Go for it! Dedicate yourself to something you care about. When you walk away at the end of the day, you know you are dedicating your life to something meaningful."
Lindsay Scola, ‘05, Political Science
Undergraduate Research Symposium, Mary Gates Research Scholar
Scheduler to the Secretary of Energy
Lindsay knew she wanted to work in public service after taking Comparative Government with Professor Tony Gill. "I was looking for real world application of my interest in political science." Upon acceptance to the Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPP) Undergraduate Fellows Program, Lindsay delved further into her interest, presenting "The Institutional Definition of Volunteerism" at the 2005 Undergraduate Research Symposium. Lindsay credits her internship and John Wilkerson’s Congress class with helping her build real world campaign experience and serve as a springboard for her first job working on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. "We had the opportunity to learn about practical application that we didn’t get in typical classes."
Now, as the scheduler to the secretary of energy, Lindsay sees the political process from the inside. "I get to see something go from being an idea on paper to something that sparks actual change in energy consumption or provides people with information they didn’t have before. It’s exciting to be in the middle of these discussions with energy being such an important issue."
After graduating in 2005, Lindsay worked in Congress until March of 2007 and Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president. "I quit my job, bought a car and moved to Iowa to campaign. It’s amazing to see how things we talked about in coffee shops then are now policy." Lindsay credits her experience at UW with learning to take more chances with leading her to where she is today. "Find something you are interested in and follow your heart."
Alula Asfaw, ’08, English & Political Science
Mary Gates Scholar, Truman Scholar
Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary,
Office of Innovation and Improvement, Department of Education
Going into public service was not a decision Alula made, but rather something he knew he would always be involved with because of his passion for access to education. Growing up in Seattle’s Central District and Rainier Valley, Alula came to the UW noticing that many students who met the requirements to attend college were not making a successful transition. He also saw a problem with access—students who would be eligible to attend UW were not applying.
Together with some close friends and supportive faculty members, Alula founded the Dream Project, a student-initiated high school outreach program that partners UW students with first-generation and low-income students in Seattle-area high schools to assist in the college admissions process. Alula’s experience at the UW, in classes and as a founding member of the Dream Project, helped prepare him for where he is today. "“Professors at UW gave me the intellectual foundation and leadership work that allows me to work on ambitious education reform." The best part of Alula’s current position? "It’s very satisfying to be a part of an administration that 1) I believe in, and 2) is taking on sweeping education reform issues." According to whitehouse.gov, this includes a commitment to "increasing higher education access and success by restructuring and dramatically expanding college financial aid, while making federal programs simpler, more reliable, and more efficient for students. The President has proposed a plan to address college completion and strengthen the higher education pipeline to ensure that more students succeed and complete their degree.”
For those interested in a career in public service, Alula recommends pursuing your passions. "Pursue the issues you care about and are passionate about without regard for a particular position. Just make contributions where you can and everything will fall into place."