They were teens when Barack Obama announced he was running for president.
They came of age in the Obama Era.
And then they joined his White House. Smart, motivated, ambitious–and ready to change the world.
Kalisha Dessources Figures planned one of the biggest summits held by the Obama White House–The United State of Women. Andrea Flores fought for the president’s immigration bill on the Hill. Nita Contreras traveled the globe and owned up to a rookie mistake on Air Force One (in front of the leader of the free world!).
Here are ten inspiring, never-before-told stories from diverse young women who got. Stuff. Done. They recall–fondly and with humor and a dose of humility–what it was like to literally help run the world.
YES SHE CAN is an intimate look at Obama’s presidency through the eyes of some of the most successful, and completely relatable, young women who were there. Full of wisdom they wish they could impart to their younger selves and a message about the need for more girls in government, these recollections are about stepping out into the spotlight and up to the challenge–something every girl can do.
With contributions from Jenna Brayton, Eleanor Celeste, Nita Contreras, Kalisha Dessources Figures, Molly Dillon, Andrea R. Flores, Vivian P. Graubard, Noemie C. Levy, Taylor Lustig, and Jaimie Woo.
Jenna Brayton is formerly a member of the first White House digital team – known as the Office of Digital Strategy – a team tasked with helping President Obama find his voice online. At the White House, she served as Associate Director of Content and Operations, working to help manage content partnerships, communications campaigns, and digital outreach. After leaving the digital team Jenna continued to do advance work for President Obama through the end of the administration. Originally from Chicago, Jenna currently teaches college courses on politics, policy, public service, and technology.
Eleanor Celeste served in the White House from age twenty-six to age twenty-eight (until the end of the Obama Administration and through the transition), most recently as Assistant Director for Biomedical and Forensic Sciences in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In that role, she focused on the life sciences, precision medicine, biosafety and biosecurity, privacy and security of health information, patient access to data, emerging biotechnology, and forensic science. She previously served as an intern and as a Policy Advisor in that same office. Originally from Ohio, she holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies from Wesleyan University, and has a graduate certificate in biohazardous threat agents and emerging infectious disease from Georgetown University. She received a law degree from the Ohio State University. Eleanor currently serves as Associate Director for Research and Development Communications at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Boston.
Nita Contreras served in the White House from age twenty-five to age twenty-seven (until the end of the administration) as Assistant Staff Secretary in the Office of the Staff Secretary, where her work focused on compiling the President’s daily briefing book. Before joining the White House staff, she served as a political appointee in several areas, ranging from rural development to food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Originally from Santa Monica, California, she holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Connecticut College and a master’s in energy policy and climate from Johns Hopkins University. Nita currently serves as Special Advisor for Strategic Environmental Policy to the CEO at Enviva, a global renewable energy company specializing in sustainable wood biomass.
Kalisha Dessources Figures served in the White House from age twenty-four to age twenty-six (until the end of the administration), most recently as a Policy Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls, where she directed the portfolio on advancing equity for women and girls of color. Her work focused on a range of issues, including educational equity, exclusionary school discipline policies, juvenile justice reform, STEM education, and economic security. Kalisha previously served in the White House as Staff Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs and as an intern in the Office of Public Engagement. Before joining the White House staff, Kalisha was a middle and high school math and science teacher in Philadelphia. Originally from New York, she holds a bachelor’s degree in labor relations from Cornell University and a master’s of science in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Kalisha is currently a PhD student in sociology at Yale University, and the director of the National Philanthropic Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives.
Molly Dillon served in the White House from age twenty-three to age twenty-seven (until the end of the Obama Administration), most recently as a Policy Advisor for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council. In that role, she focused on civil rights policy, including criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, women’s equality, voting rights, human services, housing, labor, economic mobility, and urban communities. She previously served as an intern and a Policy Assistant in the same office. Originally from Highland Park, Illinois, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Johns Hopkins University and holds a master’s degree in public policy from the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. After the Administration, Molly served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the New York Governor. She is currently the Community Curator and Manager of Programming for an international philanthropic foundation.
Andrea R. Flores served in the White House from age twenty-four to age twenty-five as a Policy Assistant on both the Immigration and Rural Affairs teams in the Domestic Policy Council. Her work centered on advocating for commonsense immigration reform and strengthening rural communities. Before joining the White House, Andrea was a presidential appointee at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before returning to the Department of Homeland Security, to continue her work on immigration policy in the Secretary’s Office. Following her time in the Obama Administration, Andrea was a Regional Policy Director on the Hillary for America campaign. Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College, where she was elected the first Latinx student body president, and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Andrea is currently an attorney practicing in Washington, DC.
Vivian P. Graubard served in the White House from age twenty-one to age twenty-seven, most recently as a Senior Advisor and Cofounder of the United States Digital Service, where she led efforts to improve government digital services, including streamlining the immigration process and reducing data loopholes in the gun background-check system. Previously, she served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a Confidential Assistant and Advisor, focused on combating human trafficking and ending sexual assault on college campuses. She is a proud Latina with Colombian, Cuban, and Puerto Rican roots and was named to the Time 30 Under 30 and Forbes 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy lists. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a double major in international business and IT from American University. Vivian currently serves as the Director of Strategy for Public Interest Technology at New America.
Noemie C. Levy served in the White House from age twenty-two to age twenty-seven, most recently as a Senior Policy Advisor for partnerships in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she helped develop public-private partnerships to advance Obama Administration initiatives. Prior to that role, she served as a Policy Assistant for the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council. Noemie was born in Paris, France, and immigrated to the United States when she was six years old. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Rice University. Noemie is currently a medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Taylor Lustig served in the White House from age twenty-two to age twenty-six, most recently as a Policy Advisor for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, part of the Domestic Policy Council. Her work focused on community engagement and domestic and international policy issues of concern to the faith community, interfaith dialogue, and church-state policy. She previously served as a Policy Assistant in the same office. After the White House, Taylor moved over to the Department of Labor, where she served as a political appointee in the Secretary’s Office of Public Engagement until the end of the Administration. Originally from Deerfield, Illinois, she holds a dual bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from the University of Texas at Austin (hook ’em!). Taylor is currently a Manager of Government and External Affairs at PepsiCo.
Jaimie Woo served in the White House from age twenty-four to age twenty-five (until the end of the administration) as a Policy Analyst in the Office of the Vice President. She initially focused on Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, health, and LGBTQ policy, though she later joined his Violence Against Women team and worked on policy and public engagement efforts to both combat domestic violence and sexual assault and improve bystander intervention. Before joining the White House, Jaimie managed economic justice advocacy campaigns on for U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Following her role at the White House, Jaimie served as Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s (D-TX35) communications director in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she was the only female Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) to hold said title in all congressional offices throughout her tenure. Jaimie is a Texan, a Floridian, and a proud first-generation daughter of Chinese immigrants. She holds a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from Duke University and is pursuing a master’s degree in communications management at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. Jaimie currently works at Breakwater Studios, a full-scale production company and filmmaking studio dedicated to humanist storytelling.
Moderator: Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Director of External Relations, National Center for Transgender Equality and former LGBT Liaison at the White House.
More info here. This event is free.