April 18, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

The White House Fellows Come to the Westside

From left, Kamillah Wood, a physician and current White House Fellow working at the Transportation Department; Dr. Anish Majahan, former White House Fellow and now Director of System Planning, Improvement & Data Analytics at Los Angeles County Health System; and Jennifer Macdonald, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, family medicine doctor at UCLA, and current White House Fellow. Photo by Jeff Hall.
From left, Kamillah Wood, a physician and current White House Fellow working at the Transportation Department; Dr. Anish Majahan, former White House Fellow and now Director of System Planning, Improvement & Data Analytics at Los Angeles County Health System; and Jennifer Macdonald, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, family medicine doctor at UCLA, and current White House Fellow. Photo by Jeff Hall.

Alan and Susan Friedman of Westwood hosted a recent event at their home welcoming the current class of White House Fellows to Los Angeles.

This year’s class of White House Fellows came to Los Angeles to meet with local elected officials, policy makers, academics, and industry leaders.

White House Fellows are early-career individuals picked to serve one year in government service, from the end of August of one year until the end of August of the following year.  As one class of fellows arrives, another departs, with a short overlap.

Each Fellow is assigned to work for a high level official, usually at the cabinet level (Secretary of Defense; Attorney General; Secretary of HUD; NASA; US Trade Representative; NSA; etc.). In addition, the White House Fellows travel domestically and abroad to study issues and serve as goodwill ambassadors.

The White House Fellows program, started by President Lyndon Johnson, is celebrating 50 years of existence this year. LBJ believed politics could not be a spectator sport and that it was important to get young people actively engaged in government.

The White House Fellows program exposes promising young individuals to the inner workings of government in the hope that these individuals will return to their communities – whether in government, business, academia, law, the military, or other fields – and provide enhanced leadership as a result of their White House Fellows experience.

Becoming a White House Fellow isn’t easy. From a field of possibly thousands of applicants, between 11 and 19 Fellows are picked each year. There is a lengthy written application, letters of recommendation – and, if the candidate continues to successfully jump hurdles, face-to-face interviews in which the candidate is expected to demonstrate a high degree of knowledge about public policy.

Jane Olson and Naval Commander (and current White House Fellow) Spencer Abbot. Photo by Jeff Hall.
Jane Olson and Naval Commander (and current White House Fellow) Spencer Abbot. Photo by Jeff Hall.

All aspects of the candidate’s record come into play – academics, work record, character, record of community service, and the promise of leadership potential.

Around 100 applicants are invited to participate in regional finals; from there the field is narrowed to approximately 33 finalists who then fly east to participate in the national finals. The numbers can vary a little each year, but 12-16 seems about average number of fellows picked each year. Fellowships are paid positions.

While this is a highly competitive situation, virtually all selected – which now totals over 700 White House Fellows over a 50-year period – would agree the experience was remarkable and life changing.

The backgrounds of fellows vary widely. Fellows can be from the fields of military, law, medicine, academics, business, science, religion, journalism – anything, really.

One’s personal politics never enter the selection equation; the program is completely non-partisan. In fact, those who do the selecting of each year’s fellows are instructed to ask no questions about a candidate’s political beliefs.

This year’s fellows include the Coast Guard’s first female African-American helicopter pilot; the director of Teach for America in Miami-Dade; the former deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice; a family physician from UCLA (she also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom); a software executive; a tech entrepreneur; a professor of medicine from Johns Hopkins; a major in the U.S. Air Force; and a commander in the U.S. Navy.

Colin Powell is perhaps the best-known alumnus of the White House Fellows program; former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Tom Johnson, served as a WHF; other WHF alumni in attendance at the Friedman’s recent gathering in Westwood included LA-based Beverly Hawkins, Anish Majahan, Fernando Torres-Gil, David Neuman, Joan Abrahamson, Paul Sweeney, and this reporter, Jeff Hall. Invited guests in attendance included Jane Olson, Mickey Kantor, Jerry Silva, and Gail Killefer.

When White House Fellows alumni get together at their annual gatherings in Washington, they are a very collegial group. Nobody cares who is a Democrat or who is a Republican. This ability to cross-pollinate across today’s great political divide is wonderfully refreshing in D.C.

This year the alums and the current class of Fellows got to meet with President Obama in the East Wing of the White House.

Applications for the 2016-2017 year are now open and will close January 12, 2016.  If you know of anyone who sounds like White House Fellows material, have that individual Google “White House Fellows” to learn more about the program and the application process.

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