President Obama’s first campaign was historic for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that he was able to galvanize an entire generation to head out and vote. Since entering the White House Obama has kept the momentum moving by hiring a number of inspiring young people to serve as advisors and come up with innovative solutions to move the country forward.
We sat down to interview one of these impressive Millennials currently serving in Obama’s White House. Vivian Graubard, at the age of 24, serves as policy advisor to the Chief Technology Officer within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She was also listed this year as one of Time’s “30 People Under 30 Changing the World” for her work with harnessing open data to combat human trafficking.
“Working for the White House is exciting every single day,” Graubard said. “It’s such an honor to work for a president with a strong clear vision, who I admire so much.”
Graubard had an impressive background prior to joining the team at the White House. After graduating from American University in Washington D.C. with degrees in IT and business administration, Graubard says she dabbled with a number of different career paths, interning for event planning, media, and the nonprofit world. She found her calling however, when she snagged a position working as volunteer in the White House correspondence office. Her IT skills led her to take a role revamping the White House comment line. Before she knew it, a six week stint turned into three years.
“Always learn, pick up skills, and know what you should be focusing your time on,” Graubard said when asked what advice she would give to young professionals looking to mimic her meteoric rise. “People love to tell their stories, all you have to do is ask for advice. I love to ask questions, and I’m lucky at the White House to be surrounded by brilliant people willing to share.”
Of course, having a passion helps too. Graubard has been able to use her hard skills in IT to work on an issue close to her heart – combatting human trafficking. Specifically Graubard has been involved in the White House’s Tech vs. Trafficking Initiative, which is using open source data and app technology to help law enforcement and average citizens track human traffickers and help victims.
“It’s an interesting time to work for the government,” Graubard said. “It’s becoming such a tech focused community. We’re just now seeing how tech can be used to push policy forward.” This move towards greater tech integration has been largely due to the opening up of big data. “Weather data was first opened up by the government in the 70s and 80s, and immediately became an integral part of American lives,” Graubard explained. “We now realize we can do the same thing in the education, health and safety industries.”
This growing intersection with tech and policy is a large reason why STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education is also becoming a major focus for the White House Office of Science and Technology, which has launched over a dozen initiatives aimed at increasing funding and building public-partnerships to increase learning opportunities. “I’m particularly passionate about increasing women in STEM,” Graubard said. “I think it’s a space where women can really have an impact.”
After all, it was an educational background in technology that opened up opportunities for Vivian Graubard in the White House. While the bubbly young woman didn’t have anything to say about future plans, she’s certainly going to have a continued impact in the quickly growing intersection of policy and tech.