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Meet the Women Who are Headlining US President-elect Joe Biden’s Transition Team

Geetika Sachdev
·7 min read

United States President-elect Joe Biden is known to support diverse and vibrant communities of Indian-Americans, and this seems to reflect in his choice of members of the transition teams. For the first time in US presidential history, the transition team will have more than 20 Indian-Americans.

While many of the named persons have some experience working with Biden, this move reinforces his commitment to racial, gender and ideological diversity, especially in top advisory positions. According to official data, 46 percent of the transition staff and 41 percent of the senior staff are people of colour. Also, 52 percent of overall staff and 53 percent of the senior staff are women.

Women representation has been the flavour of the season in this US election. Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and woman of colour to become the Vice President of the United States. Harris, who has an Indian mother and Jamaican father, has risen to a position that no woman before her has been able to achieve.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some women of Indian origin who are headlining President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

Dr Celine Gounder

A member of Biden's coronavirus taskforce, Dr Celine works as a practising infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, medical journalist, and assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
A member of Biden's coronavirus taskforce, Dr Celine works as a practising infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, medical journalist, and assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

One of the Indian-American members of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus taskforce, Dr Celine works as a practising infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, medical journalist, and assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Her father - Raj Natarajan Gounder - is of Indian origin, who is an aerospace engineer.

Armed with a degree in Molecular Biology from Princeton University, she later did her Master of Science from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a Doctor of Medicine degree from the School Of Medicine, University Of Washington.

Dr Celine is also the co-founder of the International Health Group, a community of doctors that serves unprivileged people all over the world. As a journalist, she has also extensively covered issues of importance in the medical sector for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, as well as other reputed publications. In 2017, People’s Magazine had included her among 25 Women Changing the World.

Dr Bhavya Lal

Dr Bhavya Lal has been named to help with transition over NASA for the new administration.
Dr Bhavya Lal has been named to help with transition over NASA for the new administration.

A renowned researcher at the IDA Science and Technology Institute for the White House Office of Science and Technology, Dr Bhavya has been named to help with transition over NASA for the new administration.

A graduate in science, she has a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. She also holds a second master’s degree from MIT’s Technology and Policy Program. Besides, Dr Bhavya also has a PhD in Public Policy and Public Administration from George Washington University, Washington DC.

She has used her expertise in several projects related to space science, satellites, space nuclear energy, and space exploration. Her work has been published in some of the best global publications, including The Economist, National Geographic, Space News, and many others.

In fact, her illustrious journey in the domain of space led to her being selected as a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics. Dr Bhavya has also been an integral part of the National Academy of Science committees.

Her list of achievements is long - she has also participated in the UN Committee on Space Research that worked towards building an international scientific roadmap for small satellites, and has also held the position of an External Council Member of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

Kiran Ahuja

Kiran Ahuja is helping the transition over the US Office of Personnel Management.
Kiran Ahuja is helping the transition over the US Office of Personnel Management.

A member of Joe Biden’s team, Kiran is helping the transition over the US Office of Personnel Management. Born in India, the lawyer and activist was the Chief of Staff to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management from 2015 to 2017. She is also the Founder-Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, a non-profit that works for South Asian women’s civil rights.

Kiran has also been the face of the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) for six years. She has worked in the area of healthcare to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, especially among communities of colour.

After graduating from the Spelman College, which is historically a black women’s arts college in Georgia, US, she went to study law from the University of Georgia School of Law. Thereafter, she received her Juris Doctor degree from the same institutionUniversity of Georgia School of Law, post which she worked for the Department of Justice.

She is the CEO of the Philanthropy Northwest, the regional philanthropic network for Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

Mala Adiga

Mala Adiga is the policy director for the soon-to-be First Lady, Dr Jill Biden.
Mala Adiga is the policy director for the soon-to-be First Lady, Dr Jill Biden.

Mala Adiga is the policy director for the soon-to-be First Lady, Dr Jill Biden. A lawyer by profession, she worked as a senior advisor to Jill, and also as a policy advisor on the 2020 US election campaign. When President Barack Obama was in power, she was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

This woman of colour comes from the family of K Suryanarayana Adiga, Founder of the former undivided Dakshina Kannada district’s private sector bank, Karnataka Bank Ltd. Her father, Dr Ramesh Adiga, left India for the US when he was only 25 years old to sharpen his skills as a vascular surgeon. Her mother also belongs to the medical profession, and has a degree in medicine from Vellore, Tamil Nadu.

She has a graduate degree in Spanish from Grinnell College, and has a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. Mala also has a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

Mala has also held the position of the Chief of Staff in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, and as senior advisor to the Ambassador-at-Large. In fact, she was also Director for Human Rights on the National Security Staff’s (NSS) Multilateral and Human Rights Directorate. Before joining the NSS, she was also an attorney at the Department of Justice, where she worked as a counsel to the Associate Attorney General.

Seema Nanda

Seema Nanda to help with the transition over the US Department of Labor.
Seema Nanda to help with the transition over the US Department of Labor.

She has been appointed to help with the transition over the US Department of Labor. Seema joined the Department in 2013, and held the role of the Deputy Chief of Staff, and a senior counselor to Secretary Tom Perez, where she worked on several issues, including employee engagement, wage and hour, fair pay, as well as immigration.

Seema has a graduate degree from the Boston College Law School, and pursued her bachelor’s degree from Brown University, US.

She holds several positions of importance at non-profit organisations, including the Massachusetts Bar Association. Seema has also headed the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice. Before joining this position, she has also been a part of the National Labor Relations Board’s Division of Advice as an attorney and supervisory attorney.

Seema has also scripted history in the past, when she became the first Indian-American to be appointed as the CEO of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2018. She stepped down from this position, ahead of the US presidential elections in November.

A bright future

Biden has also scripted history by announcing the first all-women press team. The new team will be headed by the President-elect’s Campaign Communications Director Kate Bedingfield. She will now serve as the White House Communications Director.

The US President-elect takes the official oath to power on January 20, 2021.

(Edited by Kanishk)

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