UC Berkeley professor appointed as presidential adviser

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Containing her excitement, UC Berkeley professor Emeritus Susan Graham strolled into a Washington, D.C. lecture room as a new appointee to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last month.

A week earlier, President Barack Obama appointed Graham, a professor in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, to the council. With the prestigious appointment, Graham hopes to look into computing education and government agencies’ use of information technology.

“At Berkeley, our faculty are by and large all-stars, so she’s certainly a research star in her own right. But beyond that she’s also been instrumental in policy,” said S. Shankar Sastry, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering.

For more than 15 years, Graham was the only female tenured professor in the campus College of Engineering.

“It was an all-boys club, and I wasn’t one of the boys,” Graham said.

Now she is one of six women advising the president as part of PCAST, a group of 20 experts including professors, former university presidents and businesspeople like Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. PCAST mostly prepares reports for the president or other high-level executives and occasionally meets with Obama.

“We live in an IT-enabled world — everything around us now is dependent upon information technology,” Graham said. “It’s going to be important for everybody to know something about computing, whether they’re now children or whether they’re now adults.”

Graham added that one of Obama’s main concerns is creating jobs — many believe information technology and computing are essential to tackling this issue.

“The president takes very seriously what the PCAST recommends,” said former PCAST Deputy Executive Director Mary Maxon.

According to Maxon, in 2010, Graham “had the visibility” to be selected to contribute to a study for PCAST, when they collaborated on a report on information technology research and development. Graham had previously advised the Clinton White House on information technology issues as well.

“Obviously, now in 2013, her work hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Maxon said. “This is confirmation of her value as an adviser on the national scale level, suitable to advise the president. It’s a real feather in her cap.”

The appointment will likely last until the end of Obama’s term in January 2017.

“To be able to use all the things I’ve learned in my career to give advice at the highest level — give advice for the country — is very exciting for me,” Graham said. “I’m very impressed with this president. I think he’s very smart, very thoughtful. It’s a privilege to give whatever help I can give to him.”

And it’s a privilege that Graham never thought she would receive when she chose a career in computer science.

“Nope — not at all,” she said.

Contact Daniel Tutt at [email protected].

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