President Obama reestablished the office of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The office works with the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and Interagency Working Group on issue areas including data disaggregation, language access, workforce diversity, and capacity building.
- Doua Thor, Executive Director
- Courtney Chappell, Deputy Director
- Diana Yu, Chief of Staff
- Christine Harley, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs
- Akil Vohra, Director of Strategic Initiatives
- Rebecca Lee, Communications Director
- Bonnie Kwon, Deputy Regional Director
- Reva Gupta, Senior Policy Advisor
- Bessie Chan, Senior Advisor
- Priscilla Huang, Senior Advisor
- Dave Hung, Senior Advisor
- Paul Chang, Regional Advisor
- Esther Kang, Designer-in-Residence
- Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, Regional Advisor
- Samuel Go, Advisor
- Helly Lee, Advisor
- Renee Lee, Communications Advisor
- David Lu, Advisor
- Robin Terry, Advisor
- Jennifer Tran, Advisor
- Justin Trinidad, Advisor
- Tom Wong, Advisor
Doua Thor serves as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Previously, she served as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Initiative. Doua also serves as a Senior Fellow with the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD). Prior to this Doua was the Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) for nearly 9 years. During that time Doua was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She also served on the board or in a leadership position in a number of organizations and coalitions including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security, Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), the Red Cross National Diversity Advisory Council, and the executive committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. Additionally, through her leadership, SEARAC is a core work group member of the Diverse Elders Coalition, an initiative supported through Atlantic Philanthropies to improve the lives of vulnerable elders. Doua was selected as a New Voices Fellow in 2002, a German Marshall Memorial Fellow in 2008, an Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute Fellow in 2009, and a Health and Aging Policy Fellow in 2013.
Doua Thor and her family were among the many thousands of Hmong refugees who were resettled in the United States after supporting and fighting alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The Thor family was resettled in Detroit, Michigan in 1979 where Doua spent much of her youth volunteering and working with Southeast Asian American communities. Over the years, Doua has gained a wealth of experience working with national, grassroots, and refugee serving organizations.
She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan and her Bachelor of Arts from Wayne State University.
Courtney Chappell serves as Deputy Director at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Courtney leads and coordinates the Initiative’s interagency working group and Regional Network.
Prior to joining the Initiative, Courtney was the Deputy Director at the DC Employment Justice Center where she led the organization’s advocacy and organizing campaigns. She helped the District to pass comprehensive unemployment insurance legislation and a “ban the box” bill that prohibited discrimination against workers with criminal records in 2010, and launched the organization’s workers’ advocacy group. Courtney was also an associate at James & Hoffman, P.C., where she represented unions and individual employees in all matters relating to labor and employment law.
Courtney has extensive experience working in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. As the first Policy & Programs Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Courtney spearheaded the organization’s reproductive justice program and developed a multi-pronged action agenda that included lobbying, grassroots organizing, and public education. Her achievements included co-coordinating a national lobby day relating to immigration reform, and co-convening a national coalition of women’s rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive rights organizations to focus on the intersection of health care and immigration.
Courtney graduated magna cum laude from the American University Washington College of Law, where she was a staff member of the American University Law Review. Courtney has also served on the boards of the Third Wave Foundation, the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project, and the DC Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. She is a recipient of a New Voices Fellowship and a Georgetown Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship.
Chief of Staff
Diana Yu serves as the Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Diana leads the Interagency Working Group, provides administrative oversight, and supports the education portfolio at the Initiative. Prior to this, Diana was an educational program specialist with the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. She specialized in monitoring state educational agencies’ management of special education programs with an emphasis on fiscal systems. She served as an expert in the areas of discipline and fiscal systems and also completed a detail at the Initiative while at OSEP.
Previously, Diana was a special education teacher who taught students with disabilities in the areas of emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, and mental retardation K-12. She also held leadership roles including mathematics department chairperson and technology lead teacher. In these roles she helped transform the teaching practices at her school by training colleagues on ways to innovatively provide classroom accommodations and modifications to curricula. Her middle school students were the first in the school’s history to pass the Standards of Learning (statewide) assessment in Algebra. Diana also has extensive international educational experiences through short term trips to Mexico, Korea, and Kenya.
Diana received her Bachelor of Science degree cum laude in Psychology and Master of Education degree magna cum laude in Special Education from George Mason University. She is currently working on her Doctoral degree at the George Washington University in the Leaders for System Change program within the Special Education program.
Director of Intergovernmental Affairs
Christine Soyong Harley serves as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this role, Chris oversees the Intergovernmental Affairs team’s policy efforts on issues of health care, immigration, education, housing, economic development, data disaggregation, and language access. Chris formerly led the Initiative’s health policy and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community engagement efforts. Prior to joining the Initiative, Chris played a leadership role in the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organization’s Washington, DC office to implement administrative, legislative and political advocacy strategies to improve the quality of care for medically underserved AA&NHOPI communities. Chris was also previously the Policy and Programs Director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Before entering the national advocacy arena, Chris worked at the Illinois Department of Human Services and oversaw the implementation of “Open Door” programs and other immigrant integration initiatives for AA&NHOPIs, Limited English Proficient individuals, and other low-income and underserved individuals with disabilities.
Chris received her B.A. from Oberlin College and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She was named a Future Leader in 2009 by the Overseas Korea Foundation and received a 2011 Unsung Hero award from Asian Pacific Americans for Progress. In 2012, Chris was a Fellow in the Center for American Progress Leadership Institute.
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Akil Vohra serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, Akil is responsible for institutionalizing efforts to assist AAPIs, and also supervises the education and data portfolios. Prior to the Initiative, Akil was Counsel at Muslim Advocates where he focused on anti-terrorism financing, strengthening the nonprofit sector, and civil rights and civil liberties issues. Previously, he practiced international trade and customs law in Washington D.C.
He is currently an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow, which is an Edmond de Rothschild Foundation initiative in partnership with the Columbia Business School and the University of Cambridge. Akil has previously served on the board of the South Asian Bar Association of Washington D.C., and the Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers.
He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California Irvine, and a J.D. from the George Washington University Law School where he received the Michael Dillon Cooley Award for service to the law school community. He has also completed a program in international human rights and immigration at Oxford University (U.K.).
Rebecca joined the Initiative as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), selected from graduate programs across the country in 2011. As a PMF, Rebecca served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). At HHS, she coordinated communications efforts around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to joining the federal government, Rebecca was a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in strategic communications campaigns for federal health clients. She has spent time with the Asian & Pacific American Islander Health Forum and began her career at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Rebecca holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s degree from Columbia University. At Cornell, Rebecca led a diverse coalition to found the Asian & Asian-American Center (A3C), a student resource center on campus.
Rebecca has served as Chair and is now an Advisory Council member of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL), an educational nonprofit dedicated to building the pipeline of Asian Pacific American leadership in public service. As Chair, she led a 20-person Board of Directors to transform CAPAL from an all-volunteer organization to one with paid, full-time staff.
Deputy Regional Director
Bonnie Kwon serves as the Deputy Regional Director for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Bonnie supports the Initiative’s Regional Network and strengthens relationships with community partners. Prior to joining the Initiative, Bonnie was Program Manager for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum where she led the immigrant health portfolio to increase access to affordable quality health care through policy analysis, advocacy with government agencies, community education, and program development for a national Affordable Care Act implementation strategy for hard-to-reach, immigrant and limited English proficient Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Previously, at the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Bonnie led a team responsible for national policy and the organizing strategy for anti-discrimination and paid sick days campaigns.
Bonnie holds a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and B.A. in Gender Studies and International Relations from Brown University. Bonnie was a New Leaders Council fellow in 2013 and a Health Rising Leadership Institute faculty in 2015.
Senior Policy Advisor
Reva Gupta is a Foreign Service Officer on detail from the U.S. Department of State. Reva is a Senior Policy Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, focusing on immigration policy.
At the State Department, Reva has served overseas in New Delhi, India and Mexico City, Mexico and domestically in the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration and the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. Prior to joining the State Department, Reva worked for over a decade on comprehensive immigration reform. Beginning at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago, where she also served on the board of the Asian American Institute (now Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago), she then went to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office in DC. Reva worked in both the women’s rights movements and the labor movements to highlight the needs of immigrant women and immigrant workers in the push for comprehensive immigration reform. She organized immigrant communities in the southern and southwestern parts of the United States for the Immigrant Worker Freedom Rides and New American Freedom Summer and joined the staff of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Reva received her Bachelor in Arts at the University of Maryland in English Literature with a focus on post-colonial theory.
Bessie Chan serves as a Senior Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In her capacity, she leads community and youth engagement efforts.
Prior to joining the Initiative, Bessie worked as a Development Associate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (formerly the Asian American Justice Center) managing the organization’s corporate partnerships and the planning of their signature American Courage Awards celebration.
Bessie graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a major in Government, a minor in Chinese and an Asian Studies certificate. She served as president of the Asian American Student Association and was the recipient of Georgetown University’s 2012 Commitment to Diversity Award for Outstanding Senior.
Priscilla Huang serves as a Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Priscilla leads the Initiative’s policy work on language access and data disaggregation.
Priscilla has 15 years of experience working with non-profit organizations, and spent 10 years dedicated to federal policy work in Washington, DC. She was the former Senior Director of Impact Strategies at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization dedicated to improving the lives of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and other communities of color. At APIAHF, Priscilla served as its primary strategist and supervised the organization’s policy, government relations, communications and research staff. Prior to APIAHF, Priscilla served as the policy and programs director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum where she oversaw the federal policy advocacy and government relations for their immigrant rights, anti-trafficking and reproductive justice programs. She has also worked with a variety of direct service and policy women’s organizations on issues of gender discrimination, abortion, domestic violence, and homelessness in the San Francisco/Bay Area and Washington, DC.
Priscilla has served on several boards and advisory committees, and has been recognized for her leadership by the National Immigration Law Center, White House Champion of Change, Families USA, the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, and others. Priscilla graduated from American University, Washington College of Law, where she was one of ten Public Interest/Public Service Scholars. She graduated with BA in English and Philosophy from Boston College.
Dave Hung serves as a Senior Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Dave coordinates with regional interagency working groups and other federal agencies to strengthen strategic community engagement partnerships.
Dave comes to the Initiative from the Center for Disability Programs at the Social Security Administration (SSA) where he is a Disability Program Expert. In that capacity he provided technical guidance on rules and regulations related to the Social Security Act. Dave has over 10 years of experience of working directly with the public at SSA. In 2015, Dave received a Commissioner’s Citation, SSA’s highest honor award.
Prior to joining the initiative staff, Dave served as the lead of the Region VII Regional Interagency Working Group. Dave worked with the AAPI community to build, strengthen, and utilize strategic partnerships between government and the AAPI community. Dave received his BSBA in Accounting from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, MO.
Paul Chang serves as a Regional Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity Paul coordinates with regional networks to strengthen strategic community engagement partnerships. Paul comes to the Initiative from the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) where he serves as the Director for Community Relations for the western region.
Paul grew up undocumented and was immediately attracted to the WHD’s mission and its role of helping vulnerable workers, especially those in immigrant communities. In the summer of 1995 he assisted in the El Monte human trafficking investigation and helped free 72 garment workers. Paul worked as an investigator in Southern California and New York City for 15 years. He was promoted to an Assistant District Director (ADD) in 2009. As ADD he created a comprehensive certification program for garment contractors that focus on pricing and economic factors to help eliminate sweatshop conditions.
Paul received his B.A. in Political Science and M.S. in Public Administration from California State University, Los Angeles. He is also the recipient of numerous awards at DOL including six Secretary’s Exceptional Achievement Awards and Congratulatory letters from Vice President Al Gore and Secretary Robert Reich for helping DOL win the Ford Foundation’s Innovations in Government Award for helping eliminate sweatshops. Paul is married and has a four-year-old son.
Esther Kang serves as the Designer-in-Residence at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, she helps the Initiative apply design-thinking principles to internal projects.
Esther discovered the power of design-thinking through her work with NGOs in Los Angeles County. During this time, she received regular mentorship from a strategy lead at Continuum, a global innovation and strategy firm based in Boston. Over time, Esther saw design-thinking as a way to help people find creative and contextually appropriate approaches to complex issues.
Prior to joining the Initiative, Esther took a gap year prior to continuing her studies and worked as a relief worker in Durban, South Africa. Later as a student, she worked on a city initiative with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and other local cultural institutions. She continued her work in urban communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, particularly in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. She also served as an advisor to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. where she was a member of the adjunct faculty.
Esther received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Master’s degree in social design from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Hanako Wakatsuki serves as the Regional Advisor for Region IX: Hawai`i and the Southwest, which includes Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. She comes to the Initiative from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum at the U.S. Department of Navy where she is the Education Specialist. In this capacity, she serves as the divisional head developing educational programs for students and the general public. Hanako has approximately nine years of experience in the museum/public history field. She spent most of her career with the Idaho State Historical Society at the Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site. She is actively engaged in the preservation of Japanese American incarceration history during WWII and volunteers for the National Park Service at Tule Lake, Minidoka, and Manzanar National Historic Sites. She is passionate about making cultural institutions accessible to the community while bridging the gap between academia and the public.
Hanako received her B.A. in History, B.S. Political Science, and minor in Japanese Studies at Boise State University where she was Vice President of the Political Science Association, President of Japan Club, and participated in Model United Nations. She earned her M.A. in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University and serves on the board of the Friends of Minidoka.
Samuel Go serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, Sam works on the Communications and Engagement team and provides support for the Initiative’s strategic communications and engagement efforts.
Sam comes from the United States Department of Justice, where he worked as a Senior Litigation Counsel for the Office of Immigration Litigation. As Senior Litigation Counsel, Samuel litigated immigration cases nationwide, representing the United States in the nation’s federal district and appellate courts. During his career at the Department, Samuel co-authored three prevailing briefs for the United States Supreme Court, and favorably resolved two significant class actions involving the United States Government.
Sam holds a J.D. from Cornell Law School and a B.A. from Brown University. Sam also received the 2014 “Best Lawyers Under 40” award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the 2014 Federal Asian Pacific American Council’s Civilian Award for Outstanding Leadership, and the 2015 DOJ Special Commendation Award. He served as Chair of the Department of Justice Asian Pacific American Employees Association in 2012 and 2013. Prior to joining the Department of Justice, Sam was a founding partner at Nguyen, Chang & Go LLP in Los Angeles, where he headed the firm’s civil litigation practice.
Helly Lee serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Helly supports the Regional Network in providing training and technical assistance to community based organizations.
Helly has over 10 years of experience in policy analysis and engaging community based organizations in federal policy and programs around anti-poverty, economic development and immigration issues. She was formerly a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), where she focused on improving the lives of low-income families through advancing policies promoting access to low-income tax credits and nutrition access. Helly also played a key role as co-lead of their racial equity committee, significantly increasing CLASP’s efforts to raise and prioritize race equity across the organization and in their policy work. Prior to CLASP, Helly was Director of Policy at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) where she led and supervised the organization’s policy staff and policy priorities, focusing on health, education, immigration, aging and other issues affecting refugee communities. In this role, she also supported community based organizations through providing technical assistance and taking a lead role in convening their annual leadership and advocacy trainings, engaging hundreds of individuals and organizations in connecting with federal and state policy makers. Helly has served on the board of Legacies of War, a non-profit organization that advocates for the clearance of unexploded ordnance form the Vietnam-War era in Laos. She also has extensive experience in direct service roles, including in child protection and juvenile justice.
Helly received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan and her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Renee Lee serves as a Communications Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, Renee leads strategic communications initiatives particularly with interagency coordination and press.
Renee is a civil servant on detail from the U.S. Department of State, where she is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Strategic Planning, Bureau of Public Affairs. Prior to her position in the PA Bureau, she was a press officer for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Prior to beginning her career in the federal government in 2011 as a Presidential Management Fellow, Renee served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force as a public affairs officer with assignments in the Pacific Command region. She continues to serve today as a public affairs officer in the D.C. Air National Guard at Joint Base Andrews, Md.
Renee holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from the University of Washington and a Master’s degree of public diplomacy from the University of Southern California. She is a board member of the Veterans@State affinity group and has served as a board member of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association. Renee also currently serves as the VP of Communications for the Pan-Pacific American Leaders and Mentors organization, which is committed to mentoring and developing military and civilian Pan-Pacific American leaders. She is a Korean heritage speaker and is conversational in French.
David Lu serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, David works on the Intergovernmental Agency team and provides support on data disaggregation and education efforts.
David comes from the Social Security Administration, where he worked as a Government Information Specialist for the Office of the General Counsel. In that capacity, he responded to Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act requests, and provided guidance on agency-specific privacy and disclosure policies.
David graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a major in International Relations and a minor in Business and Entrepreneurship.
Robin Terry serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Robin supports the Communications & Engagement Team.
Robin joined the federal government through the Pathways Program at the U.S. Department of State. Robin served in the Bureau of International Information Programs before moving on to the Secretary’s Office of Civil Rights. Robin was responsible for internal and external outreach programming with experience in video production, cultural programming, data disaggregation, and strategic communications.
Robin holds a Master’s degree from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in Global Communications and Public Diplomacy and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in International Affairs.
Jennifer Tran serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Jennifer works on youth, community, and regional engagement and supports the strategic communications portfolio.
Previously, Jennifer was the Legal Outreach Coordinator at the Asian Family Support Services of Austin, where she coordinated culturally-specific programs to address domestic violence issues and legal information services within the Central Texas community.
Jennifer graduated with a dual degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Government and Sociology, where she was Director of Operations for the Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, a Bill Archer Fellow, and the recipient of the Multicultural Engagement Center’s Community Impact Award.
Justin Trinidad serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, Justin works with the Executive Team as the liaison to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and provides support for the Intergovernmental Affairs and the Communications and Engagement teams.
Prior to joining the Initiative, Justin was the Civil Rights Fellow for OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national membership-driven organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans. At OCA, Justin managed the education policy portfolio and planned the annual Japanese American Citizens League and OCA Leadership Summit.
Justin graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in foreign affairs where he was awarded the Nelson Chow Award and the Seven Society Ernest C. Mead “Call to Community” Award for his contributions to the AAPI and university communities. Justin currently serves on the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership Board of Directors, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a pipeline to public service for the next generation of AAPIs.
Tom K. Wong is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego and is currently serving as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). He is also Director of the International Migration Studies Program Minor. His research focuses on the politics of immigration, citizenship, and migrant “illegality.” As these issues have far-reaching implications, his work also explores the links between immigration, race and ethnicity, and the politics of identity.
His first book, Rights, Deportation, and Detention in the Age of Immigration Control, analyzes the immigration control policies of twenty-five Western immigrant-receiving democracies (Stanford University Press, May 2015). He recently completed his second book, which is on the politics of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, expected November 2016, among other projects. Wong’s research has been used by policymakers both in the U.S. and in Mexico, as well as by organizations that serve immigrant communities. He is the lead researcher on one of the first nationwide surveys of undocumented youth. He also created the CIR Blog, which predicted support and opposition to comprehensive immigration reform legislation among all 535 current members of Congress. Wong and his work has been covered by ABC News/Univision, Fusion, NPR, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo News, and by Univision in Mexico.
He is also on the leadership committee of the California Immigrant Policy Center, the board of the New American Leaders Project, and on the advisory council of Unbound Philanthropy. Wong also consults on campaigns and elections, specializing in mobilizing low-propensity voters of color and immigrant communities.