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.
- Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director
- Audrey Buehring, Deputy Director
- Shelly Coles, Administrative and Management Specialist
- Courtney Chappell, Senior Advisor
- Tuyet Duong, Senior Advisor
- Christine Harley, Senior Policy Advisor
- Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor
- Doua Thor, Senior Advisor
- Akil Vohra, Senior Advisor
- Rebecca Lee, Communications Advisor
- Suzanne Luther, Advisor
- Stephen Yim, Advisor
- Bessie Chan, Program Assistant
Kiran Ahuja was appointed on December 14, 2009 to the position of Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), housed in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC. In this capacity, she is responsible for directing the efforts of the White House Initiative and the Presidential Advisory Commission on AAPIs to advise federal agency leadership on the implementation and coordination of federal programs as they relate to AAPIs across executive departments and agencies. The White House Initiative on AAPIs works with these entities to improve the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through increased access to, and participation in, federal programs in which they may be underserved.
For almost twenty years, Ms. Ahuja has dedicated herself to improving the lives of women of color in the U.S. Well-known as a leader among national and grassroots AAPI and women’s rights organizations, Ms. Ahuja served as the founding Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) from 2003-2008. Through her leadership, Ms. Ahuja built NAPAWF from an all-volunteer organization to one with a paid professional staff who continue to spearhead successful policy and education initiatives, expanded NAPAWF’s volunteer chapters and membership, and organized a strong and vibrant network of AAPI women community leaders across the country.
Ms. Ahuja grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where her understanding of race, gender and ethnicity was formed as a young Indian immigrant. She attended Spelman College, an historically black college, and the University of Georgia School of Law. Following law school, she was chosen as one of five Honors Program trial attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, where she litigated education-related discrimination cases and filed the Department’s first peer-on-peer student racial harassment lawsuit. In addition, she participated in the Division’s National Origin Working Group as part of a core group of attorneys who organized response efforts for the Division after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
As Deputy Director at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), Audrey manages operations and engagement with the AAPI community – a community that is the fastest growing race in the U.S. – to ensure that AAPIs have a seat at the policymaking table. This work bridges the difference between disaster and recovery for the 1 in 3 AAPIs who have limited English proficiency; it creates better health outcomes for the 1 in 2 Hepatitis B patients who are AAPI; and it means a college degree for the 86% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who don’t have one.
Audrey first came to the Initiative as a Presidential Management Fellow from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Before entering the public sector, she oversaw the integration of OnStar from concept to production on two vehicle lines at General Motors. Audrey has a B.S. in electrical engineering from Auburn University, an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Florida, and a J.D. from the University of Denver.
Administrative and Management Specialist
Shelly Coles serves as Administrative and Management Specialist to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Ms. Coles carries out the executive office management and procurement activities of the Initiative staff and its programs. Prior to joining the Initiative, Ms. Coles has worked with the U.S. Department of State, National Research Council, National Governors’ Association and most recently with the U.S. Department of Education’s, National Institute for Literacy.
Courtney Chappell serves as Senior Advisor 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 interagency working group portfolios.
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.
Tuyet G. Duong serves as a Senior Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She leads the Initiative’s public private partnerships, private sector engagement, and immigration work. In her current work, she is responsible for the Initiative’s philanthropic engagement, corporate engagement, and ensuring the AAPI small businesses have access to federal resources. She has over a decade of experience in the government and nonprofit sector on human rights, civil rights, and immigration policy. Previously, she served as a Policy Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, where she worked on immigration benefits issues, border policy, language access, detention reform, and emergency response issues. There, she was awarded the CRCL Officer’s inaugural staff distinguished award of merit for her work on behalf of the Department during the BP oil spill.
Before that, Ms. Duong was the Senior Staff Attorney for the Immigration and Immigrant Rights Program with the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) – leading the organization’s Title VI policy work and the organization’s national campaigns on immigration. At the beginning of her legal career, Ms. Duong managed immigration legal assistance for a national ethnic nonprofit, BPSOS, Inc., in Houston, Texas, representing torture survivors and survivors of trafficking and domestic violence. In Houston, Ms. Duong’s signature effort involved helping the Gulf Coast community manage the relief and response efforts to Hurricane Katrina.
Ms. Duong previously clerked at the Department of Justice Executive Office of Immigration Review in Los Angeles, California and at the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, Texas. Ms. Duong has also authored pamphlets on language access and disaster and an article on family immigration in the Asian American Policy Review of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She assisted in starting the Vietnamese American Bar Association chapter in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. She holds a J.D. from the University of Texas Law School and also a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas – graduating as one of twelve of the College of Liberal Arts’ Dean’s Distinguished Graduates in 2001, due to her record in the public service. She lives in Bowie, Maryland with her partner, her two sons, and her mother-in-law.
Senior Policy Advisor
Christine Soyong Harley serves as a Senior Policy Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In this capacity, Chris leads WHIAAPI’s health policy and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community engagement efforts. Chris has extensive program and policy advocacy experience having worked in the non-profit and state government sectors on issues of health care, immigrant rights, and economic justice for over 10 years. 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 health 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.
Jason Tengco is a Senior Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). In this capacity, Jason leads community engagement for the Initiative, which entails organizing regional convenings and community briefings, overseeing AAPI youth outreach, and soliciting input from leaders on ways to increase participation in federal programs. Prior to this, Jason served as the Initiative’s liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement from 2012-2013.
Previously, Jason was an Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Fellow in the Office of Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA). His issue areas included AAPI affairs, homeland security, and immigration, and he also served as the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) taskforce staff lead on immigration and appropriations. Prior to his fellowship in Congress, Jason worked for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), where he helped organize APALA’s largest national convention and launched APALA’s Young Leaders Council.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason graduated from UCLA with Honors with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Public Affairs. Throughout his career, Jason has participated in numerous fellowships, including with the New Leaders Council, Center for Progressive Leadership, and Public Policy and International Affairs Program.
Doua Thor serves as a Senior Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 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.
Akil Vohra serves as Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the Initiative, Akil supervises the following areas: education, the bullying prevention campaign, AAPI data issues, improving efforts of AAPI representation in federal government, and works directly with the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs. 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 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked in the public affairs, health information technology, and public health offices. Prior to her fellowship, she was a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in strategic communications for federal health clients. Rebecca has spent time at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and began her career at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Rebecca received her Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and Master’s degree in health policy from Columbia University. At Cornell, she led a diverse coalition to found the Asian & Asian-American Center, a student resource center for the community on campus.
Rebecca recently served as Chair 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. Under her leadership, CAPAL awarded an unprecedented number of scholarships to students to take on public sector internships and had the largest graduating class of its annual Washington Leadership Program, a summer public policy and leadership development series on Capitol Hill.
Suzanne Luther serves as an Advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She comes to the Initiative from the Social Security Administration (SSA), where she works on medical policy for the Social Security disability programs. Suzanne joined SSA as a Presidential Management Fellow, concentrating on disability policy, workflow in SSA field offices, and public service evaluation. During her fellowship, she also worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, focusing on health information technology.
Suzanne holds an S.B. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Master of Public Health in Public Health Genetics from the University of Washington.
Stephen Yim serves as an Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He comes to the Initiative as a Presidential Management Fellow from the Wage and Hour Division at the US Department of Labor, where he focuses on policy issues for the Farm Labor/Immigration Branch of the Division of Enforcement Policy and Procedures. The Wage and Hour Division is primarily responsible for protecting vulnerable workers and ensuring that employers are in compliance with laws related to the Fair Labor Standards Act, H visa guest worker programs, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
Before joining DOL and while completing his graduate studies, Stephen worked in the Seattle office for US Senator Maria Cantwell. There, he served as a staff member on her constituent services and community outreach team. His primary focus was on immigration and Federal grant issues. Stephen holds a B.A. in Law, Societies, and Justice from the University of Washington, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Seattle University.
Bessie Chan serves as a Program Assistant for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In her capacity, she supports the Initiative’s community engagement and communications efforts and works directly with the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She also serves as regional advisor for the Initiative’s Regional Interagency Working Groups in Regions III, VI, and VII.
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.