Bay Area man receives prestigious nomination

April 28, 2009 7:11:21 PM PDT
Four Bay Area people have been nominated to a very select group. They should find out this week if they've been chosen as finalists to become White House Fellows.

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If selected, they work for a year as assistants to top White House officials, and maybe even the president.

The list of former White House Fellows is impressive.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the former chairman of Levi Strauss, General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane.

Within a few days, Zheng Yu Haung will find out if he's going to make the cut.

"I'm nothing special compared to the people who are applying, compared to the current fellows you'll probably be interviewing," said Haung.

Nothing special means he graduated from Stanford in engineering, got his MBA from Harvard and became the youngest managing director at Intel.

"I was born in Shanghai, China in 1977. My mother and I came to the U.S. when I was 10," said Haung.

His father had a job in Los Angeles teaching high school. Haung was placed in a fifth grade class unable to speak a word of English.

"It was very difficult as a young boy because if you can't communicate you can't make friends," said Haung.

So he vowed to memorize the dictionary -- 100 words a day. By the 10th grade he was in advanced placement English.

"It taught me that if I worked hard, if I tried my best, I could improve myself and be a better person. And as a consequence I have a lot more friends now," said Haung

At the age of 31, he's traveled to over 40 countries, worked in five including India and China, and will gladly walk away for a year for the chance to be a White House Fellow.

"Obviously, state would be very good because of my international experiences, treasury would also be very good because of my business background," said Haung.

Haung says he'll be happy working for a year anywhere the White House wants to put him.

They put Daniel Fletcher in the Office of Science and Technology.

"Gives you a chance to be in the room where the discussions are happening and to contribute in some way to shaping those policies," said Fletcher.

Professor Fletcher has four more months to go on his White House fellowship. He was back at Berkeley for a brief visit to check on his students and his research.

Already a tenured professor at UC Berkeley in bioengineering, the 36-year-old graduated from Princeton, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford before getting his Ph.D. and his post doc at Stanford.

"We met Karl Rove once and the first thing he told me was get a haircut," said Fletcher.

Professor Fletcher says a lot changed after President Obama took office.

"There's a level of enthusiasm that's palpable and really fun to be part of," said Fletcher.

The best part, working inside the government has given him a much better idea of how academic research can be folded into policy making.

"And I think the more we can connect with people making the decisions, the better decisions that they're going to make," said Fletcher.

That ability to help make a difference is what interest Zheng Huang in the White House fellowship.

"To me, money never mattered as much," said Haung.

He just recently resigned his position at Intel, and is working with some friends on a start-up to build financial connections between the U.S. and China.

"A lot of people talk about what's going to happen with China in the future. Well the thing is, people want the same institutions and freedoms we enjoy here. If we can set up this global system of institutions and freedoms mirrored after our own image, we really help insure prosperity and innovation worldwide," said Huang.

That's a goal worthy of a White House Fellow, but the competition is very stiff. There were 1,000 applicants and Zheng Haung is one of them, and he is one of 108 that have made it to regional finals.

On Friday or early next week, we expect that number will be paired to 32 national finalists. Then, the Commission on White House Fellows will cut that down to anywhere between 11 and 19.

The president will make the final decisions.

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