Michelle Obama’s new Chief of Staff an NU Law alum

Jason Vanderlinden

Northwestern graduate Tina Tchen (Law ’84) is the new chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama, the White House announced Jan. 5.

She’s in a good position to take on the job: graced with a biological quirk, Tchen reportedly requires only four hours of sleep each night and has served public interests for decades.

Tchen, whose parents emigrated from Shanghai in 1949 to escape a war, was born and raised in Ohio, and graduated in 1978 from Radcliffe College, now a part of Harvard University, before attending NU’s School of Law.

As Obama’s chief of staff, Tchen will lead 23 employees, assisting the first lady with her major public events, while promoting her social goals.

In a White House news release, Obama expressed enthusiasm.

“I am thrilled to welcome Tina to my team,” she said. “I look forward to working with her in the years ahead to develop effective strategies for the Let’s Move! campaign, to broaden our work on behalf of military families, to continue the arts and cultural events in the White House, and to advance our international agenda.”

Before advancing to the helm of Obama’s staff, Tina Tchen used her law education for public benefit. While working as a partner at a Chicago law firm, Tchen also did pro bono legal work and served on the executive boards of both the University of Chicago’s Medical Center and the Chicago Public Library.

Prof. Kim Yuracko, the interim dean of the School of Law, said the appointment was exciting.

“We try to prepare our students to succeed out of class,” she said. “Tina’s sort of a model of the kind of career fields (we want for our graduates).”

A longtime Chicago resident, Tchen has known U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) for years, and the two recently celebrated New Year’s Eve together. She has been heavily involved in the Illinois political scene, supporting President Barack Obama since his campaign for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat in 2004.

In the White House, Tchen formerly served as director of the Office of Public Engagement and as deputy assistant to the president. She will continue her work as executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was created by Barack Obama in March 2009.

Tchen is among several NU alumni currently serving in the Obama administration, including Associate Director of Presidential Speechwriting Cody Keenan (Weinberg ’02), Deputy Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Sears Smith (Kellogg ’97) and Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement Michael Blake (Medill ’04). Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel graduated from the School of Communication in 1985, and current Chief of Staff Bill Daley is an NU trustee.

University spokesman Al Cubbage praised the multitude of NU alums working on the White House staff.

“(The fact that there is) yet another Northwestern alum who’s going to be working there is a testament to the really great qualifications that many of our alumni have,” he said. “(We are) very pleased to have Northwestern alums throughout important positions in government.”

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