Born to a police officer and a preschool teacher — both former U.S. Marines — didn’t necessarily determine Joelle Gamble was destined to end up at the White House, but it certainly didn’t hurt as a kindly nudge toward big things.
As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Gamble, a Bruin alumna, prepared to take her place in the new administration as a special assistant to the president for economic policy, a position on the National Economic Council.
“I knew that whatever I did with my life, I wanted it to be in the service of others,” Gamble said several days before the inauguration. “My parents did that, and they ingrained in me that it is an important way to live one’s life.”
Gamble is one of several Bruins who have been asked to join the new administration. UCLA School of Law’s Ann Carlson is taking a leave from the faculty to serve as chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that has joint authority with the Environmental Protection Agency over car and truck greenhouse gas standards. Fellow law professor Kimberly Clausing has been named deputy assistant secretary at the treasury department.
Alumna Neera Tanden is awaiting Senate confirmation as director of the Office of Management and Budget; Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who received her doctorate in political science from UCLA, has been appointed senior director for Russia and Central Asia, National Security Council; and Debra Haaland, who is a former student of American Indian Studies, has been nominated for secretary of the Department of the Interior.
Gamble, who graduated in 2012, was born in Anaheim and raised in Riverside, about 55 miles east of Los Angeles. She was a first-generation college student and a UCLA Black Alumni Association/Legacy Scholarship recipient.
“I’d say the thing that was a very dominant part of my childhood, was my parents trying to prepare me for college,” Gamble said. “They did not graduate college, so they just knew it was very important for me to go to college, so I could have a good career and livelihood, and be successful.”
Gamble started at UCLA in 2008. Shortly thereafter, President Barack Obama was sworn in as president of a country in a deep economic recession. Gamble said that her family was in that “weird position” — not Pell Grant-eligible, but not necessarily well off enough to easily afford college. She became acutely aware of the impact of state revenues falling, personal incomes shrinking and the subsequent budget cuts and tuition increases facing virtually all public universities, and realized how strongly public policies shaped her life.
“That took me on a path of activism,” Gamble said. “That’s how I began to find my voice.”
In addition to becoming an advocate for college affordability, Gamble also wanted to do work on behalf of her friends who were undocumented. She ended up becoming involved with the Undergraduate Students Association Council and became “one of those USAC kids.” “All these things were happening that were affecting my life, affecting my friends, so I got very involved in advocacy and student government.”
Though her original major was Eastern European languages and culture, Gamble graduated with a degree in international development studies. Pivoting from her major, Gamble was influenced by the economic crises here in the United States to move to New York City just four days after graduating in 2012 and start a job at the Roosevelt Institute, where she was able to fight for issues she cared about like college accessibility.
“Going to a public institution in a moment of crisis really teaches you the value of public institutions, because everyone around you is depending on the institutions in many ways as a path to upward mobility,” Gamble said.
Between then and joining Biden’s transition team (domestic economic policy team), she earned a master’s degree in economics and public policy at Princeton University and put in a year at social change venture Omidyar Network.
As part of the president’s team, she will work with her peers across agencies and the White House to come up with policies to support the economy. She was surprised by the offer. “I was just honored that folks reached out and thought highly enough of my work that I could be useful.”
And now she gets to put that drive to serve others on a national scale. “My parents are of course, very, very happy. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to help make the rubber meet the road on all these policy ideas that some people have been working on for so long.”
There are so many issues to tackle: pandemic, climate and economic. But Gamble won’t shy away. “Personally, I’m always trying to grow, and to find opportunities to try things I don’t know if I’m ready for, then allow those experiences to humble me and help me be a better advocate and be a better public servant.”
In her new job, Gamble has an opportunity to be part of the biggest platform possible and one her UCLA journey helped her reach.
“I think going to UCLA allowed me to learn about a lot of different ways to do good,” she said. “I’m excited to be the difference that Americans will be able to feel because of the way folks are approaching governing, government and leading.”