SaMee Harden, is a well-traveled attorney whose next stop is the Office of Personnel Management as a member of the 2021-22 Class of White House Fellows. The highly-selective White House Fellowship program places professionals from diverse backgrounds for a one-year term working as full-time, paid Fellows for White House staff, Cabinet Secretaries, and other senior government officials.
The Paducah, Kentucky, native earned her BA in Communications from UofL, MA in International Communications from American University, JD from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and she is currently pursuing her MBA from the University of Michigan.
She credits UofL, and namely her former professors/mentors Dr. LunDeana Thomas and Dr. Yvonne Jones, with helping her think beyond what she could see and pursue her dreams.
Realizing that dreaming big was the goal, Harden served as a 2003-04 J. William Fulbright Scholar, where she incorporated her love for the arts as a means of teaching English in South Korea. Additionally, after receiving the David L. Boren Fellowship, Harden used this prodigious accomplishment to fund her Korean language immersion program at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.
Along with South Korea, her love of arts and academic/professional endeavors led Harden to various projects in Poland, Amsterdam, Kenya, Greece, England, France, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, Spain, China, Japan, Italy and Tanzania.
Ultimately Harden attended law school, and completed clerkships for both federal trial and appellate judges. Subsequently, Harden served as a senior associate at the law firm of WilmerHale, where she focused on white-collar investigations. Later, she became a federal criminal prosecutor and managed a robust docket that included narcotics, public corruption, white-collar and firearms offenses. However, Harden specialized in prosecuting child exploitation crimes.
Harden has greatly enjoyed her journey to and through lawyerhood, and she credited much of that guidance to her mentors – several of whom she found at UofL.
“When I grew up, I did not really know a lot of lawyers who looked like me,” Harden said. “Going to the University of Louisville was the first time, as a young adult, I had an academic environment where the professors and professional mentors looked like me (for example, Dr. Mordean Taylor-Archer, Dr. Yvonne Jones, and Dr. LunDeana Thomas), believed in me, and encouraged me.”
Given the role of mentorship in Harden’s life, and in her efforts to “widen the shutters” for others, Harden mentors and motivates other future lawyers of color. Specifically, she was a founding member of the James M. Nabrit Clerkship Scholarship, which aimed to promote diversity for law school students applying for clerkships. Harden wants other diverse law school students to have the same feeling of community, support and encouragement that she received at UofL.
Regarding Harden’s current selection as a 2021-22 White House Fellow, she said she feels blessed beyond measure, calling the opportunity, “catching lightning in a bottle.”
“[The Fellowship] is one of those opportunities where you apply, but you never really know if you will be selected because it is such an arduous process. Everyone who applies to the White House Fellowship is incredibly talented, capable and accomplished in their own way,” Harden said. “It’s one of those things where you just apply and hope and pray for the best.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson created the prestigious White House Fellowship through Executive Order, which authorizes a class of 11 to 19 Fellows each year. This year, there are 19 Fellows, which is one of the largest classes.
“In fact, we are acknowledged as being the most diverse class in the history of the program,” Harden said. “When you consider those factors, it is very humbling to have been selected.”