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School of Diplomacy and International Relations

National Security Fellowship Meets with Netflix Chief of Staff, Former National Security Council Official, and Former Personal Aide to President Obama  

Ferial Govashiri

Pope Francis shaking hands with Ferial Govashiri.

On March 6, 2023, the National Security Fellowship (NSF) team had the honor to meet with Ms. Ferial Govashiri, current Chief-of-Staff to the Co-CEO of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, and former Personal Aide to President Barack Obama. Ms. Govashiri was invited to speak to the research students regarding her professional journey in the government and entertainment industry. From starting as a volunteer working on political campaigns to becoming one of President Obama's most trusted personal advisors, and then taking a leap of faith to change directions in her career, Ms. Govashiri offered a wealth of insight and advice to the students. 

The NSF team, mentored by Seton Hall University alum and National Security Fellow Mohamad Mirghahari (BA ‘02/MA’04), spent the entire academic year working on a research paper on behalf of the U.S. Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT). The group of students were asked how the U.S. can leverage areas of culture and economics in Central Asia. During the academic year, the students had the opportunity to meet with various guest speakers with regional, operational, or professional expertise regarding the topic. The research team, composed of ten graduate students, had the unique opportunity to brief SOCCENT in April 2023. 

Ms. Govashiri encouraged the NSF students to choose a career path that mattered to them. After graduating college, she was expected and was planning to go to law school, but never truly felt it was the right path. After volunteering to work on local campaigns in California for Senator John Kerry’s Presidential run in 2004, she realized she had found her true passion, politics. 

Ms. Govashiri was referred to the national Presidential Campaign for Senator Barack Obama in 2007, where she spent 6-7 months traveling from Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Chicago. To some, the reality of working 18-hour shifts per day with little pay would have them second-guessing their choice—but to Ms. Govashiri, her dedication, passion, and genuine interest made it feel as if she was never working a day. As an Iranian-American, working on the Obama campaign was particularly inspiring to her because of the diversity and larger representation that it brought to American politics. The networking and individuals she met during this time opened various doors of opportunities for her, as she states, "no matter what role you were in, you were in the room with a wide spectrum of decision-makers."

After President Obama won the 2008 election, the Obama Administration asked Ms. Govashiri to take a position on the National Security Council in the White House.  She quickly rose through the National Security Council ranks working for Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor.  As her career progressed, she was named the Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff of the National Security Council.  In her duties, she led and coordinated the President’s foreign trips, where she describes her role as a "troubleshooter behind the scenes."

Before every presidential trip abroad, Ms. Govashiri would visit embassies, partners, and stakeholders to ensure that the President’s visit would go according to plan, in addition to ensuring the policy goals for the trips could best be met. During her visits, she worked extensively with senior leadership government officials throughout the world and addressed problems as they arose when the trips inevitably fell off plan. 

Later in her time in the Obama administration, Ms. Govashiri accepted the position and served as the Personal Aide to the President, tasked with coordinating requirements and supporting the President’s goals from across the US Government, intelligence communities, and private sector for President Obama.  Serving as his Personal Aide, Ms. Govashiri ran Oval Office Operations, ensuring President Obama was armed with the information, key personnel, planning, and diplomatic policy support he needed for both his short-term and long-term strategic goals.  

After the Obama Presidency had ended, Ms. Govashiri decided it was time for a new change and challenge in her career, leading her to Netflix. Now, after 6 years, Ms. Govashiri reflects that she was able to shape her role at Netflix as her own and accomplish learning a completely new industry.  She explained the lessons she learned from working in the government with high-level government officials, coordinating National Security issues, and international deconfliction of sensitive topics, negotiations, and intelligence requirements helped to shape her experience and position in entertainment. "Working on nuclear-related issues, terrorism attacks, and domestic crisis almost daily at the White House helped my transition to the private sector, where the ability to react, adapt, and improvise as necessary helps support my current position."

The NSF students were both motivated and fascinated by Ms. Govashiri’s story. According to first-year graduate student, Jaasiel Forde, "The session with Ms. Govashiri was a great meeting. Her personality really captivated me, along with her experience. My biggest takeaway from the conversation was her commitment to volunteering before acquiring her role at the White House. It allowed me to reflect on my career aspirations and choose something you are passionate about, as it will create vast opportunities to thrive in your career."

Matthew Enterline, a second-year graduate student, also touched on the remarkability of Ms. Govashiri’s range of experience and adaptability, as he states, "I was extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Govashiri. Having heard that she shifted so gracefully from a career at the White House, a field that was familiar to her, to a completely new field where she then excelled to become Chief-of-Staff at Netflix was inspiring. I feel as though I learned a lot in the short time that the NSF team had with her, and deeply enjoyed hearing about her very extraordinary path."

The National Security Fellowship team at Seton Hall University would like to sincerely thank Ms. Govashiri for sharing her time, advice, and expertise with the students.

Learn more about the National Security Fellowship here.

Categories: Education, Nation and World

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