Russell's interest in politics and policy began with an uncle who encouraged her to look beyond her native Bronx, N.Y., to Washington. The 34-year-old said in an interview with BET.com: "I remember times when he would pull me, a 12-year-old, from playing outside in the street and he, his son, and I would watch a Senate or House floor debate on C-SPAN." In her current role, Russell serves as the key person wrestling with urban affairs on the Domestic Policy Council. Since coming to the White House in 2010, Russell has helped shape programs that provide an educational and career ladder for those living in impoverished areas. Before joining the Obama administration—her first stint in the executive branch—she was an aide to Sen. Thomas Carper, the Delaware Democrat and former governor, both in the Senate and at the National Governors Association. As an undergraduate at the University of Miami, she interned with then-State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin, a perch that furthered her interest in government and coming to Washington—which she did by picking up a law degree at George Washington University. "The common thread throughout my career," Russell has said, "has been a focus on the needs of underserved communities and vulnerable populations."