When it comes to career highlights, Ann Widger’s is hard to top.
After all, how many people do you know celebrated the passage of landmark health care legislation on the White House’s iconic Truman balcony with the president of the United States? As associate director of public engagement in the Obama administration, Widger specialized in aging issues and health care reform, and was among those who worked on the Affordable Care Act. “To be invited by the president to join him in celebrating the passage of the most meaningful legislation of my generation so far was amazing,” Widger says.
Once the legislation was passed, Widger moved on to her current position as director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services. “Now that we’ve passed the legislation,” she says, “I work with stakeholders to get them involved and keep them informed on the implementation of health care reform.”
Widger’s passion for service and helping others dates back to high school, when she was volunteering at a food pantry and in a soup kitchen. But it wasn’t until she came to Plymouth State—much to the delight of her alumni parents Robert Widger ’72 and Beverly Wilder Widger ’73—that she started contemplating a career in service. “I was very interested in the social work program, and I liked the fact that Plymouth State offered a bachelor’s in social work,” she says.
When she started her undergraduate work, it was with an eye toward working directly with people as a social worker. “But once I started the program, my interests shifted toward policy and advocacy; organizing communities for change and changing policy to help people,” says Widger, who, during her time at Plymouth State, received the William Taylor Memorial Scholarship and the Ann L. Wharton Scholarship.
Widger credits her Plymouth State mentors Stephen Gorin and Cynthia Moniz, both professors of social work, for fostering her interest in social work at the macro level. Gorin and Moniz are actively involved in social work issues, particularly health care reform and policy, on the national level.
Widger also credits Gorin with sparking her interest in politics by helping her secure a senior year internship at the New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, a nonpartisan organization devoted to social, economic, and political justice. The internship resulted in a job, which eventually led her to working with a variety of organizations in Washington, DC. Over the years, Widger has been an advocate for Social Security, older women’s rights, the labor movement, and union retirees. Her union work, coupled with her experiences working on the John Kerry and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns, helped open the door for her to work on the Obama campaign, for which she served as national senior vote director in the Chicago office. “It was a way to combine my work on aging issues with my interest in politics,” Widger says. Following Obama’s election as president, she joined the White House Office of Public Engagement.
While Widger acknowledges that celebrating a hard-won victory with the president is a career highlight that may be hard for her to top, what she values most in her career is knowing how much her work is making a real difference in people’s lives. “We work with people across the country who are sharing their stories about not being denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, or being able to afford a prescription because of their refund for last year’s prescriptions, or being able to get the care they needed to prevent the need for more serious and costly care,” she says. “We’ve taken steps to help people, and I enjoy that a lot.”