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Fort Worth woman talks to Obama in Google 'hangout'

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- Jennifer Wedel was all ready Monday afternoon to challenge President Barack Obama on an issue that hits her where she lives: her engineer husband's unemployment.

"When you're given the opportunity to speak with the president, it's either take it or leave it," she said.

The 29-year-old mother of two and self-described "avid Republican" never expected that the commander in chief would ask for her husband's résumé so he could look into his situation.

Jennifer Wedel was one of five people selected to take part in a live video chat Monday with the president through the "hangout" feature on Google Plus, the search engine's social networking site.

Wedel asked why U.S. companies were allowed to use a controversial program to hire high-skilled foreign workers when her husband, Darin, has similar skills and can't find full-time work. Darin Wedel lost his job at Texas Instruments about three years ago.

Obama was so intrigued by her situation that he asked Jennifer Wedel to send him her husband's résumé so he could look into the matter further.

That wasn't a response Jennifer Wedel was expecting.

"I think I went deaf," she said.

This was the third year Obama has answered questions online via YouTube after a State of the Union speech, according to Jessica Mason with Google. This was the first time he interacted with online questioners face to face.

Google notified Jennifer Wedel on Friday that her question had been selected among thousands posted on YouTube as one the president would answer online.

The company wanted her to ask Obama the question via webcam and then have a conversation with him about it.

Google sent a technician to the Wedels' home in north Fort Worth to set up the equipment and ensure that the exchange went flawlessly.

Before her conversation with the president, Wedel said the fact that Obama wouldn't know the questions in advance was the most appealing aspect of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is not going to be a rehearsed thing for him at all," she said. "That's what I think is going to be so cool because he hasn't had time to come up with a script for this."

Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was arguably the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.

"My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?" she asked.

Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren't enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn't match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.

"Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?"

"He's a semiconductor engineer," she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.

"If you send me your husband's résumé, I'd be interested in finding out exactly what's happening right there," he told her. "The word we're getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field."

Near the end of the online event, Obama reminded Wedel about his request.

"I mean what I said. If you send me your husband's résumé I'd be interested in finding out what's happening," Obama told her and thousands of others watching.

"When he related it again, I knew that he meant it," Jennifer Wedel said. "It's like ... wow, he wasn't joking."

Later that evening, Darin Wedel was taking one last look at his résumé before sending it to a Google representative who was going to make sure it made it to the White House.

The couple expressed hope that Obama might be able to help him find work.

"It's the president," Jennifer Wedel said. "He can pull some strings."

Darin Wedel said he hopes that inquiring about job prospects for engineers with his experience will also turn out to be an eye-opening experience for the president.

"Even qualified people with 10 years of experience in engineering are having trouble finding a job," he said. "I'm glad to get any help I can get."

Darin Wedel was not at all surprised that his wife was able to hold her own with the president of the United States, even interrupting him at one point, to make sure her point wasn't lost.

"She's a tiger," he said. "I'm very proud of her."

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

Twitter: @amanbatheja

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