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  • Vignesh Iyer

WLP 2020 Week 1: Zooming My Way into the Summer

I had just completed my final quarter at the (Zoom) University of California, Santa Cruz on Friday, June 12th. 5 classes, 1176 hours, 49 days of online instruction later my chair, desk, and room felt like an extension of my body -- I was ready to do away with Zoom forever. So, how is it that the following Zoom-filled week of panels and speakers made me its #1 fan?

The program began with a two-day orientation. On day 1, we attended two speaker presentations. First, Sam Arora, former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and WLP alum, gave us a fantastic presentation on how to carve productivity practices into one’s life in a way that is meaningful and contributes to their personal growth. As an overcommitted undergraduate, I learned a lot from Sam’s presentation about the value of mission-focused, personalized productivity. Then, we had another WLP alum, Ashwin Warrior, present on the importance of communication in public service. This session took great advantage of Zoom’s collaborative tools like breakout rooms to have the cohort work in groups. Instead of solely receiving information, we were actively engaging with one and other – we wrote a press release on an issue for a mock-public official and created a public engagement strategy to message the mock-initiative out to the electorate. It really re-energized all of us and ended Day 1 on an encouraging note.

The cohort spent Day 2 of orientation finalizing our WLP summer group project. Our three-hour discussion consisted of a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and visions. Not only did it poignantly capture the diversity of the South Asian American community’s lived experiences, but also highlighted our ability to come together as a community despite those differences. At the end of the three hours, we agreed on a project idea that all of us felt a strong connection to, on how to best civically engage our community.

The following day, I started work at Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s office. Although my chair, desk, room had become familiar and comfortable, somehow, that familiarity was overshadowed by the absurdity of waking up at 5AM to work in Congress out of my California home. It was a stark reminder of how COVID-19 had turned the world upside down.

Nonetheless, it is irrefutable that Zoom and other technologies have made remote work extremely easy and accessible. I was able to effortlessly communicate with my supervisors via text and email, attend hearings and meetings online, all while eating delicious home-cooked South Indian meals every day! The virtual program also gave me opportunities to interact with speakers I would’ve otherwise not had a chance to meet.

This was the case in both the week 1 panel events: State Department Careers and Virtual Networking. The State Department panel was an instant hit with the cohort. It consisted of foreign service officers Sandya Das, Merium Khan, Kiran Pervez, and Basant Sanghera, all of whom had experience working on East/South Asian affairs at the State Department. The panelists gave us very fascinating first-hand accounts of the many peculiar, yet productive and enlightening internal dialogues about identity and positionality they had encountered through their service careers. The virtual networking panel the following day could not have been more topical. Comprising WLP alumni Hetali Lodaya, Mehul Bhagat, and Anmol Nagar, the panel gave out fantastic advice on how to form authentic connections using online tools like email and LinkedIn. It prepared us well to make the most of the interactions with the many high-achieving individuals we had met and will continue to meet throughout this virtual summer. Both panels left the cohort inspired and ready to take on the rest of our 8 weeks.

Week 1 was an absolute rollercoaster. I cannot wait to zoom onto week 2!

Vignesh Iyer

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8)

University of California, Santa Cruz

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