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WLP 2021 Week 2: The Start of Something New

Week 2: The Start of Something New

This week was it: the start of most internships for the WLP 2021 cohort.

Before the work week started, my family held our annual June pool party to celebrate the start of summer. It’s one of my favorite family events of the year!

This summer, I have chosen to work remotely for the US Department of Commerce from home in Claremont, California. Moments like this pool party have made me so glad I stayed home. The past year has been difficult, and I am so fortunate to experience the return to normalcy with my family.

As we finished celebrating the official start of summer, I was starting to feel nervous about my first day of my internship. But, the WLP 2021 cohort group chat was alive and full of messages of “Good luck!”.

After I hopped off my first call with my supervisor on Monday, I realized I had no reason to be intimidated. She wanted to ensure I had both a meaningful and productive summer, asking me about my strengths and what I wanted to do. I shared that I have an interest in highlighting the ways that the Department of Commerce interacts with the daily lives of Americans, and learning more about how to communicate policy effectively. We decided that one way for me to mix these interests would be to pioneer social media campaigns that could inform citizens on resources and events available through the Department of Commerce.

The week flew by as I familiarized myself with how a United States federal executive department works and what the twelve different bureaus under the Department of Commerce are responsible for.

However, my conversation with my supervisor left me thinking, “What do I want to do, in general?” A big reason why I applied to the Washington Leadership Program was to really flesh out the answer to that question. I have a strong interest in policy, but I never considered how my South Asian heritage intersects with that interest. In the past, I’ve approached policy both as a woman and as a daughter of immigrants, but rarely with a South Asian lens -- so I jumped at the chance of a summer focused on connecting with other young South Asians interested in public service and with current South Asian leaders.

This week, the cohort had the opportunity to speak with Bharat Ramamurti and Sameera Fazili, deputy directors of the National Economic Council, and Joy Swain, Vice President for Corporate Research at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Through the mentorship aspect of WLP, I also had the pleasure to meet Arati Jain, a civil rights attorney at the Department of Education.

Hearing their experiences of transitioning from college to eventually reaching roles in public service showed me that a career path doesn’t have to be linear or completely mapped out. The speakers prioritized taking advantage of opportunities, even if that meant deviating from a plan they had in place. This helped ease a lot of tensions I have about wanting to know exactly where I will be in ten, fifteen, or even twenty years from now. After hearing from our speakers, I took some time to reflect and journal about what I wanted to prioritize in my career.

Alongside all the amazing guest speakers and mentors that give phenomenal advice, I also have my cohort that serves as the best support system. Even though I am home this summer, I can see the beginnings of a strong network forming. In fact, the entire cohort is meeting up in DC next weekend!

I can’t wait to see what else I learn, who else I will meet, and where else this summer will take me!

Riya Mehta

Intern | US Department of Commerce

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