Double-fudge brownie balls with rainbow sprinkles, fresh chocolate-covered California strawberries, and spiced oriental tofu with garden vegetables. This was how our third week of the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) started, with a Sunday brunch at Sophie’s home, Director of Communications for Al-Jazeera, a former Producer at CNN and more importantly, a WLP alumnus. The food was an enticing appetizer, but little did we know that we were about to be served a hearty entrée of mentorship, knowledge and an entirely new perspective unbeknownst to many of us scholars in the WLP program.
With this brunch, I knew this was going to be a fabulous week. The brunch combined my love of food, with my keen interests in politics and passion of the representing the “Fourth Estate,” journalism. Sophie spoke much about her background in journalism and described the career path she took to reach the fulfilling position she occupied today at Al-Jazeera, one of the world’s most respected news outlets. Along with Sophie, many other WLP alumni ranging from the 2002 through 2010 classes attended the brunch and spoke about their experiences. This was a nice and comfortable atmosphere where we could talk informally with the mentors and guests, a nice change from numerous structured panels and intern lecture series that Washington, D.C. offered.
The next event we attended also contained food, but this time we went to a delicious Mexican restaurant called Guapo’s in Bethesda, Maryland. We met up with Rupa Patel, our career mentor for the summer. It felt a bit weird not having our WLP parents, Nisha and Harin, who are at every event but were absent from this one. Perhaps this was their way of telling us that it was time to be the political adults that they were training us to be all along. Regardless, we weren’t alone, Rupa’s presence was comforting and more like the cool WLP sister. We spoke about our careers and what we wanted out of life, and how we were going to accomplish these goals. Rupa told us about the real world, about her mistakes and pitfalls, and how we should lead lives of successful endeavors. She told us about how to best market ourselves on LinkedIn and we introduced her to cool iPhone apps.
Our week slowly came to a close with the bi-monthly WLP Speaker Series. This week, the series featured two accomplished journalists: Manu Raju from Politico, Gautham Nagesh from Congressional Quarterly (CQ) and our moderator Shilpi Paul from UrbanTurf. They spoke to us about their experiences being reporters and the prominent leaders they constantly covered. We then engaged in a dialogue about the upcoming presidential and congressional elections, along with predictions of who would be the victors. We also noticed an increased audience at the speaker series, including some interns we met at Priya’s house (see WLP highlights from Week 2), as well as some new interns from the Hill and some non-profit organizations.
This was precisely the reason that being in the WLP program and Washington, D.C. was so enthralling, it was the ability to meet so many new and interesting people that shared our common goals and values that made our time here so memorable. I was full from the delicious and exotic food that the WLP program offered us, but it also gave us more than just edible treats- it wet our appetite for learning about the political process and establishing memorable relationships that would last a lifetime.
Office of the Secretary – U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development
Graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick