Shivani Parikh

White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Washington, D.C.

This summer, I had the privilege of interning for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington, D.C. I can say without a doubt that this was the most enriching experience of my life.

The Initiative, chaired by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, was established by President Barack Obama in 2009 to improve the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by facilitating increased access to and participation in federal programs.

I, as one of ten interns in an office of about fifteen employees, was fortunate enough to have a wealth of opportunities. While I was able to work on a variety of projects in several issue areas, one of my main tasks was to compile media clips each morning. By scouring the news, I identified relevant news stories, gathered and formatted them, and then sent them for editing. These clips got sent out each morning to the office as well as to the numerous non-employees with a vested interest in Asian American and Pacific Islander affairs. Other communications-related work involved assisting with the Initiative’s Facebook and Twitter pages and creating pages on the Initiative website.

Other projects I worked on involved researching and writing blogs that were published on, planning events to engage communities across the nation and helping with programs to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. For one endeavor, I got to collaborate with Google’s Washington, D.C. office on a Google hangout event designed to reach out to communities with limited English proficiency. On another occasion, I was able to attend a meeting with military officials at the Pentagon, discussing discrimination and diversity in the military.

One notable project I worked on was preparing briefing materials for the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan was scheduled to meet with a group of young immigration reform activists comprised of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and their supporters. The Initiative was asked to prepare the briefing materials, so I got to put together background information, talking points and useful information for Secretary Duncan to prepare him for the meeting. Additionally, I got to sit in on the meeting between Secretary Duncan and the young leaders.

In addition to work done in the office, I was given the opportunity to staff several events in conferences that took place at the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation and the White House. Each of these, combined with the invaluable office experience, opened my eyes to how things work in government, and what kind of role I can play once I graduate and begin my career.

An amazing aspect of living and working in D.C. was the exposure and access to enriching people. During my time, I was able to learn so much outside of the office by making contacts and having informal conversations with White House personnel as well as my supervisors, who served as role models and gave me invaluable advice on what my next steps should be. After meeting them and learning from them, I feel confident in my convictions and my goals. I feel inspired to continue working in public service and I know I have made long-term mentors who will continue to advise me.

I owe so much to Ms. Elizabeth Hill and the Wellman Hill grant program. This has been the most rewarding summer of my life, and none of it would have been possible without this grant. Having grown up as a part of the Asian American community, it meant a great deal to me to be able to work on minority issues and strive for further representation of the community. Thanks to this experience, I have become more informed and driven. After witnessing the impact that government can have in people’s everyday lives, my experience working for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is one I will never forget, and one that will surely shape the rest of my life.