Public Policy senior Ashley Tjhung interned at Vital Voices Global Partnership, a global women’s empowerment organization, in Washington, D.C. last summer. While in D.C., she was also a Public Service Scholar at the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pipeline of Asian American, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in public service. As a CAPAL scholar, she received a $3,000 scholarship, professional development opportunities and completed a Community Action Project with members of her cohort.
How did you hear about your internship?
I found a posting for Vital Voices on the University of Michigan Handshake site. Handshake is … a lot and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by all the postings. However, I found it useful to find positions at organizations I wasn’t aware of before searching. For CAPAL, I was referred by the lovely Areeba Haider (former MiC senior editor). She had previously also been a CAPAL scholar and recommended the program as a great way for AANHPIs to afford to work at an unpaid internship.
What made you want to apply?
As a public policy major, I knew I wanted to be in D.C. for the summer, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I applied to Vital Voices on a whim and luckily, I got it! For CAPAL, I knew I needed to find funding to afford D.C. and unfortunately, the Ford School does not offer great internship funds for undergrads. I also was interested in learning more about what issues and organizing AANHPIs were doing in D.C. and thought CAPAL would be a great way to meet peers and mentors.
What are your favorite memories from your experience?
During my internship, Sophie Otiende, one of the women in the Vital Voices network, came to speak with the staff members. She heads an organization that advocates against the trafficking of women and girls in Kenya. One of their initiatives included training journalists about how to report on trafficking and to empower survivors to claim their narratives. While the program functions in a different context, it was amazing to hear how similar the principles of that program are to Michigan in Color. Her parting wisdom to us was that women, particularly women of color, need to write ourselves into history, because if we don’t, no one will. It is my hope that Michigan in Color is one of those platforms that ensures women of color’s contributions are not forgotten.
What is the culture like where you interned?
As an intern, I appreciated the work culture at Vital Voices. The people that work there are incredibly passionate about the work that they were doing and that showed. Furthermore, the staff were highly conscious of trying to make the internship experience valuable for us. We had brown bags every week with different members of the staff to learn more about their jobs, how they got there and also some professional development opportunities.
I was also impressed by the culture at CAPAL. They had a great mentorship program where I met truly amazing AANHPIs who wanted to help others succeed. Furthermore, I loved my cohort and our program lead!
Any advice for prospective interns interested in public service?
The D.C. public service field is highly competitive. It was often hard for me to feel like I had a place there, especially as an Asian American. Luckily, through CAPAL, I met so many AANHPI mentors and peers who helped me figure out what I want to do in public service and were willing to make my next steps easier. Networking can feel really icky at first, but focus on making real connections with people instead of angling for a job posting. I really recommend getting involved in an affinity organization like CAPAL which makes finding mentors much easier.