For many of our student interns, their summer placement is a great opportunity to learn more about the federal government and to get a better sense of how public service might fit into their future. For Cassie He, this is especially true. “I’m definitely interested in working at USAID permanently, so this is really the perfect summer placement for me,” she tells us. With her internship at the Sustainable Development Division of the Africa Bureau of USAID, Cassie’s been granted a close look to what could be her career. We discuss her intern experience, adjusting to early mornings, explorations of the D.C. culinary scene, and more in her summer profile.
What areas of public policy interest you?
I think I could split my policy interests into three different categories. First is global conflict, which includes democracy, human rights, and governance, all of which are important in creating any sustainable, long term solutions for development issues. The second is global development, specifically within agriculture, food security, and nutrition; really anything that has to do with alleviating hunger, helping smaller farms, or increasing food access. And finally, there’s economic policy, specifically international trade between the U.S. and other countries.
What does a typical day in DC look like for you?
I wake up at 7 am, which is insanely different than my schedule at Penn. My whole morning has moved up about three or four hours! But I do get up, get ready, and take the metro into work. I check the news and answer some emails when I get into the office, and then I’m usually in meetings or doing my own long term projects for the rest of the day. Besides those tasks, I’ll pick up other jobs that people around the office need help with. I’ve taken a lot of notes at meetings, and have created many fact sheets and briefing materials to prepare staff members for meetings or conferences. I also try to attend meetings with staff members returning from somewhere abroad. A really cool part about working at USAID is that a lot of the staff travel, and will do presentations on what they learned when they return. I try to go to as many of those meetings as possible. After work, I’ve gotten involved with an organization based in DC called the Conference for Asian-Pacific Leadership, and have gone to a lot of their events. I’m really passionate about learning about my ethnic background, and the opportunities that are provided in DC are much more expansive than anything I’ve had access to, so I’m trying to take advantage of that. Other nights, I spend time with friends, either getting dinner or doing game nights. There’s a pretty good network of people here, so there’s always something cool to do. After that, I’ll head home, probably watch some TV, and get ready for the next day.
Have there been any surprises regarding living and working as an intern in DC?
How important the interns are to the host organization. At new employee orientation, they showed us how USAID is organized, and it seemed odd that they counted interns as part of the staff. Once I started, I realized that a lot of teams here are understaffed and lack resources, so interns really do make up a crucial part of the team. With internships I’ve had in the past, you’re more on the sidelines: pushing papers, getting coffee. In the federal government, though, the role of an intern is really, really important. I get to do valuable work that impacts the workplace, and it’s a great way to learn.
Name one object that you brought with you to DC that reflects your personality.
I have these really colorful rainbow shoes. Everything in my wardrobe is colorful, and after coming to Philly and realizing a lot of people in the Northeast wear a lot of darker colors, I’ve tried to integrate color into my daily outfit. I like wearing something that’s full of energy, which can be a good reminder that, even though we’re working hard this summer, it is important to have a little fun as well.
In 10 years, what will you remember about living and working in DC?
Everyone I’ve met in DC seems to have something that they’re really passionate about, and believe will have a positive impact on society. It’s really inspiring to meet people that are so engaged in the world and love something so much. That’s what I’ll remember.
Give an example of an experience that signifies why you came to DC.
This is a small thing but I think it’s a good example of why I came here: I was working recently and struck up a conversation with a random person, and it turns out that he worked abroad in a similar situation that I had. I have a strong belief that interactions like this can be just as important as what you can learn in a classroom or textbook, and DC is a place where there’s always someone that you can learn from.
What is one tourist attraction or thing outside of work that you are excited about?
I actually have a list of different restaurants that I want to go to. At the top of the list is Ethiopian food. I’ve heard that all the food in DC is really good. I’ve gotten great recommendations so far for all types of restaurants: Filipino, Mexican, many types of Asian food, and even really great dessert places. There’s a feud here between two ice cream shops: Ice Cream Jubilee and Jenny’s. I went to Jenny’s already and it was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. There’s also supposed to be really good food in the museums, so I have a few day trips planned where I’ll spend my morning touring a museum, break for lunch, and then finish my visit.
What does being an intern in DC mean to you?
What I like about USAID is that it’s highly mission driven. The goal is to help other people; all the resources we have are intended to be put into projects abroad so that less fortunate people can benefit from them. I think that really speaks to what I want to do with my career. Because I’m part of the team at USAID, I feel like I’m contributing to the projects and really making a positive impact on the world.