Emi Okikawa is a recent graduate from Franklin and Marshall College with a degree in Environmental Studies. This summer she is interning with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
What major projects are you working on in your internship? What responsibilities are you most excited about and why?
As an intern at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, I’m currently working on three separate projects. The first project focuses on compiling a master database of all members of the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC) and six Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees (ATACs)—these committees advise the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative on a wide range of agricultural trade issues. For the second project, I am tasked with researching Trade Facilitation Agreements between countries in order to streamline and mitigate the consequences of human error in trade processes. My third project involves researching wine and spirit regulations and controls across state-level authorities and regulatory bodies. The goal is to identify examples where imported wine is treated differently than domestic products—hinting at preferential treatment/marketing advantages.
When did you realize you wanted to explore public service?
In the fall of my Junior year, I studied off-campus at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. During my three months there, I learned about biogeochemistry and the skills that go along with being an environmental scientist in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Although I found the program to be challenging, I believe that it prepared me for a career in environmental studies because I developed a balanced background in both policy and science. However, I was really taken aback by how difficult it is for policymakers and scientists to see eye-to-eye on certain issues, and not many individuals from either side are able to bridge that gap in understanding. That really sparked my interest in public service, and since then I have sought opportunities to use my background to push for legislation and sound policy solutions based on scientific evidence and data. My coursework and passion for AANHPI empowerment also led me to focus on environmental justice issues in minority communities.
What are your plans/ goals after this internship? Are there any goals you want to accomplish this summer?
In August I’m transitioning to a yearlong fellowship with Ocean Conservancy through the Roger Arliner Young Diversity Fellowship. It will be my first time working in an American environmental NGO, and I look forward to comparing my experiences from such different environmental fields.
Having spent a summer working in the Foreign Agricultural Service, I am beginning to consider going to graduate school for international affairs, and studying to join the Foreign Service. I feel like this would be a perfect culmination of my passion for international affairs, public service, and my environmental background.
What do you do for fun?
As a recent graduate, a lot of my time has been spent trying to learn how to “successfully adult”. It might sound lame, haha, but I’ve been putting a lot of effort into keeping a bullet journal to track expenses and budgets, and learning how to cook basic meals. I’ll be moving into my first studio in July, so I’ve been having fun choosing furniture and wifi plans. Very exciting stuff.
Any advice to those who want to apply to the CAPAL program/ go into public service?
My advice is to always advocate for yourself. The best part about my internship is definitely the department that I work in. My supervisor and coworkers in OASA (Office of Agreements and Scientific Affairs) are all incredibly supportive and genuinely focused on helping me to succeed at my internship and future career. However, this doesn’t mean that I stop seeking out interesting opportunities besides the ones given to me directly. My supervisor is always open to me telling her what exactly I’m interested in, and she goes out of her way to include me in every aspect of the Foreign Agricultural Service, so I can be exposed to the many different careers within FAS, and the USDA as a whole. It’s been a great experience connecting with both civil and foreign service officers—and it’s great networking practice. I’ve learned from experience that it’s best to have your elevator pitch down because you never know when you’ll find yourself sitting at a table surrounded by FAS directors and have to answer the question, “So tell me about yourself!”
What has been the most interesting/ meaningful thing you’ve learned from CAPAL’s Washington Leadership Program so far? Why?
There are too many to list! But the greatest takeaway, I think, is coming away from each program with a better understanding of how to be a better advocate for AANHPI communities. I’ve also really enjoyed hearing other people’s stories and experiences because they are so varied and so very real. It helps to underline the idea that the AANHPI community is not a single entity, the model minority, or apolitical and passive. Our diverse backgrounds and life experiences gives our community a stronger voice than simply one narrative alone.
Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.
Felicia Wong is a recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, where she double majored in Neuroscience and Asian American Studies and led the Filipino American Student Association and Global Medical Brigades chapters on campus. She was part of the CAPAL Scholars & Interns Class of 2016, and she hopes to continue the mission that inspired her to connect her interests in healthcare with the community she found in her cultural background and teachings. Felicia has been involved with a variety of media projects affording visibility to minority communities, her most recent project centering on a video for #AAPIs4BLM. Having lived in Germany for most of her childhood, Felicia makes regular trips back to visit her family, providing opportunities for her to indulge in her greatest joys: eating vanilla ice cream with hot raspberry sauce, taking fashion cues from strangers, cooking with her family. Non-country specific pleasures include: biking, music-browsing, RuPaul-fangirling. felicia.wong [at] capal [dot] org