Our second Intern Spotlight this week is Olivia Flechsig from from Los Gatos, CA. She is a rising senior at UC Berkeley, and this summer she is interning with the USDA Forest Service.
What was the moment in your life when you realized you wanted to explore public service?
When I was in middle school and my older sister was diagnosed with bone cancer, it was a really difficult
time for my family, but the support from the members of my community was really profound– people we’d never even met before were making us meals and offering support in countless other ways. The impact of the kindness of others really stuck with me, and since then I knew that I really wanted to do something that would benefit people. A career in public service is a great way to pursue a life that touches the lives of others, and I’m really excited by the idea of using legal advocacy to pursue justice for those who have been failed by institutions that perpetuate inequality.
What are your main responsibilities at your position? What are you looking forward to the most in your position?
I’m a historical research intern for the USDA Forest Service stationed out of the Mi-Wok Ranger District on the Stanislaus National Forest. My partner, Sylvia Guan, and I are doing a research project to bring visibility to the contributions of Chinese Americans to the building of the American West in the 19th century. Not only do we get to travel to other northern California forests to do archival research and utilize archeological records, but we also get to learn about how the US Forest Service manages its resources. Ultimately, our written and photographic documentation of various heritage sites will be used on a new website highlighting Asian Pacific Americans’ long history of contributing t
o the United States and one day, the information will be used for a heritage tour. I can’t wait to see the finished website and to see how the project progresses.
Did you find anything surprising about your internship or doing public service work?
Sometimes I’m surprised that they trust us to participate in the work of the various resource management specialists we’ve shadowed, but it’s really cool hands-on experience. I’ve learned to change a tire, driven a fire truck (equipped with siren, water tank, hose and all), seen a bobcat, scaled a very steep mountain, got a little bit of poison oak, and learned how to tell all of the trees apart among many other things I thought I’d never do. Every lunch break here is a beautiful outdoor picnic. I’m also really impressed by how much land there is that Forest Service employees administer and protect. The heritage resource managers, for instance, work to protect countless archeological sites within the forest. When there’s a forest fire coming towards a 100-year old wooden structure that’s an important piece of local history, a fire crew can sometimes take measures to protect that artifact. It’s amazing!
How does this internship help you with your professional goals?/What do you want to get out of it?
I’m an aspiring civil rights attorney and will be applying to law school this fall. My friends and family were confused at first that I would be working for the Forest Service, but it couldn’t be more relevant to my interests and goals. I get to help bring light to how economic conditions, racial attitudes, gender roles, and other social factors led to discriminatory laws and shaped the history of an underrepresented minority group in America all while honing my research and writing skills. I’ve also been learning a lot about the historical involvement of Asian Americans in civil rights struggles. For instance, Yick Wo v. Hopkins was an 1886 Supreme Court case in which a Chinese American business owner, Yick Wo, sued over the racially prejudicial enforcement of a city ordinance and won, having lasting implications for the application of the recently passed 14th Amendment.
Lastly, I’d like to get over my crippling fear of spiders, and indeed my time spent “in the field,” as they say, has begun to de-sensitize me.
What is something that most people would not know about you?
I’m not the most aggressive nor the most athletic person, but I’ve trained in Krav Maga, which is a tactical martial art taught to the Israeli Defense Forces, for about 3 years on and off just to learn self defense. We practice fending off attacks from plastic knives and plastic guns, chokeholds, punches, and much more.
When you get off work, what do you do? What are your weekend activities?
I’ve been exploring the area as much as I can, and it’s the best! I’ve never lived in a rural area before, but now I never want to leave. I’ve been mini-golfing, horseback-riding, wine tasting, hiking, and swimming in the beautiful lakes pretty much every weekend. I’m always taking off my shoes to hop into some pretty stream, and I get ice cream almost every night as a treat after work. I also am addicted to going to the nearby Columbia Historic State Park which has preserved some of the gold rush history of this area with museum displays, shops, saloons, and restaurants– I can’t resist panning for gold flakes, dipping candles, and shopping at the old-fashioned candy store.
Olivia Flechsig is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Sociology and minoring in Education. Outside of school, she is a study group leader for her school’s Student Learning Center, offering free academic support for social science students. She also sits on the editorial board of UCB’s Undergraduate Journal of Sociology, and volunteers to advocate on behalf of students having academic problems with the university. This summer, she will be working for the USDA Forest Service, for whom she will be traveling around Northern California to research the contributions of Chinese Americans to the American West between 1850 and 1890. She hopes to go to law school after graduation to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney, promoting social justice for communities of color and women.
Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.
Posted by Felicia Wong
Felicia Wong is currently a senior at the College of William and Mary, double majoring in Neuroscience and Asian American Studies, and minoring in Biochemistry. She is president of the Filipino American Student Association, and current non-academic projects include creating films calling for diversity curriculums/requirements and establishing an official APIA Studies program. Felicia was also elected president of Global Medical Brigades to lead a sustainable healthcare program in rural communities in Nicaragua. She hopes to connect her interests in healthcare with the community she has found in her cultural background. Having lived in Germany for most of her childhood, Felicia makes yearly trips back to visit her family, providing opportunities for her to indulge in her greatest joys: touring castles, eating at cafés, taking fashion cues from strangers, cooking with her family. Non country-specific pleasures include: biking, watching live music performances, screaming because Game of Thrones.