Richard Li is a recent graduate from the University of Florida, holding a B.S. in Computer Science. This summer he is interning for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, assisting the office with technical needs and goals.
What major projects are you working on in your internship? What responsibilities are you most excited about and why?
As an IT intern-attaché to the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) at the EEOC, my responsibility is to maintain and upgrade the office’s technical systems, primarily their internal file server and website.
When did you realize you wanted to explore public service?
I come from a background of storytelling.
From 2015 to 2017, I was heavily involved in the cultural shows of UF’s Chinese American Student Association, starting as a committee member and eventually co-directing the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 shows. This is not public service in the traditional sense. Coordinating people and resources for a large production is a task certainly not restricted to the public sector. But what I saw in those productions was not the logistical enormity of them; rather, I saw the platform and opportunity for representation. Every show has a story — whose? Our shows draw much of our member base, AAPIs connected with the AAPI community at UF. They also draw other ethnicities: people for whom this show might be their first-ever impression of Chinese and Chinese American culture. For them, who we pretend to be on stage becomes who we are. Thus, as show director, there is a charge that lies hidden underneath the name: to serve as a voice for my board, for CASA’s membership base, for the entire community of Chinese Americans at UF and beyond. It’s a burden that you don’t expect. That’s the weight of the world that no one can explain in the application and interview.
Storytelling is not to be taken lightly. The stories we tell become the narrative that is told about us. And if we don’t tell stories, then we have no narrative. We don’t exist. So when I took to the stage both times, in October 2016 and February 2017, I made sure that the stories we told were ones that mattered. In the process, I became a public servant — servant to the audience, servant to Chinese Americans everywhere. In this way, I learned that public service is not always stamping driver’s licenses or being an elected leader of the nation. Public service starts from the ground. Storytelling is a campaign to make visible the once-invisible lives of the US. Storytelling is public service.
What are you plans/ goals after this internship? Are there any goals you want to accomplish this summer?
My overall goal is to find permanent employment somewhere. The details are fuzzy. Getting the CAPAL experience, however, means that finding a job in DC is a very viable option, and one that I’ll consider. I’m primarily interested in working with IT in a government agency — this seems a natural compromise between my choice of undergraduate major and my background in working with people.
Goals this summer include soaking up as much practical skill in IT work from my internship as possible, networking with other leaders in DC, and getting the whole tourist experience on the side. It’s not every year that I get to spend a summer in the capital of the United States!
What are you looking forward to in DC / where your internship is located?NoMa, where I work, is an interesting professional environment with a variety of food trucks that crop up around lunchtime, serving up all kinds of food from tacos to tikka masala. Sampling some of those food trucks while I’m here is a must. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to dropping by all of the summer attractions in DC, like the Pride Festival in early June, as well as the perennial National Mall, monuments, and other tourist stops.
What is something that most people would not know about you?
To the chagrin of several of my English-major friends, I’ve spent upwards of the last seven years polishing my English. No, it wasn’t an intentional process. It came about as a side-effect of reading and writing constantly — classwork, personal journals, emails, and everything in between. Whenever it mattered to the assignment at hand, I read up on English grammar and syntax rules, treatises on tones and implications and sentence length. Over time, all that study has internalized into an intrinsic understanding. I couldn’t explain it even if I tried.
My words flow. That much was evident once I started drafting materials for my cultural shows last year. I don’t consider myself a writer, but I do write. As a piece of my past, I invite you to checkout the program booklet I put together for CASA’s Chinese New Year show this past February. The writings on the first few pages and the overall design of the booklet remains one of my proudest creations to date.
On the other hand, I’m not so great at other languages. Win some, lose some!
Any advice to those who want to apply to the CAPAL program/ go into public service?
Public service takes many forms; spending a summer in DC also takes many forms. That being said, CAPAL is a program that caters to a variety of backgrounds. Diverse placements into different federal agencies allowed even me, a computer science major, to find a way forward in public service. If you have some inkling of interest about working in federal government, CAPAL is a great opportunity to help flesh out that idea. On the plus side, you’ll also get to bond with your intern cohort: examining your AANHPI identities through official CAPAL events, interfacing with other internship programs and public service representatives through other internship events, exploring DC’s culture and/or countercultures, and generally spending two months in the capital of the US! It definitely beats doing nothing over the summer, but it all starts with that first inkling of interest.
Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.
Posted by Nattacha Munakata
Nattacha Munakata is currently a rising sophomore at George Mason University, studying Community Health with a concentration in Clinical Science (Pre-med). On campus, she is Peer Health Advisor, working to raise awareness and educate students on health issues. She is also involved in TEDxGMU and Thai Student Association. Outside, she likes to volunteer for local organizations and events, such as the DC Sakura matsuri and her local FIRST robotics team. During her free time, she likes to watch Netflix dramas and explore new music.