Starla Cuoso is currently a rising senior at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. This summer she is working at the USDA Forest Service.
What major projects are you working on in your internship? What responsibilities are you most excited about and why?
Under the Forest Management Division, I will be working in the Rangeland Management and Vegetation Ecology Department. One major task I have been given is to create a Story Map of seed zones for native plant materials. In order to make a Story Map, I will need to complete a Geographic Information System (GIS) class to learn how to layer delineated climatic and ecological zones on a map. At the end of the summer I will be presenting my Story Map to the directorate.
Additionally, I will be working to compile data from the Planning Appeals & Litigation System (PALS) about the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). The program funds restoration projects to promote collaboration, facilitate communication, and track ecological restoration efforts. I have also been given the opportunity write executive summaries regarding Forest Service litigation.
The responsibility that I am most excited for is that I will be able to participate in meetings. My mentor encourages my participation and challenges me to speak up. In these meetings, I will have the chance to see the intersection of science and policy at work. The experience is a completely different compared to sitting in a classroom and I love the hands on approach! I am learning a lot just by listening and participating in these dialogues. Since all the Forest Service staff are so welcoming and kind, it has definitely made my experience much more fun and nurturing.
When did you realize you wanted to explore public service?
I have always wanted to give back to my community in a meaningful way. I think—for most people—there is that one story that really explains our life choices. The reason I became an Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP) major is because I was devastated when I saw a bleached and destroyed coral reef in St. John’s. I remember being heart broken because I felt like the world had lost something beautiful and now it was unrecoverable. Of course, I did not think that I would be pushed towards a policy or urban planning field; however, when I got to college, I thought that studying policy and planning would provide me to the tools to understand how decisions are made and how they would affect people’s lives. I saw so much injustice in the world and I wanted to fix it. Public service is a way for me to advocate for groups of people that may otherwise not have the resources or privileges to do so.
CAPAL is an amazing place to explore the public service field, which is what drove me to apply. When I became a member of CAPAL, everyone I talked to inspired me in a different way. Hearing stories from other passionate interns about their field or their interest in public service gave me hope. As an EPP major, I learned to be realistic and almost skeptical of a better future. Having hope was something I never expected to find, but is something I will now carry with me. I think having hope that change is possible, is an important component of public service.
What are your plans/ goals after this internship? Are there any goals you want to accomplish this summer?
After my internship, I will be going back to school at Virginia Tech to complete the last year of my undergraduate degree. By the end of this summer I wanted to get a better sense of where I wanted to go after I graduate. Now I can say that through my internship at the Forest Service and participation in CAPAL, I have a much better understanding of what kinds of opportunities are out there for me both inside and outside of public service. Post-graduation, I hope to find a job at an environmental NGO or participate in a research fellowship. I strongly believe that I need more experience before I apply to further education programs. Eventually, I would like to get both my M.A. and J.D. through a dual program.
One goal I had for this summer was to meet as many people as I could. By participating in the CAPAL program I can confidently say I have met some incredible individuals here. This group has showed me a kindness I have never received from any AANHPI group. I hope to stay in-touch with this cohort and maintain friendships I have made this summer.
Any advice to those who want to apply to the CAPAL/ go into public service?
If you have any interest in expanding you knowledge on AANHPI issues, then I would strongly suggest applying to CAPAL. The program not only provides you with wonderful professional learning opportunities, but also encourages conversation among other interns and scholars. The type of atmosphere fostered by CAPAL is an incredible space full of intelligent individuals and mentors. The program challenges individuals to think outside of the normative parameters and attempt to break down these dialogues through storytelling and narrative. I learned how to advocate for my community in ways I had never considered before.
Additionally, CAPAL really caters towards providing AANHPI individuals the opportunity to explore public service. The program allows individuals to bond over their mutual love of actively wanting to make a positive difference in the world. As someone who has struggled with identity as a biracial woman, I was welcomed by all the interns and scholars to explore my experiences and share my perspective. Those who apply to CAPAL can expect a safe environment to learn about and discuss AANHPI issues.
What has been the most interesting/ meaningful thing you’ve learned from CAPAL’s Washington Leadership Program so far? Why?
The Washington Leadership Program titled, “Know Thy History, Know Thy Self” was my favorite WLP. As someone who had never taken an American Studies class, I had only ever been exposed to normative American history classes. By participating in this WLP, I realized how much I did not know about my own history. Recently, I had been struggling with my identity and I felt this void deep within me. By participating in this WLP I was filled with a knowledge I had not previously possessed; the knowledge that I was not alone in my struggles. The emotions I had been feeling were not isolated, but felt by the larger community. Within those mutual experience, I was able to understand myself and make a few friends along the way. The experience completely blew me away.
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