CAPAL Intern Spotlight Maki O’Bryan ’17

Maki O’Bryan is a rising junior studying international studies and political science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This summer, she is interning at the USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

What major projects are you working on in your internship? What responsibilities are you most excited about and why?

As someone who is hoping to pursue law school, it is exciting for me to be able to work alongside such successful lawyers in the policy division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the USDA. I was not entirely sure what to expect when I received my assignment, but I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am. As a policy intern I have read and given feedback to many rules and regulations regarding both internal and external issues of civil rights. One of the most important roles of the OASCR is conducting Civil Rights Impact Analyses. These are written for both internal policies, such as rules applying to workplace harassment, and external policies, such as school lunch and food stamps programs. The purpose of the CRIA is to see if changes in policy arise in any adverse effects to minorities and protected groups. This process has been very fulfilling because I am able to see how law and policy intersect and I also learned how close to home the USDA is, everyone knows someone on food stamps or who eats school lunch. The fact that I get to see firsthand and have an impact, even if miniscule, on these policies that shape so many people’s lives makes me even more excited to go to law school and continue pursuing public policy.

When did you realize you wanted to explore public service?

In high school I had participated in activities like the forensics team and the school newspaper. Through those I discovered my voice for advocacy and in an environment like San Francisco there was never a shortage of campaigns or movements to participate in. I furthered my interests in public service by starting a Junior State of America chapter at my school to combat political apathy and encourage civic engagement among students all across Northern California. When I interned at San Francisco City Hall my senior year I knew I wanted to one day be able to represent my city, and maybe even my state, in the United States government. Being in D.C. has already changed my life. My office and the people who I have met have also opened me up to so many new career paths that I might want to explore and inspire me to not only study hard, but to be engaged in my community. Even just when I am running around the monuments at sunset and I feel more motivated to work hard, go to law school and be able to come back here and call this city home.

What are your plans/ goals after this internship? Are there any goals you want to accomplish this summer?

Expanding my network has been key to my summer, and between CAPAL sponsored events and my office, I have met incredible people who would be able to help me in the future. Through these contacts I have learned about a lot of opportunities and I hope that I can return to D.C. after my junior year at Michigan. Next summer I hope to come back as a participant for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or a public policy fellow for Google. These are lofty goals, but with everything I have learned this summer and with everyone I have met so far I think that I have a better chance at attaining these dreams.

What are you looking forward to in DC / where your internship is located?

I look forward to revisiting a lot of the monuments and museums in D.C., as well as learning about the new ones. I am hoping to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, although I know reservations have been booked months in advance. It is shocking to me that is has taken this long to establish such a museum and in light of our country’s current political atmosphere I think is it crucial to learn about that aspect of our nation’s history. I am also looking forward to learning for about Asian American events in D.C., such as events that the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center hosts, as well as exhibits in museums. I have loved getting to my cohort and exploring D.C. with them, as well as reconnecting with my friends from school.

What do you do for fun?

I love to cook. One of the ways that I am most connected to my Japanese heritage is through cooking. I grew up helping my mom prepare anything from curry to tonkatsu to tempura and now I make my mom’s traditional recipes as well as experiment with others at college and invite friends over to eat. I find cooking so rewarding and enjoying, and it makes the food taste better knowing how much effort you’ve put into it. Dancing has also been an integral part of my life. For the past 15 years I’ve trained in genres like ballet, modern and jazz, but in college I’ve primarily just been dancing for fun. If I’m ever stressed out or just need a break from life I can always rely on a dance studio and John Legend to make me feel better.

What has been the most interesting/ meaningful thing you’ve learned from CAPAL’s Washington Leadership Program so far? Why?

At the WLPs I have learned that AANHPIs come in all colors, shapes and sizes. I like to think that I am heavily involved in the general APIA community at my college, but until coming to D.C. and going to the WLPs with my cohort and other program participants I did not realize just how diverse the AANHPI community was. The most important group missing from Michigan’s community are the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Reflected in both the speakers at the WLPs and the student interns, I have learned about the stories and histories of these groups that I do not necessarily learn in school. I knew our history books were lacking, even if I was fortunate enough to go to a predominantly Asian American school that offered ethnic studies, but I did not realize just how lacking they were until I immersed myself into this diverse group of AANHPI students. Although I have learned a lot about lobbying and data desegregation and advocacy through art from the speakers, as cheesy as this sounds, I have learned much more from my peers during the participatory activities, the questions, and the cohort sessions.

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.