CAPAL Intern Spotlight Helena Ong ’19


Helena is a rising sophomore at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, pursuing a major in Economics. On-campus, Helena competes in intercollegiate British Parliamentary debate on national and international circuits. Helena is a member of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Associated Students of Pomona College, a panelist for the Judicial Council, and a mentor of the Asian American Mentorship Program at Pomona. Helena has worked with local governments in the past, and she is so excited to work this summer at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.


What are the projects that you’re working on this summer?

At the Foreign Agriculture Service at the USDA, I spend half my time working at the Office of Civil Rights, and the other half on detail working on economics and international trade policy projects. At the Office of Civil Rights, we work to create a model Equal Employment Opportunity Agency through proactive preventative measures like informal counseling, mediation, and facilitated discussions. I am currently working towards finishing training to help with counseling cases. We uphold the Civil Rights Act Titles VI and VII to ensure that our federally funded programs and employment processes are free from discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics. I help our office by writing reports on our Agency’s policymaking, analyzing internal Departmental structures, and influencing the USDA’s core values to ensure that decisions are first evaluated through a civil rights lens before implementation. These projects aim to create a workplace free from discrimination for employees and federal programs and to evaluate Departmental decisions with a focus on civil rights.

Additionally, an international trade policy project I am working to implement is a model of retaliatory tariffs. This project entails the political understanding of global relationships with the United States in regard to agricultural exports and imports coupled with economic tariff theories. Through creating an estimation model of what would happen with a tariff imposed on certain US imports, I am learning a lot about political international relationships and weighing the economic impact of an action against various factors.

Why is public service important to you?

I think community engagement and public service is relevant in my life in that it neatly ties together my interests in the government and in advocacy. But specifically, I think public service is very important simply given its fundamental purpose to provide communities with basic commodities and rights. In reality, not everyone is fully represented, not everyone has access to basic resources, and not everyone has the same ability to advocate for themselves. I believe that public service to me is first, standing up for the rights I deserve for myself and for others who identify similarly to me and ensuring that we have equal footing in society. Second, public service is also recognizing the privileges and platforms I do possess, and using my voice to see injustices or insufficiencies elsewhere and attempting to chip away at those problems I see or increasing dialogue on a certain subject because I have the capacity to do so.

How does this internship fit with your professional and career goals?

The CAPAL experience has been a fantastic summer opportunity. Through my internship at the USDA, I am honing a lot of technical skills through direct applications that I see actually impacting the Department at large. Working under talented Directors and Supervisors, I have sought out helpful mentorship and pieces of advice that help me better understand a long-term job in the public sector. Furthermore, CAPAL connects interns and scholars with AAPI mentors, and tries to match mentors and mentees based on similar career backgrounds and interests. This aspect of the CAPAL experience has been wonderful, both in better understanding what kind of career I want to pursue, but also helping me navigate the DC political arena as an AAPI. Finally, being a part of the CAPAL cohort and working closely with the staff has been such an honor. Developing close friendships in a new environment, discussing AAPI issues on a meaningful level, and attending amazing tours and events with the cohort both provides me with people I hope I keep in touch with for life, and has brought me closer in touch with my AAPI identity.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Don’t worry! You’re here, and it works out.

What are you most excited to do in Washington DC this summer?

I am most excited to explore the iconic DC hotspots. I cannot wait to spend the Fourth of July sprawled out on a picnic blanket on the lawn of the National Mall in the company of good friends and loud fireworks. I am excited for the impromptu LinkedIn appropriate photoshoots in front of SCOTUS and Capitol Hill while donning day-old business formal attire. I have been dying to eat a Georgetown Cupcake! Most of all, I am excited for the everyday hustle and bustle of metropolitan, swanky worklife; with a government-issued lanyard and badge adorned around my neck, commuting to work in the way-too-humid DC air.


Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.

 Sukhanjot (Sukhi) Kaur is a rising senior at the University of Nevada, Reno majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Accounting. She is currently deciding between a master’s in higher education and political science, but hopes to go on to work for a nonprofit focusing on women and education after graduation. Sukhi served as the Service Officer for Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Inc. the past year. She was greatly exposed to Sikh American representation through her involvement in with the Sikh community in Nevada and having grown up in Punjab until early childhood. Sukhi hopes to promote Sikh American leadership with her commitments and organize more involvement in the Sikh American youth in her community.