CAPAL Intern Spotlight Jessica Li ’19


Jessica Li is a rising sophomore at Northwestern University studying Environmental Sciences and Statistics. At NU, she assists in science research on environmental microbes and is a junior executive of the Chinese Students Association. Jessica also serves on the executive board of Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED), the oldest and one of the largest environmental groups on campus. In the past, she has done research on anesthesiology, tropical rainforest health in Costa Rica, and sea turtle behavior. In the future, Jessica hopes to gain experience in environmental policy and data analysis. This summer, Jessica will be working at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


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

With the Ecological Sciences Division of the USDA NRCS, I work on multiple projects on a variety of topics. I consolidated and organized all pest management program documents and resources from state websites into both an exhaustive database and a simple visual design. Furthermore, I am analyzing the variation in state expenditures on different endangered and threatened species in order to reach comparative observations and statistic-based conclusions. I am also working on a project studying energy usage for scenarios of NRCS programs and categorizing the data across regions to reach conclusions in order to revise and improve policy. In the summer, I will also assist with the Maryland and Virginia NRCS State offices to conduct field work in the Chesapeake bay on current natural resource, agricultural, and environmental projects. This summer I am also working with other CAPAL interns on a community action project with the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project. Domestic violence is a serious and often overlooked problem in the AAPI community, and our project seeks to empower and inform women through a series of blog posts. 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.

What are you excited to learn about during your internship this summer? 

This summer will be my first professional experience working in public service as well as my first time being truly exposed to the challenges faced by the AANHPI community. As a result, I have so much to learn both through my internship with the USDA as well as through the CAPAL program. I have always been passionate about the environment, and most environmental concerns require involvement with the government and public service. I am beyond excited to be learning about how environmental issues that affect the public influence policy and create programs directed to solving these issues. Additionally, joining the CAPAL cohort this summer has allowed me to learn so much about the AANHPI community, and I’m eager to continue discussing the problems and difficulties, as well as the shared joys and experiences, with other AANHPIs in a safe space.

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

I strive in my future to find a balance between and work for both the public and private sectors. Experience working at CAPAL’s public service internship concerning the public sector is invaluable in creating this balance. At university, I am studying environmental science, a field in which the impact of the public sector is extremely important. Issues on energy, environmental degradation, and climate justice have always interested me. The opportunity to potentially solve these environmental problems and create a healthier, more sustainable community is what motivates me in my studies and future career goals. These are topics that require efforts from working within the public sector. CAPAL would contribute to my goals in serving the public good and the environment by allowing me the opportunity to gain experience in these fields and by acting as a stepping stone to my goals of effecting positive change in society. In addition, the internship opportunity provides me with quantitative and qualitative research skills useful in any career path I choose. The internship will help me apply what I learn in environmental science and statistics classes to real-world situations.

What is something that people usually don’t expect or know about you? 

Visual art is a large part of my identity, even if a lot of people I know don’t know about my love for art. I’ve always loved drawing and painting ever since I was child, and I have had multiple paintings displayed in art show exhibitions. My talent is that I can replicate any object, photograph, or real life scene in my drawings like a copy machine! I also created and manage a small, creative business where I design and sell custom shoes by drawing and painting on them.

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

Besides gaining work experience through my internship and participating in the CAPAL programs, I am so excited to explore the vast amount of amazing museums in Washington DC. There are so many that I have yet to see, or spend a lot of time in. I think
I am looking forward mostly to the National Gallery of Art, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Newseum, and many more!


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.