CAPAL Scholar Spotlight Courtney Tran ’19


Courtney Tran is pursuing a Master of International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, concentrating in International Security Policy. She holds a B.A. in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Courtney has worked as a Project Associate at the International Innovation Corps in New Delhi, where she led an initiative for the Self-Employed Women’s Association. She also completed a John Gardner Fellowship at Human Rights Watch, where she co-authored a book chapter on access to essential medicines and investigated attacks on medical facilities in conflict zones. This summer, Courtney interned with the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.


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

I have a few specific learning goals, like learning to draft government paper and gaining regional expertise, but mostly I just want to watch the government machine in motion. Even though I’ve been studying and working with international political and human rights issues for around seven years now, I’ve always felt like I didn’t really understand policy, since I had never seen the national policy process up close. This internship is important to me because it’s my first real opportunity to witness national policy creation from the inside, and to take part in the policymaking process. I want to understand the reasons why some policies are made better or worse than others, and how subject matter experts, political conflicts, and internal checks and balances shape that outcome.

What is your definition of leadership?

Doing something with commitment, intention, purpose, and openness to others. I used to believe that leaders need to be highly visible or high-ranking, but over time I’ve realized that some of the most effective leaders I know are actually deep in the trenches, in support roles, or independent of an organization. They’re just doing their thing with such a magnetic energy and drive that it inspires other people to flock to them and help.

Why is public service important to you?

Public service gives me a sense of connection, community and meaning. Looking at the world through a public service perspective reminds me that despite our differences, we all really want and need the same things, even if we disagree about how best to secure them. Public service also keeps me optimistic: the field is full of people who believe that things can be better than they are now, and who are willing to put the hard work in to make that happen.

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

To follow my sense of fun, not fear! Someone once told me that the best way to make decisions about where to go next is to choose things that feels energizing, satisfying and fun on a deep level. And that choices made from a place of anxiety or insecurity can bring safety and familiarity, but are no guarantee of happiness. I think about this every time I have decisions to make about how to spend my time—everything from job applications to weekend plans.

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

I’m a barefoot shoe addict. I used to have chronic plantar fasciitis, so I tried switching to thin-soled, foot-shaped shoes to reduce pain. Three years later, I’ve never felt so grounded and healthy. I think it’s crazy that mainstream shoes aren’t shaped like our actual feet, especially women’s shoes. It’s equally crazy that something as simple as being able to really engage with the ground when I move has made me so much stronger and more coordinated. Everyone should wear barefoot shoes! End rant.


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.