Komal Kamdar is a rising senior at the University of Virginia, studying Leadership & Public Policy and Spanish. She serves as an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, the national service fraternity, where she works with over 50 local non-profits in the surrounding Charlottesville community. Additionally, she is a senior intern on the Gender Violence and Social Change team at the UVA Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, where she collaborates with UVA students, faculty, administrators, staff, and organizations to foster non-violent, healthy relationships across campus. Komal is actively involved with her South Asian community, serving as a consultant on Indian Student Association’s AdHoc Committee and Hindu Students Council. Beyond academic pursuits, she enjoys baking, reading, and travelling. This summer, she will be interning with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
What are your main responsibilities at your position? What are some of your big projects?
This summer I’ll be working as a Project Analysis Intern for NRCS Wisconsin, providing assistance to their Partnerships, Public Affairs, Management, and Strategy Divisions. Additionally, I will also be providing support to their Asian and Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program Manager. In the Partners Division, I will be performing an audit of the hundreds of partners that NRCS works with. I will also be helping draft agreements from proposals submitted to NRCS from county governments, nonprofits, and groups in the private sector. Through the Public Affairs Division, I will be translating key products, from fact sheets to brochures, conducting Congressional district research, and maintaining NRCS’ social media presence. I will continue to do multiple projects on a variety of topics for the Management and Strategy divisions, ranging from environmental policy to data analysis. This summer I am also working with other CAPAL Interns on a Community Action Project with a partner organization, Act to Change. In October 2015, President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, launched #ActToChange, a national public awareness campaign on bullying prevention among youth — including Asian American, Pacific Islander, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQI, and immigrant youth. The campaign aims to empower students, families, and educators with the knowledge and tools needed to help stop and prevent bullying in our communities. Through this project, my team hopes to educate the public around the recent xenophobia and racism issues affecting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will include an education campaign on the history of racism affecting AAPI communities, how it manifests itself today, as well as concrete resources to help the families and their students respond to any harassment and bullying they may experience or witness.
How does this internship fit with your professional and career goals?
This summer will be my first professional experience working in public service on the state level 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. Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, 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 policy and create programs directed to solving these issues. Energy policy, environmental degradation, and climate justice have always interested me. The opportunity to potentially solve these environmental problems and create a healthier, more sustainable community with NRCS this summer and in the future 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. 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 do you hope to achieve this summer as a part of CAPAL’s 2020 cohort?
When my parents immigrated from India, they were focused on the idea of providing better opportunities for me and my brother. With their physical immigration came the immigration of their politically apathetic mentality, lacking political awareness or action. As immigrants, they were unaware of the further opportunities they could provide to their second-generation children through political interest, enthusiasm, and concern. It was not until I learned about the critical role Asian-Americans have in the social and economic fabric of this nation did I inspire my parents to seek naturalization, consequently piquing their interest in politics. Following the development of my passion to strengthen my understanding of how interconnected federal sectors work, my parents felt motivated to take advantage of the many benefits of being an active citizen, from serving in jury duty to becoming involved in the election process.
One of the greater goals of CAPAL is to combat political apathy and foster a cooperative leadership perspective, aligning greatly with my personal goal to mobilize the vast yet diverse Asian American community. Becoming a part of the CAPAL cohort is a decisive first step to gaining more insight into the inner-workings of government agencies. The first step to empowering Asian-American voices is to gain a seat at the table, yet I intend to seek to take further steps and actively participate in in dialogues about how to create more opportunities for Asian-American experience to be incorporated in the creation and enacting of policy. I want to bring to contribute my unique background and passion that Asian-Americans can become political leaders to a larger conversation to be had with other political actors, from other Scholars and Interns to political leaders in Washington, D.C.
What does public service mean to you?
Public service is being able to reflect what society is asking for and creating a big society which progresses. A life dedicated to public service means representing underrepresented and unheard voices, working to effect societal change, and providing equal access to justice for disadvantaged and underprivileged individuals and organizations. By being an active, conscientious citizen who can capture the realities and perspectives of many people, I hope to collaborate with other eager peers in ensuring the equality and equity of everyone. Only through this can the plethora of roles within public service be most effective and efficient.
Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine, and if so, what are they?
I’ve always loved spending time in the kitchen, but quarantine really gave me the time to broaden my horizons experimenting with new recipes. I’ve baked everything from muffins to pies, and cooked recipes from around the world.
What’s your favorite book?
I would have to say “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri, an incredible story of cultural clash spanning decades, continents, and generations. The novel delves into the many complex themes associated with the immigrant experience and being a first-generation Indian American, from filial piety to assimilation. In addition to being deeply rooted in the issues of identity, Lahiri tells the story of people navigating between the strict traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world they must encounter every day.
If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Any and every type of cheese! Some of the world’s best foods would not exist without cheese, everything from nachos to pizza.