CAPAL Intern Spotlight Rina Nagashima ’21

What are your main responsibilities at your position? What are some of your big projects? (this can include projects at your internship, your specific CAP, etc) 

My internship placement is with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) within the Office of National Programs (ONP.) Since I am only two weeks in (as I write this,) I am still in the information-soaking phase of my internship. I’ve learned that one of the USDA ARS’ core priorities is climate change, which is a direct result of the Biden Administration’s priorities. In general, I have been learning and reading about various programs, offices, and initiatives within the agency so that I can request projects and assignments relevant to my goals for this internship. Some of the things I’ve done so far:

  • Translating the Office of National Program’s 99-page handbook into a PowerPoint presentation, which was critical in familiarizing me with what the Office of National Programs is.
  • Learning about the agency’s Strategic Communications (translating agricultural research across the country into talking points, reporting updates and requests back to the Hill, etc.) 
  • Following conversations on the USDA Mapping Project to track their agricultural accomplishments (research updates), which is a partnership with external contractors who specialize in data science and visualization.
  • Read President Biden’s Executive Order on climate change in conjunction with the USDA’s 90-day progress report on the EO and another document on the USDA’s scientific priorities to learn about how executive orders turn into agency actions and priorities.
  • Have conversations with various staff within the USDA ARS (Director for the Office of Legislative Affairs, a Deputy Administrator knowledgeable about climate change and agriculture, Strategic Innovation Policy Advisor, and more) to learn about their jobs and identify projects/assignments I might be interested in tagging onto.
  • Synthesizing feedback from USDA ARS focus groups aiming to improve National Program communication strategies.

In addition to an internship placement, CAPAL Scholars and Interns also complete a Community Action Project (CAP.) My CAP Project is with Papa Ola Lokahi, which is the Native Hawaiian Health Board created by congressional act in 1988. One of their main goals is to maintain and improve the health status of Native Hawaiians. Critical to this goal (and for other organizations serving Native Hawaiians) is an understanding of where Native Hawaiians are living throughout the US. So, I am working with three other CAPAL Interns and Scholars to map Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations across the US using data from the 2018 American Community Survey. This map will be distributed to Native Hawaiian Health Care systems, partners, stakeholders, and networks and other public forums and social media. This map will serve as a framework to populate race data from the 2020 Census once it is released in September 2021. We will also be analyzing the final data in comparison to the 2010 Census and reporting observations and changes made in the decade since the previous count.

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

I am interested in a career in public service, specifically in politics or policy. However, this remains a very vague professional goal and I lack an understanding of what is out there. One goal I have for my internship placement with USDA ARS is to contribute to my long-term goal of understanding, 1) What job opportunities exist; 2) What it is like working these jobs, and 3) What field or sector (e.g. government agency, nonprofit, member’s office, Administration, think tank, research lab, etc.) I would like to work in. Through the USDA ARS, I am especially interested in understanding the core workings of a government agency. Another way this internship supports my professional goals is because it is an opportunity to improve my written communication skills for a community of scientists, non-scientists, and legislative staff. Finally, this internship will help me better understand ARS research and policy implications of climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is important to my career goals because any career in public service will be affected by large-scale issues like climate change. Additionally, developing skills that can be applied to these sorts of issues (e.g. homelessness) is critical to being an effective public servant. So, I would like to take this opportunity to understand how climate change is broken down into tangible goals and actions for the USDA, as well as major talking points on climate change mitigation and adaptation. I would also like to understand how an Administration’s priorities and the makeup of Congress affect the priorities and work of a government agency.

CAPAL’s programming outside of the internship placement also contributes to my professional and career goals by familiarizing me with public service as it relates to AANHPI leadership (through the Washington Leadership Programs,) learning about different outlets for public service (through roundtable discussions with the National Geospatial Agency, the Congressional Budget Office, US Department of State, etc.), the professional development workshops, mentorship program, and through community-building with our cohort. I also see the Community Action Project with Papa Ola Lokahi as an opportunity to use data to help serve a community that makes up a significant part of my home – Hawaii.

What do you hope to achieve this summer as a part of CAPAL’s 2021 cohort? 

I am amazed by how diverse CAPAL’s 2021 cohort is. AANHPI usually ends up meaning “East Asian American”, which is not at all representative of the incredible diversity of ethnicities, cultures, languages, and backgrounds within the AANHPI community. I am excited to learn from my cohort and their backgrounds, as CAPAL has done as an amazing job so far in connecting us over Zoom and encouraging us to take communication with our cohort onto our own independent platforms/mediums.

What does public service mean to you? 

My skills, talents, and past work experiences are a product of the opportunities, education, and mentorship that I’ve received over the years. Public service is to use the good that I have received from other people and pass it forward to others. 

However, interning for the USDA ARS and having conversations with their career staff (as well as a CAPAL-facilitated roundtable with a woman from the Congressional Budget Office) has given me insight on a whole new meaning to public service. Career staff are government workers who are hired to, theoretically, work in that position for as long as they like. As opposed to (political) appointees, like the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, career staff continue working in places like the USDA through Administration changes and Congressional election cycles. Career staff are expected to be nonpartisan and carry out the priorities of whoever they report to, whether that is the President/Administration or Congress. 

Although not for everyone, this type of civil servant serves at the will of somebody else that may not represent their own political views. Similarly, even political outlets for public service should still carry the same philosophy of servitude. A US Congressperson, for example, should be serving at the will of their constituency.

Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine, and if so, what are they?

During the 2020 fall semester, I lived at my friend’s house in Seattle. My friend is really into knitting, so she taught me how to do a basic garter stitch and corrected any mistakes I made along the way. It is still the only stitch I know, and I have not yet learned the art of creating projects that are not based in squares and rectangles (such as bags and scarves.) 

For most of 2020, though, I surfed (in Hawaii, the beach was always open for swimming/surfing even during complete lockdowns) and rode my bicycle.

If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I would eat Sukiyaki, which is a Japanese hotpot dish. It’s typically a more celebratory dish, but I like to cook a scaled down version of it at home at least twice a month.

From a more practical standpoint, my answer should be hotpot in general – this would give me more variety in food.

What is one country/place you hope to travel to one day? 

I’ve only been to Japan (which is where I was born) and the US. When I was really young, I dreamed of traveling to a place where I didn’t understand the language at all. At the time, the only country I knew of that didn’t speak English as their primary language was Italy. Now, I would love to travel to a Francophone country or region because I’ve been studying French since I was in seventh grade. I’ve never had the chance to put my language skills to practice. Although, it would still be cool to visit a place where I am completely lost and must rely entirely on gestures and facial expressions.

What’s one interesting/surprising fact that a lot of people may not know about you? 

I can ride a unicycle! Although, this might not be too surprising to my friends because I like doing all sorts of aerial arts and circus acrobatics, including aerial silks, flying trapeze, and corde lisse (rope). In Japan, riding a unicycle is a lot more common among elementary school children – I learned how to ride one when I was seven because all my friends and cousins knew how to.

Meet all of our 2021 CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.