Week 3— Developing Skills, Capitol Hill, & Coffee Spills

By Yajur Sriraman 

“If you’re gonna get wet, get soaked.”

At my high school (Delbarton School), esteemed baseball coach Brian Fleury’s famous quote serves as a fundamental value of what the school tries to impart in its students. The idea behind this simple statement is as follows: if you’re going to sign up to do something, take every opportunity associated with it, embrace every unique challenge head-on, and learn to become uncomfortable because it probably means you’re doing something right.

When I learned that I would be an NJLP Fellow for the summer of 2019, I was stoked to be able to get a glimpse of the inner workings of government! However, when Amit asked me if I would like to intern in Trenton at the Department of Treasury, I’ll admit I was equal parts apprehensive and shocked. Not only was I astonished to receive such an opportunity historically reserved for college students, but also I was not expecting a 3-hour-plus round trip commute to be added to my daily summer schedule. Senior summer is when most college-bound seniors relax for one last time before the grind of college beings. As apprehensive as I was about adding something this big to my summer schedule, the opportunity was too good to pass up. “If you’re gonna get wet, get soaked.”

After a 25 minute drive to Metro Park Station, 1 hour train to Trenton, and an additional 10 minutes to West State Street, a typical day at the office for me begins at 8:30 AM. Usually, I have a sit-down meeting with NJ Chief Diversity Officer, Hester Agudosi, Esq as we discuss the plans for the day. Through our discussions, I feel a sense of fulfillment, knowing that I’m not just filing papers or doing “intern” work, but rather I am a key component of a departmental mission. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion was instituted by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018 to tie the opportunities of NJ’s billion-dollar economy to minority-owned business owners, and to empower them with the tools to succeed. The current goal: to maximize turnout to the September 2019 Minority, Women, and Veteran-Owned Business (MWVOB) Summit.

Up to this point, I have been directly involved in marketing efforts for the summit. I have interacted in person and via phone call with minority business owners throughout the state, and have pitched the event to various NJ college/university administrators. I have also organized contact information of these organizations in order to send flyers and information to them leading up to the summit. In addition, I assisted in the preparation of Agudosi’s presentation about Women Business Owners, by gathering info/statistics and framing both a presentation narrative along with actionable steps to empower female entrepreneurs.

In the coming weeks, I’m excited to continue being actively involved in the office’s efforts. I will be helping to launch social media accounts specific to the event, as well as preparing a script for Governor Phil Murphy’s video commercial for the event. 2 weeks down, 4 to go. I couldn’t have asked for a more engaging and fulfilling internship experience than what I’ve had in Trenton up to this point.

(Part 2) NJLP’s Capitol Hill Adventures: From Fellows to Friends

The annual NJLP trip to Washington DC started at the ungodly hour of 4:00am, when we all piled into a yellow school bus that had just arrived half an hour late, much to our collective chagrin. As we all attempted to sleep on the morning bus ride, excessive potholes provided for many rude and vigorous awakenings, so we decided that chatting with each other was the best option. Previously, in our brief meetings at the speakership series, the eight of us fellows had been mostly business. We had all been focused on the speakers, and to some extent making good impressions on the adults in the room. The four hour bus ride was our time to finally be real people with each other. Formal conversations included talking about mutual friends, sports, politics, and the college process, but eventually we were just joking around and having a good time. And when Ashana rather dramatically spilled her coffee, there were many laughs to go around.

By the time we got to DC, we were all energized for the day. Our energy would soon disappear in DC’s scorching hot 110 degree heat index! Despite being in the heat in oppressive formal clothes, we all embraced the torturous weather and started the day off with a tour of the White House East Wing. We all agreed that the actual building structure was very regal, and just being in such a historic place was something special to remember forever. We then ventured over to the headquarters of The Daily Caller, where we met with CEO Neil Patel, who not only runs the newspaper but also runs his own hedge fund, and was a former policy advisor under Vice President Dick Cheney. We discussed the importance of bipartisanship, viewing the other side as “wrong” not “evil,” and how to build a unique career. Afterwards, we visited Madalene Meilke at APAICS, and learned about the organization’s inspirational goals and diversity initiatives, while snacking on some sandwiches for lunch.

Then, we visited the FCC to speak with Nirali Patel, wireline advisor to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. She shared with us her background story, including the fact that she is an alum of UNC Chapel Hill. Since I am going to Duke next year, I joked around with her about our schools’ bitter rivalry with each other which provided for a fun moment. As the session was about to wrap up, the back door to the meeting room opened, and out popped a very familiar face: Chairman Ajit Pai himself. We had all seen him in the news, as he was infamous in his lead role in the controversial repeal of net neutrality. Despite the fact that all of us disagreed with him politically, we were star struck by his presence and tried to get as much insight from him as we could in the few minutes that he was able to stop by. We even got to meet his famous Reese’s mug!

The Supreme Court was a bit of a disappointment, since the Court was temporarily closed for touring due to the recent passing of Retired Justice John Paul Stevens. However, we were able to have an amazing discussion with Mica Moore, a recently appointed clerk for Justice Elena Kagan! She explained to us the career paths of becoming a lawyer, and what she is excited about in clerking in the Supreme Court. Because she was very young, we all found her to be super relatable and felt like hopefully we could see ourselves in her shoes in the future.

The last stop of the day, was a stacked Congressional panel which included the following individuals:

-  Gautam Raghavan, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

- Moh Sharma, Member Services and Outreach Advisor, U.S. House of Representatives

- Priyanka Hooghan, Staff Director - Subcommittee on Environment, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology

- Kapil Sharma, Vice President for Government and Public Affairs - Wipro North America

 From them we learned many important and valuable life lessons. Gautam Raghavan taught us the important of being authentic and staying true to oneself. Priyanka Hooghan taught us the value in learning a specialized skillset in college rather than learning about politics in general. Moh Sharma taught us the importance of networking and maintaining connections. And Kapil Sharma educated us on how critical communication skills are in the working world, and that we should practice our communication wherever we go.

 After some Domino’s pizza and selfies on Capitol Hill, it was time to head back home. We reflected on all the fun proceedings of the day, and lamented that it was coming to an end so soon. The ride home was an absolute blast! We had all loosened up with each other over the course of the day and talked about anything and everything. The highlight of the ride home was definitely the amount of coffee spilled. Seriously, it was getting out of hand, but also extremely hilarious at the same time. We then engaged in a fun conversation with our chaperone Alex on how sitting is the new smoking, and how standing desks are the new wave. After 19 hours awake together as a group, it was finally time for the trip to come to an end.   

From fellows to friends. The transformation of our group’s dynamic on July 19th proved how important the annual Washington DC Trip is to this program. For any future fellows or applicants that are reading this—get excited! It’s a once in a life time opportunity.

And to future fellows who are apprehensive of a 20 hour day with no sleep (as I was): “If you’re gonna get wet. Get soaked.”