Week 5: The Beginning of the End of the NJLP Journey

By: Tulip Sengupta

When trying to come up with what to write about regarding NJLP and my internship experience, I struggled tremendously. I realized that there is no coherent way to consolidate everything this program has done for me, within a single blog post. This program has introduced me to brilliant people, from the other fellows to the various speakers during our weekly speakership series, to the one and only Ajit Pai. I recall stumbling upon this program during my frantic search to find something productive to do this summer. Scrolling through the bios of the past fellows and reading previous blog posts, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. The previous fellows were all tremendously qualified and passionate, prompting myself to question whether I should even bother applying. Realizing that this was an invaluable program, I decided to put my insecurity away and apply. And I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best spontaneous decisions I have made.

I have been interning at Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman’s district office in Ewing. When I received the news that I was placed at the Congresswoman’s office, I was taken aback. While I knew that NJLP would be placing us at local politicians’ offices, I had not expected to be placed at the Congresswoman’s office and was pleasantly surprised. During my time in the office, I have acquired a plethora of skills. From learning how to use a Xerox machine to learning how to aid constituents with casework, this internship has served as an integral stop on my path to the workplace and higher education. My days at the office consist of helping the Constituent Service Representatives in any capacity, answering constituent phone calls, helping write letters for various events, and any other tasks that need to be fulfilled. At the office, I am the only high schooler ; the other interns are all in college or have graduated. In fact, when I revealed that I was not a 90s kid, the office was shocked, as they had not fathomed how I was only 17 and already interning at a Congressional office. To be honest, I too have struggled to fully comprehend this. I have been submerged into office culture and the political world at only 17 and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. 

While the internship is a big component of NJLP, I consider the speakership series to be equally as important. During our “Law and Advocacy” speakership series, we heard from various speakers who provided us insight into their careers and gave us invaluable advice. The day began with Parimal Garg, Deputy Chief Counsel for Governor Phil Murphy. Mr. Garg recollected his days at Georgetown and Harvard Law School and told us about how his parents had envisioned him pursuing STEM, but his high school teachers encouraged him to pursue law and politics. He encouraged us to be willing to prove ourselves in order to work our way up the career ladder and to not have an ego or think we are better than our work or peers. He didn’t try to sugarcoat his journey to his current job. Mr. Garg was honest with us and this was what we appreciated the most. 

The next speaker was Nadia Hussain, the Campaign Director for Maternal Justice at Moms Rising and a Board Member for the ACLU. Ms. Hussain gave us a brief summary of her life and her journey to where she is today. She is Bangladeshi, like myself, so I could relate to her in many ways when she described her family life and childhood. Ms. Hussain emphasized to us that working in public service does not necessarily mean you have to be in a legislative position ; if you have a goal that you truly care about, you can most definitely find a way to incorporate it into your life. She also told us that becoming an adult doesn’t mean all of your problems will suddenly vanish and you will have complete control of your life. She said that no one actually knows what they’re doing, and as a rising senior beginning her college applications and thinking more and more about her future, this was reassuring and put me at ease, at least temporarily..

The third speaker was Satish Poondi, a partner at Wilentz Law Firm and the Legal Advisor for the Indian Business Association. Mr. Poondi has been kind enough to host us at his law firm for the past few weeks. He talked about his experience in health care regulatory law after going to Rutgers Pharmacy School and then Rutgers Law School. Mr. Poondi gave us advice regarding finding our passion and figuring out a way to incorporate it into all aspects of our lives.

We concluded the day with Sonia Das, Vice President of Government Affairs for Advocacy & Management Group, and Patti McGuire, a lobbyist for the Princeton Public Affairs. Ms. Das and Ms. McGuire have spent many years in the political sphere, serving in various offices and campaigns. The two stressed the trifecta of policy, politics, and people. Additionally, they encouraged us to always be holistic and focus on the big picture. What stood out most about these two women was their willingness to help. As we told them our specific career goals, Ms. Das and Ms. McGuire gave us names of people to reach out to and told us to reference the two women when contacting these people. I believe this encounter perfectly exemplifies the mission of NJLP and how it seeks to steer the youth to a brighter future.

With one more week left of NJLP, I realize how much I have grown as a person through this program. I have gone from a quiet girl that struggled to say hello to people to someone who is actively seeking to meet new people. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future,” and I believe this encompasses precisely what NJLP has done for me and the other fellows.