Q&A Two USC students intern at the White House

USC senior Omeed Anvar and 2013 alumnus Simon Huang are part of a select group of approximately 140 students from across the country who are participating in the spring 2014 White House Internship Program, which began in January and is ending this May.

Anvar, a business administration and political science major who has worked on political campaigns for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and President Barack Obama, is working within the White House Office of Communications. Huang, a May 2013 graduate who majored in international relations, works for the Domestic Policy Council. The Daily Trojan interviewed the two interns about their time in the nation’s capitol and what the future holds.

DT: How did you first learn of the White House Internship Program?

Anvar: It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly I learned about the White House Internship Program because interns are so ubiquitous in politics that I always assumed there was a White House Internship Program. This has been a goal of mine since I first started volunteering for the president’s campaign in late 2007.

Huang: I don’t know if there was a time when I wasn’t at least aware of the White House Internship Program as an opportunity. I think that many, if not most, students interested in public service or politics have at least heard of the internship as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.

DT: What duties do you typically perform?

Anvar: I work in the research division of the communications department, where I assist in conducting research and                           fact-checking. I also work on other press office projects.

Huang: I have a variety of responsibilities, many of which tend to appear unexpectedly. There isn’t really an “average” day in the Domestic Policy Council, and my schedule is contingent on the schedules of my supervisors, which are always in flux. On average, my work consists of a balance of research, event management, scheduling and writing.

DT: As an intern for the Office of Communications, what specific projects or initiatives have you worked on?

Anvar: The great thing about working in the Office of Communications is that it has allowed me to be involved in some way in all of the major initiatives that have been going on during my time here. The president has been very active since the State of the Union address, which has made my time here even more enjoyable.

DT: As an intern for the Domestic Policy Council, what policies have you worked on?

Huang: I work in a subsection of the DPC called the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Our office advances government policies centered around expanding national service and supporting social sector organizations such as nonprofits, foundations and social enterprises. We work with organizations from across sectors to support a diverse group of projects — from reducing prison recidivism to encouraging volunteerism.

DT: What is your most memorable experience as a White House intern thus far?

Anvar: The most memorable experience is the first time the President delivered remarks that I helped fact-check. Seeing this entire process come together was an experience I will never forget.

Huang: Although an intern gets to witness a lot of unique events at the White House — we have an excellent speaker series, for example — I think the things I remember the most will be all the errors I’ve made so far while working here. I’ve done quite a few internships, but my mistakes have never felt quite so consequential. I feel that every time I’m corrected, I get slightly more competent. It certainly helps that my supervisors are an insanely talented bunch — and incredibly patient, I might add.

DT: Was there a specific class or professor at USC that motivated you to get involved in the political field?

Anvar: Definitely! First of all, there is no way I would be here today without Dan Schnur, who teaches POSC 439 [Critical Issues in Politics]. Getting involved in politics can be intimidating since a lot opportunities depend on networking and being at the right place at the right time. Knowing that Dan believed in me and that I always had his support gave me the confidence to pursue a lot of the opportunities that led me to where I am today.

Huang: Professor Lamy’s case study course was probably the most influential in driving [me] toward public service. I’ve always been interested in policy issues rather than the politics behind them, but Lamy’s course instructed me in the hands-on process of dissolving complicated policy and the positive impact that an individual can have if they develop that skill properly.

DT: How did your USC experience prepare you for the internship?

Anvar: My USC experience was filled with a variety of different experiences which helped me develop a wide set of professional and personal skills that have been very useful during this internship. The combination of academic and leadership experiences I had definitely helped me prepare for a fast-paced work environment.

Huang: USC gave me several opportunities to pursue policy-related coursework and internships, both abroad and in Los Angeles, which helped develop a skill set suited for this highly challenging internship. The Thematic Option program, in particular, was extremely helpful in sharpening my writing skills, which have proven to be indispensable in the policy world.

DT: What is your biggest takeaway from the experience?

Anvar: This internship has definitely reinforced my commitment to public service in both my professional and private life. It has also given me great insight into and appreciation for all the amazing work that is done by the hardworking staff here at the White House. At the end of the day I cannot believe how much work has been done, yet how much is left to do.

Huang: Humility. I am profoundly fortunate to be here and I know that there are thousands who are just as, if not more, qualified than I am. I’ve learned that public service is about using the opportunities available to do something positive for your community or country. It is extremely humbling to work in such a challenging environment and to see the yawning gap in experience and talent between you and many of the people you work with.

DT: What’s next for you?

Anvar: Right now I am just focused on making the most of this incredible experience and have not spent much time thinking about the future. I am graduating in May, so I plan on returning to Los Angeles for at least a short time after my internship ends. At that point, I will probably talk to some of my mentors and my family and come to a decision about what is next for me.

Huang: I’d like to continue working in public service, preferably abroad in the field of foreign relations. I do enjoy living in Washington, and there are few better places for someone interested in policy.