My Summer Internship at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

Seated front-and-center with the 2016 DNCC interns.

June 29, 2016
Philadelphia, PA

I was raised on a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean and later grew up running around barefoot in the Ka‘ū desert on Hawai‘i Island. Living in a house perched on an active volcano and climbing through tropical jungles in search of hundred-foot waterfalls is just something that came with the territory.

Hawai‘i Island is a vast melting pot of diversity, not just geographically but also culturally and ethnically. In fact, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, where I am currently a senior majoring in business administration and interning in the Office of the Chancellor, is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the country.

Fitting then, that this island girl—a fourth generation kama‘āina (born in Hawai‘i) and great-granddaughter of plantation immigrants from Korea—would wind up interning over the summer at the Democratic National Convention Committee  in Philadelphia. The DNCC internship program is 60 percent women and 60 percent ethnic minority groups. Needless to say, I feel right at home, minus the waterfalls.

Why internships?

At UH Hilo, a lot of emphasis is placed on internships. Why internships? In a word, the future, and in the case of the Democratic National Convention Committee, it is a future not just for the interns who were lucky enough to snag one of the 50 coveted spots, but also for coming generations as the leaders and platforms of tomorrow are being shaped.

My experience here at the DNCC is an amazing opportunity for skill building in time management, interdepartmental networking, on-the-spot problem solving, and absolute action. The chance to work with seasoned experts, past White House staff, and rising leaders is the icing on the cake. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a team at the DNCC tasked with volunteer coordination, and with roughly 17,000 volunteers signed into our system, the pressure is on… and I’m loving every minute of it.

The author and Marian Martez, a volunteer that she helped find a position for at the DNC.
With Marian Martez, a volunteer I helped find a position for at the convention.

As each day flies by, I find myself relying on the different skill sets I have developed over the years through my travels and my education, and there are a few that stand out to me in my role with the DNCC.

First, the transition of moving from an island town to an East Coast city was made more fluid by my past travel experiences. After graduating with an associate’s degree from Hawai‘i Community College’s West Hawai‘i campus, I lived in Italy for seven years. From there I traveled across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This has influenced my appreciation for cultural differences and shaped my ability to navigate diverse societies and locales with respect and confidence.

The second contributing factor to my work here has been my internship experience with the UH Hilo chancellor’s office, where I work in public information primarily writing for the website UH Hilo Stories. Developing stories, contacting sources, interviewing professionals, writing informative articles—all under tight deadlines—serve as a strong foundation for my work with the DNCC: quick and effective communication, relationship building, and being able to hit the ground running.

Further, the chancellor’s office internship brought me in contact with someone who has become an important mentor to me. My editor at UH Hilo Stories encouraged me to apply for the DNCC summer internship, helped me with my résumé, gives me professional advice along the way, and reminds me to stay positive when things are challenging.

Lara Hughes with the Hawaii Delegation during Hillary Clintons acceptance speech for the nomination.
Sitting with the Hawai‘i delegation during Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech for the nomination. Click to enlarge.

Also helping me in my work with the DNCC is a surprising skill I’ve discovered in myself: an ability to appreciate and learn from mistakes. We all make mistakes, but I’ve discovered it is what we do afterward that defines us and perhaps, more importantly, determines who we will become one day. Taking a difficult experience and turning it into something positive nurtures an ability to move forward and do better for ourselves, and helping those around us is exponentially multiplied.

It is the moving forward that answers the question, “Why internships?” Internships are the first steps in training young professionals who have the potential to build the world’s communities of tomorrow. Being here in Philadelphia this summer, gaining more experience than I ever thought possible in a short period of time, I feel more inspired and excited about moving forward into the future than ever before.

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