UMR Junior Spends Her Summer As A White House Intern

November 7, 2013

By Julie Sawyer, Communications and Public Relations

For many college students, summer break conjures images of sleeping late, hanging out with friends, and maybe going home to spend time with family. UMR Junior Gaolunha Vang had a strikingly different experience than the norm. That’s because last summer Gaolunha spent fifteen weeks at the White House, as an intern for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Serving others and being busy is nothing new for Gaolunha. She was raised in the Twin Cities area and grew up with two older brothers, two younger brothers, and one younger sister. Gaolunha attended North Senior High School and participated in PSEO courses at Concordia University. The rigorous academics at UMR haven’t slowed her down. In addition to her classes at UMR, Gaolunha has a work-study job in the Chancellor’s Office, is a waitress at 300 First, and works with patients at Hiawatha Homes. Additionally, she is the UMR Student Representative to the Board of Regents, and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, Gift of Life Transplant House, and Mayo Clinic Hospice.

Drawing on what she’s observed, Gaolunha wrote a statement about the language and cultural barriers that exist for those with mental illnesses and outlined a strategy for addressing those issues. She submitted that statement as a part of the application process for the internship. There were more than 100 applications submitted for the internship positions that were available. Based on her statement, Gaolunha was one of only seventeen interviewed, and one of the four to ultimately be chosen as an intern.

During her internship, Gaolunha was part of the Blue Team -- a small team focusing on language access, capacity building, diversity, and data desegregation. Although an unpaid position, the internship was a 40 hour/week commitment, filled with responsibility and opportunities to get involved in a wide variety of ways. While in D.C., Gaolunha organized and ran a large Federal Employee Conference for the Department of Transportation, wrote for two newsletters and contributed to blogs and webinars, helped with a Korean briefing, launched the Hmong Farmers Project, and even helped write an executive order. It was clear, in talking to Gaolunha, how impactful this internship was to her. She described the work environment as nurturing and supportive, and explained how she was provided housing by a former intern.

At the end of her internship, Gaolunha was asked to stay on in a Fellowship. Though Gaolunha turned down their offer for the fall term, she will be returning for her capstone during spring term and continue through the summer term again. She was invited to live at the home of one of the Executive Directors when she returns to D.C. in January, and is excited to fill the role of a Fellow.

Once she completes her Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree at UMR, Gaolunha plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health with an emphasis on Health Policy and to also attend medical school.