I remember my dad’s first question to me after I told him that I had been selected to be a White House Fellow. He asked, “Does this mean you aren’t going to be a doctor?” I had applied to be a White House Fellow after finally finishing nine years of medical and residency training, and in the eyes of my dad, completing the journey of the “good Asian son,” which of course ended in one of three ways: a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. While the White House Fellowship may not have been the traditional next step in a medical career, the fellowship offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage in the issues facing our country and to give back to a nation that had afforded me every opportunity to be successful. Three months into the fellowship, I have not been disappointed.
The White House Fellowship is a program dedicated to leadership and public service. Fellows are placed in various White House offices and executive agencies to learn from and contribute to the efforts of senior leaders in our federal government. We also participate in a rich educational series where we discuss ideas across all policy arenas with many of our nation’s most prominent leaders. The program is also deeply committed to community service where we lead service events throughout the year that allow us to connect with and serve individuals in times of need.
This year for my fellowship, I am placed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services working in the office of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In a historic year for our nation’s health, I have had unique access to see firsthand the implementation of the Affordable Care Act through successful and challenging times. I am involved in projects that seek to make it easier for our nation’s communities to be healthier and to help narrow health disparities facing vulnerable groups across our country. Discussion with Cabinet Secretaries and global leaders during our educational series has broadened my horizons as my co-fellows and I consider education, poverty, civil-military relationships, global development, and other grand challenges facing our nation. Each day, I am continually challenged by my co-fellows to grow as an individual and as a leader.
As I reflect on these past few months, I am incredibly grateful and humbled to be serving as a White House Fellow. While admittedly cheesy, I must say that my optimism for our nation’s future grows as I see the ability of dedicated individuals to affect change and improve the community in which they live. I would encourage all young Americans, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, to consider applying for the White House Fellowship. The Asian American and Pacific Islander community continues to grow rapidly in the United States, and collectively we have many skills, talents, and unique perspectives that we can offer in service to our country. However, the White House Fellowship is just one way to join in. With or without the title of White House Fellow, we need more young AAPI leaders to become engaged in public service so that we can amplify our skills and talents to serve all Americans. Let’s each get involved and make community and public service part of the “traditional” journey for any AAPI.
For more information about the White House Fellowship, visit obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/about/fellows . The deadline to apply this year is January 15, 2014.
Victor Yung-Tao Wu is a 2013-2014 White House Fellow.