From the State to the Capitol: If You Want it, Go Get it
It’s November 4th, 2008, and Americans everywhere are waiting for news channels to announce the next president of the United States. Amy Zhou, only nine years old, has her eyes fixated on the TV, following the events unfolding before her with rapt attention.
“I remember just being so amazed. Ever since then it’s always been government and politics for me,” Zhou reminisces. Flash forward thirteen years from then, she is working as a legislative correspondent in Washington DC for Minnesota Senator Tina Smith’s office.
If You Want it, Go Get it
Zhou says that she would not have obtained her current position without her undergraduate internship experiences. As an ambitious freshman pursuing political science, Zhou immediately signed up for all of the newsletters the College of Liberal Arts offered to students. She read through them all and managed to scout a multitude of internship opportunities. “I was just a very big go-getter. I didn’t wait for things to come to me. I just went and got them,” Zhou says.
Her first internship was at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency through a program called Capitol Pathways where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students get legislative and career readiness training with the Minnesota State Legislature. “That was a transformational experience. It was the first time I worked in politics and government,” Zhou recalls.
The summer after that experience she interned at the City of Minneapolis Department of Neighborhood and Community Relations through a program called Urban Scholar. Zhou says this program allowed her to have a great time with other students of color while learning more about community engagement at the local level. Shortly after working there, she interned at the mayor’s office for the city of Minneapolis, where she got to observe how an elected official’s office runs.
Outside of these experiences, which helped to propel her into the professional field of politics, Zhou was a content creator for a student-run public relations agency called Backpack, a campus tour guide, a History Day mentor, and a Model UN member. All of these real-world experiences helped her become a quick thinker, an effective writer, and a fluent communicator who is able to engage with a broad range of audiences. These skills and others continue to be invaluable in her current job, where she covers legislative portfolios that include health, education, labor, and pensions.
When You Stumble, Make it Part of the Dance
As a child of Chinese immigrants from Shanghai, Zhou wanted to connect with her roots. “The opportunity of being so close to my family, being so close to where I’m from, and being able to re-learn and explore that place was really important to me,” Zhou remarks. A learning abroad program in Shanghai offered in the spring of 2020 seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.
“It felt like the only time I would really get to live in the place I'm from just because my career path is American government and I can't really do that in another country,” Zhou says. Fully set to learn and explore, Zhou’s plans came crashing down with the unexpected wave of COVID-19 hitting China at that time. “I was traveling solo in Asia at that time. Within a week of getting the notice, I had to figure out a number of things. Do I come home and enroll in classes? Do I try to find a job and work? Where do I live? It was a very stressful time,” Zhou said.
Being the resourceful person that she is, Zhou was able to interview for a job while traveling and was offered a full-time position with a lobbying firm at the Minnesota State Legislature. Zhou planned to return to the University as a full-time student during the fall, but the opportunity to be Minnesota Senator Matt Little’s assistant was too good to pass up. “Although given a chance I wouldn’t have wanted my study abroad program to get canceled, I still think it was a very efficient use of my time for that year off.”
Take Advantage of Your Opportunities
Zhou believes it is vital for undergraduates to use all of the resources the University offers. “There are a lot of privileges that college students are afforded that adults in the real world are not.” She urges students to use the Center for Academic Planning & Exploration (CAPE), the Office of Student Counseling, Career Services, and meet with plenty of advisors from different fields whenever they feel stressed or unclear about their future. She also encourages students to take time to recuperate from stress, just like she did whenever she felt overwhelmed.
Zhou’s final piece of advice to all students is to go after University opportunities that they think they will enjoy. “Later on you'll miss it because the amount of community and support that the University of Minnesota gives you is so great. You should just take advantage of it while you can.”
This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLA.