The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Notes from the Field: Soyeun Yang '16

Article Type 

Rockefeller Center-funded interns reflect on their experiences as part of our Notes from the Field series. The Rockefeller Center helps students find, fund, and prepare for a leave-term internship experience in public policy research, public policy analysis, issue evaluation, or activities which help shape and determine public policy.

Student Intern: Soyeun Yang '16

Internship Organization: 
U.S. Department of State: Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary

How would you describe your employer in one paragraph? What’s the elevator pitch?
The Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS) provides scientific and technical advice and resources to bureaus and offices at the U.S. Department of State. STAS is involved in many different science and technology initiatives; we release reports on emerging scientific issues, advise governing bodies on scientific topics, and run programs that support scientific advancement and public diplomacy. Put simply, STAS seeks to increase the role that science and technology plays in foreign policy.

What are your specific responsibilities in the organization?
I have been working primarily on the NeXXt Scholars Program, which was established in 2012 as a collaboration between the New York Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of State to support young women in their pursuit of undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. I have been managing the program and developing metrics to determine areas of success and improvement. I have also been assisting with other projects, including researching scientific topics, drafting memos and cables, and escorting guests at events.

How did you feel on the first day of your internship?
The first day of my internship was the hardest. I didn't know what to expect, and everything was new; that’s pretty intimidating when the State Department spans multiple buildings, thousands of employees, and several hundred interns in D.C. alone. However, my transition was rather smooth. My office is small and tight-knit, so it was a comfortable place for a new intern. My co-workers were very welcoming and eager to show me around, so I was able to attend inter-agency and inter-office meetings within the first few days. This allowed me to get a sense of the State Department as a whole before jumping on specific assignments.

What is your favorite part of the internship so far?
My supervisors have made a tremendous effort to show me interesting things. I've gone to high-level meetings, worked on projects that were personally gratifying, and attended a number of special events. For example, two weeks ago, I met Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Last week, Secretary Kerry spoke to all of the interns.
I'm very grateful that I can work on projects that are focused on my interests while also gaining exposure to broader scientific and foreign policy issues. From what I’ve heard, State is a rather dynamic branch of the government, and my office in particular has had a lot going on this summer. It’s been great for me, as I’ve been learning and doing a lot.

What challenges have you faced so far?
Coming from a spring internship where I had very clear assignments and deadlines, I was not used to the autonomy that I had as an intern at the State Department, so my first week was a bit jarring. In addition, half of my office was away on business that first week, so the work was relatively slow and my assignments limited. While I did have a few assignments during this time, I wanted to see more and do more, so I took my co-workers' advice and started attending public lectures, meetings sponsored by offices doing similar work to ours, and intern-only workshops. Desk work is not the only way that one can learn (especially in this job, where it’s discouraged!). The time that I spent attending meetings and events sponsored by other offices at State helped me refine my goals for the internship and brainstorm tasks that I wanted to complete before the end of the summer. Understanding the nature of your office’s work is very important, so I’m glad that I spoke to my co-workers about their usual schedules and took their advice on how to structure mine.

Broadly speaking, what do you hope to achieve by the end of your internship?
Seeing science and technology play such an important role in foreign policy has helped me understand the value of a liberal arts education. By the end of my internship, I hope that I will have a better understanding of my career goals. I came into this internship with a clear understanding of the values that make me tick; what I hope for now is to figure out what kind of work makes me tick.

What have been some practical lessons you've learned in the day-to-day life of your internship?
Pay for convenience – live near a metro station and grocery store if you can. As long as it's within reason, I would say that the extra cost is worth it. I live in Foggy Bottom, about two blocks away from the nearest metro. My location makes my morning commute very simple (a 15 minute walk) and my weekends very fun (most neighborhoods are only 15 minutes away on the metro).

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences