This is an article from the fall 2017 issue of LSA MagazineRead more stories from the magazine.

During on-site orientation for his summer internship at the U.S. Department of State, LSA senior Hunter Zhao talked to a lot of fellow interns whose families had ties to politics. There were interns with parents who worked on “the Hill” and interns whose parents worked at political think tanks and interns whose parents worked in the Foreign Service. Zhao’s background was a little different.

At the State Department orientation, Zhao explained that his parents worked at a restaurant. “So why are you interested in this?” the other interns asked.

“You kind of stumble into these conversations,” Zhao says, “and I think it adds a whole different dimension to places like the State Department to bring in people who wouldn’t have had access to it without the kind of support that I got from the LSA Opportunity Hub.”

“The LSA Opportunity Hub and the financial support that it provides our students is a great leveler,” says Dean Andrew D. Martin, who counts the Hub as one of the largest and most significant initiatives he has taken on as dean. “It’s an empowering institution that is making sure that our least privileged student coming in the door can have the same experience as that of the most privileged student.”

The LSA Opportunity Hub, which opened last fall, offers critical guidance and coaching to liberal arts students on how to connect what they’re learning in the classroom to their goals and aspirations. This includes a wide range of services including internships, mentorship, specialized classes, and financial support, giving students the opportunity to develop skills and construct networks that will help them build their lives and careers after graduation. 

“I would like all undergraduate students in LSA to get to the point where they’re really enjoying the ride,” Martin says. “To throw themselves into their studies, to focus on whatever they’re most passionate about, whatever they find most fascinating and interesting and to not have any anxiety about what’s going to happen when they get their degree. One of the goals of the LSA Opportunity Hub is to empower students in that way and to encourage them through the Hub’s courses and curriculum to be self-reflective.”

“Students can learn so much from their experiences with some thought and support,” says Paula Wishart, the assistant dean of student development and career initiatives and leader of the LSA Opportunity Hub team. “An internship is a great example. What happened over the summer that had meaning, what skills did students develop, what people did they meet? Students often say, ‘I had a great summer,’ and that’s where it ends. Just radio silence until the next year. We encourage students to reflect, to take action, to follow up. And there are a lot of ways the Hub can support students doing that.”

Zhao’s position at the State Department was actually his second internship for the summer. He also worked for the Post-Conflict Research Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina immediately prior to his work for the U.S. government, an internship organized by the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia. In Sarajevo, he wrote articles and interviewed migrant workers and small business owners about international movement and economic hardship. Zhao only got three days at home with his family between returning from Europe and flying to Washington, D.C.

“I hate using the word busy,” Zhao says. “But when I was doing that second internship in D.C., I always felt like I should have been more tired than I felt. But it was all just such an adrenaline rush that I never had that feeling of being exhausted, of being overwhelmed.”

Zhao wants to continue working and exploring public policy after graduation. He’d like to either do a Fulbright or join the Peace Corps and eventually get an advanced degree in the field, working to further understand and improve the world. 

“I am maximizing the opportunities available,” Zhao writes in a blog post for the LSA Opportunity Hub. “I want to do well in college so that I can chase my dreams and honor my family.” 

Top image courtesy of Hunter Zhao
Video by Liz DeCamp, Alia Orra, and Becky Sehenuk Waite