CMC Truman Scholar Doesn’t Stop There; Interns at the White House

To say that Nirant Gupta is an overachiever is to perhaps understate the case. The 2010 Truman Scholarship winner from CMC hit the ground running this summer with a White House internship in which he assisted the Office of the First Lady on a variety of social issues, including combating childhood obesity. Read his story here, the eighth in a series of articles profiling CMC students and their summer internships.

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Name: Nirant Gupta ’11

Major: Government and Economics

Summer Internship: From June through August, working in the East Wing of the White House at the behest of the Office of the First Lady on various public service issues, including the health effects of childhood obesity. Nirant applied for the internship via the White House Website (whitehouse.gov), and received a fellowship from the Kravis Leadership Institute to fund his experience.

Future Plans: “Some things are still up in the air. The summer immediately after school I will probably participate in the Truman Summer Institution a program sponsored by the Truman Scholarship Foundation that places Truman Scholars with government internships in Washington. I’ve spent quite a bit of time interning with the executive branch, and so am interested in working in the legislative branch in particular with my congressman, Jim Himes.

This fall I’ll be applying for a Marshall scholarship, hoping to study political communications and political economy in the United Kingdom. I’ll also be looking into various jobs both in the public and private sector where I’ll be able to analyze problems and come up with innovative solutions and ideas that make things work better. There are a lot of ways to do that programs like Teach for America and the Peace Corps are intriguing, as are various consulting firms. Google does a lot of great public service work from the private sector, so I’ll be looking there as well.

What is certain, though, is that I’ll take a few years before going to graduate school in the United States. I’m also certain that no matter what I do, I want to be challenged, examine problems, think critically and come up with ideas that will help others.”

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CMC: Does the pressing issue of childhood obesity strike a particularly resonant chord with you?

Nirant: Childhood obesity has been an interest of mine for some time. My policy proposal for the Truman Scholarship dealt with the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill and childhood obesity in general. It’s a fascinating issue, affecting many aspects of American life from the obvious, like health, to the less obvious, like the economy and national security.

CMC: What kinds of work targeting the obesity issue did you initiate?

Nirant: We had a lot of people writing in about getting involved with the Let’s Move! initiative. Many times these people were Governors, members of Congress, celebrities, or just average Americans hoping to get involved in the project. A lot of this work involved coordinating with Intergovernmental Affairs, Legislative Affairs, and various governmental agencies. Tracking individual and group interests and following up with them played a large part in the internship.

Furthermore, one other intern and I went to Capitol Hill during the markup of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill the one that provides kids with school lunches and breakfasts. We reported back on the proceedings to the First Lady’s Policy Director.

CMC: What about issues unrelated to childhood obesity?

Nirant: I did things like providing support for the office as needed; helping prepare the First Lady’s nightly briefing book; and staffing White House social events, from the Congressional picnic to the 4th of July barbecue.

CMC: During the course of your duties, did you see Mrs. Obama often?

Nirant: I spent the majority of my time working in the East Wing of the White House. The First Lady was not always in the East Wing, but I saw her around a few times a week and occasionally walking through the hallway.

CMC: What did you gain from the internship?

Nirant: I gained insight from a lot of people whom I greatly admire, including great perspective on career paths and how to make an impact. I used to think that I would go into government work directly after school, and continue to do government work for the balance of my career. But through the White House speaker series and my conversations with some White House staffers, I realized that there’s great merit to building a skill set in the private sector that can then be applied to the public sector.

I also learned the power of effective communication. One thing you realize when working at the White House is how small it is. The heartening thing to see was all the people writing to the First Lady and talking about how, due to her efforts and her speeches, they were starting a center that would promote childhood activity and good nutrition or were running for school board to institute better lunch standards in schools. Those things aren’t done by the federal government, but they can be inspired by the federal government. The government, while limited in its direct capabilities, has infinite ability to inspire (or, for that matter, demoralize). I’ve become much more interested in the communications realm this summer.

CMC: What was the best thing about the internship?

Nirant: One of the best things about the internship was meeting the other White House interns. Others in the First Lady’s office were so impressive! Just getting to meet and develop relationships with the other interns was an absolute treat. I had a very memorable summer, and thanks to a grant from the Kravis Institute, was able to do it without accumulating debt!

The White House speaker series was incredible. The Vice President was my personal favorite, though I think the speaker who most resonated with me was Christopher Lu, the Cabinet Secretary. He mentioned that it’s useful to work in the private sector to develop skills and pay off debt. But he also warned against becoming too accustomed to the “private-sector lifestyle.” Mr. Lu said that when he was in the private sector he lived like he was on a public servant’s salary, so when the offer came to work as a public servant it wasn’t such a tough decision.

CMC: How are you employing skills that you learned at CMC vis-?-vis the internship?

Nirant: Writing and analytical skills are universally needed. During my internship, I would edit memos, making changes as necessary. Professor Jack Pitney provided the greatest training in this respect after taking a class with him, you really become an expert in writing and editing. I also did excel and database manipulation, and economics courses at CMC help train you for that.