Farewell to Washington DC and NCL

The past eight weeks have gone by in a blur. Amidst a flurry of projects and public events, my internship was nothing short of an incredible experience. In the waning weeks of my time at NCL, I made visits to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center as well as a NGO conference regarding consumer internet security and privacy. The visits and conferences greatly enhanced my understanding of the challenges and issues that ordinary people face on a daily basis in the field of internet privacy and the confidentiality of their personal information. In addition to the conferences, I also contributed to and edited a consumer Bill of Rights with regard to data security in the public arena. The project that my fellow interns and I completed has significantly improved my written skills as I learned to compose carefully-worded amendments for the Bill. The frequently-assigned research projects and reports have also helped me gain a deeper insight as to how public policy affects the general consumer population.

This internship has given me a very solid groundwork on policy research and analysis. I seek to integrate the skills I have developed and honed in the classroom when I return to Brandeis. I want to continue to build on those skills in the classroom. The research skills that I have developed will be extremely useful for writing papers in my courses because the majority of my classes will be writing and research-intensive. I believe that the research skills that I have acquired from this internship will also serve me very well in my professional endeavors as I seek to become an international lawyer in the future, a profession which requires well-developed writing skills.

 

Me at an NGO conference regarding the National Security Agency's practices of espionage on citizens.
Me at an NGO conference regarding the National Security Agency’s practices of espionage on citizens.

Working at the National Consumers League has given me a first taste of researching domestic policy and how it affects the general consumer population. I want to expand the scope of the research that I do to include international policy and law. Moving forward, I would like to gain experience in foreign policy analysis and research. In addition, I would like to work at an international organization so I can gain experience in the inner workings of international governance and law making. I believe that additional experience in the areas of international policy and governance would be extremely beneficial for my future career.

In my personal view, the National Consumers League’s work atmosphere is balanced and not too uptight . For those who are interested in working for the League, one piece of advice that I can give (which I learned from my supervisor on my first day) is to always ask all your questions before you start a project. This makes your work go much smoother and faster, and also makes the director’s life easier. In addition, making connections with your fellow colleagues is also very important. From my experience, the League’s staff are all extremely approachable and easy to talk to. Those interested in working at the League should take the opportunity to get to know all the staff. The field of consumer advocacy and public policy advocacy and analysis is a very stimulating field of work for those interested in policy analysis. Students who are interested in doing policy research and reaching out to policy makers will find working in this field  to be very fulfilling. It may seem to be difficult at times due to the fact that you’re trying to influence the upper echelon of the federal government, but I have also learned that advocacy groups are actually quite influential when it comes to affecting public policy; they reflect the public sentiment, which policy makers definitely take into account.

Me at the Panel on Industry Self-Regulation with regard to protecting consumers' sensitive personal data.
Me at the Panel on Industry Self-Regulation with regard to protecting consumers’ sensitive personal data.

After working at the League, I believe that my fundamental philosophy with regard to social justice has been dramatically reinforced. Through the research projects and papers that I completed, I have had the opportunity to examine the nuances of a plethora of policy fields including technology, health, and child labor policy. The work that I have done has shown me just how much ordinary consumers need advocacy groups. The research that the League and other consumer advocacy organizations do is critical in helping to create a more informed society. In addition, through the various projects that I completed, I have learned much about how to effectively advocate through writing. After learning from the League, I believe that I can become a more effective citizen by informing others about the effects of policy and its implications. I believe that pushing for collective action amongst the citizenry to influence government policy can be extremely influential. To be a more effective citizen of society, I need to let others know about the important issues that affect them. The time that I have spent at NCL has taught me much about the issues that pertain to ordinary citizens, and I plan to take the new knowledge and expertise that I have gained to make my friends, family, and community more knowledgeable about issues that affect their daily lives and well-being.

Consumer Advocacy With NCL in the Nation’s Capital

Behind me, Chris is busily typing away, working to compile the research on our latest project. I am sifting through lengthy documents, searching for quotes and statistics to create a briefing sheet for NCL’s executive director to use at a conference. Meanwhile, Paige is busy revising an article for NCL’s consumer blog. The past three weeks have just blown by as the work pace at the League has gradually sped up. The plethora of research projects is complemented by trips to conferences and even a  Senate Committee hearing on June 4th, where I had the honor of meeting Minnesota’s Junior Senator Al Franken. I also attended lectures on issues ranging from personal privacy to child labor policy.  The perpetual motion machine that is my workplace ensures that there is really never a dull moment.  In the past 4 weeks, I have gained an abundance of knowledge with regard to a wide variety of consumer issues. I am constantly learning something new with each project.

NCL's executive director, me (middle), and my supervisor outside the Dirksen Senate Office building prior to the Senate Subcommittee hearing on Location Privacy
NCL’s executive director, me (middle), and my supervisor outside the Dirksen Senate Office building prior to the Senate Subcommittee hearing on Location Privacy

I have progressed quite well in terms of my personal goals. The lectures and hearings that I attended have greatly enhanced my understanding of social policy and the nuances of various laws. With regard to my professional goals, I have gained experience in the areas of advocacy and politics through observation, projects, and research. In addition, the projects that I have been assigned have helped sharpen my writing and research skills. This will be quite beneficial for my future coursework, as I plan on taking several writing-intensive courses next year at Brandeis.

One of the projects that I am most proud of is a fact sheet on the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan proposal, which called for a new standard on coal power plant emissions in the United States. For the project, I sorted through a 10,000 file comment docket that had reactions regarding the proposed plan from labor unions, consumer advocacy groups, and other interest groups. I researched both the consumer side and the labor side of this issue and created a chart that showed the benefits of the EPA proposal for the general consumer population on one side and the potential negative impacts for the labor market (in this case workers at coal power plants). In addition to the chart, I also compared the EPA’s proposal and assessed how closely it converged with NCL’s own energy policy framework, which puts consumer interests at the forefront. I discovered that there were several areas in which the two policy frameworks coincided quite well.  I then proceeded to choose a few of the comments to put in the pro-con chart for the fact sheet. The numerous individual and group projects that I have researched, have allowed me to be exposed to an entirely new field of knowledge with regard to everyday issues in areas such as telecommunications, labor, and the environment.

My supervisor, fellow intern, and me (first from the right) with Minnesota Senator Al Franken at the Senate Committee Hearing on Location Privacy
My supervisor, fellow intern, and me (first from the right) with Minnesota Senator Al Franken at the Senate Committee Hearing on Location Privacy

In addition to the projects I am assigned by my supervisor, I am also responsible for drafting questions for NCL’s annual LifeSmarts competition for students from grades 6 through 12. This program seeks to educate students to become informed consumers in today’s society. I recently finished drafting my first set of 25 questions for the competition. The other interns and I are each responsible for 8 subcategories from within the five main areas: consumer rights and responsibilities, personal finance, the environment, health and safety, and technology. For this project, my fellow interns and I are working closely with the League’s LifeSmarts coordinator, who will review and give feedback on our questions. LifeSmarts questions will be one of the long-term projects that I will be working on throughout my internship.

The projects and research that I have done have developed and honed my reading and analytical skills. I have learned to analyze and dissect information quickly (deadlines are a very effective incentive). In addition, the reports that I have composed for the League have improved my writing quality. I have begun to grasp the rhetoric that is used in legislation as well as learn to produce concise and meticulously-crafted pieces of writing on various policy topics. I see this set of skills as extremely beneficial for my anticipated post-university plans of attending law school. By studying legislation and policy through my work, I believe that I am laying the foundation for a strong start in my graduate studies. Perhaps most importantly, the internship has given me a chance to truly experience a professional work setting and develop the social skills necessary to be successful in my professional endeavors. This internship with the National Consumers League has been tremendously beneficial for my personal, academic, and professional development. I believe that the skills I acquire from my time with the League will pay great dividends down the road as I progress towards my professional career after college and graduate school.

-Aaron Dai ’16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Week at the National Consumers League

The logo of the National Consumers League
The logo of the National Consumers League

A few rows in front of me, Ralph Nader is giving an introductory speech with a crowd of roughly 100 people watching. Sitting on either side of him are leaders of various advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and EPIC. Thus began my first day of work at the National Consumers League in Washington, DC. I had barely arrived at the League office before I was sent out by my supervisor to attend Nader’s event called Unstoppable Right/Left Convergence. This event brought together both left and right-wing advocacy groups to find common ground on many pressing social issues such as the defense budget, child exploitation through commercialization, and the minimum wage in the United States.

I am a Public Policy intern for the National Consumers League, which is a non-profit consumer advocacy group that was first founded in 1899. I discovered the National Consumers League internship position through the Hiatt Career Center’s World of Work program in late November of 2013. I subsequently began applying for the position through BHired and secured the internship in early April of 2014. As the Brandeis Fellow of the NCL, I am responsible for assisting both the Vice President and the Executive Director of the League with a variety of projects throughout my internship. At the present moment, the League is preparing for a Congressional hearing regarding the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 that was introduced by Minnesota’s junior senator Al Franken in late March of this year.

My first week working at the League was extremely hectic but also quite exciting. I learned a great deal about various topics such as international trade law through the lectures that were given by the representatives of the consumer advocacy and public interest groups at the Nader event. Assisting my supervisor with preparations for a Congressional hearing has allowed me to focus in-depth on one particular piece of legislation (in this case the Location Privacy Protection Act introduced by Senator Franken) and dissect the nuances of the bill. Through this research, I have become much more aware of the way mobile phone companies and data brokers manage and store consumers’ personal information.  I have become acquainted with a number of my fellow colleagues during the first week of my work and look forward to getting acquainted with my fellow interns once they arrive beginning next week. The League staff are all very cordial and are an absolute pleasure to work with. They certainly do care a great deal about the interns, frequently asking me if I needed anything.

Looking forward, I hope to gain more knowledge with regard to the implementation of public policy and to analyze in-depth the effects and implications of those policies for the general consumer population. Through the various projects and research that I will be conducting and assisting with, I expect that my writing skills will drastically improve and my research skills will be greatly sharpened. Perhaps most importantly, I believe that I will gain a new perspective with regard to the field of consumer advocacy and public policy as I progress in my work. My first week is rapidly coming to a close amidst a flurry of activity that began with the Ralph Nader conference and is ending with making preparations for the Congressional hearing next week. If the initial days are any indication of what is to come, I simply cannot wait to see what the coming weeks at the League have in store.

My supervisor and I during the first week of my internship
My supervisor and I during the first week of my internship

– Aaron Dai ’16