Our Stories

From Salem to D.C.: Fellowship Furthers Student's Policy Work

Collin Siu's whirlwind of jobs during college, researching and influencing public policy, are enough to make most people's heads spin. But Siu '08 sees his work as a natural extension of his ultimate goal in life: leaving his community better than he found it.

While at Willamette, Siu served on the ground level for policy organizations and governments in his home state of Hawaii and in his college home of Oregon. This fall he will head to Washington, D.C., for a prestigious national fellowship addressing poverty and hunger policy.

So what inspired his interest in policymaking?

"I think a lot of it has to do with how I feel about the place I live," he says. "I really love Hawaii, for example, but I think there are things that could be improved. My interest has been in making my community stronger and helping people who are vulnerable. I don't think I could just have a career where I only make money all day. I want to do something meaningful with my life."

Siu is one of 20 people recently selected for the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship, a project of the Congressional Hunger Center. He will spend six months with urban or rural community-based organizations involved in fighting hunger and poverty on the local level, followed by six months in Washington, D.C., working on the same issues at national organizations.

"The structure of the fellowship is great," he says. "You get to work on policymaking in a local community through a national organization. A lot of policymakers don't consider what people in communities think. They just take a top-down approach. It's important to have a view that also goes from the bottom-up."

A double major in Spanish and economics, Siu got his first exposure to government policy during his freshman year at Willamette. He interned across the street in Oregon's capitol building doing research for state Senate minority leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day. During his sophomore year, he did research for one of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's general policy advisors. "It exposed me to a diversity of issues," Siu says. "I researched Indian affairs, driver's license issues and a network that links Oregon's after-school programs, to name a few."

He hopes to return home to Hawaii in the future. The summer after his sophomore year, he worked for the non-profit organization Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development, where he researched poverty issues and assisted with strategic planning for a state office to figure out how to better incorporate community views into policy.

He also spent time with the non-profit ALU LIKE Inc., which assists Native Hawaiians in achieving social and economic self-sufficiency. Siu helped design a survey to collect data on whether matched savings accounts could improve life outcomes for poor Hawaiians.

Before he starts his National Hunger Fellowship, Siu heads to D.C. for a summer internship with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, an organization striving to involve Asians in the political process.

So with all this experience, is political office in Siu's future? Possibly. But he realizes that getting elected isn't the only way to make a difference. "Public policy is this really amorphous field that keeps growing. It's not just for politicians. It's for all individuals working for change in their communities."

For more information on this scholarship and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the third floor of Putnam University Center, or visit www.willamette.edu/dept/saga.