Virginia House of Delegates Internship ‘an Eye-Opening Experience,’ ABPA Student Ambassador Says

Michelle Soukiassian is a current student at Towson University and a Communications Trainee Intern with the Virginia House of Delegates. Michelle graciously responded to questions by email about how her internship is going, her experience as an ABPA Student Ambassador, and more.

Michelle Soukiassian during her virtual internship.

How did you get into biology and international/global studies?

Growing up as a ballet student, I gained critical knowledge of the human body, from the names of bones, muscles, different muscular diseases and injuries, etc. After suffering a major knee injury during my junior year of high school, I decided to change my career path from ballet to orthopedic medicine. With that in mind, I chose Biology as my only major, because I thought it would be the most helpful to prepare myself for medical school.

That changed, however, in the summer of 2019. I took a trip to my mother’s homeland of Armenia to visit some relatives. During this time, one of my cousins needed a minor facial surgery. Being interested in medicine, I chose to come to the hospital on the day of his operation, along with his mother, sister and cousin. Upon arrival, I found myself questioning whether or not this was a real hospital; there was no ventilation other than open windows (it was 94 degrees), a less than subpar plumbing system, no hand sanitizer or soap in sight, and a rather untidy patient room. This was a rather strange sight for me. Coming from the US, I was used to walking into a hospital and smelling cleaning products right away. However, for my relatives, this was normal.

This experience is what sparked my interest in global health/medicine. I questioned why this hospital was in such condition and began extensive research into the economy and healthcare system of Armenia. I then expanded this research to the entire South West Asian/North African (SWANA) region. I decided that if I wanted to work in global health, I would need to be educated on international culture, language and politics. About halfway through my freshman year of undergraduate studies, I changed my major from biology, to a double major in Biology and International Studies.

What is an average day like as an Communication Trainee at the Virginia House of Delegates?

On a typical Monday, I will begin my intern tasks around 9 am by checking in with Delegate Ibraheem Samirah’s chief of staff. I start off the day by compiling news clips relevant to the Delegate’s goals, as well as any events he may be interested in attending for the week. Throughout the day, my tasks vary from week to week. Typically, I will answer and draft out emails, work on various projects with other staff members, or draft social media posts for Twitter. I periodically check-in with Delegate Samirah week-to-week to make sure all my goals are being met.

Is there anything you find interesting about the Virginia House of Delegates that maybe an outsider or someone who isn’t familiar should know? Or an interesting experience you’ve had where you gained an acute insight or awareness about working for the government?

I was initially skeptical about interning for a politician, as time and time again, we see media writing about corruption within American politics. I have to say that interning for Delegate Samirah has truly been an eye-opening experience. When I saw his passion and dedication for minority human rights, immigration and those in low-income housing, I was given some hope for humanity. Even when my relatives back in Armenia were experiencing war and hardships, Delegate Samirah took to his Twitter account to raise awareness about the situation even though it is outside of his state’s concerns. Easily the most profound awareness that I’ve gained is that there are people in our government who care and who want to make positive changes in their communities.

Easily the most profound awareness that I’ve gained is that there are people in our government who care and who want to make positive changes in their communities.

Do you have any advice you could give if someone were to get a job at the Virginia House of Delegates or a similar organization?

My advice to anyone interning in politics in general is maintaining open communication with your mentor. It may seem scary or uncertain at first but I found that as I became more comfortable communicating with my mentor, the more I was able to excel in my tasks. I would also suggest voicing your own thoughts and ideas. Although you may think you are “just an intern,” any and all ideas can lead to success.

Although you may think you are “just an intern,” any and all ideas can lead to success.

What has your experience been like so far as a Student Ambassador for ABPA?

Thus far my experience with the ABPA has been nothing but positive. I am beyond grateful for my experience with Delegate Ibraheem Samirah who is not only a politician fighting for social justice but also a Palestinian-American with his own unique story. I would not have been able to have access to this opportunity if it weren’t for the efforts of the ABPA. Most importantly, as a Student Ambassador, I have been able to open up similar opportunities to my fellow peers. The partners and opportunities presented by the ABPA range from every academic major and area of interest. This allows students of all academic backgrounds to have an internship opportunity catered to their specific goals.

I also find it vital that these positions have been geared towards minorities of all ethnicities but are focused towards Arab-American students. The voice and actions of minority Americans are absolutely paramount. The internships that the ABPA offers allow for these students to further their educations beyond the classroom and apply their knowledge in the professional world.

Do you have any advice for time management and prioritization or work/life balance?

Everyone manages their time differently. Over the years, I’ve noticed I am the most productive when I write down everything I need to get done in the day. I started creating weekly outlooks every Sunday for all my plans during the week, including academic and personal. I also take a look at my grades at the beginning of each week and prioritize my study hours based off of which class I need to improve the most on. In terms of work/life balance, the best way for me to de-stress from work is working out. Being in a pharmacy all day can be very stressful at times, so whether it’s going to the gym, doing a ballet class in my basement or choreographing a short piece, I find any sort of mind-muscle connection is the best method for me to detach myself from my work stress.

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