SamanthaTell us about your Mikva Experience?

My Mikva Experience (both today, in college, and in high school) has provided me with one of the most engaging, practical, and transformative experiences of my life. Prior to becoming a part of the Mikva Challenge, I knew only the theory behind civic duty and responsibility but had no real mechanism of actually practicing and putting those ideas to work. But being part of Mikva when I was 14 years old made my world became so much more expansive. Direct access to political figures, ways to put ideas into practice, and a network of concerned and engaged individuals was what was given to me when a group of friends and I revamped the Mikva Challenge Club during my freshman year of high school. Some of my closest friends and family came directly from my Mikva experiences. I was given a greater sense of independence (I had never been on a plane before the New Hampshire primary!), responsibility, and saw how exhausting yet rewarding a career in public service could be. My experiences ranged from working at the local aldermanic level of government to campaigning for a national figure. I met interesting people, was exposed to different viewpoints and perspectives that continue to shape me today, and I know I had—and still have—a space to be vocal and heard as a young person.

What Programs Were You Involved in at Mikva?

In high school, I was a part of the Democracy in Action program, where I volunteered for aldermanic campaigns such as Jim Genderske’s 49th ward bid, David Hoffman’s Senate campaign, and volunteered for Hilary Clinton in the historical 2008 New Hampshire Primary. I also phone banked for President Obama and campaigned for Senator McCain during the Iowa Caucus. Mikva provided me with the opportunity to explore a diverse amount of perspectives through a bipartisan lens that I probably would have never been able to do in a predominantly democratic city.

In college, I became more involved with my own civic activism on campus as I felt I could reach out and make more of a difference there. I was a member and Executive Board Member of Globe Med at DePaul, volunteered at the Chinese American Service League as an English teacher, and participated in various campaigns addressing the issue of sexual violence on campus. I also worked with a group of students to present a proposal to the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs regarding the current state of sexual violence awareness on campus and our recommendations for future policy initiatives. I continued to attend Mikva Alumni events and discussions throughout my four years there as well.

Today, I am fortunate to be going to graduate school so close to the Mikva office, so I have been able to participate in more alumni events such as College Real Talk, MAD November, and various discussions regarding issues such as Syria, Ferguson, etc.

What are you doing now?

In June 2014, I graduated from DePaul summa cum laude with a double major in Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies with a minor in LGBTQ Studies. I was also Albert G. Schmitt Scholar.

Today, I am a first-year law student at DePaul University’s College of Law. I am also a part-time law clerk for Spencer & Rozwadowski, LLP, a business law, real estate, and estate planning firm. I have also interned with the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic of Chicago and plan to pursue a career in either healthcare, public interest, or intellectual property law (perhaps somehow finding a way to blend them together.

How has your experience as a Mikva Challenge youth informed where you are today?

Mikva initially gave me the tools, space, and resources I needed to form an opinion and be able to speak to others about it. It pushed me to put myself out there, step out of my comfort zone, and be open to dissent and discussion. I carried these skills with me to college where I was much more exposed to the inequities and real social issues Chicago and the rest of the country faces today. But Mikva’s influence has continued to push me to do my research, be well-informed, and give back to my community with whatever I can. It has done so much for me. I can only hope to do the same in the immediate future and years to come. A thank you to all!