Senate Internship Offers New Perspective on Politics

Michael Tu '25 on Babson's Campus
Michael Tu ’25 learned about the value of public service during his summer internship with Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Ask Michael Tu ’25 to pick the most memorable moment during his three-month internship at Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s office, and it’s clear that it’s a tough choice.

Over the course of Tu’s summer internship at Duckworth’s Chicago office, legislators passed the Inflation Reduction Act, part of President Joseph Biden’s infrastructure bill meant to throttle the skyrocketing prices of everyday goods. And, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion in place for nearly a half-century.

“It was a very interesting time to be in the office when those things were actually occurring in real time,” Tu said. “It sort of felt like we were becoming a part of history.”

But, his biggest takeaway has less to do with a moment in time, and more to do with the people he worked with and helped.

“What struck me is how altruistic the staff is,” Tu said. “They’re working a lot of late hours for not very much money, and they’re there because they want to help people.”

And, with only a few weeks before the often contentious midterm elections, Tu wanted to share his experience with staffers who complete a lot of important work everyday.

“Being a mid-level, a low-level, or even a senior-level staff member in a Senate or representative’s office is an incredibly difficult and a lot of times very thankless job,” Tu said. “Just seeing the work that a lot of these staffers were putting in was incredibly inspiring.”

Customer Service Department

Tu, who grew up in Hinsdale, Illinois, wasn’t always interested in government work, but the contentious political climate in America made him realize he should know more about how our country is run.

“With everything going on nowadays, I think it’s really important to become more involved in things like civic duty and politics,” Tu said. “I think a lot of people, especially my age, don’t care about the political process or governance or civic duty as much as they should.”

He wanted to work for Duckworth, in part, because, as an Asian American, she represents a constituency that he feels needs to be heard on Capitol Hill.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“There is very little minority representation when it comes to government on all levels, so when I realized I had the chance to work for one of the few Asian Americans in Congress, I just thought, ‘That’s someone I want to work for,’ ” Tu said. “She also has an incredible story. She’s a veteran, she’s a paraplegic who lost the use of her legs while in the line of duty. So, she represents what a lot of Americans should strive to be.”

During his internship, Tu’s work would vary depending on the day, but his role gave him plenty of insight into the importance of the work going on at Duckworth’s office. One elderly constituent needed help tracking down a lost Social Security check, a veteran needed assistance adjusting to citizen life.

“The interns were jokingly referred to as the customer service department, because we were the ones who would help whoever called or emailed,” Tu said.

“We would always get these little postcards or notes with people’s stories. There was one person who sent in a poem about the Uvalde shooting,” he said, referencing the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. “Just reading through that and getting to know constituents that would call on the phone to talk about their issues made me realize just how real a lot of this stuff was to a lot of people. Understanding the issues that face a lot of different communities in America is an incredibly important experience.”

Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills

Despite the important work Tu accomplished, he also encountered some challenges during his experience.

“Some things are still sort of stuck back in time. It’s funny because staffers have integrated all sorts of tech into their lives. They’ll use DoorDash to order food, and yet it takes 15 minutes to boot up their computer,” Tu said. He added that the public sector could use more employees showing the kind of entrepreneurial leadership skills taught at Babson.

“What struck me is how altruistic the staff is. … Just seeing the work that a lot of these staffers were putting in was incredibly inspiring.”

Michael Tu '25

Associate Professor Beth Wynstra, who met Tu when he took one of her classes, said Tu would be a perfect candidate. She was thrilled to see Tu intern at a government office instead of the many finance-based internships that are more popular with Babson students.

“He is deeply empathetic, but at the same time, he has strong critical-thinking skills and a sharp, analytical mind. That mix of qualities, whether you’re reading difficult literature or trying to solve real-world problems, is a really special combination,” Wynstra said. “In my opinion, we could use more people like him in politics.”

For now, Tu has plans to go into the private sector after graduation although he said he might return to government work at some point in the future. If nothing else, Tu said, his internship taught him the importance of getting involved in both local and national politics.

“I think a lot of people either distrust the government or have this air of cynicism when it comes to the government and the state of this country. And, before my internship, there were times where I also subscribed to that,” Tu said. “America is also very divided politically, and it’s hard not to view our democracy with a bit of pessimism. But I think this recent internship has changed my perspective because the people that I met in the office, people who are working in government who are representing us, they are working endlessly toward the betterment of this country, and that has definitely given me hope.”

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