Don Chen ’18

Major: International Relations (Asian Studies minor)

Profession: Law Student

Hometown: Normal, Illinois

What are you doing now?

I’m a first-year law student at New York University School of Law.

How did you get there?

I would not be where I am today without the support and guidance of my mentors at Pomona and beyond. After graduating from Pomona, I taught English in Taitung, Taiwan, through a Fulbright grant. During that year, I realized that I wanted to work on foreign policy legislation and applied for and received a fellowship at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC. I conducted research and advocacy with nationwide grassroots supportersand coalition partners to lobby Congress to support efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, prevent war with Iran and improve civilian casualty reporting. Afterwards, I worked as a congressional staffer for two years in various capacities handling constituent correspondence and military policy. During that time, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to gain substantive policy and legal expertise, and I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that funds students intending to work in public interest law.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Coming to Pomona was definitely a step up in academic rigor compared to my high school, but with the help of friends, professors and other sources of support like the Writing Center, I was able to adjust and explore the array of opportunities that Pomona offers. Thanks to the breadth of options and flexibility at Pomona, I was able to explore multiple majors and career paths as well as take classes completely outside of my major, some of which were the most integral to my academic experience at Pomona.

Although there are classes whose content I vividly remember to this day, the most valuable part of my education was the ability to hone my critical thinking, research and writing skills that have served me well far beyond my time at Pomona. Not only are Pomona faculty brilliant and compelling in the classroom, they are also supportive and kind. I want to thank Professors Angelina Chin, Tom Le, Sam Yamashita and Mietek Boduszyński for their mentorship that continues to this day.

Finally, Pomona provided me a lot of support as I explored academic and career opportunities beyond the classroom. I was able to take advantage of Summer Undergraduate Research Program and Pomona College Internship Program grants, study and intern abroad, and receive help when I applied to various fellowships and law school programs, even after I graduated. Thanks to alumni resources like Sagepost47, I was able to connect with alumni who have done amazing things and have provided me invaluable advice.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am open to exploring different opportunities in law school but would like to eventually work in foreign policy as an attorney in a federal agency, congressional office, think tank or advocacy group.

Any advice for current or prospective students?

Challenge yourself, whether it’s the preconceived notions you hold about the world or what you want to pursue. It’s important to explore different classes and vocations. I changed career paths and majors while I was at Pomona, and I didn’t even consider working in politics or policy until after I graduated from Pomona. If you don’t feel like the path you’re on is working for you, it’s okay to change your mind. Think less about prestige and more about purpose. Trust that the skills you pick up at Pomona will serve you well wherever you go. The best decision I made after graduating from Pomona was to pursue my interest in foreign policy and gain valuable work experience before thinking critically about whether I really needed to pursue another degree.

In addition, don’t be afraid to reach out to classmates, faculty and alumni for help and advice! Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Don’t be afraid to ask, but do follow up, give back and pay it forward. Don’t be afraid to build lasting relationships with people who have shared interests, values and goals.

As I return to an academic environment, I am trying to apply the lessons I’ve learned from four years of working, the most important of which is to make time for rest, friends, exercise, clubs, hobbies, etc. Those things do not and should not be in conflict with schoolwork. If anything, pursuing that which sustains you will also make you more productive and efficient when you do work. Know when to step away from your computer and hang out with friends or go to sleep. Some of my favorite memories at Pomona were watching movies, grabbing late-night snacks, hiking and exploring LA. It’s an incredible privilege to get an education at a school like Pomona, where students are taught by world-class faculty and cared for by custodial and dining hall staff. Be kind to others and to yourself, and think about how you can best steward this privilege.