On the road with Aven Satre-Meloy ’13: Turkey on a Fulbright, the White House for an internship, and heading to Oxford as SCU’s newest Rhodes Scholar
Aven Satre-Meloy ’13 got the news that he’d been awarded a Rhodes scholarship while he was at work, interning at the White House. The prestigious award will fund his study at Oxford University, where he hopes to continue work on climate change—carrying on a sense of stewardship for the environment that began on the campgrounds and rivers of his home state of Montana. Before heading to Oxford in fall 2015, Satre-Meloy returned to Santa Clara in February to take a Presidential Fellowship, working on a number of projects for the President’s Office as well as other offices and groups on campus.
Two Rhodes roads
Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. ’55 (1933-2010)
Noelle Lopez ’09
He spent 2013–14 at Kirikkale University in Turkey, teaching English there on a Fulbright fellowship. Satre-Meloy was the first American many of his students had ever met. His work as a Fulbrighter also meant carrying the torch of personal diplomacy that’s part of the program. And that followed on his work as an SCU Global Fellow studying democracy in Turkey, a country that straddles cultures of East and West.
What’s the typical day of a White House intern?
I would get in around 8:30 at the Office of Energy and Climate Change, part of the Domestic Policy Council. I was the only intern, so I did a lot of different things: collecting news clips, preparing daily and weekly memos cataloging progress of the climate action plan, and conducting research for various policy analysts.
Was your office actually in the White House?
No, most of the White House staff is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, right across from the West Wing. My second week, the president, first lady, and vice president held a moment of silence on the south lawn to commemorate 9/11, and White House staff got to attend. Trumpets played taps, the flag was blowing in the wind. Moments like those are ones I’ll remember.
The U.S. and China announced a historic climate change deal while you were interning.
It was a very important announcement. The biggest criticism of U.S. action on climate change is that it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to happen internationally. Now that we have an agreement with the U.S. and China—the largest emitters of carbon—that’s hugely important to getting other countries on board.
How did this experience contrast with what you learned as a poli-sci major in the classroom?
Until heading to the White House, I had thought that things were formulaic and that bureaucratic processes got in the way—and that’s true to some extent. But being in there changed a lot of my views. I liken it to the time I was working at a startup; there are so few people working so hard on so many things all at the same time—the pace is just incredible. I’ve left Washington feeling optimistic about the amount of things the federal government can accomplish.
Advice for incoming students to maximize opportunities?
I met with SCU’s Johnson Scholars last fall before my Rhodes interview, and they asked the same question. First, I was amazed when they introduced themselves—they were all freshmen who had decided exactly what they wanted to do and had double or triple majors. I told them, “Guys, I didn’t even declare a major until the end of sophomore year.”
So it would be horrible advice to say, “Aim for a Fulbright or a Rhodes.” You will be much more successful and enjoy your time a lot more if you are doing things that are important to you—you’ll do them better, and with that you will find yourself getting more opportunities and experiences.
SCU has so many ways to get involved, so do things that you haven’t planned for, that might make you feel uncomfortable. When I look back, I can connect the dots between all of my different experiences—but at the time I didn’t know how they would link up. With awards, the title and the recognition is not as important as the substance. A lot of fellowships and scholarships attract the kind of people who are very achievement driven, but the substance of your work is more important than adding a trophy to the case.