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Student Profile: Brian Ong, MPA '18

October 26, 2017

Similar to Fels' PLAS fellowship, the Wharton Public Policy Initiative offers competitive funding to students from all of Penn's schools to help them pursue unpaid internships in Washington D.C. Brian Ong, MPA '18, recently benefited from this funding during his time as a policy and research intern at the US-ASEAN Business Council. In this Interview, Brian discusses his Fels experience and internship.

What professional/academic work were you engaged in before you came to Fels?

I worked as a risk management and legal compliance analyst for a corporate law firm in Philadelphia. I vetted and cleared potential legal conflicts of interest for new business generated from the Litigation, Telecommunications Media & Technology, eData, Anti-trust, and Washington Strategic Practice Groups. This involved coordinating with attorneys and clients across diverse industries to ensure that the firm complied with ethical and best business practices.

Why did you choose Fels to pursue your MPA?

I chose Fels because of the focus and commitment to Philadelphia issues. I want to impact the community that I grew up in, so it seemed like a natural match. I also understand that Fels and Penn, in general, offer world class resources that will help me get to where I want to go.   

How do you seek to use your Fels degree post-graduation?

In the short term, I plan to work at a food policy organization. Eventually, I would like to start up my own social enterprise or be the founder of a nonprofit dealing with food access and sustainability issues in Philadelphia.

What is your favorite aspect of the Fels experience?

The support from staff has been amazing. Whether it's been academic advising or connecting me with people in my focus area, the Fels staff takes the time to make sure that they set us up for success both in and out of the classroom. The smaller cohort size also enables us to build strong relationships with out classmates.

How has Fels influenced your understanding of public service?

It's taught me that public service and policy can be very process-oriented and progress is often incremental. I've better understood the actors and amount of patience involved, and that public service can come in different forms, not just through government work.

The Wharton Public Policy Initiative financially supported your unpaid internship. Please describe your internship role:

I served as a policy and research intern at the US-ASEAN Business Council in Washington DC. In my role, I researched current national and regional economic policy issues in ASEAN affecting the private sector. This research was published in weekly updates for members in Vietnam, APEC nations, and the  Health and Life Sciences industry in the region. I was also able to attend different events with ASEAN ambassadors and business leaders, one of which included the dinner with Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

What was the most challenging aspect of your internship?

Honestly, the most challenging aspect was probably receiving enough high-level work to keep me busy throughout the summer! My Fels education definitely prepared me well for the work that I was given.

What was most interesting about the work you performed?

It was interesting to learn about the dynamic region that is ASEAN and how it will continue to be a major player in the global market. This is not a region that I've studied in the past, so it was rather eyeopening to see the economic growth they have experienced, while still facing challenges from their history. 

How did Wharton PPI funding assist you in obtaining this internship?

Wharton PPI funded my 12-week internship this summer. Without it, I'm not sure how likely it would have been for me to accept this position, nor how financially prudent it would have been for me to take an unpaid internship in DC.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu