How I Got the Job: From Environmental Interest to the White House

International affairs and public health major Arzina Lakhani turned a passion about climate change into an internship in the Biden administration.

May 4, 2023

Arzina Lakhani

Arzina Lakhani outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House compound. (Photo courtesy of Arzina Lakhani)

George Washington University senior international affairs and public health major Arzina Lakhani has long been passionate about climate preservation. When she came to GW from her adopted hometown of Overland Park, Kansas, she turned that passion to action.

She first joined the Sustainability Living-Learning Community on the Mount Vernon Campus. In a class with Milken Institute School of Public Health Professor Andy Garrett that studied how climate change affects future pandemics and epidemics. Then, her other passions, experiences and classes led her to the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Dean Scholars Program, where she spent two years cultivating a research project. She studied the intersectional impacts of climate induced migration in her first home of Hyderabad, India, by traveling there, conducting interviews and analyzing policies.

Lakhani, who has strived to find ways to give back to her community, realized that she wanted to pursue this avenue and do more in the field, especially since communities like hers were going to be disproportionately affected. 

So, she sat down one night and Googled “internships in the climate space.”

One of note popped up. It was at the White House.

“I just said, ‘why not apply?,’” Lakhani said.

Utilizing resources from GW Career Services such as GW Career Center health industry coach Jazmine Newkirk, Lakhani had worked on creating a comprehensive resume and strong cover-letter writing skills. Additionally, her time in the Dean’s Scholars Program had helped her talk about her research in Hyderabad.

Two weeks later, she interviewed for a position with a climate resilience team that was still being formed out of the Council on Environmental Quality. Her research in Hyderabad had indeed stood out to the team builders who wanted Lakhani to be a part of its inaugural intern class. A few months later, this past January, she stepped foot on the White House Campus ready to work.

Walking into a component of the Executive Office of the President of the United States—especially to do work that fuels a great deal of passion inside her—was a surreal moment.     

“Simply put, I was in shock,” Lakhani said.      

Climate resilience, by definition, is the ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to hazardous events, trends or disturbances related to climate. Part of Lakhani’s internship is to find the proper channels to distribute resources to communities. At her internship, she helps organize roundtables with grassroots leaders and nonprofits to hear their needs. Additionally, she works on projects related to assisting affected communities through community-driven relocation that ensure its infrastructure is away from imminent threats and can build long-term resilience plans, which was a big part of her research project in Hyderabad.

Lakhani has long been involved in the GW community, including an orientation peer adviser for New Student Orientation, an events and programming assistant on the Vern, a social media director for the Women’s Leadership Program, and an undergraduate senator-at-large just at GW alone. Lakhani is also actively involved in student organizations such as the South Asian Society and First Generation United. Through these experiences and her mentors, she concludes that a leader is someone who seeks out every voice in the room.

She is appreciative of being a part of what she describes as an incredibly and inspiring team that also sees the importance of addressing a large, societal issue with an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“Leadership is about listening and being collaborative,” Lakhani said. “It’s very much about teamwork, and that’s been even more emphasized in this role.”

The internship ends in the next couple of weeks as Lakhani will graduate with her dual degrees on May 21 at Commencement on the National Mall. Lakhani has made the most of her time at GW, gaining valuable life experiences and friendships while checking off a laundry list of professional accomplishments she didn’t even know was possible—with the White House internship being one of them.

She is grateful to the GW community and all the university’s offerings for putting her on a path to pursue her greatest of passions.

“I am so lucky to be able to do what I'm passionate about with great people around me, who are also driven and motivated to make the world a better place,” she said. “And they continue to inspire me every single day in the littlest ways but in the biggest impacts.

“I can leave GW feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunities this school provided me.”