Ambassadors Blog Posts

My Favorite Recipes

May 17, 2021 | Samantha Wong Many people have taken up some sort of new craft or activity in quarantine. In my family, everyone has started cooking more. My sisters and I cook dinner for the family once a week, which has allowed me to test out many recipes. Coincidentally, cooking was one of my personal development goals, and the Congressional Award allowed me to improve my skills in the kitchen. I’ve decided to compile some of my favorite recipes and share them with you! 1.Sour Cream Enchiladas The first recipe I want to share is one for enchiladas. This recipe is provided by Ree Drummond, known as the “Pioneer Woman” on Food Network. It’s surprisingly easy–the main ingredients are sour cream, tortillas, green onions, enchilada sauce (in a can), cumin, and cayenne pepper. I also like to add rotisserie chicken to the filling. This recipe is great if you want a quick meal with lots of leftovers. Check out the link below: 2. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese The next recipe is one of my favorites–a butternut squash mac and cheese. Homemade mac and cheese can be really creamy, but the butternut squash helps make a flavorful sauce that isn’t too rich. I highly recommend this recipe if you’re in the mood for a warm casserole or general comfort food. You can also add protein if you want, which is something I usually do. 3. Pizookie Whenever I want to bake a fun dessert, I often make a pizookie. Pizookies are like a combination of a cookie and a cake–cookie batter is baked in a skillet, and you can eat it fresh with vanilla ice cream. The recipe I’ve linked below is my favorite, and there are many variations of pizookies you can make (I usually make chocolate chip, but there are options like coconut, lemon, or snickerdoodle). Here’s a photo of a pizookie I made recently: 4. Pasta Alla Vodka I am a huge pasta fan; it’s my favorite food. I normally eat pasta with marinara sauce or pesto, but I decided to try a new sauce. The Pioneer Woman has a great recipe for pasta alla vodka. It’s surprisingly simply to make for such a flavorful sauce–definitely try it out! 5. Kuromame Every New Year’s Day, my grandmother makes kuromame, which are sweet soybeans that are considered lucky in Japanese culture. This past year, my sisters and I helped her make an entire traditional Japanese New Year’s meal, as pictured below. There are many other entrees besides the kuromame that also bring health and good fortune for the new year. We put the dishes in bento boxes and delivered them to local family and friends. The kuromame is in the small triangular section in the middle of the box. The beans are always our favorite part to eat, and I’ve included the recipe we use. They do require overnight soaking, but not many other ingredients. Enjoy! Cooking is such an important skill for many people to have, and I am grateful to the Congressional Award for giving me the confidence and opportunity to improve my cooking skills. I hope you will enjoy some of these recipes and learn to create and innovate with your own ideas!  

My Favorite Quarantine Recipes

May 6, 2021 | Capri D’Souza For over a year now, many of my favorite things to do—hanging out with friends, traveling, exploring, and trying new restaurants—have been impossible to do. So, along with millions of people around the world, I tried my hand at baking last March to cure the boredom I was experiencing. Since then, I have developed a love for baking and have tried out countless recipes. Some failed, of course, and others were delicious! Today, I want to share my top 3 favorite quarantine recipes. 1. Strawberry Bread So, this one is not actually a true “quarantine recipe,” since my mom has made this for my family since I was a kid. However, it’s my quarantine recipe, since I finally decided to make it myself in April of 2020.
  • 2 cups flour (we do one and a half cup all-purpose flour and half a cup almond flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 1 and 1/2 cup crushed strawberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8×4 pan and line with wax paper.
  2. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Cream butter, sugar, and almond extract. Add eggs and beat.
  4. Add flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture.
  5. Add strawberries and fold in.
  6. Add batter to the pre-prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Let bread stand for 10 minutes then turn out on a baking rack to cool.
2. Lemon Bread Bread seems to be my favorite baked good these days. This lemon bread tastes exactly like the Lemon Loaf Starbucks! The Lemon Loaf:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract*
  • zest of 1 large lemon or use 1 and 1/2 lemons if you don’t have lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk sour cream works too
The Lemon Icing:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar add more until desired consistency is reached
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cream or milk
The Lemon Loaf:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan, or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt.
  3. In a separate bowl beat together the butter and sugar
  4. Add eggs, then add vanilla extract, lemon extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
  5. Using a mixer on low speed, mix in about 1/2 of the flour mixture followed by about 1/2 of the buttermilk. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Repeat the process with the rest of the flour mixture and buttermilk.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.
  1. Cool loaf, then ice.
The Lemon Icing:
  1. Whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and cream/milk. Add in more powdered sugar or cream as needed.
  2. Remove the cooled loaf from the pan and drizzle or pour over top.
3. Flourless Chocolate Cake I made this for my mom’s birthday, and it was a big hit! It is the perfect combination of cake and brownie, and it’s pretty easy to make! I actually used this recipe directly from Delish. Chocolate Cake:
  • Cooking spray
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder (sometimes I leave this out)
  • 1/4 c. hot water
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process)
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • Raspberries, for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease an 8″ springform pan with cooking spray.
  2. Make cake: Place a small saucepan filled halfway with water over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Place bittersweet chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over the simmering pot, ensuring the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir until chocolate and butter are completely melted. Turn off heat and remove bowl from saucepan.
  3. Dissolve espresso powder in hot water. Add sugar and espresso to melted chocolate and whisk until completely combined then add eggs and whisk to combine. Stir in cocoa powder.
  4. Pour batter into prepared springform pan and bake until just set in the middle and a thin crust forms, about 35 minutes.
  5. Let cake cool for 15 minutes, then remove sides of springform pan. Let cake cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, make ganache: Place heavy cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Place chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl, then pour hot cream over chocolate chips. Let sit 1 minute, then whisk to combine.
  7. Pour ganache over cake and smooth with an offset spatula. Place in refrigerator until set, if desired, about 10 minutes.
  8. Top with raspberries to serve.

What’s College Like?  

April 29, 2021 | Alexandra Gomez Before starting college, I went to a small charter school in Santa Ana, CA for most of high school. The student body was predominantly people who looked like me, and others from underserved communities. After applying to various colleges, I ultimately decided to go to UC Berkeley. I also received a scholarship from Southern California Edison, which was such a blessing to me. No one in my family ever went to college, so I am grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to receive my higher education at Berkeley. Currently, I am a junior at UC Berkeley studying Data Science and Ethnic Studies. My time so far at Berkeley has given me the best memories of my life. I have met so many wonderful people who have grown to be a second family to me. Everyone is also incredibly smart and talented, and there is such a range of subject to study! Ithere’s a subject you’re interested in, there’s likely to be a class on it here. Also, coming from the high school that I did, it was quite a culture shock since the campus is huge and diverse.  Academically, it’s extremely challenging since there are so many smart students, but that is also what makes it immensely fulfilling. I learned that towards the end of every semester: everything feels like a blur since we have so many finals and projects to finish within a short time.  As far as my social life goesI’ve tried to join as many clubs and organizations that interest me as possible. I believe that things like extracurriculars and networking are small investments that will definitely help you get far in lifeIt’s important to have this experience to be a well-rounded student (especially for creating a resume and finding future employment, if that is your goal)Also, like it might be for many of us who have done/are doing The Congressional Award program, if engagement with the community is something that you’re passionate about, participating in activities like that also will help make you stand out! As a side note: If you’re considering Berkeley, a factor to consider is the number of hills and largeness of the campus. I used to be exhausted after each day of classes because of how much of an incline and decline the campus has. On the positive side of that definitely avoided the freshman 15 because of how much I walked my first year! However, now that classes and meetings are all online, I’ve had the luxury of not having to hike across campus anymore. All in all, my experience at Berkeley has been an amazing one that has encouraged me to grow as a person. I have met so many different people and some of my best friends. I can’t imagine how life would have been if I didn’t decide to go here. I am so grateful to have grown so much while attending this school. If anyone reading this has a similar background as myself and would like to talk, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn! I am more than happy to answer any questions you have about Berkeley!    –Alexandra Gomez     

A Letter to my Past Self

March 18, 2021 | Alyssa Lego Dear Alyssa, I’m writing to you a completely different person than that naive and bright-eyed fourteen-year-old who crossed the middle school graduation stage on June 20th, 2017 – just a few days ago. Four years later, I’m looking forward to crossing the high school graduation stage in a few short months and I can’t help but chuckle at the vast amount of lessons you’ll learn in the coming years. Don’t be insulted. The ambition, confidence, and drive that once defined your personality still remains. But, today, you’re more empathetic, more selfless, more understanding … and you still have a lot to learn. A lot can change in four years, but, one thing that hasn’t changed is your love for famous quotes. Sit back, relax, and pour yourself a cup of coffee (yes, you drink coffee now) as I take you on a journey of four years, as told through your favorite famous quotes. “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
  • Ed Sheeran
Allowing people’s opinions of you, whether justified or not, to consume you has been a common trend throughout your life. It hinders productivity, inner peace, and self-improvement. Be yourself, unapologetically. Good friends who like you for you are few and far between – don’t pass up the chance to meet them by focusing on people who won’t add value into your life. “The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started.”
  • Dawson Trotman
Stop procrastinating. Seriously. Whether it’s cleaning your room, finishing an assignment, or writing pages in your memoir (surprise!), put the phone away, turn the music on, and get it done. Defeating procrastination evokes a sense of balance and tranquility, and the feeling of accomplishment is well worth it. Spoiler alert: you still struggle with procrastination. “Someday everything will make perfect sense. So, for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, be strong and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.”
  • John Mayer
I hate to break it to you, but you’re a bit of a control freak. As you enter high school, don’t be afraid to loosen the reigns and “ride the wave,” as cheesy as it sounds. Spend less time worrying about what you can control because, one day, all the chips will fall into place. Find beauty and solace amidst the bad days and remind yourself that everything will work itself out, regardless of how many times you’ve heard it from others. “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
  • Bill Nye
I saved the best for last. Starting a new chapter in your life often means meeting throngs of people – classmates and teachers alike – in a short amount of time. As simple as it sounds: don’t judge a book by its cover. You have so much insight to offer the world, but, don’t forget that the world has even more insight to offer you. Four quotes to represent four years. Write them down, repeat them in your mind, or return to this letter whenever you need a reminder of what’s in store. Cherish where you’re at, but, don’t forget: the best is yet to come. XOXO, Alyssa from the future    

My 2021 with the Absolute Best New Year’s Resolution Ever!

March 4, 2021 | John Monday When you think about it, a New Year’s Resolution is simply a goal, or many, that you have set for yourself of things you set out to achieve this year. With that in mind, let’s talk about how to set reasonable goals, how to guarantee success (almost), and how to be content, which is one of the most satisfying things in life. While we are beginning the third month of this year, are you still living up to your New Year’s resolution(s)? Maybe it’s time to get back on track, or maybe you didn’t write down your resolution and just kept thinking “one day, I’ll do this.” Finding and Setting Reasonable Goals: You might ask, “…are you suggesting all of my goals need to be written down on paper?” YES, I am. Here’s why: A dream becomes a goal when you write it down on paper. If you haven’t already, let’s turn your 2021 dreams—this year’s bucket list—into reality, by writing down on paper what you want to have happen. Come back here once you have it all written down and then we can see if it is a goal worth pursuing in the span of a year. Achieving Your Goals Guaranteed (Almost): A goal written down on paper becomes reality when you stay focused by finding a mentor or what I like to call an “accountability partner” to keep you on track. If you want to perfect and perform the hardest piano piece ever written in just one month, or you strive to walk/run one mile in 10 hours’ time, chances are your goals are either too difficult or too easy. A simple definition of what qualifies as a good goal is as follows: “one that is attainable over a reasonable period of time.” This could be the outline for all of the goals you have written down. Once I have my goals written down, I run them by a mentor, a peer, a friend—the accountability partner—someone who will hold me responsible to keep me on track each month. This is how you can guarantee your goal is achieved. I say “almost” however, because it requires you to find an accountability partner, to have them check in with you weekly or monthly, and to seek feedback on how to get back on track if you’ve fallen off. The Why: The “why” is why you do what you do. It is a key element that provides motivation, encouragement, and helps you get through difficulties that are presented in your life. When you run into obstacles you can refer back to your “why” and use that as leverage to refocus and recalibrate. So, what motivates you? You want a nice car. Why? To spend money you don’t have on a car you don’t need to impress people you don’t even know? One “why” is to have reliable transportation that won’t cost you a fortune because you know it doesn’t increase in value at all. By talking with your mentor and finding your why for each one of your goals, you will be more on target to achieve them and might even complete them early. While it is important to have a “why” in each goal, I also find it helpful to have a why in general for all things that I do. For myself, my “why” is to put myself in a position to best help anyone who may cross my path. THE ABSOLUTE BEST NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION EVER: As a continued goal-setter, I have found that the New Year is a time to reset and to begin again. So, what do I want to reset or change? It’s very simple: I want to be the best version of MY-self. I do not want to compare myself to others. Other people have different circumstances than me. I want to compare myself to me. I want to live up to who my hero is. I learned who my hero is from Matthew McConaughey’s Best Actor acceptance speech. McConaughey thought about what his hero was and said,  “You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So, I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So, you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.” Something to chase is important in our life, and that something — is look up to my hero and strive to be my best self. So how do I achieve that? Just like the Congressional Award has four program areas, I have written down different areas in life where I want to continue to improve. To shape the best version of myself, I need to grow spiritually — connect with God, to grow intellectually — education and mental health, and to grow physically — regular exercise and healthy eating. While these three things will not alone accomplish everything in life I want to achieve, they are the bedrock for everything on my bucket list going forward. That brings me to contentment, something I consider one of the most satisfying things in life. How to be content and learn to be neutral: Being content is defined as “in a state of peaceful happiness.” So, if only you are happy and calm, you can be content. That seems like it will only happen occasionally, but what if I told you that you can have that all the time? Have you heard of the happiness line? It seems happiness is hard to hold onto. Once you cross the line of happiness, it moves like a cloud and places itself in front of you again. So, you have to change something in your life yet again to step over it once more in order to achieve contentment. The process never ends, so what is the solution to being happy all the time? I think the focus should not be on always being happy, but instead finding joy and goodness in any situation you find yourself in. This is a road which I believe leads to being content. The easiest way to find yourself walking on it is to live in the present. Regardless of the external circumstances, you have to be in the mindset that you have everything you need right now. It may not be everything you want, but that is why you have a list of goals you will be reviewing with your accountability partner. One step to being content is by taking a moment to be grateful for something you have. By taking a moment to find gratitude in something small even when there doesn’t seem to be anything, when something big comes along you will be able to appreciate it more. The other step to being content is that whenever you catch yourself thinking how awful life is, reverse your thought and find something you are grateful for about the situation. One truth I have learned over the years is that if you find yourself looking for the good in a bad situation, you will find more than you thought you would. This helps decrease the severity of the circumstances and allows you to focus on what is important. So, set out to to live a life of conviction (live by what you profess); find your why (your motivation); find the joy in the little things (gratitude); bring positive change to all those who cross your path (kindness, compassion and empathy); and lastly, go about it all with an accountability partner. Getting through life is tough, so don’t concern yourself with what everyone else is doing. Instead, go through life with someone who can hold you to a standard to be your best self. So go out and conquer the world!    

How to Fashion Some Fashion!

(The Basics to get the Creativity Ball Rolling)

February 25, 2021 | Nikhil Kapoor As a biochemistry student, my everyday life can sometimes feel monotonous. Personally, to break out of the cycle of eating, sleeping, and studying, I like to put my mind into my own creative safe space. This could mean drawing, crafting, thinking, writing, and etc. These are all good ways of relieving yourself from the stress we face being in a pandemic. I express my creativity through fashion. Fashion is all about creating a look that is personal to you, if it either tells a story, expresses your feelings, or defines art. An individual is not only one thinking of different designs and using spatial skills to imagine different products, but he or she is also using drawing and crafting skills to draft the product, and bring the product to life. One of the best ways to get into the creativity of fashion is learning the basics and using a sewing machine. This can be through upcycling old clothes. Although upcycling can sometimes get difficult when creating something new it is a good way to save money as well as the environment. Step One: See the type of clothing you have available to upcycle. The easiest would be 2 old t-shirts that you may have outgrown or that are worn out. Step Two: Display what you have on a flat surface and start imagining how you could piece the two either together or making them into something different. A good way to get inspired is to do research on designs of other products.
This was the inspiration for the look (taken from the SHEIN website)
As an example, I’ll be taking these two shirts below, and combining them together to make one bigger and more comfortable fitting t-shirt.
Step Three: This is where you start making your product come to life. Start drawing or sketching out what you have in mind. This allows you to start thinking in depth of where you are going to cut, stitch, and what the result would look like.
In this example I was thinking of making the t-shirt a little bigger, since this was a shirt I had since 6th grade. In that case, I imagined cutting both shirts diagonally and simply stitching them both down the center. This will create a V shape at the bottom expanding the torso by both width and length, while keeping an applicable design. I could level out the V shape at the bottom but since I always tuck in my shirt, I will be leaving it as is.
Step Four: This can be the nerve-wracking portion of creating our piece. This is where we will be cutting the garment to get to stitching. Make sure to trace a line where you want to cut. Before cutting, do your best to have a good idea of the path of the scissors; with the correct safety skills, you should be good to go. For beginners, it is always good to cut bigger because you can always make the area you cut smaller, but not the other way around. In my example I will be cutting both shirts, front and back, diagonally as a mark but oppositely since we will be piecing them together. Step Five: This is our final overall step, but it may be separated into smaller steps depending on your skill set on sewing. This is where we piece our masterpiece together. Since we have our desired pieces of fabric, we can put them together like puzzle pieces on a flat surface to get a good idea of the outcome and to make sure that all the cuts are as should be. You can either hand stitch or use a sewing machine (preferred). Some sewing machines can differ, but I listed some common steps that could help everyone get a sense of how to work the machine on standard settings. To get the machine working, take a look at where the thread roll must be placed and set according to the machine’s instructions. In this case I used an extra bobbin with thread as my thread roll, and pulled the thread to the hook (Fig. 1) and dragged the thread to the front of the sewing machine. There, I followed the path shown (Fig. 2). Once the thread follows the path and hooks inside the machine, the leftover string can be pulled through the eye of the needle.
Figure 1
Figure 2
Once the thread is through the eye of the needle you are ready to start sewing (Fig. 3). With the proper safety precautions, you can slide the two pieces of cloth you want to stitch together underneath the needle where there is a clamp that will hold down the cloth being stitched (Fig. 4). Bring down the clamp on to the cloth and carefully press the pedal to start the stitching process. While pressing the pedal you can slide the cloth up or down and allow the machine to stitch. By the end of this tedious process, you should have your new shirt all stitched up. Keep in mind to take all precaution, all of this takes practice, and you should always be creative and have fun with it.
Figure 3
Figure 4

5 Tips on College During COVID

February 18, 2021 | Ruhi Lankalapalli Whether you’re ready to dive in headfirst, or nervous about leaving home, college can be an intensely scary experience, just as any major change is. Although the graduating class of 2021 may have different thoughts, adjusting to an online or hybrid school year my first year was different than I expected. I graduated from my pretty large high school in Central Florida in 2019 and soon shipped off to University of California, Berkeley for approximately 7 months before the world turned upside down…the first time. Join me as I share my top 5 pieces of advice to give you a glimpse of my personal college experiences alongside some words of wisdom that I hope will take you far. Remember, everyone’s experience is different, but you are on your journey to achieving major goals already!

1.RRule of 3

As I’m sure most of you know, organizing your time and documenting your work can be a difficult challenge. I had a steep learning curve for me during my first semester, reminding me of a meme I’ve seen. It says, “Pick Two” and shows a triangle with three necessities: good grades, a social life, sleep. I’ll say first that I hope your prioritizing your health above all. I understand this isn’t easy for some, so I wanted to share two of my favorite task management tips to achieve balance of the three necessities: If you haven’t already, get on the Google Calendar Train! It’s impossible to keep your meetings, classes, and social gatherings all in your head, especially when things are changing day to day, unlike a routine high school schedule. Next, I encourage you to find a system. This may take some trial and error– but for me, it’s a combination of sticky notes, the Notes app, and Google Tasks. I also highly recommend trying out Notion which can be extremely customized to fit your needs and integrates pretty well with a lot of plug-ins. Some other popular ones include Trello and Asana– all software that can keep your to-do lists in check and make sure you’re hitting all three lucky 7s. Scheduling every minute of every day can be overwhelming but having a task management system will keep you disciplined, balanced, and accountable for your extremely valuable time.

2. Take it Slow

I always loaded up my schedule in high school, filling it with personal development activities and competitive courses. I was able to come into college with some credits and had the ability to take a lighter load my first semester. If possible, I highly recommend you don’t max out on your unit/credit hour cap to give you freedom to adjust. Join the clubs that you never had the opportunity to try in high school. Give yourself time outside of classwork and you’ll thank yourself later. Get involved with things early on so you can learn what you like and don’t like but be cautious—it’s easy to lose yourself and become that one ridiculously stressed and busy college student. If that’s all you see when you look around at your peers and it stresses you out, that may be a sign that you want to surround yourself with people that share similar values. Take your first semester easy because it took me longer to adjust than I expected. I found myself needing to FaceTime my dog at home everyday, integrating self-care habits into my previously non-stop lifestyle, and straight-up learning how to take care of myself (remember to eat and learn how to do laundry!).

3. Make the most of your resources

As a public university, my school is very large and has resources to match. Whether it’s hosted by the career center, engineering school, or a student organization, there are always opportunities to improve yourself. I recall registering for LinkedIn and resume workshops, as well as networking events to meet people in my field. Especially now that everything has moved online, there are endless Zoom links featuring guest speakers who may be in the same career path you see yourself. It was almost overwhelming to see all the opportunities. Every school is different, but making a conscious decision to attend these events may help you in the long term. This also includes forming study groups through the university or on your own. I was able to join an organic chemistry weekly study group early in the semester, and it helped me avoid falling behind even if I already understood the concepts from that week. Check and see what’s available through your campus’ student learning center, or just send that private Zoom message to the kid in your class—chances are that they also want a study buddy!

4. Advocate for yourself

It’s easy to fall into the trap of Imposter Syndrome. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the feeling of not belonging or not being good enough (congrats if you haven’t experienced it!). When you’re surrounded by incredibly talented and amazing people, which is bound to happen, it’s easy for the doubts to start creeping in, questioning if you deserve to be there. Understanding when you feel like this and who/what triggers this is an important first step. Then, you can begin reframing your mindset and translating that attitude towards your actions. For some, this may mean sharing your accomplishments with close friends and family or on social media apps like LinkedIn and Facebook. When you start recognizing your own unique talents and comparing less, you’ll start thriving in all aspects of your life whether it’s a group presentation or your next job interview. I’ve never been very comfortable posting my social or professional life all over the internet, but I’ve found it relieving to write in a journal whenever I was feeling stressed or anxious. Trying new things, even if you can’t stick to them regularly just yet, can help with all the change that’s being thrown at you. After all, you have to be your own biggest fan.

5. Random Other Rules

Don’t forget your shower shoes… it can be gross! And go to office hours! It really helps to talk to professors if you can. Remember to drink your veggies and eat your water 😉 . Those are all my tips! Good luck, you can do it! Stay safe and healthy!    

Skills I Still Use

February 11, 2021 | Alexandra Gomez I’m very grateful for the experiences and lessons that participating in the Congressional Award exposed me to. I received my Gold Medal in 2018 and I’ve been a Diversity Ambassador since last year. Currently, I am a student at UC Berkeley and I constantly find connections between what I learned in the program and the skills I need for succeeding in college. In the process of earning my medals, I gained the priceless experience of learning more about myself and finding what I love to do. Participating in the program was much more than receiving a medal. For example, to fulfill my voluntary service hours I had volunteered at a local women’s homeless shelter for a couple of years. During my time there, I found that I was truly passionate about helping others and giving back to those in my own community. It made me realize that philanthropy needed to be a part of my career for me to be happy with what I was doing. It’s also something that contributed to how I’ve spent some of my time on campus in college. While I’ve been at Cal, I’ve found my place in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) as part of the intake staff. The EOP Program is a beneficial program for those who are first generation, low income, and historically underrepresented students. It has been an amazing experience for me to be able to help others with the same background/experience as me, and also gain knowledge in the process. I found myself looking forward to my daily shift at the EOP Office, not only to see the students, but to see the friends I made who share the same values/experiences as me. Another valuable skill that the Congressional Award taught me, was to search for mentors who can support your journey and goals. While I was working to get my Congressional Medal, I was constantly working with mentors who nurtured my progress and gave constructive feedback. I think it’s extremely important to find mentors in college/life who you resonate with and look up to. This could be a professor who teaches a class you are passionate about, alumni from your school, or even a classmate. I have used this skill to participate in research for diversity on Berkeley’s campus with mentors who give me career advice and new ways to achieve my goals. Of all the skills however, I think the most useful skill that I learned from my time with the Congressional Award was becoming self-sufficient and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I see this as the most valuable skill since it is so applicable to everything in life. If we do not strive to become the best version of ourselves and put the work in, we will never see results. That’s really all from me, but don’t forget it’s so important to start being comfortable with being uncomfortable! If I never pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone, I would be the same person I was in high school!    

Productivity: A Daily Battle That You CAN Win!

February 4, 2021 | Freedom Tansley My alarm starts chirping at me, and I drag myself out of bed. It’s 8 am and today is the big day. The big day that I will sit down, focus, and actually be productive for once. Every good day needs a good breakfast, so I scramble some eggs, toast a bagel, and slice myself some smoked salmon. After I eat, I’m faced with a problem. My brain wants to go back to bed. I listen to my brain and curl back up for “just a little longer.” Pretty soon it is noon and I’m hungry for lunch. I grab a sandwich and decide that I shouldn’t eat without watching a TV show. One episode turns into 7, and now it’s time for dinner. After making dinner, it is obviously too late to do anything useful, so I watch some more TV and fall asleep. My alarm goes off at 8 am, and my “big day of productivity” has to start all over again. Sound familiar? I think COVID-19 has affected many of us in a similar fashion. When we aren’t going out to do much, and every responsibility we have seems to be in front of a screen, it can be hard to actually accomplish anything at all. Personally, I need between 7-12 hours of productivity a day in order to fulfill all of my tasks and responsibilities. This is no easy task, especially when every second of all those hours is in front of a computer. Here are some of my tips and tricks which I use in order to remain successful and move my life in the right direction during these unprecedented times.
I definitely miss all the outdoor adventures!
Take a break! Maintaining the right state of mind to maximize productivity is essential to accomplish anything well. Take a step back and briefly ignore your deadlines. Even if you have a 5-page paper due in 2 hours, if you are stressed about it, you are less likely to get it done and do it well. Take 15 minutes and do something that takes you to a completely different mindset. Listen to music, grab a snack, play a quick video game, or call a friend. You will come back to the task at hand with a much better chance of actually meeting your deadline and doing well. Set reminders and daily goals. Humans are very visual; we react more to seeing things in person. When you write down all the tasks you need to get done tomorrow on your whiteboard, your brain instinctively wants to complete them and erase them. If you are lacking in motivation, seeing those tasks still up on the board will make you feel positively pressured to take action. Science has proven that we are most likely to achieve the goals we write down.
Remember to make time for the things you love!
Self-care matters! Make yourself healthy meals. Exercise briefly every day. Practice your religion. Stay connected with friends and family. Maintain your hobbies. All of these things and more will cause you to have higher self-esteem, and when you have higher self-esteem, you are more likely to be productive.
Spend quality time with friends and family!
Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Most of our “productive” efforts could be categorized as self-actualization. Take care of your other needs so that you can be productive! Once I got into the swing of things, my “big productive days” started becoming my everyday norm. No task seems annoying if you can teach yourself to take pride in everything you do and to take care of yourself above all else. I hope that some of these tips I’ve learned might help you as well. Keep up the good work! You’re doing great!  

A Story of Compassion

January 28, 2021 | Samantha Wong Imagine being born to your country thinking you’re a criminal. You didn’t do anything wrong, yet the moment you enter the world, people view you with hatred and fear. You are born into a family, but not a home, starting your life behind barbed wire. Unfortunately, this was my grandmother’s childhood. Her entire life has revolved around structural racism, since she was born in a Japanese internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. She and five other family members were imprisoned and ripped away from their daily lives in Vacaville, California after the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, just because they were Japanese. They were forced to leave their home and sell their property all to move into a space where they were treated like criminals. Her father was able to procure a job within the camp, where he earned $5 a month for their entire family to live on.
A photo of the Rohwer internment camps |
My grandmother visited The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II in Washington D.C.
After they were released from the internment camps, Japanese Americans faced an unforgiving and hostile American society. My grandmother’s family moved to Stockton, California, where they grew and sold fruit on the side of the road. They eventually saved up enough money to buy land in Lodi, where they started a farm. Money was tight, so everyone pitched in and they relied on my great-grandfather to build their barns and chicken coops. When she was just six years old, my grandmother would gather the chickens’ eggs and sell them. During one sale, a customer threw the eggs at her because he didn’t want “anything to do with Japs.” Nevertheless, my grandmother and her family continued to work hard. When I asked her how her family supported each other during this tough time, she reflected: “We survived. We didn’t have much, so we worked as a family.” Years later, my grandmother got a job as a clerk during her sophomore year of high school, and she never once thought about keeping the money she earned for herself. Everything went towards the family, and their family’s reliance on each other inspired them to overcome the discrimination they faced with more determination and grit. Because of her experiences, my grandmother instilled similar values of family and hard work into me and my sisters. My grandmother would sit with us for hours, teaching us how to read and patiently guiding us as we started wanting to read more and more. For my grandmother, education represents an experience of growth and advancement that she was never able to enjoy in a conventional way. She wants her grandchildren and future generations to thrive. She wanted us to appreciate the privilege of going to school, so she would create games to make reading and writing fun subjects that we would genuinely enjoy. She knew that instilling a love of learning and helping others would be the most valuable gift she could give. Despite all of the hardships my grandmother and her family endured, she always still holds faith in humanity: “I believe in empathy, compassion and supporting others.” Her ability to forgive a society that has penalized her for being Japanese inspires me to treat others with kindness and gratitude and to give back to the Japanese community. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by others whose families share in the Japanese American narrative. From attending a Japanese cultural camp as a child to volunteering to coach a youth Japanese basketball team, I have found ways to immerse myself in Japanese culture and to help others do the same. I have connected with the Japanese Americans Citizens League, which has given me a greater sense of purpose in my local community and in my educational journey. In today’s polarized and unjust atmosphere, it is important that we recognize the values we share with others and use them to unite. The Congressional Award has allowed me to connect with other youth that share an appreciation for community service and believe in the hope for a better nation. I am the product of generations of struggle and sacrifice, but also hard work and achievement—and I know I am not alone.
I am constantly learning from those around me—my family, my history, and my education are all aspects of my identity that fuel how I face challenges and advocate against injustice. I know that the future may seem uncertain, but I have confidence that our nation, our world, and their many communities will learn from our mistakes and embrace a more diverse, engaged, and compassionate future.    

Mental Wellness Check

January 21, 2021 | Desirée Roby It’s been ten months, one day, and seventeen hours since life as I’ve known it has changed. It’s been an interesting time; so much has changed since the beginning of the pandemic. I finished my senior year of high school in my bedroom, I graduated, and I started college. In the brief months where I’ve been able to relax (i.e. no school), it’s been different having to deal with the monotonous day-to-day routine: wake up, eat, do schoolwork, eat, look at TikTok, study some more, eat, work, sleep, repeat. I’ll be honest; this wasn’t how I expected high school to end and college to begin. I was so used to being constantly active and rarely at home. I was ready for all of the senior events – senior banquet, senior formal, senior parties. When college started, I was prepared for fun social events, football games, dances, meeting new people on my dorm floor, and that is not exactly what happened. Every idea for my senior year, my graduation, and my freshman year was thrown out the window when this pandemic came and created this atypical world. So, I am doing what helps my mental health: writing. I had an English teacher two years ago who opened my eyes to storytelling. At one point, I was an avid reader—though the constant use of technology didn’t leave me much time to read—but this teacher showed me how to tell a story of my own. Little did she know, she left a huge impact on me that has me writing for my mental health. The pandemic has kind of put me in a slump and I have been searching for ways to bring a positive light to my day. I think that can look different for everyone, but here are some things that have helped me to maintain my mental wellness:
  1. It’s okay to find some time in your day where you hear nothing but silence. Remember that you need to watch how much time you allow. Watch your thoughts; if you feel your mind starting to race during this time, move on to a new activity or something that keeps your brain occupied. These past few weeks have been filled with emotions and thoughts for me, and what I have learned is that it is ok to find a place or time to recalibrate. For me, that’s staying off social media for a few days, but for you, that might look different. While I’m at school, I find time on days when I have a lighter schedule to walk around campus and just enjoy the scenery. Find your niche and find ways to continue to grow.
“Sunrise at School” from: Roby, Desiree. 2020
  1. I’m a competitive person by nature and apparently, it runs in the family because my mom is just as competitive (if not more) as I am. We play card games like cribbage, SkipBo, or SET. These games require strategy and help me concentrate on something else. If you can’t find anybody to play with, try playing various versions of solitaire (Spider and FreeCell are my favorites) or even Mahjong. If there is another game that you absolutely love, go for it. If you are at school, ask a few people if they want to play a card game – I think you’ll be surprised by how many are open to learning and might become more into it than you. Trust me, it’ll be fun!
  2. I LOVE music, and I mean L-O-V-E music. I promise you I listen to music at least 15 out of 24 hours a day. I can’t begin to tell you the number of playlists I have discovered and created during this season of change. I’m not sure if you are as big a fan as I am of Spotify Wrapped, it summarizes your music listening for the year, but mine showed me that in 2020 alone I had discovered 689 artists! So, go for it; listen to new artists or genres that you might not have if you weren’t given the chance. There is no time like the present. Try something new (:
  3. To be honest, this has been one area of well-being that I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. I used to be a competitive soccer player and had a constant exercise routine. After I “retired” (lol) I struggled with finding time to create a constant workout routine—not because I didn’t have the time, but because I wouldn’t make the time. And now that I haven’t gone anywhere, I still haven’t made the time. Look, I don’t care what people say about the freshman 15; quarantining will give it a run for its money. My goal is to stay active and get more fresh air and sunshine. You should do it too!
  4. Let it out. It doesn’t have to be out loud with your family. You can write your thoughts, feelings, and emotions out, or you can talk. You can sing; you can dance; you can cry your thoughts out. But please, don’t keep everything bottled up. As someone who sometimes struggles to keep a positive mental state, I have learned that hiding or bottling up emotions is not healthy. In times like these, more than ever before, learn to let your emotions out. As tensions rise all around us, express thoughts and emotions. Have those conversations. Think of it like becoming your own therapist in a way, or if you can speak to someone, do so. If you have that one person you can turn to, call them, FaceTime them, text them. It won’t fix everything right away, but I think you’ll see it can help you learn to deal and work through your emotions.
  5. I guess this kind of goes along with the first point, but allow yourself time to think about the good that has come out of this complete 180. It can be the tiniest thing, like “I finally cleaned my room” or “I figured out the perfect way to organize dishes”, or “I found the best musician, artist, YouTuber, TikToker”; whatever. Celebrate the small things: the little victories. This past year has tested my ability to focus on the positives, to work through my emotions…and yes, to finally clean my room. No matter what, find what makes you happy and if you struggle with that, talk to someone who can help you find something. Always remember to love yourself and find the good, the beautiful, the funny, the silly, the talented, the chill, the in you and your little habitat.
I had put off writing this blog post for the longest time because I was unsure if it would be beneficial or make an impact—or maybe I was just procrastinating. I don’t know; it could have been a mixture of everything. But I it did. It helped me to appreciate what I have. I made a “tiny” workspace (not really) in my room this past week and I love it. I bought some candles and perfume that I had wanted for a little while. I got a projector so I could turn my room and my dorm into a little movie theater. I found this YouTube channel that I absolutely love because I guess I want to learn Korean now (who knew? I sure didn’t). In this house (really just my room) and my dorm, we play Maggie Rogers at full volume. And in this safe space that I have created, I continue to find ways to grow and see the beauty in life. So yes, writing out ways to improve my mental wellness, helped me to grow even a tiny bit more and I hope that it does the same for you (: If you have the chance, I would also highly recommend watching the Mental Health Virtual Conference that was hosted by the Congressional Award on May 28, 2020. Attending this virtual conference served as another reminder that we are not alone and that there are numerous resources and people willing to listen and provide support. There’s a lot of resources listed throughout the conference and I would encourage you to take a look at what is offered. Take care, stay safe, stay well, keep being you! Desirée
“Labor Day at the Lake” from: Roby, Desiree. 2020
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship. – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Join the Family

Get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox.