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Spotlight on Commerce: Karen Hyun, Senior Policy Adviser

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Karen Hyun, Senior Policy Adviser

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of an America Built to Last.

At the Commerce Department, I have the privilege to serve as Secretary Bryson's senior policy adviser on energy and environment issues.  

My parents emigrated from Korea over forty years ago with a couple of suitcases and an incredible work ethic.  They eventually landed in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, halfway between my dad's small business fixing electric motors and the Veterans' Administration medical center where my mom was a doctor.  My sisters and I were products of our parents' focus on education, independence, public service, and proximity to a good public school system.   

When I was in elementary school, my dad used to wait with me at the bus stop until the bus came to pick me up.  The only days when this did not happen were election days because my parents were already waiting in line at the polls.  Early on, they instilled in us the right and responsibility to vote.  Although it was years before I could vote, my curiosity on how democracy works was piqued at an early age.  

My parents probably wanted me to follow in their footsteps and be an engineer or a doctor, but I chose a major in Earth Systems at Stanford University.  Earth Systems is a major in environmental science and policy and I chose to focus on our ocean ecosystems.  This was my first foray into learning about public policy that led to a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and several years on the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

My path is not typical of many in the Asian-American community, but I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to choose to pursue my passion and the support of my family, friends, and colleagues in those choices.  This support helps me to focus on the Administration’s America Built to Last blueprint, which among other things gives hard-working, responsible Americans, like my family, a fair shot.  For me, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is a time to be thankful for immigrants, like my parents, who paved the way and established foundations for Asian Americans, like myself.  

My advice for young Asian Americans is to consider careers in public service because our democracy will benefit from your voice and participation.  There's a lot of work to be done, but if you follow my parents' creed - hard work and initiative - you can help make our country's future better.

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