Jill Kato, UC Irvine
After talking his way into UC Irvine political science associate professor Matt Beckmann’s upper division “Writing for POTUS” course, triple major Steven Gong has put every lesson he’s learned to use, first as an intern for the Office of the First Lady, then through his California Health Advocacy Network nonprofit work, and on to his impassioned applications for prestigious Marshall and Rhodes scholarships, for which he’s been listed as a dual finalist.
“I’m grateful for every day I’ve spent, both in the White House and in Professor Beckmann’s class. Words aren’t enough to express my appreciation,” says Gong.
"Writing for POTUS" … and FLOTUS
The fourth-year major in political science, economics, and human biology spent fall quarter as an intern for the Office of the First Lady. The quarter before Gong learned about this internship where he provided research support for speeches and contributed to the speech drafting process, he took Beckmann’s “Writing for POTUS” course. In the class, Gong learned how to draft speeches, memos (“The White House runs on memos.”) and write in a concise and moving style. But his participation in the course that proved instrumental for his role at the White House almost didn’t occur.
Beckmann’s upper division writing seminar enrollment was limited to students he knew could stand up to the rigors of the class. Since the course was in high demand and Gong had never taken a class from Beckmann before, Gong was not admitted.
After he was declined, Gong followed-up — not once, but twice — to see if he could change Beckmann’s mind. First, he wrote an email expressing his interest, and when that didn’t work, he showed up in-person for office hours to see if Beckmann could be persuaded.
In their 20-minute conversation, it was obvious to Beckmann that Gong was interesting, smart, curious, and willing to work hard.
“Indeed, more than his incredible grades and extraordinary talents, it was his intellectual style that really struck me. Steven blew me away,” says Beckmann.
Suffice it to say, Gong was able to enroll, and “I’m so glad I did,” he says. “Being in the White House felt really surreal,” he says. “Every day when I entered the East Wing and passed a plaque saying, ‘ERECTED AFTER THE DECLARATION OF WAR, 1942,’ it hit me that I was standing where presidents and administrations have made history.”
Marshall and Rhodes
In addition to his prestigious internship, Gong recently added to his list of honors and awards when he received notice that he’s a finalist for both the Marshall and Rhodes scholarships. The honors are two of the most prestigious scholarships an American undergraduate can receive and offer two to three years of fully funded study in the U.K. For Gong, just to be a finalist is an honor.
“I have only and rarely encouraged students to apply for the Marshall Scholarship when I truly felt they would harness such an extraordinary opportunity. Steven is one of those,” Beckmann says.
Not just professionally
Gong’s academic and professional pursuits are driven by a vision for health equity, and his reasons for pursuing it are personal. Although he had always been interested in healthcare through his immigrant parents, who worked as nurses, Gong first became interested in medicine when his close cousin, who was like a brother, passed from childhood cancer. Gong was in middle school when this happened. Sometime after his grief settled, Gong realized how short life really was, and was inspired to empower others through medicine.
When he was in high school, Gong’s grandmother had a stroke while visiting her home village in China. While she was able to receive the medical care she needed, the cost put a financial strain on his family. In addition, Gong’s parents left for China to care for his grandmother, leaving him alone to take care of his younger brother for months. Gong says the experience showed him the limits of medicine, and inspired his pursuits at the intersection of medicine and policy.
“I’ve seen how there are deep-rooted issues that medicine alone can’t solve,” he says. “But I think medicine is a crucial point where health equity can begin.”
It is from these life lessons that Gong has found his calling.
“I’ve always asked myself, if I died tomorrow, would I have any regrets? It motivates me every day, and I don’t just mean professionally. It reminds me to be deliberate about living my best life, and reminds me of why and who I do this for, he says.
Because of them
In the short term, Gong will apply to medical school and continue working on the California Health Advocacy Network, a non-profit organization he founded that supports health reform advocacy and community health coverage. He also hopes to visit his family in China and travel.
In the long term, he’d like to specialize in emergency medicine and leverage his experiences towards health care policy.
“At the end of the day, I’m here to advocate for patients, both in an individual and systemic context. I’m here to empower patients to live their best lives,” he says.
His ideal work week would be to spend three to four days working as a doctor and the rest focused on improving systemic health care issues, be it advising the White House or otherwise.
Wherever Gong ends up, he’s grateful for his years spent at UCI. He’s thankful for the friends he’s made, the opportunities he’s received, and memories and relationships that continue to inspire him.
“There are so many people at UCI whose stories have inspired me. I’m lucky to have spent time with such a diverse, talented, and hardworking community, and hopefully have contributed to them as much as they have contributed to me. There’s not much more I could have asked for,” he says.