Week 1:
New Year, New City, New Things


Massey Fellow in Development & Civic Empowerment

The Obama Foundation | Chicago, Illinois

January 13, 2019

“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zone and soar, all right?”

It almost seems like Mrs. Obama is speaking directly to me, right?

I applied for an internship with the Obama Foundation with high hopes and plenty of support from my roommates. The application required two essays, a short answer question, my resume, and eventually an interview. My interview with my now supervisor cemented my excitement for the possibility of working for this incredible cause. Now, I will be spending my final semester of my undergraduate career in Chicago, as the Development Department Intern at the Obama Foundation. I was so fortunate to receive support from multiple departments on Cornell’s campus to make this possible. The Berry Career Institute was so considerate of my tight deadlines. Laura Farmer encouraged me to work through the details to find a way to fit this in my college experience, and Tori Barnes-Brus has been so generous with her thought and time, and I would not be here without her.

I start this blog with a quote from Michelle Obama to mirror the Obama Foundation and its constant consideration of the values and legacies of President and Mrs. Obama. Not only do her words  remind me of my power and the importance of engagement, but the ideals of President and Mrs. Obama remind everyone in the office of similar principles. I am thrilled to be stepping out of the comfort of cozy Mount Vernon, and into the South Side of Chicago.

My week began with a road trip that only seemed brief because of three dear friends and Ira Glass. I arrived to Hyde Park feeling exhausted, but we quickly settled my things into my apartment, and went out for pizza. The area immediately felt warm, despite the strong winds and low temperature. I spent my first weekend exploring the area with my two best friends and three family members. After my family left, I did some grocery shopping, put clothes away, and offered cookies to my new roommates.

This expo marker mural covers the wall of a conference room

My persistent googling eventually found me a comfortable apartment, which I share with three research assistants. After a quick FaceTime date, I knew it would be a nice fit, and I feel so welcomed by them. My apartment is close to work, and the 15 minute walk is breezy but relaxing each day. I can grab a coffee, do my grocery shopping, and find a great pair of earrings by a South Side artist, all on my walk home.

My welcoming week has been delightful. As a cohort of seven, the other Chicago interns and I underwent a two-day orientation that introduced us to the Foundation and the values that are so deeply ingrained in the work of the staff. We participated in team building activities, met our supervisors, toured the office, and attended multiple training sessions, including multicultural competency, IT, and Operations. The intentionality of it all inspired me to keep up with goals, or intentions, not just at work but at home too.

My simple setup.

The mission of the Foundation is to “inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world.” The key words for me here are “their world” because these worlds can be very different, but are all changed through the power of people. The Foundation acknowledges the diversity of communities, and that our worlds are unique, according to the space, the individuals, and the community. This intentionality is what excites me about my internship. Everyone I work with is intentional in their work, and cognizant of how their work relates to and supports the values of the Foundation.

This is my favorite view in the office. Once it’s dark outside, I can see my reflection in the window between the reflections of the glitter portraits of President and Mrs. Obama behind me.

I don’t feel like the newbie in the office, aside from my lack of knowledge of the systems and inner workings. My development team has been incredibly inclusive and thoughtful in their interactions with me. Throughout the week, I partook in 1:1 meetings designed to allow me to get to know my team members and their positions. These meetings were informative, and I feel better prepared to support my team in their work.

This week, as I step out of my comfort zone, I’d like to thank my family for constructing such a comfortable zone for me in the first place, and for encouraging me, along with the words of Mrs. Obama, to move away from it.

Elizabeth Mombello '19

Elizabeth is a sociology and Spanish major from Overland Park, Kansas.