For Black History Month and beyond, we are spotlighting dynamic individuals who participated in the U.S. Chamber’s Next-Gen program. The program provides competitive internship opportunities for university students to serve in departments across the organization based on their interests and academic majors. Neema Mungai is a 2021 Howard University Graduate and was a Next-Gen scholar in 2019. Mungai shares her insight on her time in the Next-Gen program below.
Q: How has your experience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and within the Next-Gen Scholar program shaped your outlook on the future of your career?
I often laugh about how nearly every internship I completed in college helped me understand what I did not want to do with my career. When I was intern with the Chamber, my aspirations were to receive a law degree and work on Capitol Hill, and so I thought there was no place better to tee me up for that path than the lobbying arm of the country’s largest business group. Spoiler: I did not attend law school and I do not plan to ever work for the government, but I maintain that my time as a Next-Gen Scholar was the catalyst that aligned me with my true interests.
Through our trips and networking events, I was able to connect with executives at top trade associations and businesses to discuss what their organizations were doing to drive social change.
Combining my love for communications, business, and social issues, I now work as a Public Relations Specialist at Apple, helping the most valuable company in the world communicate its commitments, including the company’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative and the 2030 carbon neutral goal.
Q: Name a skill you’re currently utilizing within your career that you learned while you were in college.
If there’s one thing Rick Wade taught me while at the Chamber, it’s to always shoot my professional shot. What you know is important and may get you the job, but it’s often who you know that will get you through the door and into the interview. Following my second internship with the Chamber, I joined Capitol Hill as a communications intern for the House Education and Labor Committee. This is a role I didn’t even know existed until I reached out to a Howard alumna working on the committee and asked to grab coffee. Given all of the events the Chamber holds each week, Rick and my manager would always encourage us to chat with someone new and ask for information with people we found interesting. Working in a role that interacts with media, I’m able to use my networking skills to build relationships and rapport with the press in a way that benefits both them and my company.
Q: How has attending a Historically Black College or University positively impacted your life as you transition from being a student to a future business leader?
A few years ago, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company credited the lack of diversity in his company to a limited pool of Black talent to recruit from. Attending Howard University confirmed to me every single day how wrong that argument is and how vast and inspiring Black talent can be. The sentiment that there are not enough qualified Black people for corporate roles is not unique to that CEO and is shared by leading executives across every field. As the product of an HBCU, I have an intimate awareness of how ambitious and capable we are, which is why I try to ensure I am doing what I can to advocate for diverse talent. Whether that is responding to LinkedIn messages asking for information or referring my peers for roles, I understand that I would not be where I was if not for another Black HBCU graduate taking a chance on me.
Q: Tell us about a memorable moment you experienced during your time as a Next-Gen Scholar.
During the program, my Next-Gen cohort traveled to Chicago for meetings with a member company. The Democratic Presidential Primary was well under way with a crowded field, monthly debates, and lots of town hall events. As he was one of the architects of Obama’s 2008 campaign, myself and some other scholars were interested in discussing the race with Rick and hearing his predictions for 2020. For that entire weekend, we spent every bus ride, meal, and free time we had discussing the election, gaining historical context on how important the primary was and even a bit of Rick’s insider knowledge. Even though I’m no longer interested in politics as a career, I will always hold those memories close because Rick truly empowered us to believe our vote has power, engaging us in debates over our favorite candidate and pushing us to think deeper on the subject.
Q: We like to ask participants what business means to them. Could you finish this sentence in your own words: Business is...
Business is a vehicle for solving society’s greatest challenges through the creation of opportunities and revolutionary innovation.