It’s common to say that things work best from the top down, whether it’s passing legislation to effect change or riding with the top peeled back in a flashy new convertible.
But for two new hires in the office of Rep. Mike Honda, their temporary gigs with the California Democrat are examples of a time when working from the bottom up is customary.
“Since I’ve been on the Hill working for Congressman Honda’s office, my experience as a teacher has really informed the decisions they make,” said Sheikisha Jenkins, who touts 10 years of teaching experience in the Maryland public school system. “A lot of times, teachers feel like decisions are made from the top down and they’re really not included. I’ve been the voice for teachers and students.”
Jenkins comes to the Hill as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator fellow, while her colleague, Khanh Le, was brought on to fulfill a fellowship with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. Although the new staffers — whose positions last 12 months and nine months, respectively — came to Washington with similar goals, the pair arrived on different paths.
“I never, ever thought in a million years I would be here,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I always wanted to come here, because this is where policy is made and change happens,” Le said. “I want to eventually run for office one day.”
Jenkins’ résumé is loaded with an arsenal of teaching qualifications: She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a master’s in teaching and secondary science from Bowie State University, and a post-master’s certificate in professional teaching standards from George Washington University.
The 33-year-old pursued a path in Maryland education because she was inspired by her own experience in the Prince George’s County public school system. Jenkins attended Bowie High School, where she took Advanced Placement biology, and came back several years later to teach that same class at Bowie.
“I struggled in college with biology, even though I was at the top of my class in high school,” she said. “I took on teaching AP biology because I was committed to making sure the students’ experience would be taught with a rigor comparable to college. I didn’t want them to go through what I did.”
After the first year that Jenkins took on the challenge, her students’ test scores were the highest the school had ever seen. After two years, the scores were higher than the national average.
Jenkins worked at Bowie for six years. But when she heard a colleague discussing the Einstein fellowship, she knew it would be the best way for her to help her students, even if it meant leaving them for a year.
Since coming to the Hill in September, Jenkins has helped inform education policy, although she admits she misses her kids.
Le has also been working to effect change on issues that hit close to home; he works on immigration and education issues that relate to Asian Pacific American communities.
The 28-year-old, who hails from Oregon, received a master’s degree in public policy from Oregon State University, where he also received his bachelor’s in political science and ethnic studies. Le boasts six years of civic, community and student activism, where he focused on promoting better representation for Asian-Pacific Americans and low-income communities.
And if that wasn’t enough, he is also fluent in Vietnamese, English and Spanish.
“Working on issues that affect me opened my eyes in public services,” Le said. “That’s why I’m dedicated to public service. I want to eventually go back to Oregon to work on public policy, but if I end up staying here and working on policy, that’s great.”
Since starting in September, Le has worked directly with the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as fulfilling some staff assistant duties.
Both Le and Jenkins have expressed admiration for their boss, who is a champion on education issues and is the chairman of CAPAC, but the temporary staffers remain focused on their goals.
“I just want to make sure there’s someone who’s investing in the students’ future,” Jenkins said. “And that’s the best investment we could make.”