Senior with political aspirations heading to Washington for internship

May 9, 2009 

From a young age, David Do always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: President of the United States of America.

Then, "in some government class in middle school," Do realized that he wasn't legally eligible to assume the presidency.

Do -- pronounced like "dough" -- had lived in San Jose since he was 1 and was a U.S. citizen.

But he held dual citizenship here and in Canada.

Do was born in Vancouver 21 years ago, after his parents fled there as refugees from Vietnam.

Momentarily crushed by the realization of an impossible dream, Do understood that it wasn't the end of the world. "I could always be a senator," he said, reassuring himself. "Or a member of the Cabinet."

This summer, the UC Merced senior will get one step closer to his political goals.

This spring, Do was accepted into the UCDC internship program, a University of California-sponsored semester-long academic and internship program in the nation's capital.

Do was so excited about the program that he put off his graduation from UC Merced.

"I have the credits to graduate," Do said. "I just really wanted that opportunity in D.C."

While he is there, Do will write a research paper and receive 12 units in government and political science after successfully completing the semester.

To be considered for the program, applicants must have two letters of recommendation, a 3.0 GPA, be a junior or senior, submit a writing sample and pass an interview process.

UC Merced economics professor Todd Neumann wrote one of Do's recommendations.

"There are a lot of great things about David," Neumann explained. "One of the most stand-out characteristics is his enthusiasm."

The first year or so at UC Merced was a tough transition period for him, Do explained. A first-generation college student, he struggled to find his way.

"I was involved in nothing. I was just really shocked," Do said. A single-car crash one month into his freshman year further shook his confidence.

Neumann first met Do in his sophomore year.

Do didn't perform his best on the course's first exam, Neumann recalled.

"What was remarkable was that when he didn't do well on that first test, he came into my office every day," Neumann said. "He just totally transformed himself as a student."

Do has received an "A" in every course since his sophomore year.

He started getting involved with student life on campus, too.

Do is the current director of academic affairs for the UC Merced student government and president of the pre-law society. Last summer, he worked to found a student chapter of the NAACP on campus.

After UCDC, he wants to go to law school to become a prosecutor someday. Deeper into the future, he hopes to start a career in politics, bringing an "independent mind" to government, he said.

"I just want to have an influence, leave a little bit back for my community," he said. "If the influence goes further, that's great."

This April, Do was awarded the campus' legacy award for his influence at UC Merced.

"He has worked tirelessly to support student success in their academic pursuits, in their profession development and in their self-efficacy," Associate Vice Chancellor Charles Nies said while presenting the award. "He will be (at events) early and be the last to leave, if that is what it takes for others to have a good experience."

Neumann said he was proud of Do's accomplishments over time, academically and personally. And despite four years of growth, only a brighter future lies ahead.

"Beyond being energetic and smart, he has a very big heart," Neumann said. "I couldn't think of something David couldn't succeed in if he wanted to do it. He's just got that go-getter attitude."

Even if he can't be president.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.