Halfway through my summer internship at U.S. Bank, the company announced the promotion of Chief Diversity Officer Greg Cunningham, who joined the Managing Committee and now reports directly to the CEO – a visible commitment to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for the future of the company.
Although the promotion was new, the underlying commitment is existing and comes to life through the cultural diversity among our class of more than 400 interns.
My name is Mula Lay. I am a first-generation immigrant, a first-generation college student, and a first-generation Karen-American. Karen, pronounced k’ ren, are an ethnic group and war-torn people displaced from Myanmar (formerly Burma). I was born and lived for six years in a refugee camp before my family immigrated to the United States.
Growing up, I viewed my parents as superheroes. Every day, they would play a study guide CD for the U.S. citizenship test – more than a decade later, I can still hear the questions and answers. At the same time, I adapted to a new way of life. My first “culture shock” was touring an elementary school, when I learned that crossing my arms was frowned upon here – whereas in my culture, it was a sign of respect. Over time, with the help of movies and TV shows (including The Simpsons), I learned body language norms while I learned to speak English.
My parents made a point to emphasize the importance of education. Being the first in my family to have the opportunity to go to college made me anxious, but navigating the process gave me a sense of independence and responsibility, as well as a confidence in my ability to adapt to and thrive in uncomfortable environments.
Although our internships are virtual this summer, I had the chance to talk to others who, like me, draw strength from where they have been, what they have done and what makes them different. Meet three of them: Sukhmani Singh, Edward Obasi Lewis and Robel Asmelash.
Born in the United States two years after her parents immigrated from India, Sukhmani Singh speaks Punjabi, Hindi and English. She said that being multilingual has helped her stay connected to her heritage, such as by getting involved in Bollywood culture and regularly traveling to India.
Singh said that her worldview is shaped by her immersion in two cultures. Professionally, this comes through a tendency to make sure differing perspectives are brought into consideration – often playing devil’s advocate. Part of the reason her parents immigrated to the United States was because they believed it would give their daughters better opportunities to express themselves and build their careers.
Although Singh said both countries have “a long way to go” when it comes to gender equity, she is living out their hopes. Studying computer science and finance in college, she joined U.S. Bank after meeting a recruiter at a career fair and later interviewing with managers in the operational risk division in which she is an intern. She said the company, which was named last week by Forbes as one of the 2020 Best Employers for Women, has been a good fit.
“I can see myself working at U.S. Bank in the future because my values and ethics align very closely with the company,” said Singh.
Edward Obasi Lewis said his parents made a point to emphasize Black culture and heritage – which gave him pride and resilience. At school, however, he often found himself the only person of color in a room. Over time, learning how to “be a part of a group” and not “just think about fitting into one” has helped him grow as a leader.
This leadership has translated to community involvement, from volunteering for political campaigns to writing for student newspapers to marching in protests, such as those following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He said that these experiences have helped him develop professional skills, such as identifying objectives, creating timelines, managing deadlines, thinking analytically and more.
Lewis hopes to couple these skills with his engineering degree to become a project manager. He has made that a focus in his second consecutive summer internship at U.S. Bank – which importantly, he added, shares his commitment to social justice and has taken action on it.
“I enjoy working for a company that plays an active role in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities,” said Lewis. “During our internship program, U.S. Bank Chairman, President and CEO Andy Cecere expressed his commitment to rebuilding the branches that were destroyed in North Minneapolis and the company started a $15 million fund to address systemic economic and racial inequities across the country.”
Robel Asmelash remembers his first day of school after his family immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia when he was 10 years old. It was the day before winter break and, as such, class consisted of eating candy and watching movies. This was his “culture shock” moment as he was expecting actual schoolwork – which, after break, resumed.
Asmelash said he has learned the importance of hard work and doing the right thing. He has learned to adapt by building relationships with those around him and became a leader, especially on his soccer teams. Although he said this has not always come easily while adjusting to a culture that leans toward individualism versus the collectivism of Ethiopia, he said the key has been putting effort in treating people with respect.
This mindset has helped Asmelash in the workplace, too. During his freshmen year of college, he worked at U.S. Bank as a teller, interacting with customers every shift. This summer, he has applied that experience as well as his business marketing major to his internship in the customer and employee experience office as a text analyst.
“The culture at U.S. Bank will allow the company to have a successful future,” said Asmelash. For his own future, the college junior outlined three goals: “Be able to help others in need, achieve financial independence, and continue to grow and learn new skills.”
Personally, my career goals have changed as I have grown up, but one thing that has not changed is my passion to help and bring exposure to my people. I hope to do that through journalism or documentary filmmaking.
Every one of the 400 interns in our program has their own story – these are just four of them. We all have unique experiences, perspectives and skills that we can contribute to make the workplace better.
Written by Mula Lay, a summer intern at U.S. Bank. Visit usbank.com/internships to learn more about opportunities at the bank.