Success Stories: Jessica Sun, Program Assistant at PEN America

This article is part of a series called Success Stories, in which our journalists profile recent Hunter graduates, focusing on their careers. A new Success Story is published every other Thursday. 

Jessica Sun’s resume is a long list of brand names, fancy awards, and big numbers. She graduated last year from Macaulay at Hunter with a Political Science major, a Public Policy certificate and two minors with a 3.987 GPA, having done prestigious internships and fellowships — but none of that comes across in her personality. Sun has the humility of somebody who cares deeply about something. Well, a lot of things, actually.

“There is no one day in the life,” Sun said of her job as a Program Assistant at PEN America, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of expression. She works with their Artists at Risk Connection program, where she also completed an internship in the fall of her senior year. ARC is about helping threatened artists based mostly in other countries. “There is such a range in things to do, so any given day I could be doing something different,” she said. “At the beginning of January, we were at a conference in Switzerland, so there was conference prep for that, writing a lot of statements and things for our website. At the moment, I handle all of our social media, so every day I’m doing social media stuff.” The variety of tasks is good for her — “going forward,” she said, “whatever I apply for, I probably have experience with it already!”

Photo courtesy of Jessica Sun

In addition to her Political Science major and Public Policy certificate, Sun completed minors in International Relations and Human Rights. Looking back, however, Sun wished there had been more Political Science and Public Policy classes available that allowed her to explore her area of interest, international development with a focus on Latin America. “I didn’t really like PoliSci or Public Policy,” she said, and after completing the Public Policy and International Affairs summer fellowship at U.C. Berkeley, “I just realized the policy way of thinking is not for me, personally.” With that said, the relatively small size of each program gave her room to take classes in other subjects she was interested in, such as history, geography and sociology. She also said she learned a lot at the Roosevelt House.

Sun also participated in activities she wasn’t sure would do much for her resume. As an Ambassador for the Office of the Arts and as Captain of the Macaulay Dancers, Sun was just following her passion with little thought to what it might yield. These experiences led her to get an internship at the American Ballet Theatre. “When I took that internship,” she says, “it didn’t make sense for me to take it. I had another opportunity at the Roosevelt House that would have fit my interests way better,” but she picked the ABT internship out of genuine love for the arts. To this day, Sun continues to foster her love for the arts, even if it means she gets home to Long Island even later than usual.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Sun

Another thing that may or may not help her resume — activism. In her time at Hunter, Sun advocated for an Asian American Studies major at Hunter, as well as for 7K or Strike and a number of other causes, so much so that at times she feared being arrested. While her activism helped her develop writing, speaking and community outreach skills — which she exercises on the daily — she still worries that her outspokenness might work against her when applying for jobs. “But also,” she said, “I don’t want to hide my beliefs and values. I think I’m a better person for the things I do, and at work, being able to advocate for a justice lens is super important.”

Sun doesn’t know what her future holds — she is considering going to graduate school and waiting to hear back about a Fulbright research grant that would send her to Argentina — but she seems to be enjoying the ride, and she wants Hunter students to do the same once they graduate. “I think a lot of people, when you’re in school, you think that as soon as you graduate you need to have it figured out, but it’s okay if you don’t. A lot of people don’t. In a way that’s scary, but also, it’s nice to know.”

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