When she was just 12 years old, Dima Atiya promised her friends that she would one day meet President Barack Obama. Her promise came to life last November as the president addressed Atiya and other White House interns in Washington D.C.
Atiya was one of about 165 interns selected nationwide for the White House Internship Program. She served as a domestic policy council health intern, working under Jeanne Lambrew, deputy director of health reform.
“I’ve always been interested in political science. I had really great teachers in high school and when I came to UM-Dearborn I loved the department—Dr. [Ron] Stockton has been the best mentor,” she said. “I’ve wanted to work for Obama’s administration and when I heard of the opportunity I applied right away.”
Atiya first applied for the program as a freshman, but wasn’t offered the internship. She reapplied a year later after she had more experience under her belt. “I had nothing to lose by reapplying. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” said Atiya, who first visited the nation’s capital as a 7 year old, soon after she and her family emigrated to the U.S. from Iraq.
As an health intern, Atiya assisted with research projects—including providing information for cancer reports and healthcare delivery system reform—and researched statistics related to Obamacare, She helped staff events, including the White House visit of Matteo Renzi, who was serving as the Italian prime minister at the time, and the Making Healthcare Better Series, where speakers would discuss different aspects of healthcare.
She also got insights from senior White House staff, who addressed interns as part of the program’s speaker series. Speakers included President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Atiya said these sessions ended up being her favorite part of the program.
“The conversations they had with us were so genuine and sincere. For them to take the time out of their day when they had so much going on was inspiring,” she said. “When President Obama was speaking to us he told us, ‘Be kind. Be useful. Be fearless.’ Those are words that will stick with me forever.”
She said participating in the program combined her two passions—healthcare and politics. Prior to her While House internship, Atiya interned for Enroll America in Washington D.C.—where she worked on increasing Obamacare enrollment in specific communities—and as a medical scribe.
The program also offered a look into D.C. life during a contentious election season. Interns weren’t allowed to discuss the election during work hours prior to Election Day, but Atiya said many interns and staff had a difficult time processing the results.
“The morning after the election was hard. Everyone was crying. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel motivated after everything we worked toward and accomplished was going to change,” she said.
But now she’s drawing on Obama’s advice to the interns and plans to focus her attention at the local level.
“I really want to make a difference in my community. I want to get more involved,” she said. “I can possibly see myself in D.C. later on in life, but for now I want to do whatever I can to support local communities.”