January 14, 2002


Instructors take joy in finding that student who goes the "extra step" in completing his or her assignments. In the case of Los Angeles Mission College student May Sagoo, that extra step amounted to a 3,000-mile trip to the White House.

It began when Sagoo’s instructor, Charles Dirks, informed students that they would be required to do lab work as part of his U.S. Government course. According to Dirks, most students satisfy the requirement by volunteering to work in a political campaign or in the office of a local official.

For Sagoo, that wasn’t enough. She picked up the phone and called the White House. Explaining that she was a college student from California, she was referred to the intern office. A nice person told her the White House would be glad to consider her application as a summer intern. Sagoo explained that the assignment had to be completed during January.

Eventually, she wound up at the White House volunteers office. After hearing her pitch, including her willingness to go to Washington to complete a class assignment, an official asked her to sit by the phone. He called back shortly to inform Sagoo that she had cleared a security check ­ when could she start?

Four days after her first call to the White House, Sagoo was on a plane to Washington and the next day was working as a volunteer in the Office of Presidential Correspondence/Photo Department. While the White House could not pay for her trip back East, Sagoo was fortunate to have accumulated enough frequent flyer miles from a previous trip and from credit card use to get a free ticket, and to find a reasonably priced hotel.

During the next four days, Sagoo saw much of the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, various Washington monuments and spent time at Georgetown University.

It was, she said, "A wonderful experience, the experience of a lifetime."

"The atmosphere at the White House is very warm and friendly, even though the security is tight," Sagoo said. "They were so excited when I presented them with drawings that my kids had made because they don’t get a lot of them anymore."

Sagoo said she was told that a lot of correspondence that used to go directly to the White House, even from children, is now screened elsewhere because of the recent anthrax scare.

Giving of her time is not new for Sagoo, 31, who also volunteers at a medical clinic while raising four children. Now in her second year at Mission, Sagoo hopes to become a medical assistant. But her whirlwind experience in Washington is causing her to consider a career in government or politics. In fact, she has been invited to apply for a White House internship.

Shaking her head and smiling, Sagoo said, "It’s funny, you know. Professor Dirks told us, ‘You’d be surprised how far a phone call can get you.’ "

In the case of Sagoo, it got her to the White House.

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