Luna Chen is a web development intern pursing a Bachelor of Science degree in data science and mathematics at Northeastern University for next fall and is currently taking a gap year this year. Her gap year has proven to be very productive, using her time to work as a STEM intern at a philanthropic education research company, a product manager associate at an EdTech startup, organizing a hackathon (where web developers, graphic designers, and others in computer programming collaborate on software projects) and is a participant in Global Citizen Year Academy.

For the VA, Luna is developing a CoStrategy and is learning about search engine optimization that improves the DME Interns website by making the website’s search suggestion rank higher on search engines. Before entering the DME Internship, Luna said she did not know much about search engine optimization but has learned more about it through her time at the internship which has expanded her knowledge of web development in general. 

Luna found the DME Internship while searching for it online during the application period in July and then found the web development internship with the Virtual Student Federal Student (VSFS) with the VA and applied for it. 

Despite the pandemic changing her plans for enrolling in Northeastern this spring, Luna says taking a gap year has been very productive for her and also beneficial because she is in a learning program with Global Citizen Year Academy. She is taking two classes, learning leadership skills and meeting new people from all over the world. The DME Internship has also helped Luna make connections on LinkedIn and learn how to create a profile that landed her other internships. 

For the future Luna is excited to participate with other web development interns on a priority project to help develop and design a new mobile app on the app store.

Use the audio player to listen to Luna’s full interview, or read the transcript below:


Shannon Moran: The Department of Veterans Affairs does not endorse or officially sanction any entities that may be discussed in this podcast, nor any media products or services they may provide. Hello and welcome to the Department of Veterans Affairs Digital Media Engagement Interns Podcast. This podcast will focus on the experience and work of various interns on the Digital Media Engagement’s team who are working with us as part of the Virtual Student Federal Service internship within the department of Veteran’s Affairs. This podcast is two interns having a conversation about their experiences in order to highlight the work, as well as encourage application to this program and friendship amongst the interns. So please join us as we highlight and get to know some of the many interns that are part of our program. Thank you for listening! Hi everybody, and welcome back to the DME Interns Podcast, today I’m here with Luna Chen.  She is a Web Development Intern with us this year.  Luna is currently taking a gap year before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Data Science and Mathematics next fall at Northeastern University.  She is having a very busy and productive gap year.  She’s a web development intern for us, she’s a STEM intern at a philanthropic education research company, a product manager associate at an ed-tech startup, she’s organizing a hack-a-thon, and she is a participant in a global citizens academy this year.  She is interested in a variety of topics, ranging from entrepreneurship to data science to photography, and is passionate about utilizing technology for social good.  Welcome! Thank you so much for joining us Luna, how are you today?  

Luna Chen: I’m doing good, thanks for having me!

SM: So you are taking a gap year, did you just graduate high school in the fall? 

LC: Yeah, so I graduated high school in June of 2020, kind of in the middle of the pandemic, so I decided to take a gap year.

SM: That’s awesome, so tell me about what you’re doing during your gap year.  It sounds like you’re doing a lot of really interesting things.

LC: Yeah, thank you so much.  So, I’m doing this, which has been really fun, being a Web Development Intern.

SM: Can you tell me about what you’re doing for the VA? What does being a Web Development Intern look like?

LC: Currently, my individual project is developing a SEO strategy, and learning about SEO, search engine optimization.  

SM: What does that mean? 

LC: Basically, it helps the DME Interns website rank higher when you search for it on Google.  That’s what search engine optimization is.  I’m helping to develop search engine optimization strategies and applying it to different webpages.  I actually didn’t know much about SEO before entering this internship, but what I like about this internship is it gives you opportunities to learn and grow.  I can take a few online courses on SEO, and right now I’m trying to formulate a strategy to apply it to our website.

SM: That’s fantastic! That’s a really interesting tool, because I think so often people don’t realize that companies and organizations do that in order to rank higher in Google searches.  So you think, whenever anybody wants to come up and get more traffic on their website, that’s a really fantastic skill to have.  So how did you find out about the internship?

LC: I found out about this internship through a Google search.  I was looking for internships to do during my gap year, and I happened to find this in July when the application period was open.  I was searching up internships for university students, and I found the Virtual Student Federal Service.  I looked through all of the internships on there, and the web development internship with the Veterans Affairs seemed like it aligned with my goals, so I applied to this one.

SM: That’s fantastic! How did you decide on taking a gap year?  Was this something you wanted to do before, or is this pandemic induced?

LC: That’s a good question.  My decision was actually pandemic induced, I applied for a gap year really late.  I applied the last night before the deadline, because I was really unsure and I did a lot of research looking at articles.  I looked at opinions of people who have taken gap years, because since this year was so weird, there were a decent number of articles about people considering taking gap years.  Now that I’ve done it, I don’t regret it.  I think it was really important, and I’m learning a lot this year.

SM: That makes a lot of sense, especially during the times that we’re living in.  So talk to me about what you’re doing during your gap year.  You have a number of internships and programs, were these things you were interested in before, or did you just find them when looking for gap year opportunities? 

LC: Yeah, I actually found them when I was looking for gap year opportunities.  So that’s why I was really indecisive about whether I would take a gap year or not.  I didn’t plan for this at all.  So when I actually applied to take a gap year, I had zero concrete plans.  I was just maybe going to take online courses, or maybe refresh my math skills on Khan Academy or something.  But luckily, when I did research, I found this internship, and I found Global Citizen Academy which is a gap year program where you take two classes, and they have really good financial aid programs too so it’s basically free for me.  You get to meet people from all over the world.  There’s people from 50 countries there, so it’s just really cool for your classmates to be from different countries because there are so many diverse perspectives.  So I did that, and I also made a LinkedIn during this gap year, and that’s how I found the ed-tech startup.  Being an intern here definitely helps with LinkedIn, because on Mondays we share our accounts.  I looked at other people’s profiles, and that’s how I realized how I should make and develop my profile.  I actually found the product manager associate at the ed-tech startup through LinkedIn.  It’s also how I found my STEM internship at the philanthropic research company.  It’s a local company called foundry10.  

SM: That’s really cool.  So, have you always been interested in web development and STEM things, or is this something you discovered later on?

LC: I would say I’ve always been interested in STEM since pretty early on, because I was lucky enough to be in a science-tech program when I was in fourth or fifth grade.  But I wasn’t really interested in coding or web development until I would say a year ago.  Before I was more interested in engineering, and in the beginning of high school I didn’t really know what I was interested in.  But then, I got a bit more interested in coding and web development which is why my major is Data Science and Mathematics.  I wanted to gain more experience in this, which is why I decided to apply and commit to this internship.

SM: That’s really awesome.  Have you found new things that you are passionate about or that you want to continue to pursue through this internship or any of the other things that you’re doing?

LC: I would say yes.  I think search engine optimization is pretty interesting, I definitely need to learn more about that because I am still a bit in the beginning stages.  It just seems cool, I never knew what it was before this internship, and how you can make your website rank higher.  Then, I feel like if you learn it well, you can make your own website and then make it be the first thing you see when you search it up on google.  I have recently gotten a bit interested in data science just because it seems like it can be applied across a variety of different industries.  Although I do need to learn more, I’m trying to learn Python over this winter break.  

SM: That’s really cool, I wish I was able to understand more of that stuff.  What are you most excited about for the rest of this internship?  

LC: I’m most excited about continuing my individual project and getting to know the interns more.  Also, I’m excited for my priority project, which is a group project with some other interns.  I’m excited to execute that because we have only briefly talked about it but we haven’t started it yet.  That one is developing and designing a mobile app for the website, which seems cool because I’ll get to see the app that I made in the app store and download it.    

SM: That’s really cool.  What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked on or that you’re excited to work on?  I know you’ve done a lot in your time with us, what’s been your favorite?  

LC: I would say the internship overall has been really fun.  My favorite would be learning about search engine optimization.  I am looking forward to creating the app, I’m excited for that.

SM: What has been your favorite thing about the internship overall?  If you were onboarded in August, it’s been a couple months, we’re well established at this point, so what has been your favorite thing?

LC: I really like the Slack community, and how all the interns are active and supportive they are of each other.  Every morning, when I wake up, I see a bunch of “good morning” messages and sometimes you’ll see “good afternoon” messages.  People are always active, and it seems cool because even though the internship’s virtual, you feel like you’re a part of a community of interns.  I know that might not be the same at other virtual internships where you might feel isolated.  I really like the community that we’ve built.

SM: It is a great community and almost every intern we’ve had on this podcast has said the same thing which really speaks volumes about the program.  What are your goals for the rest of the internship?  You have a couple more months, what do you want to accomplish?

LC: My goal is for my individual project, I hope that I can develop an SEO strategy and actually get to apply it.  I hope I can connect with more interns and also improve my professional skills as well by improving on my resume and my LinkedIn.  I think everyone at this internship is really nice and have been giving me tips and constructive criticism on how to improve those.  So, I will definitely work on that. 

SM: Well if you do ever need somebody to look that stuff over, let me know and I’ll gladly help you with that.  

LC: Thank you!

SM: What are your goals for after the internship?  What do you want to do going forward either in the next three, four, five years of undergrad at Northeastern or going forward?  

LC: I hope that I’ll be able to carry these skills into whatever I do next.  Hopefully I’ll build another app while I’m at Northeastern, or maybe I’ll have to use search engine optimization again.  But also, hopefully I can bring these soft skills of being part of a community and trying to build communities like that at Northeastern.  Also, I’m just trying to help others using my skills.  

SM: That’s really great, are there any particular areas you’re interested in to do that work?  Are there any fields you want to work with with this app development, and search engine optimization skills?

LC: That’s a good question, I’m still trying to figure that out.  But I am interested in utilizing technology for social good.  I would possibly like to build apps that combat poverty or homelessness, and I’ve also built a small app this past summer which was based on sustainability and food waste.  Environmental things are also pretty interesting, but I’m basically trying to help others and build apps that make others’ lives more convenient.  I’m not exactly sure what it will be yet.  

SM: That’s okay, you have a lot of time, and your options will keep expanding and growing.  So you’ve already built an app?

LC: Yeah, it was this past summer.  I got the chance to participate in a coding camp.  It was a two week intense summer camp founded by a supermodel who’s also a coder.  That was a really cool experience.  I learned Swift and X-code and also built an ios app which is slightly different than this internship because I’m pretty sure we’re leaning more towards an Android app.  The ios app was cool, we didn’t actually push it out to the app store or anything, but we built it.  It wasn’t super advanced because we only had two weeks, but it was informational, it told people information about food waste, how we should compost, where to donate your food, and how you can shop sustainably.  That was my group’s app.  It worked pretty well, we just didn’t push it out to the app store.  

SM: What is your advice for a new intern?  

LC: My advice for a new intern would be don’t be afraid to ask questions, because everyone at this internship is very supportive of each other, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.  I know in a virtual internship setting, it’s really easy to be afraid to ask questions and try to solve things yourself since there’s no one around you.  But then, you might spend weeks trying to solve this problem that you could’ve solved if you had asked a question.

SM: Can you give me an example of when you did that?

LC: In the beginning, when I was trying to learn SEO, I had no idea where to start.  Asking people for advice definitely helps, and asking your leadership intern if anyone had done an SEO before and if there’s an SEO strategy already definitely helped instead of trying to figure it out by myself.  Also, another piece of advice for prospective interns is to apply even though you think that you might not be qualified.  I didn’t think that I would be qualified for this internship because I’m more on the younger side.  I didn’t think that I would have enough experience.  I was really, really happy when I got accepted, so just apply even if you don’t think that you’re qualified because you never know. 

SM: Well and the point of the internship is that we don’t have any experience.  Right?  That’s why we’re interns, that’s why we’re doing this is in exchange for us working for college credit or for free, we learn skills.  They help train us and teach us how to do these things.  So that’s the point of an internship!  We are almost done here, we’ve had a lot of really great content, so can you tell me a fun fact about yourself as we wrap this up?

LC: A fun fact about myself is I actually have a collection of junior ranger badges from national parks.  I really like traveling to national parks, and if you don’t know what junior ranger badges are, they’re more geared towards little kids, but I’ve also seen full-grown adults doing them.  It might depend on the national park, but you just go up to the visitor’s center, and you ask for a junior ranger booklet, and in the booklet there’s a bunch of activities where you learn more about the national park like the history and the animals that live there.  Once you fill it out, you can turn it in, they’ll give you a badge, and you complete a pledge to the national parks.  

SM: So how many do you have? What national parks have you gone to?

LC: I would say around fifteen.  But I’ve been to most of the national parks in my state, which is Washington.  

SM: So there’s a lot up by you?

LC: Yeah, my state has three I think.  I also luckily went on a road trip in seventh grade, and that’s when I started collecting them.  I went to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, those areas have tons of national parks.  I would say I got maybe five or over five from there.  

SM: What national parks do you still need to go to?  What’s still on the list?

LC: Yosemite, I really want to go there.  There’s definitely more, I should probably do more research into which ones.  I would say more in Oregon, I’m not sure if they have any national parks, or also national parks more on the east coast.  They actually have historical national parks so I went to the liberty bell.  But yeah, I need to go to more.

SM: I go to school in New Jersey, and so if I’m driving with my friends and we’re leaving the area where we attend school, the amount of times that we’ve been driving and all of a sudden you’re in a town where there was some big American Revolution battle, thing that happened.  Like oh yeah, George Washington was here, or we go out to dinner in the city of Hoboken and it’s like oh, this is where Alexander Hamilton died.  There’s all of these crazy things that you’re walking and all of a sudden it’s like oh here’s where a major event in U.S. history occurred, and you’re like okay cool!  And then you just keep going.  It’s really kind of funny.  The amount of times it’s just like oh, that’s interesting, and then you continue on.  But you’re sort of driving, and then they come out of nowhere.  It’s kind of crazy.  

LC: Yeah, that’s really cool.  I should definitely go over there and try to drive through that one day.  

SM: Yeah, there’s a lot of really cool ones out there.  There’s a lot of Civil War stuff too.  But yeah, it depends on where you’re at.  I really want to go to Denali National Park in Alaska.  That’s on my list, because you can see the Northern Lights, and a bunch of different stuff.  My best friend grew up out there, so she grew up camping and I’m like you have to take me, I want to go!

LC: Yeah, the Northern Lights are also on my bucket list.

SM: Of course!  Of course, that’s really incredible.  So, this has been so much fun!  Thank you so much for doing this.  I have loved learning about all the stuff that Web Development does, and a lot about you, so thank you very much.

LC: No problem, thank you so much.

SM: Thank you for tuning in to the DME Interns podcast. We hope you learned something about your fellow interns, more about our program, and that you come back and listen to us soon. Have a great rest of your day!