Tommie Award finalist Thevni Lelwala ’22 has served as one of Opus College of Business' inaugural DEI interns, a Tommie Corps student scholar and the director of DEI for the Undergraduate Business Council.
The Newsroom recently caught up with Lelwala and asked her about everything from tips for international students and how she winds down to who inspires her and which brands do social media right. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
The final Tommie Award vote takes place Feb. 8-10.
What challenges did you face as an international student? What tips do you have for other international students?
One of the biggest challenges I face as an international student is the job prospects. As an immigrant, we must work 10 times harder to earn our spot in society. You may have been told that you can study whatever you want and do whatever you want and that is true. However, when you start your employment hunt, you may find positions that fit every criteria but the only aspect missing is the visa.
My advice to other international students is to apply for every job you can. Regardless of whether you believe it fits your expectations, the bigger priority is getting that offer so you can get that visa. You may not love it at first, but that is why it is called your "first job." You can learn more and gain more with that real-world experience and move on to the next thing once you have secured your place in society.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would you do there?
I’ve got a long list, but my first stop would have to be Australia. I have a lot of family friends all around the country who I have been meaning to visit for some time.
You have worked as a DEI intern for Opus College of Business and as director of DEI for the Undergraduate Business Council. What have you learned from these experiences?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from these experiences is the importance of making connections. When planning DEI programming events, we work with different people in different departments and to effectively do so, we create rapport with them first. By maintaining those new relationships, it allows us to promote our events better with them. Another lesson I have learned is understanding your audience. When getting the conversation started on diversity and inclusion, it may stir discomfort in some people, so we must find different ways to reach those groups.
Social media has been a responsibility in some of your internships. Which brands and influencers are doing social media right?
There are a lot of brands that have been improving on their messaging, but I think Dove and Nike are the top two brands that have been hyper-focused on making sure that their brands are promoting positivity and inclusivity in every aspect.
Who is the most influential and/or inspirational person in your life?
When asked this question, my parents immediately came to mind because they have taught me so much in life. My parents grew up during a time of war in Sri Lanka where survival was the top priority. My father grew up in a single-parent, low-income household where he was a first-generation high school graduate and moved to China for university. My mother grew up in a single-parent household where she became a self-taught accountant when going to college was not an option. They have attributed their success to their family and friends and always reminded me of the importance of having a support system.
You have a free Saturday afternoon – no homework or school duties. What does that look like to you?
Most weekends I like to drive to my aunt and uncle’s house in Woodbury and spend time with the family. That would mean chatting with my aunt about the latest gossip in the community, having lively discussions with my uncle about recent updates on the news, listening to my cousin-sister about drama in her middle school and asking me for advice on what to do, or just goofing off with my twin baby cousin-brothers.
If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?
It would be Trevor Noah. I saw an episode of "The Daily Show" with him as the host and I got hooked. He’s a hilarious comedian and a proactive journalist that makes everything enticing, so he’s a good platform to learn more about events around the world.
What is the last show you binge-watched?
"The Handmaid’s Tale," because I read the book in high school and finally got around to watching the show.
What are your plans after graduation?
I hope to become the best myself I can be no matter what I’m doing or where I am.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity.