Alumni Feature: Cai Gomes

By Gretchen Kent

Cai Gomes

Cai Gomes

When it comes to youth advocacy and global citizenship, Policy Pathways alumna Cai Gomes is leading the charge. She has lived abroad, started a nonprofit to give voice to students, and has initiated plans to pursue global career opportunities.

Cai’s interest in international policymaking took off while living in Qatar for two years with her family. Visiting the military base where her father worked gave her unique insights into U.S. mediation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which attracted her to international affairs. She shared: “American officials often visited the base during and after Covid because of policies France implemented regarding Middle Eastern countries. That whole process of trying to facilitate communication and mediate relations between Saudi Arabia and the relatively new country of Qatar while they are setting up a concrete government was something in particular I resonated with.”

Upon returning to Virginia in 2021, Cai enrolled in Project Discovery through Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP). Project Discovery teaches high school students about their college options as well as providing fun, social events for youth during the summer. Cai has gone on college tours with HRCAP, engaged in SAT prep, and participated in a money managing seminar.

In October of 2021, Cai and a friend launched Students Act Now, which emerged from a response to a school bus driver shortage in Newport News schools that left students waiting up to an hour before and after school. Students mobilized and petitioned to raise driver pay 2.5%, which, after racking up 700+ signatures, was successful. Students Act Now is a coalition of progressively-minded students who are fighting to have their voices heard in government.

This spring, she attended Virginia Tech’s Black College Institute, a week of exploration into VT’s majors, programs, college life, and application process. She wrapped up the Institute with a service learning project on kindergarten through 12th grade class distribution regarding socioeconomic status.

For two weeks of Project Discovery’s 2022 summer session, ten students attend Policy Pathways’ Summer Academy for Policy Leadership and Public Service Online (SAO). We were pleased to have Cai fill one of those spots!

“My favorite part of SAO was getting information on a variety of topics from so many different people and different viewpoints,” she said. “I found that really fun and interesting. I also liked Dr. Paul Perrin’s presentation on the self-care part of activism and how it allows you to fight the good fight for longer.” Cai’s SAO Capstone project was entitled School Policies Addressing Trans and Non-binary Students’ Rights. “We went about it like we were presenting to a school board,” she said. “We had to identify some policies to put in place, anticipate how they would be received, figure out a timeline and arguments for why they should be implemented, etc.” She appreciated digging deeper into the topic and designing the project into a format that would resonate with listeners.

Immediately after the SAO, Cai went through the five-week Policy Research Internship Program. She most enjoyed using Microsoft Excel to create graphs and tables from the data sets interns analyzed. Her final project of the internship was an analysis of age and ethnicity regarding birth rates in the state of Virginia. She examined data from Sentara Healthcare system and its facilities, which allowed her to go more in depth.

Policy Pathways was so impressed with Cai’s skills and commitment that she was brought on as an intern at Policy Pathways this fall. She has continued to analyze Intellimed data on birth delivery type and race/ethnicity in the Sentara Healthcare system in the Hampton Roads area. You will soon be able to view her research and data sets on the “Internship” page of our website.

As a junior at Phoebus High School hailing from Newport News, Virginia, Cai has been involved in a variety of clubs and activities. She ran cross country, participated in Model UN and two honor societies, and joined the Newport News Christopher Newport University Community Captains, a two-year college preparatory program focused on mentoring and guiding high schoolers to college.

While managing Students Act Now and various clubs this year, Cai is also in a dual enrollment program through Thomas Nelson Community College. She will graduate with an associates degree in social science two months before receiving her high school diploma! She plans to attend Harvard, NYU, Yale, UCLA, or the like after high school, majoring in international affairs and policymaking. Her non-negotiable in college is studying abroad, preferably in South Korea.

On October 20, 2022, Policy Pathways recognized Cai’s accomplishments and commitment to making a difference in her school and community. She is a Policy Pathways 2022 Youth Public Service Award recipient. We will keep readers updated on her promising path!