Alicia Sondberg Alicia Sondberg
Associate Manager, Digital Marketing and Communications
Moon Nguyen Moon Nguyen
Innovation Scholar
Melissa Mendizabal
Innovation Scholar


April 29, 2024


I know the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to be a unique and exhilarating workplace. Located steps away from the White House and immersed in the political and business hub of the nation, we have unparalleled access to movers and shakers in both government and the private sector. We're not just observing the forces shaping our world; we're actively engaging with them, developing solutions, and forging partnerships that will impact generations to come. 

I joined the Foundation’s small communications team around the same time as the inception of the Innovation Scholar program. Given that our company culture is rooted in innovation through the Incubator model, it struck me that tapping into the fresh perspectives of my generation—being a recent grad myself—could invigorate our initiatives with new, forward-thinking ideas.

Moon and Melissa soon joined the Incubator team as Innovation Scholars—a title that no one before them had held. Now nine months in, the program has evolved, and we're entering the next phase: finding more curious minds to join us for the next cohort. To convey the day-to-day experience of someone in this burgeoning role, I sat down with Moon and Melissa to learn more.

What led you to the Foundation, and what was your thought process behind applying for the program? 

Moon: My family emigrated to the United States in 2016. I had just graduated with my bachelor's degree from UC Irvine in 2023. Leading up to my graduation, I knew that I wanted to do something impactful and intellectually stimulating at the same time. I was looking at different research positions, think tanks, organizations, universities...and then I came across the Innovation Scholar program. I was intrigued by the opportunity to look broadly into many different types of issues. 

Melissa: I graduated in 2020 from Yale, and from there I went into Teach for America and taught 7th grade science for two years. I then stayed an additional year in the same school and acted as the science director for our district. I hadn't planned to stay in education, but teaching in the area where I grew up was very important to me. I loved teaching; however, I was missing the academic stimulation I felt in college. I wanted to find a job that was both mission-driven and intellectually challenging. 

What has been the most rewarding project you’ve been a part of during your time at the Foundation so far? 

Moon: I just wrapped up a roundtable dinner discussion on housing. It was a great learning experience in terms of the systems and processes at the Chamber, and how to properly organize a whole event. We had very productive discussions with attendees from federal and local governments, private companies, and nonprofits. This generated significant momentum, and we are planning to continue the conversation. There was an interest in identifying the concrete needs of the business community to highlight and support effective models for preventing homelessness and providing solutions.

Melissa: A project that I loved working on was a hot-wash-style discussion about the lessons learned from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which is something that falls within our global threats portfolio that we have at the Incubator. It brought together members of the National Security Council and business leaders in industries ranging from aerospace to manufacturing and financial services. We had an informal discussion about how government could better keep business informed for the next geopolitical crisis, especially considering Russia and Ukraine are still an ongoing threat.  

Can you walk me through a day in the life of an Innovation Scholar? 

Moon: I think day-to-day would be considered very different. We focus on what is happening at that time and during that week, and on which projects we're turning in. We also keep the Incubator team up to date on current projects or issues across the full Foundation. Each of us joins different program team meetings each week. We then meet with each other twice a week to stay updated on progress and discuss any concerns or potential issues.

Melissa: Like Moon said, the day-to-day depends on whether each project is in the ideation phase, the development phase, or the execution phase. Depending on wherever the project is, we're either trying to ideate, which is mostly researching and creating concept notes, or development, which is then planning the project and project management. Then execution, seeing it through, whether it’s an event day or report publication. 

Anything exciting that you’re working on now? 

Moon: The main goal is to help the Incubator grow. I’m continuing my work on housing and economic inequality. One thing I’m still interested in from my undergrad is looking at development issues and handling demographic change. How does a country or community grow in terms of economic strength? Other than that, working on as many new projects and issues as possible. 

Melissa: Something that’s going to extend into the fall is a new program about Rule of Law, which is being done in partnership with another nonprofit called Presidential Precinct. The program is bringing 20 judges and magistrates from certain regions, especially Latin America, to Washington D.C. for a two-week training program on the rule of law. The goal is to strengthen internal rule of law globally, which of course helps democracy, businesses, and economic development. I’m working directly with the lead at Presidential Precinct to map it out from start to finish. It’s been exciting to break new ground since the Foundation has not done something like this before. 

What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming an Innovation Scholar? 

Moon: Just be comfortable with ambiguity. If your idea doesn't work, it won’t damage your projects or anything like that. You must be willing to receive constructive feedback.

Melissa: There is a high degree of confidence required. If you are looking for handholding, then I would not apply. If you are more of an independent thinker, a good collaborator, and most importantly, you're comfortable in a day-to-day that is not always predetermined for you, then I would apply.  

- Moon N., Innovation Scholar
- Melissa M., Innovation Scholar

I've had the pleasure of working with both Moon and Melissa on various projects, including this one. Throughout their tenure, we have all watched them both grow from new recruits to impactful contributors, blending their personal passions with our mission to drive meaningful change. Their experiences reflect the core objectives of our Innovation Scholars program and showcase how dedicated early professionals can grow and evolve in this dynamic environment.  

Become One of the Next Innovation Scholars

We are looking for the next cohort of eager, innovative minds to join our team. If you are driven by a desire to make a difference, possess a curious mind, and are ready to take on challenges that connect business and social change, the Innovation Scholar program is your gateway to making a substantial impact.

About the authors

Alicia Sondberg

Alicia Sondberg

Alicia Sondberg is the associate manager of communications and digital marketing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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Moon Nguyen

Moon Nguyen

Moon is an Innovation Scholar on the Foundation's Incubator team.

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Melissa Mendizabal

Melissa is an Innovation Scholar on the Foundation's Incubator team. She spearheads a portfolio of projects focused on democracy and capitalism, geopolitical threats, and other wicked problems.

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