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Texas Exes Asian Alumni Network » Alumni Spotlight » July Alumni Spotlight: Daniel Chao

July Alumni Spotlight: Daniel Chao

Daniel Chao has served as Rep. Grace Napolitano’s Chief of Staff for the past 5½ years. Prior to his promotion to Chief of Staff, he worked for the Representative in various capacities such as legislative correspondent, legislative assistant, legislative director, and deputy Chief of Staff since 1999. He also worked as senior legislative assistant in the Texas House of Representatives for State Representative Dawnna Dukes. Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Daniel immigrated to Houston, Texas at the age of eight. He earned his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin in Government and Economics.

1. What is your favorite memory, tradition, or thing about UT?

Going to a UT football game is an experience I’ll always remember—being in the crowd and joining in the chorus of never-ending chants, cheers and jeers; rooting for our team. What I loved most about the football season is that if you miss out on getting a ticket, you are guaranteed to have as much fun at tailgate.

2. How did you get involved with your current position on the Hill?

After I spent the summer of my junior year at UT in Congressman Ken Bentsen’s Washington, DC office as an intern, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to be. Upon graduation with my bachelor’s degree in Government in the summer of 1998, State Representative Dawnna Dukes offered me a legislative position that I could not refuse. Although I learned a lot in the few months that I was there—researching and drafting new legislation and writing speeches, my desire to work on Capitol Hill never diminished.

January of 1999 came around, which happened to be the beginning of the 106th Congress, and I knew that there would be job opportunities with freshman lawmakers on Capitol Hill. I broke my lease, sold my car, rented a moving truck and drove up to D.C. and started job hunting.  Three months later, I landed an entry level position with Democratic California Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano. She was looking for someone fluent in Mandarin Chinese with legislative experience.  Since then, I have worked my way up through the ranks, and in 2006, I was promoted to Chief of Staff.

In my current capacity, I assist the Congresswoman to motivate and lead our staff of twenty members throughout the Washington D.C. and Los Angeles County offices so that we all work to serve the residents of the 38th Congressional District of California to the best of our abilities.

3. What have you learned from UT outside of the classroom?

I am extremely grateful for the real world environment that UT and its community offered.  Being enrolled in classes from 15 to 300 students and from all walks of life allowed me to develop and refine not just my cognitive intelligence, but more importantly my emotional intelligence.  Those of us who work in public policy and politics, especially on Capitol Hill, are constantly subjected to situations where we must broker solutions in a large and small group settings. The well rounded experience that UT provided was key to how I have arrived to where I am today.

4. UT’s motto is: “What Starts Here Changes The World.” What would you like to see change at UT?

Keeping in mind UT’s large enrollment numbers and its challenges as a public institution, I would like to see that UT’s financial aid and scholarship opportunities change and expand by leaps and bounds every year.  In our current economic climate with just about every state cutting funds to higher education institutions, it is imperative that UT continues to strive towards giving each qualified student the financial opportunity to start their education at UT so that they can and will change the world.

5. What is your vision for the Asian Pacific American community at UT, in Texas, and beyond?

I would like to see the Asian Pacific American (APA) community continue its momentum to be more involved with our local, state, and federal governments.  If we are to truly change the world, we have to be engaged and do what we can to influence decision making, from attending local PTA and city council meetings, to writing and calling our elected officials.  Every day at work, I see first hand how elected officials advocate for their communities.  Since Congresswoman Napolitano is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, it is a great privilege to work in my capacity directly with two distinguished University of Texas Hispanic graduates, Congressman Charles Gonzalez and Congressman Ruben Hinojosa. I also very much look forward to working with an APA UT alumni in the future on Capitol Hill.  At minimum, our APA community must exercise our right to vote.

6. What has been your biggest struggle in your career?

Knowing when to say “no,” balancing the needs of staff and the Congresswoman, and making sure that projects are delivered successfully on time without micro-managing individuals are the significant struggles that I consistently face.

7. Who has been an important role model to you?

My role models include teachers, mentors, and friends who have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams but are never shy to let me know when I’ve screwed up.  Congresswoman Napolitano in particular has played a significant role as a mentor and role model as I’ve worked with her closely for 12 going on 13 years.  She has given me great advice, constantly challenges me to excel at what I do and is patient when I make mistakes.

8. What advice would you give to incoming freshmen or current students at UT?

Your time at UT will fly by and before you know it, you will move onto a new chapter.  Enjoy your time and value every moment; good or bad.  Be social, make friends and always aim to find the right balance between studying and socializing.

Written by Mary Vo

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