André Zhang Sonera

Faces of IUPUI: André Zhang Sonera

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André Zhang Sonera with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Photo courtesy of André Zhang Sonera

Coming from the small town of  San Sebastián in Puerto Rico, Paul. H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs alum André Zhang Sonera never dreamed he'd have the opportunity to go to college on the mainland. A chance encounter and quick conversation about IUPUI at the National FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) Convention in Indianapolis in 2010 changed that. A follow-up call with an IUPUI admissions advisor allowed Zhang Sonera to begin imagining himself as an IUPUI Jaguar.   

"The most appealing factor of this campus for me was its proximity and integration with downtown Indianapolis and the different partnerships and collaborations with the many community organizations and entities that serve its residents," Zhang Sonera said.

Passionate about public service and civic engagement, Zhang Sonera majored in civic leadership and minored in policy studies, and earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2016. During his sophomore year, he participated in the Sam. H. Jones Community Service Scholarship program, which more firmly rooted his civic-minded future.

Three internships during his undergrad years exposed Zhang Sonera to what a career in public service might be like. In 2014, during the fall semester of his junior year, Zhang Sonera served as an intern for the Executive Office of the President at the White House through the O’Neill School's Washington Leadership Program. The following summer as an operations intern in the City of New York Mayor's Office of Operations, Zhang Sonera evaluated the quality and availability of interpretation services for limited English proficiency residents. In the fall of 2015, he coordinated logistics and event management for the Indiana Bicentennial Commission in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Andre Zhang Sonera with all of the White House Interns and President Barack Obama.
Andre Zhang Sonera with peers at the IUPUI Voter Registration Day on Constitution Day 2015.
Andre Zhang Sonera stands as the 'I' of 'Indy' in front of the Indiana Statehouse.

From top: Sonera (third row, 11th from right) with the White House Interns and President Barack Obama (center); Sonera helps run the voter registration table with peers for Constitution Day 2015; Sonera poses with an "Indy" sign outside of the Indiana State House. Photos courtesy of André Zhang Sonera

At the same time, Zhang Sonera was deeply engaged on and around campus. He worked with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to help recruit Latinx students to IUPUI, served as a resident assistant in student housing, organized alternative spring break trips to Trinidad and Tobago, and joined the IUPUI Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. He was also an active community servant, volunteering his time and talent at Ronald McDonald House of Indiana and United Way of Central Indiana.

In 2016, during his first year as a graduate student in the O'Neill School, Zhang Sonera was selected as the inaugural Peterson Fellow through a program established by former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson to provide an immersive one-year paid internship for an O'Neill School grad student with a career interest in public service. That fellowship translated into a more permanent role for Zhang Sonera, who is pursuing his master's in public affairs while serving as Special Assistant to Mayor Joe Hogsett.

"It has been an honor to work with André throughout his undergraduate and graduate career here at IUPUI. He has taken full advantage of the many opportunities available at the O'Neill School and is a wonderful example of an engaged alumnus. He is as an active member on our alumni panels, making time to speak with students about internship opportunities and about the challenges of entering the workforce," said Kathleen Hursh, O'Neill School Associate Director of Career Development.

"I am who I am today because I am a Jaguar, and for that, I am eternally grateful," Zhang Sonera said.