Last summer, senior Joe Bui successfully qualified for the UCDC program that provides workshops and living quarters for UC students interning in the nation’s capital. All Bui had to do was locate his own internship.

“Why not reach for the top?” he asked. He then promptly applied to the White House. After sailing through phone interviews, letters and routine background checks, Bui spent the 2003 fall quarter in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

As staff assistant to the FBCI associate director, Bui helped coordinate regional conferences informing grassroots organizations about the opportunities and restrictions of the federal funding process and partnering with the government.

The social sciences major interested in public and community service was well prepared for the job. Bui has worked as an intern at Merrill Lynch in Newport Beach since 2001 through the SAGE Scholars Program. Student Achievement Guided by Experience pairs UCI students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds with local companies for paid internships, as well as training and mentoring.

Having returned from the White House in December, Bui again works part-time in Merrill Lynch’s community development department. There he helps promote the company’s statewide outreach program that assists underserved communities with small-business loans, grants and financial literacy education.

“Joe has tons of integrity and a natural eagerness to learn everything he can,” says his mentor, the firm’s Director of Community Development Garrett Gin. “It’s been gratifying to see him develop as a fine young man and someone who clearly understands how corporations, nonprofits and government can accomplish community goals.”

The experience also has given Bui the suit-and-tie perspective on his UCI education. “It’s helped me with skills like professionalism and taking the initiative. Even more valuable is the support from my mentor and the whole Merrill Lynch team.”

Smiling, Bui admits no one tops his parents at mentoring. His father narrowly escaped Saigon in 1975 during the final hours of the American presence in Vietnam. In 1979, his mother and two older brothers came to the United States, where Bui and younger sister Amy (a UCI student herself) were born. “My parents showed me a strong work ethic and humility. No matter where I have been, at home I’m still just ‘Joe.’”

He also has become a mentor himself. As part of SAGE’s community service component, he leads a program matching SAGE scholars as advisors to Estancia High School students who are in doubt about college, careers or the future in general.

Not in doubt, however, is Bui’s future after graduation in June. Says SAGE Scholars Director Karina Hamilton, “With his quiet, yet inspirational leadership style, Joe will absolutely accomplish his ultimate goal of running a foundation or community development agency and building on his strong track record of service.”