Passionate Policy Powerhouses

March 1, 2021

Passionate Policy Powerhouses

Sam and May Lim in the the Netherlands in 2015
Sam and May Lim in the Netherlands in 2015

Samson (Sam) and May Lim are a pair of world-changing UW graduates who’ve continually impressed the Honors community with their compassion, curiosity, and devotion to social justice. They also just happen to be brother and sister. 

Sam graduated from UW in 2010 with a B.A. in International Studies and May graduated in 2016 with College Honors in Psychology & Political Science. Though they attended UW in different cohorts, they later spent time together at UC Berkeley, where Sam is now finishing his last semester of law school and May recently earned her Master of Public Policy (MPP).

May and Sam Lim at LA Women's March, holding signs of support with their parents and sister.
May and Sam at the L.A. Women’s March with their parents and sisters in 2017

Both say they grew up in a progressive home, raised by parents who “always wanted to do everything they could to make society a better place and to help other people.” But neither feels as though they were pushed towards careers that serve equity and justice. They each found their way by getting involved and learning in community.

May and Sam are a delight to interview. Curious, energetic, and fully engaged in every interaction. They have also both chosen careers based on what matters most to them and what they’ve learned from their experiences. Check out how this brother and sister are each working to make the world better for more people — dismantling systems of racism and oppression within education policy and the criminal legal system, respectively.

Sam’s story

Headshot of Sam Lim smiling, in a suit and tie.

I loved my time in UW Honors. I was always in the suite, in Mary Gates Hall, talking to Brook [Kelly], Aley [Mills-Willis] and, of course, Juliana [Villegas]. And every class I took with Clarke Speed was amazing.

Probably what shaped my time most at UW was getting involved in the Dream Project, helping high school students find pathways to college (and other post-high school educational opportunities). I found mentors like Dr. Stan Chernicoff and a home in that space (which I think is important for any college student), and I also got to further serve students through creating Scholarship Junkies, which supports students in pursuing scholarship funding for higher education.

Those experiences really opened my eyes to my own privilege in recognizing that I had been encouraged to pursue higher education, no matter what—even though our family didn’t have a lot of money. Meeting students at  different high schools in Seattle and hearing their life stories opened up a lot of questions for me about the ways in which public policy creates circumstances that are inherently unfair. My experiences pushed me to think about what mechanisms are available to address such challenges.

After UW I went to Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and conducted research in Berlin, trying to understand how students in Germany perceived access to higher education as a means for social mobility. I realized quickly that education is a very local issue. So, I came back and started working towards a Master’s degree in Education Policy at Columbia University. At Columbia, I learned about the federal role in higher education policy, so I decided next I needed to go to DC. I interned at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, where I got to dig into policy research and get a feel for the ecosystem. Through it all, I kept asking: how do I want to have an impact in the world and what does that look like for me?

That’s a hard question for most of us to address. You see what other people are doing and don’t know if it’s for you. In D.C., I realized that I missed working with people more directly. So, I moved back to New York to work at The Posse Foundation. Like the Dream Project, it helps students pursue opportunities in college, but it sends them to college in groups of 10 (aka a posse) with full-tuition scholarships and supports them in their own leadership development. I spent four years at Posse as national director of graduate and fellowship programs, and it felt gratifying to work with so many students. But one question kept coming up for me: how do I impact even more people? I realized that many of the leaders in education policy that I looked up to had law degrees, which brought me to Berkeley Law, where I’m learning to understand a bit more tangibly what the intersection of law and policy really looks like. 

I’m not exactly sure what that will look like for me long term, but I look forward to continuing my learning both inside and outside the classroom. After law school I’ll head back to New York (Jersey City, actually) to be with my wife and start my career as an attorney at Cleary Gottlieb.

May’s story

I definitely appreciated the wide range of courses I was able to take at UW, but I found it particularly rewarding to dive into activities outside of the curriculum as well. Most of what I learned during college didn’t come directly from my classes but from my experiences beyond the classroom. 

At the end of my first-year year, I began an internship with King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. I ended up interning there for my remaining years in college and even after graduating. My internship exposed me to books like The New Jim Crow, and I became conscious of the racial disparities in the criminal legal system. Having mentors like Councilmember Gossett and his chief of staff (and renowned Asian American activist) Cindy Domingo set me on the path I’m on today. Working with them inspired me to continue learning and to make a difference in whatever role I am in. 

I’m also grateful for the many opportunities I had at UW. I absolutely loved my year studying on exchange in the Netherlands, and I also enjoyed an Honors seminar that took us on regular trips to the Seattle Symphony. Through the course, I met Professor Claudia Jensen, who introduced me to HOPE (Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education), a student organization dedicated to promoting and increasing postsecondary education opportunities in prison. HOPE was founded by Dashni Amin after she took Dr. Jensen’s “Education Inside Prison” mixed-enrollment course at the Twin Rivers Unit (TRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex. After joining HOPE, I signed up for the same course and later became Chair of the student group in my senior year.

My fellow HOPE members and I worked alongside our incarcerated classmates to help promote educational opportunities for our community, both within and outside of prison, as well as raise awareness on the injustices of our criminal legal system.  Together, we raised funds to distribute college scholarships to both currently incarcerated people and foster care youth in the community, organized a textbook and supplies drive on campus to donate resources to the TRU library, curated an art exhibit in the Quad featuring artwork created by incarcerated people from around the state, and organized a panel discussion on campus with formerly incarcerated students. HOPE showed me how I could make an impact and continues to  thrive at UW and inside TRU. 

May Lim in orange HOPE T-shirt, standing next to art exhibit to raise awareness about mass incarceration issues, on UW Seattle Campus
May Lim at HOPE’s Prison Art exhibit on UW’s Seattle campus in 2016

My experiences volunteering with groups like HOPE and the King County Crisis Clinic (now Crisis Connections) — as well as my legislative internship at the King County Council — helped me not only feel like I could play a part in tackling these issues, but also helped me understand the ways in which I wished to create change. I realized that I wanted to contribute to fixing unjust systems through creating broadscale policy changes.

After graduation, I worked as a community organizer at Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE) to promote civic engagement in the Asian Pacific Islander American community in our region. Not long after the 2016 election, I moved to Southern California and started working for Los Angeles County Supervisor, Hilda L. Solis. I also got involved with an organization that advocated for formerly incarcerated Southeast Asian refugees dealing with immigration issues. Incarcerated people with green cards or other non-citizen immigration statuses often unjustly face a double sentence, where they are given an order of deportation after having served the full length of their sentence.  

Now, I’m working as the Senior Policy Associate at For the People, a Bay-Area nonprofit that helps facilitate the safe release of incarcerated people who are serving unjust sentences. In 2018, our organization’s Founder/Executive Director Hillary Blout helped write and secure the passage of legislation in California that allows district attorneys to re-sentence past cases that no longer serve the interests of justice. Washington State passed a similar law last year, and I’m now working to expand this law to other states so that more people can safely reenter society and more families can be reunited.