Recent grad helps US Surgeon General’s office engage public with nation’s health concerns
ASU alum Trey Leveque supporting efforts to address health misinformation, mental health, loneliness
It’s not quite the West Wing — his federal department is headquartered a few blocks away on Independence Avenue — but for an Arizona State University graduate only months out of school, Trey Leveque has succeeded at landing a Washington, D.C., job where he can help address Americans’ health concerns.
Leveque’s position is in an area of keen interest to Americans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — the nation’s health — working for a high-profile federal health official: the surgeon general.
The May 2021 ASU graduate is an engagement support specialist for U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On the job since early November, Leveque provides administrative and strategic support to the public engagement efforts of Murthy’s office.
“I could not be more ecstatic to join this remarkable team and support the work that is being done to continue to address health misinformation, mental health, loneliness and overall public health in the United States,” Leveque said.
“These past two years haven’t been easy for many individuals, with everything that we have had to deal with in the face of COVID-19,” he said. “From the loneliness experienced from social isolation to losing loved ones, we have all been impacted in one way or another. Therefore, it is so critical that public health continues to be a priority for us all. This is why I am personally so excited to play a role in this work.”
The Gilbert, Arizona, resident was a triple major — in public service and public policy, global politics and law — earning his bachelor’s degree from the W. P. Carey School of Business. Leveque also earned a certificate in cross-sector leadership from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, where he was a Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service Spirit of Service Scholar.
Read on to learn how Leveque got the job and about his experiences here at ASU that helped prepare him for this significant career step.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
Answer: I am a proud Arizona native, born as well as raised in Gilbert and Chandler. Throughout my entire life, I have been a part of my community and have served as a leader in organizations such as Special Olympics Arizona, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Arizona and the Boy Scouts of America.
I became passionate about access and equity when I was appointed to former first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative inaugural Student Advisory Board in 2017. I hope to continue to increase access for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students across the country. At the end of that term, I continued my work with Reach Higher as a 2018 summer fellow in Washington, D.C., and then as their UpNext program associate from 2018 to 2021, where I was able to impact the lives of over 300,000 students in their process of pursuing higher education.
Additionally, my interest in civic engagement — with a focus on voter engagement and youth participation — began early on with my involvement in the community growing up. I hope to continue to improve voter engagement, education and turnout in elections. I continued my understanding of the Arizona legislative process as an Arizona State Senate page intern in 2019 and as an Arizona Secretary of State Initiative intern in 2020.
In my spare time, I love exploring the outdoors as an avid hiker and national park enthusiast (in June 2021 I went on a 23-day-long solo road trip to visit 25 national parks across the country), enjoy indoor cycling and running (I completed my first half-marathon in February 2020) and cherish time spent traveling to visit friends and family (especially when live music or great food is involved). I appreciate moments where I am able to bring people together and create a sense of community.
Q: How did you get hired for your job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services?
A: I was officially sworn into my role on Nov. 8.
The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General has been able to expand its team and the work that they do as a result of COVID-19 and the Schedule A authority given to federal agencies to meet their hiring needs. The current director of engagement for the surgeon general was working to build out his team over the summer after being sworn in himself. He reached out to me around that time, as we had previously worked together in a few other capacities, and I had the skill set that he and the team were looking for based on my experiences and education.
Q: How did your time at Watts College prepare you for life after ASU?
A: My time at Watts College served as a launching pad for my career in public service. Through the classes that I took for my major in business (public service and public policy) and certificate in cross-sector leadership, I was able to learn a lot about how to be an effective public servant and cross-sector leader. The impact of Watts College wasn’t just limited to the classroom, though. I am also very grateful for the financial support that I have received from the Pastor Center to be able to pursue my higher education, as well as other opportunities. For example, I was able to receive funding from the center to pursue a public policy summer internship program in Washington, D.C., during summer 2018.
I was also very fortunate to participate in programs such as the Spirit of Service Scholars program, which “honors outstanding students from all disciplines who are passionate about public service leadership and advocacy, and are actively involved in promoting awareness and engagement related to a range of community change and public policy issues.”
Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: To be quite honest, I don’t think there was truly one singular “aha” moment. I think in many ways, the majors that I decided to pursue while at ASU found me. For example, if you would have told me as a senior in high school that I would be getting not one, not two, but three degrees, I probably would have thought that you had mistaken me for someone else. As I applied to colleges and universities, business was appealing to me because I saw the importance of having strong business skills like marketing, economics, accounting and finance. At the same time, though, I knew that I did not want to do any one of those as a career.
Through leadership roles in the organizations on campus in high school and the community, my love for public service grew. With all of this in mind, I decided to apply to ASU and pursue business (global politics), which allowed me to have my education rooted in business while also learning more about political science. Since I came into ASU with some dual-enrollment credits, I had the flexibility to be able to add on several other degrees over my four years at ASU. I ended up adding business (public service and public policy) and business (law) right after one another because of this.
Around the same time, I was dedicating more time and energy to work centered around civic engagement as a member of the ASU Civic Engagement Coalition, as vice president of policy for the ASU Undergraduate Student Government, as an Arizona State Senate page and as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador. As a result of this work, my passion for public service and public policy developed.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? Are you still in touch with them?
A: Alberto Olivas is the founding executive director of the Pastor Center, an initiative to help students learn the skills for effective civic and political engagement. Apart from this role, Alberto provides training and technical assistance on issues related to public dialogue, public engagement and civic education. Not only did he serve as a professor to me, but he also served as a mentor and adviser while I was a member of the Civic Engagement Coalition and an Andrew Goodman Ambassador.
The most important lesson I learned from him is that to be able to solve many of the complex challenges facing our country, we must keep in mind the head, heart and hands (commonly known as the civic spectrum) of every situation. The head focuses on understanding what the issue is, the heart is centered around why it is important to address the topic and hands are concerned with how to go about acting on the problem. In everything that Alberto does, he exhibits this and lives it in all of his work.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: One of the most meaningful experiences that I had while a student was my internship at the Arizona State Senate. Through this internship, I learned so much about the Arizona legislative process; more than I ever could have learned through a textbook or a class. As a Senate page, I played an important role in the day-to-day operations of the Senate. The most important responsibility of being a Senate page is to attend to the needs of the senators while on the Senate floor during formal sessions, in standing committee meetings and during party caucuses.
Q: If you had college to experience all over again, what would you do differently? What would you do the same?
A: Reflecting on my college experiences, there are two things in particular that I wish I would have done more of, or slightly differently: taking more classes for fun outside of my major map and studying abroad longer. Even though I made an intentional effort to take a handful of classes that were not connected to my required classes in my major map, I wish I would have taken more that sparked my various other interests. It is through experiences like those that I think we learn the most about ourselves and the world around us. In regard to my second point, I was very fortunate to travel a little bit throughout college, but I think pursuing a semester-long study abroad would have been extremely beneficial to my educational journey. For anyone even remotely considering it, I would highly recommend making time while in college. The experience of being immersed in a different culture can’t be replicated in any other way.
While there are only a few things that I would do differently, there are a plethora of things that I would have done the same. It was really important for me to push myself in college, especially early on, to do as much as possible so I could test out things that were of interest to me to help me figure out what I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to (this was also important in helping me figure out what I wanted to do after graduating). Through all of those experiences, I was challenged a lot. It was all extremely worth it, though, as I was able to meet some of my closest friends, have the most memorable experiences and learn so much about myself and others!
Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?
A: Live life intentionally and enjoy the journey.
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