Beyond Imaginations

A week after my last day at CiRA, I finally could settle down a little to write this last WOW blog post. Knowing that I would never be able to include everything that I have experienced in writings, I decided to write down some of the most important personal growths and a few pieces of advice for future WOWers.

Personally, the summer was extremely special and precious to me. The internship turned out to be invaluable in terms of building up not only scientific knowledge but also personal connections. It was far beyond accomplishing everything that I wrote in the WOW application.

Coincidentally, however, this was an unusual summer for the local people in Japan as well. As I wrote in my last blog post, the natural disasters and record-breaking weather conditions made the summer memorable in many senses.

Two Quick Shots from the Gion Festival (Yoiyama, Atomatsuri)I Went There with Some of the Hotta Lab Members


Chance is always there for those who are prepared. I have heard this sentence countless times since I was little. However, the CiRA internship validated it for me for the first time. Looking back, I could clearly see that I would not have gained so much, especially in terms of building personal connections with local professionals, if I do not have either the proficiency in Japanese language and culture or the previous educational and laboratory experience.  Every past effort not only prepared me for this opportunity but also enabled me to fully utilize it.

In the past eight weeks, I have met so many interesting people that I would have never encountered in my daily life. I also had a lot of intriguing conversations with scientists as well as science communicators. Besides the intensive bench works, I was able to get involved in some of the scientific communication works at Kyoto University.

Past Issues Focusing on Research News at KU

Published Twice a Year by the Office of Global Communications at KU

Before the internship, I thought it would be so nice if there was a career that could combine my skills in science, journalism, communication, and languages. Meanwhile, I also found it almost impossible to find a job opportunity like that because such a combination of interests is too rare to be considered or even imagined. Nonetheless, the staff from the International Public Communication Office at CiRA and the Office of Global Communications at Kyoto University opened the door for me and showed me the possibility of having a career like what I dreamed about before.

I am extremely grateful to the Hotta Lab members as well as all the people I have met at and outside of CiRA in the past two months. It is hard to say goodbye to everything and everyone here, but there is always a finale for every story regardless of how beautiful it was. To be honest, I have no idea when and how this summer will impact my future at the moment, but I believe that the experience is and will be life-changing.

Sunset View from the Rooftop of a Ryokan (Japanese Hotel) by Kamo River                                                                                       Taken Before My Farewell Party


After six-year of dreaming and struggling, the actual experience I had in the past two months was, however, still far beyond all expectations and imaginations. Although over 100 pages of lab notes and over 600 raw data files that I have accumulated during the internship period might be able to illustrate something, nothing would possibly represent the experience as a whole. These are the memories and growth that could become part of the foundation of my life and provide me with the enormous courage to further pursue my dream.

So, catch the opportunity and go for a real-life challenge!

Wrapping up at State

 

IO/RPC’s summer interns.

When I write essays, I generally can foresee how they end — with a memorable conclusion that wraps everything up nicely. In contrast, when coding, I cannot anticipate the eventual end of my program as easily. This is probably because I am much newer to coding than I am to writing, which I’ve practiced since first becoming literate.

Similarly, this internship experience has been an unknown, one whose future was not so ascertainable in advance. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I have tried to learn as much as I can along the way. This was one of the underlying themes behind all three of my academic, professional, and personal WOW goals. I hope I was successful, at least partially, in taking advantage of all of the opportunities presented to me. I loved that I was able to work on my own projects at this internship, and one of my biggest takeaways was probably the amount I was able to learn about R, Python, and some of its many text-focused IR applications. I feel really lucky that I was given the chance to be able to do this.

I also reached out to people in other offices at the State Department, and had some really interesting conversations on their career paths and current jobs. I was often very nervous going into these interactions, but I’m so glad I went through with it — I learned a lot about different career options, just like I’d originally wanted, and I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted. My advice to future interns would be to try and have as many informational coffees as possible. Email people with interesting careers in other offices or bureaus at the State Department; some of them are bound to respond, and the conversations you’ll have will be impossible elsewhere.

I’ve also set a few new goals, based on things I’ve noticed about myself that I have perceived as weaknesses in an office setting like this one. For most of my internship, I had this Anne-Marie Slaughter quote hanging from my computer on a sticky note:

“I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us… We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.”

Slaughter was the first female head of the policy planning staff at the State Department, and she’s an all-around excellent role model for women in the workplace.

In any case, I’m proud of myself for holding out for this internship — despite my delayed start date — and for all that I’ve learned along the way. It was an incredibly fascinating, educational experience, and I felt like I was witnessing history take place.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Midway Through at State

A statue in a courtyard of the State Department.

Although somehow halfway through, I feel like I’m finally getting adjusted to the swing of things at work. Periods of busy activity appear in bursts, buttressed by lulls. In part, I have been told that this is the nature of work in this office. After all, the G-7 doesn’t occur without prior diplomatic trumpeting, and the UN General Assembly is an annual affair.

As an outsider, it’s been novel for me to see the preparations that precede meetings, speeches, and congressional Q & As. I’d never given as much thought before to the effort that goes into making sure federal figureheads are truly representing the Department’s policies and priorities.

In a process called ‘clearance’, multiple offices sign off on the contents of a document. The offices who sign off on the document are designated to ‘clear’ on that document because they have regional and functional expertise in areas relevant to the document’s contents. In many ways, it’s kind of like a group project. I like the collective nature of it, the idea that every bright person at State is pooling their knowledge to make it greater than the sum of its individual parts. How cool!

Of course, this could also be called a diffusion of responsibility — who, indeed, gets to make policy? These are some of the fundamental questions I have: what is American foreign policy in theory? How is it enacted in practice on the ground? How do these two paradigms differ? Who is making it, in theory and in praxis? I’m encouraged to attend think tank events at work, and these could help shape a response to some of these questions.

Outside of work, I take long walks to the many free museums the city offers. I frequent blogs such as this one on free things to do in DC to see what’s going on. When I have the time, I try to attend meetings for various activist, political, and religious groups, which has given my summer many different — and sometimes competing — flavors.

Interning has vastly differed from university life in that the schedule is set. I walk to work at 7:50 every morning, getting there by 8:15; I get home around the same time each day. At school, I have the freedom — and the burden — to forge my own schedule. Having a life outside of work here means I have to sum up energy around sunrise or sunset. Before work, I try to go on long runs around the Lincoln memorial and ponds, the grass dewy on my sneakers. After work, I often head back to the same place, to read in the grass and watch the summer sun sink into the night. In all honesty, being in the same room for an entire day becomes tiring; I try to be outside as much as I can when I’m not at work, even if that means I’m sweaty and itchy from humidity and mosquitoes.

Perhaps being in an office — in any professional setting — is itself a skill, a learned habit, just like being successful at school is. Maybe it just doesn’t seem that way to most adults because they’ve learned the activity so well already.

I am trying to constantly learn from this environment, which is so novel and fascinating in every detail. I hope to take away both tangible skills — I’m learning data analysis applied to international relations, and teaching myself Python, text and sentiment analysis, and more — and intangible soft skills, like the art of diplomacy in a conversation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Getting Started at State

I’d been thinking about this sticky summer morning for over ten months. After going through the equivalent of airport security, I had finally done it. I was inside the lodestar of American diplomacy: the Department of State.

The main building — called the Harry S. Truman — is even more labyrinth-like than I’d expected. Perhaps it’s the physical manifestation of the bureaucracy it represents: the Department is divided into different bureaus, and within each bureau are different offices. I am interning with the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), and within that, the Office of Regional Policy Coordination (RPC). This office focuses on the United States’ relationship with a host of international and multilateral organizations, including the United Nations and G-7. It’s also in charge of the Multilateral Moneyball project, which focuses on analyzing international relations quantitatively. This summer, my work will in part specifically focus on this project. I’m really looking forward to seeing how data analytics can inform foreign policy decision-making.

I’d also like to better understand the workplace environment at the State Department. I’m very interested in a career in public service, but I’m not sure where my values, interests, and skills are best suited. I’d also like to better understand how State Department staff enact policy under administrations whose politics they may or may not agree with. What are the lines between personal politics and public duty?

The interactions I’ve had with the very kind and hardworking people in my office have already been illustrative and invaluable. Everyone in my office is friendly and approachable; I’m lucky to have multiple mentors here. After a few days in the office, the learning curve still seems steep: there are more acronyms than I’d ever imagined could exist. I’m still getting into all of the systems — receiving my own email, setting up my own phone, making up passwords for all of the accounts I’ll need access to. I have my own cubicle, and, thankfully, there are two other interns in my office who have been here longer than I. They’ve been instrumental to my smooth on-boarding process.

I’m thrilled to start my internship. It was a longer process to finally walk through the doors of the Department of State than I’d even anticipated. The process started at the very beginning of my fall semester, when I applied through the federal website with a few essays and the selection of three bureaus. I had phone interviews with several potential supervisors, and by early November I accepted a preliminary offer, dependent on the approval of my security clearance. The security clearance process was another application — with hundreds of pages of online paperwork — and I was given mine only right before I started work. I also, of course, applied to the WOW, to be able to do an unpaid internship.

Many thanks to the benefactors of the WOW fellowship, who have made this whole experience possible through funding  — without them, I would not be here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Do the Best to Enjoy the Moment

The early morning following the day that I submitted my first blog post, an earthquake happened in the northern area of Osaka City, a region right south to Kyoto. The magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit Osaka and Kyoto was significantly affected as well. Japan is known for frequent earthquakes, but it was my first time experiencing an earthquake at this level. The earthquake itself lasted approximately 30 seconds, and it took me about 10 seconds just to realize that it was an earthquake.

I was at home while the ground suddenly started “jumping” up and down, and then, moving horizontally. In fact, some of the lab members and I were planning on heading to Hiroshima for an annual genome editing conference at around noontime that day, but all available public transportation  in the region was completely stopped. I managed to get to the lab on foot as usual to meet up with the other members. I did not observe much panics from the faces of people passing by me on the streets. While the lab members were in the lab waiting for the updates on public transportation, we were even talking about staying over in the lab and leave for Hiroshima the next day as it was unknown when the transportation will return normal.

On the Platform of Hiroshima Railway Station
Arriving in Hiroshima in the crowd after 8pm on the day of earthquake

The Materials and My Name Tag for the Conference

The 3-day conference was shortened into 2 days due to the earthquake


The earthquake was not the end of the story, a heavy and constant rainfall hit western Japan beginning on July 6th. Kamo River and Katsura River in Kyoto were severely flooded and so did many other rivers in western Japan, especially those in the south-western region. A significant numbers of people lost their lives due to the flood and the sequential sediment disaster. According to the news, it was the most devastating rainfall and flood since Japan entered the current era, “Heisei period,” which means it was the most severe flood on record in the past 30 years.

Flooded Kamo River Next to CiRA on July 6th


While I am writing this blog during this long weekend, the famous Gion Festival is going on just outside of the window despite of the record-breaking high temperature these two days.

Besides the busy laboratory work, all these unexpected or expected events have become the spice of a monotonous daily routine. Though I have felt the significant personal growth in a lot of dimensions because of the laboratory part of this experience, the other parts were also the essence. They certainly added diverse colors and flavors to this unique cross-cultural and cross-field internship experience.

For every day I am at work, I tried my best to enjoy and make the most out of it. Indeed, I started my independent works last week after only a month of “intensive training.” Still, I cannot believe that half of my internship has passed already. I am definitely going to miss my life here in Kyoto and at CiRA a lot.

My Last Month at Columbia

Towards the end of my time at Columbia, a lot of my boss’ and my energy was put into a paper that she was working on for an academic journal that is based in Cuba. It was focused on International Relations and Cuban Studies in the United States. In order to best depict the essence of the work, the abstract is as follows: “This essay examines the development of the field of International Relations and the major analytical frameworks and paradigms employed, together with their influence in Latin America including Cuba.   The paradigms most commonly employed are realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism, feminism, The English School, and non-paradigmatic constructs.  The most influential universities and scholars in the US and Latin America are noted, as are major debates, including the role of International Relations in analyzing foreign policy related to Cuba.”

 

My last couple of weeks at Columbia were absolutely bitter sweet. I worked a lot of extra hours at my boss’ home, sorting through her personal library. The first photo below was taken one evening at my “desk”, (her dining room table), where I spent a lot of my time.

The second image is a screenshot of a page of data that I put together that was ultimately put in the final publication that was mentioned above. I was so happy and excited to see my name at the bottom in the fine print!

 

I will miss my boss terribly and am forever grateful for this experience and for the wealth of knowledge she has given me. Thanks to Hiatt and the WOW/EL fellowship, this experience has truly solidified my desire to pursue a career in academia and specifically, a PhD in Latin American History or Politics with a focus in Cuba. Although I have done several internships in different cities and across different fields in the past, this summer has most definitely been the most instrumental to my personal and professional growth. It was incredible to work solely on projects that I am passionate about and can see myself pursuing in the future.  I would recommend applying for this fellowship to anyone and everyone who has a passion! Many thanks to Hiatt!

4: Law as an Instrument for Change

During my time at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I have learned a tremendous amount. I have expanded on my knowledge of the legal system, and have learned a great deal about myself and others. In working at the Bureau, I have interacted with many individuals, of varying backgrounds and in diverse situations. I have gained perspective on the realities faced by many of those who are in need of legal aid, and have realized just how significant the need for legal aid truly is. My firsthand experiences with our clients’ difficulties and frustrations has taught me how to be persistent, yet patient and kind while helping others.
Through conversing with and assisting student attorneys, I have gained valuable insight into the legal field and what law school entails. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of attending law school and becoming a practicing attorney one day. Up until this summer, I had never really understood the significance of my childhood dream. My limited exposure to law and the legal profession created a vague and unclear understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer, and as a young undergraduate student, I had yet to figure out what it meant for myself. While I have always viewed law as an instrument, a catalyst for change, and a means to protect and improve the lives of others, my perspective was still limited. Through my work at HLAB, I have finally come to understand what it genuinely means to be a lawyer.
In many forms of media today, whether it be a movie or a classic television show, it can be observed that lawyers are commonly portrayed to be bossy, pushy, aggressive and elitist. Some of the most infamous stereotypes of lawyers suggest that they are power hungry emotionless beings who thrive on pointing fingers and arguing for argument’s sake. Despite these negative portrayals, I was fortunate enough to see the rare and scarcely highlighted attributes of a lawyer, the honest ones that media is not clever enough to feature. The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau displayed a very different image of a lawyer. At HLAB, our practicing student attorneys and attorneys engaged in law from a client-centered stand point. Quality legal representation is frequently a privilege, only accessible to those who are fortunate enough to afford it. At the bureau, individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds were given access to quality legal representation. The organization presented legal services in a different light, one which assured that quality legal representation was accessible to all, and given in a manner which supported and empowered our clients.
I have assisted student attorneys with various tasks on numerous cases. I have seen clients go through the process at HLAB from start to finish; from seeking legal aid, to eventually going to trial and receiving a judgement or reaching a final agreement. Whether it is a mother regaining custody of her child, or a family who was about to be homeless regain tenancy, I have seen for myself how law can be used to change lives for the better.
My time at HLAB has highlighted my passion for pursuing a career in the legal field. It has confirmed my desire to go to law school and eventually pursue a profession in public interest law. Until I had first-hand experience with cases and clients, and had witnessed how lawyers can use law to change the lives of their clients, I had not understood the true potential or depth of law as a means for change. One day, I aspire to take an integral role in using law for such positive change.

Post 5: What I Have Learned

What have I learned about social justice work?

Activism is the keystone of social justice work, but there are so many layers to being a good activist. You have to be patient. You have to be open-minded, motivated, hard-working, sociable, emphatic, and organized. You have to be good at communicating. These are the characteristics I knew I had to have to be a good activist before I started working at Interfaith Worker Justice. I did not, however, have the chance to see if I had them and if not, work on them before.

Sarah, my supervisor, thinks that there are a few skills and qualifications that are important for this job: ability to motivate and persuade people, particularly people of faith to join the fight for worker justice and motivational speaking skills.

I saw my capacity to be a good activist at Interfaith Worker Justice. I acknowledged my weaknesses and strengths.

I acknowledged the power of religion in mobilizing people. I saw the option of having religion and religious people in the action space and the conversations. I saw how significant religion and its message could be.

What kind of impact did I have on IWJ in the time I have been there?

At IWJ, I constantly engaged in conversations about activism with my colleagues and my supervisor. What I believe I added to the conversation is the experience I had in Turkey. Pointing out the differences between the two practices and explaining how and why activism is the way it is now in Turkey was what I brought to the table at IWJ.

This I believe was also important to show and highlight the peculiarity of  practices in the action space in the United States–almost like a reminder to the people with whom I engaged in conversation.

What do I know now that I wished I had known when I started? 

I wish I had known how difficult it would be to travel in Boston using public transportation. I wish I planned better and payed less to UberJ

Boston’s public transportation is neither fast nor easy to manage but planning ahead of time would definitely help.

What advice would I give to someone else who wants to pursue an internship or career in my organization or field?

It will sound cliché but learning and getting the most out of IWJ is up to the person who is working. IWJ provides you with opportunities and it is up to you to get something out of it. My suggestion for the next intern would be solely “do and learn as much as you can!” Educate yourself, go to talk to people, ask questions, read and think about the power dynamics!

On top of preparing intellectually, I would recommend preparing mentally and physically. Be ready not to have a fixed schedule. Be aware that you will not be able to make spontaneous plans. Keep in mind that you will travel a lot to go to meetings and congregations. Thus, organize and schedule your time wisely. Prioritize your health. Know that IWJ prioritizes its workers health.

– Ece Esikara

Post 5: Reflection

This summer internship was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. From meeting with TriMet leadership to grassroots organizing to arranging and managing events to raise public awareness, I’ve learned where resistance in social justice issues can arise and I have learned the dependency of these issues have on big decision-makers. Many social justice issues involve educating the public, as many people may not be aware that these issues exist in the first place, and education is the first step in almost any issue. People must be aware or admit that it is a problem before anyone can start the first steps to move forward to make change.

I have seen the power that education can have on a community, as my internship revolved around discussing the problems of diesel in Portland to individuals, writing Letters to the Editor to educate news-readers, testifying in front of the committees of TriMet to discuss their role in leading Portland to reach ambitious climate goals, and in return, others educated me in many ways.

My internship was essentially a cycle of spreading awareness — educating individuals, gaining support, and then educating TriMet leadership of this support for electric buses and decreasing diesel emissions in Portland.

While no final decisions about committing to battery electric buses will be made until this coming year, I know that more people are aware of the diesel pollution issue in Portland. It is rewarding for me to know that there is a movement in the minds of Portlanders, and individuals are able to make a difference in their day-to-day lives as well.

The only advice that I would give to someone who is pursuing an internship in this field is to learn. Do your own research until you understand front-and-back whatever it is that you are campaigning about. When teaching business owners with businesses located along bus routes about diesel emissions, I received a multitude of varying responses and questions. I realized, sometimes the hard way, how essential it is to be prepared. Sometimes I didn’t know how to answer questions. Having straightforward and clear answers to each question or concern shows that you really care and in turn leads to more confidence, which is essential in grassroots campaigning and any discussion with people who are working with you. It is essential to speak up when leaders may attempt to work around answering the question instead of being straightforward, and that takes knowing what you’re talking about front-and-back to be able to speak up in front of others and have the confidence to know what you’re talking about.

People can see through you if you don’t care about your campaign, and no social justice issue can be ameliorated unless you really throw yourself into it and are passionate about it.

– Mahala Lahvis

A reflection of my time at the Farm

The last day of my internship has gone and past but I can’t help missing the daily routine of working at a place that I have grown to love. With this being my last post, I think it’s appropriate to take a step back and look at the history of the farm and its mission.

During the last few weeks at the farm, we interns got to learn about the history of the farm and the ongoing volunteer efforts from Drumlin’s Volunteer Coordinator. I was fascinated to learn how Drumlin Farm came together from the foresight and charity of a single woman with a dream to keep nature alive and thriving. The story of how Drumlin Farm came to be is a significant and interesting piece of the town of Lincoln’s history. It all started with the building of Gordan Hall in 1915 as a summer home to Louise Ayer Gordan and her first husband. Louise later remarried and became Louise Ayer Gordan Hatheway and willed the property, farmland and surrounding lands to the Mass Audubon society in 1955 with the wish that it would remain a working farm and nature sanctuary in the years to come. From then on, the farm has kept its promise to Louise and is continually advocating for the protection of wildlife and providing local agriculture.

Picture of Gordan Hall, Image courtesy of “Images of North America: Mass Audubon”

Drumlin’s Volunteer Coordinator also explained how Drumlin Farm has grown with Louise’s mission in mind. She has helped to coordinate various volunteer opportunities within Mass Audubon and the Bobolink Project. The Bobolink Project is a Mass Audubon effort to help protect grassland birds and recuperate their population numbers. Many of these birds are disappearing in the Northeastern U.S. due to hayfield mowing during the Bobolink nesting season. The Bobolink Project provides farmers the financial assistance to delay their crop mowing until the Bobolinks and other grassland birds are fledged (out of the nest). This project is just one example of Mass Audubon’s mission to help preserve and educate about nature.

Picture of a male Bobolink, image courtesy of ‘All About Birds’

I feel incredibly lucky to have played a part in this institution’s mission. Drumlin Farm’s Wildlife Sanctuary has taught me how to face my fears and to come to the realization that a future in the veterinary field is possible. With the finale of this internship, I have come out with more knowledge about wildlife care, made connections to help me in the future, and have discovered how to take action in preserving wildlife and nature in my local community. My advice for those of you who haven’t quite figured out what path you want to take when you leave college: I would say to go and explore any internships or volunteer opportunities that even remotely interest you. You never know if an interest is a passing fad or something waiting to be explored as a future. So, go out there, explore your passions and thank you for following our stories throughout this summer!

Photo of Drumlin Farm Staff and Summer 2018 Interns

Post 5: Final Reflection

What have you learned about social justice work?

With one of the younger Samsungwon children

It’s sometimes hard to completely explain what one’s gotten out of an experience; however, with this internship, it’s different. The students call me 선생님 (sungsaengnim, teacher), but I’m the one who’s learning. My time with the children at Samsungwon will end after breakfast, but I’ll always remember their faces, their kindness, their humility, and their love for one another. Explaining all I learned about social justice work would take me well over the five hundred word limit, so for now, I’ll say that social justice work is HARD, but one hundred percent worth any troubles. Our work helps others – what more could we ever ask for?

With YeJin

Impact on internship organization?

My direct supervisor has repeatedly emphasized that without my presence, running Dream Camp would be impossible. The three board members (our president, chief administrator, and a general member) visiting Korea had other business matters to attend to besides the Dream Camp. That left me to create the foundation for the budget, camp schedule and details. Of course, everything went through my supervisors, but I was tasked with all the research. It was a lot of work, but so rewarding. As I write this, the camp starts tomorrow (August 6 in Korea) and I’m so excited to see everything we’ve planned for the past two months come to fruition.

With a partner organisation’s college scholars & KKOOM college scholars
With college scholars from Samsungwon Orphanage, one of the two orphanages KKOOM most closely work with

What do you wish you’d have known?

Thanks to having experience running other events, there weren’t too many things that shocked me. Planning multiple-day events takes a lot of kindness, patience, and flexibility. To anyone who is planning a camp for the first time, the suggestion I’d stress the most is to go into it with an open mind and an open heart. You’ll meet people who have very different ways of thinking and planning and sometimes, their way is better than yours; other times, the reverse is true.

Advice to others?

Little things make big connections. I’ve learned a lot from interacting with our different board members. Our president, Aimee, has most of our connections in Korea, and she made them by choosing to explore the world beyond the one created by her Fulbright program. Our chief ambassador, Grace, has the gift of being able to strike up conversation with anyone around her. In America, every taxi ride we took, she handed out a business card. in Korea, she always managed to bring up the work and why she does it while riding from place to place.

Aimee (president), me (intern), Grace (chief administrator), Bill (board member)

I’ve had the opportunity of meeting several representatives from our partner organizations. I’ve also met a few former KKOOM volunteers. Listening to their stories and learning from what they share provides invaluable new perspectives.

With any organization or field, especially if one enters without prior experience (or even with experience), it’s crucial to listen more than talk.

Reflecting on My Time at Gervay-Hague Lab!

With my internship at Gervay-Hague Lab at UC Davis coming to an end, I am very happy to see that I have met my defined learning goals. I certainly learned a lot during this 10-week period, and I will use everything I have learned in my classes and future research.

Academic Goal:

My academic goal was to use what I learned from performing research in Gervay-Hague Lab to become more adept in my Chemistry and Biology courses, and to be able to reference my lab experiences with these courses. I have no doubt that everything I have learned this summer will help me in my two remaining lab courses: Advanced Materials Chemistry Lab & Advanced Organic Chemistry Lab. Additionally, the synthetic chemistry I performed over the summer will even help in my Medicinal Enzymology course since I will be able to understand what steps go into the synthesis of a new drug.

Career Goal:

My career goal was to further explore what field of Chemistry I would like to go into for a job as well as graduate school. After researching this summer, I am not sure exactly what area of Chemistry I am most interested in. But, I am very happy that I got some experience in Chemical Biology, so I can further consider this as a potential career path.

Personal Goal:

My personal goal was to learn how to communicate my research to others through posters, papers, and in person. I have certainly learned how to communicate my research through group meetings, keeping my lab notebook, reading relevant articles and posters, and discussing my research other people in the lab on a daily basis.

Some things that changed about my goals during my internship were that I think I should have created lab-related goals in addition to my academic, career, and personal goals. But, since I did not realize this at the beginning of my internship, I decided to make a list of lab accomplishments instead. Some of these include:

  • Became familiar with lab techniques such as dry transfer and the use of MestReNova, an NMR analysis program.
  • Learned to use various lab apparatuses such as argon chamber, oven, microwave, rotovap, MPLC, and NMR (1H, 13C, COSY).
  • Learned how academic labs work and what it’s like to be part of a PhD program.

 

This is the main lab that I worked in, the synthesis lab. It consisted of the MPLC, the argon gas, an IR machine, and a microwave. Additionally, the TLC station was set up in the hood, and reactions were run in this room.

Although I have learned a tremendous amount at my internship this summer, I think I can summarize it into four main things:

  • Working a full-time job (nearly) is quite difficult and very different than working and studying in college.
  • It is very rewarding to be given a project, work tirelessly on it, and see it through.
  • Planning is crucial in all different fields.
  • It is amazing how much can be done day-to-day and week-to-week researching in a lab, yet how long it takes to come to distinct conclusions.

This summer, I am most proud of beginning to research in a lab, something I have wanted to do for quite some time now. I am also very proud of all the hard work I have put into my research and that I have learned so much during my 10 weeks at Gervay-Hague Lab!

Working abroad is no easy task

Volunteering or working abroad is not an easy task. You find yourself stepping out of your comfort zone, traveling miles before reaching your workplace, communicating with people who do not understand your language and all of that might seem very hard.

The two months I spent in the Ivory Coast have been the best two months I have spent working at an internship. My two months were full of experiences and a dream come true. I found myself being challenged emotionally and physically everyday.  Due to certain conditions, I was forced to think fast because mistakes cost too much. I found myself challenging some of the people in the hospital to treat people/patients in more humane ways no matter what their social status was.

There were many times when everything seemed difficult to manage; like waking up early enough to reach work before 8:30am when commuting is about an hour and thirty minutes.  Or the many times when I left the hospital feeling like I had not done enough for a patient. However, this journey was the most rewarding experience. One of the many important things I have learned this summer is that “an act of kindness does not need to be big , the smallest acts count a lot.”

Four of the medical students I had the honor to work with

During my stay, I met a woman at the hospital who needed care for her newborn son . Her little daughter was there, too. I greeted them and told her daughter I liked her braids.  A couple weeks later, I was heading home when I saw the same lady with her kids on my street. It turned out that we live in the same area. Her daughter, Atta, approached me days later and said she wanted to wear my white coat when she grew up. At that moment, my goal here in the Ivory Coast was met. That’s all that mattered to me, “inspire and be inspired.” I was inspired by many doctors, but mostly inspired by female doctors. These woman fight stereotypes and sexism everyday in the workplace and outside of work. As a woman, I have also experienced many sexist comments. The popular belief is that women do not belong in a hospital, or if they do, they should be seeking positions like nurses and other  administrative jobs. There are not many female doctors in hospitals and during my two-month stay, I met only 3 in both hospitals I worked in. So seeing a little girl look up to me reminded me the many reasons why I decided to take part in this internship, and I could not be more grateful.

As my journey continues, working in an environment where social justice work is needed, I have learned important things about social justice work:

  1. Everyone can help someone: No matter what you do in life, there is enough room for your contribution .
  2. It is important to practice self care because we can’t help or make change if we do not take the proper time to care for ourselves.
  3. Treat people how you would like to be treated. It’s important to learn how to respect boundaries and communicate in building effective and long lasting relationships
  4. Practice self-reflection and understand the complexities of relationships.
  5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable: it is important to be vulnerable in order to understand, promote and accept change. Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone and in situations that are not very comfortable expand your experience. But most importantly speaking up when we see injustice is the most effective way to educate people on social justice and raise awareness.
  6. Active listening is key to building trust.

To anyone who wants to volunteer abroad, go for it. Be yourself and dive into it.  Walk with confidence, however, be very humble. Be ready to learn from anyone, even the little children. Be as curious as a kid, ask questions, and always be prepared to run in case of an emergency. Be open minded and no matter what your background is, you are learning from these people so be humble and you will have the best time of your life. I hope to reflect and use my skills at Brandeis University and the outside world. I am looking forward to the fall semester, where I will have the opportunity to share my skills with my friends. I am confident that I have grown and I hope to offer my strength  as I continue in my journey of learning, inspiring and being inspired.

Neurosurgeon at Abidjan hospital

– Awa Soumahoro

 

Take Aways from My Time at the Hartford Public Defender’s Office

This past Friday, I completed my final day as an intern at the Hartford Public Defender’s office. While I am excited to enjoy the rest of my summer and prepare for my semester abroad to Peru over the next month, I am a little sad to be leaving behind an office that I have grown to love.

Logo from the Connecticut Public Defender’s website

Through my time here, I have learned a great amount about the criminal justice/legal system in our country and the great inequities that continue to exist within it. As far as social justice work goes, I have learned that it takes a lot of patience and willingness to make sacrifices. It can be hard at times when I consider the future career paths I would like to take, but also the reality that those paths typically involve being paid a great amount less. While there are many lawyers that work in the private sector making at least 3x the amount as the public defenders in my office, the lawyers I work with choose to do the work they do because of their passion for the job. Additionally, I have learned that it requires you to learn and work with people who often come from different backgrounds from your own.

View of Hartford from inside the courthouse

Something that I wish I had known when I started working at this internship last year, now having worked there for two consecutive summers, is the amount of emotional labor that goes into the job. Everyday I would hear stories from our clients and the people I met in lockup, telling me about their circumstances and how they ended up in their situation. I can be a very emotional person so it was hard at times to hear these very painful stories, or hear about the very little means many of the families in Hartford live off of. It was also hard at times as I learned some of the people I would talk to would often lie to myself and other interns if they thought it would help them have a better outcome in court. This was hard because while I have a great desire to help others, not knowing whether some people were being truthful or not made the job incredibly difficult at times.

If I were to give advice to someone else who wanted to start interning at the Hartford Public Defender’s office or at another public service law firm, I would tell them to come in with an open mind and ears. Most of our clients struggle just want to be heard as they often feel they have little voice when it comes to their case. By giving our clients an opportunity to talk to myself and the other interns at court, I hope it allowed some to feel they were listened to and valued.

Picture of the outside of Hartford Police Department during a visit I took while delivering a subpoena with one of the investigators from our office.

For people accused of criminal charges, it may feel like they have no one to support them and that they are looked upon as less than because of something they may have allegedly done. For many of the reasons I have discussed over the course of this summer, I believe the work done at the public defender’s office is some of the most important work done in the legal field. While I am sad to be leaving this office and its amazing staff behind, I look forward to visiting everyone in the future and continuing to do social justice work throughout my career.

Thanks for a great summer!

– Olivia Kalsner Kershen ‘19

The Learning Continues @CharityMiles

It has been quite a journey getting to the middle part of my internship. In the first few weeks at Charity Miles, my supervisor gave me an overview of what was expected of me. The expectations sounded like a lot, but her reassurance helped me be aware that I was not alone in this internship as she was a message away on Slack and a few steps away in person.

With more than a month into my internship, I still had a lot of work regarding my HubSpot project, which I had been working on since my second week. This project consisted of finding company sales contacts in order to build possible partnerships with. I was still fairly new to the HubSpot software. However, I had the basics down which helped me to complete the task. My supervisor was kind enough to give me the option of becoming certified with the HubSpot sales software through the subscription the company held.

She gave me one day in the week to dedicate myself to watch the videos associated with the certificate. At the end of all of the training videos, I took the exam—which I had to take more than once as I was not able to score high enough the first few times to get certified.

I was fortunate enough to be able to set up a phone call with a company that had reached out to me. The company’s intentions were not too clear but my supervisor worried less about that and worried more about me sitting in for a call in which she would be speaking about Charity Miles and potential partnerships. It was a great opportunity to see the integrity that my supervisor had during the phone call.

After a month and a half of working on finding contacts for the companies, I was finally able to say, “I’m finished finding the person of contact for these 900 companies.” It was a great relief because it was very tedious work and at times, would take a long time.

Though I had finished the first part of this HubSpot, the second part was right there waiting for me; linking the new person of contact for these companies in the HubSpot program. Some of the companies were new that were trying to be contacted so for those companies, I also had to build a profile. This became a great practice for me in learning how to network and not give up in attempting to build relationships among companies. This gave me practice and knowledge that I can transfer to any workplace when it comes to working with clients or actual companies themselves.

An End @CharityMiles

The last few days have approached during my summer internship at one of the top-rated mobile health apps—Charity Miles. Waking up early in the morning, hitting the gym and getting ready to hit downtown Manhattan became a routine this summer.

A great friendship has developed between the other intern, my supervisor and myself. One day, my supervisor decided to switch up our workspace and do work at another WeWork location in Times Square. It was a great day and I got to meet an old partner of my supervisor who gave me insight into the marketing aspect of sales. She explained to me how marketing can be done for free through the use of social media. But to top it off, it was also a nice bonding experience with the other intern and my supervisor as we were able to go into the game room and spend some time there.

The great part about my supervisor is she is always on the lookout for me to attend events. Recently she got me a ticket for a tech expo and though I attended alone, it was a great way to expand my network. I also got to see computer scientists doing work which is great because it is one of my majors. As the day went on, I was able to speak to a lot of companies, get free items, and also sit in for a few talks from some very successful entrepreneurs.

Back in the office I finished off my second part of my HubSpot project and moved onto the third. Now that I had finished creating and linking new contact profiles with company profiles, it was time to actually start reaching out to companies. This third part consisted of building a sequence of five emails to be sent out to companies. This became the last part of the project which I finished the second to last day at the office.

By the end of my internship, I successfully met the learning goals that I had set myself up with. By constantly deciding which companies to reach out to, after a while I became familiar with what classified a company as successful and worth reaching out to. To add on, I decided I favored my computer science major, as it is very sought after by a lot of companies and work can be done remotely. Nowadays, coders carry a big importance. Last but not least, I learned a lot about a startup company and the many struggles it experiences during the early stages.

The advice I could give to a student interested in Charity Miles is to not be afraid to ask questions because you are there to learn. Also, not to become discouraged when companies do not get back to the emails you send to out.

On the last day, my supervisor took the other intern and me out to lunch as a way to say thank you for our work. We spent time speaking about how work had gone that summer and all that had been accomplished amongst us as a team. My time at Charity Miles was great because of the people I got to meet and my supervisor, most of all who made it enjoyable. The bond developed with her and her knowledge encouraged me to continue persevering.

Midpoint WOW Post

At this point, I have spent a month and a half interning at Westchester Day School. The most eye-opening part of the summer so far has been the week after the students left. While the students were in school, it was loud and busy, and I had many tasks involving being a substitute for classes, helping out teachers, and observing classes. However, now that the students are gone for the summer, it is quiet, I spend more time in the office at a desk, and have more time to work on my summer projects on organizing the curriculum and unit plans of each grade and subject.

There is something that I have noticed at many different moments throughout the past month and a half about the environment and the workplace. Through sitting in on teacher meetings, administrative meetings, and professional development sessions, I have noticed that the staff, teachers and administrators, are very unified. They have a great relationship both working together as colleagues, and even more so, as people inside and outside of the school environment. This was something that made a big impact on my thoughts and emotions about being a teacher and being in an education environment. This is something very special that this teaching staff has.

This world of work being in the education environment and observing teachers and classes is very different than my academic life sitting in on classes about learning how to teach. I am having the opportunity in this internship to put what I have learned in my classes about how to teach students into the real world and real life experiences. Speaking to the teachers about their classes, students, and methods used has given me a different lens on the information I have learned in my classes. While I can learn in my classes and from textbooks “how to teach”, talking to different teachers about their experiences, their growth as teachers, and being able to differentiate their teaching for all of their students is what gave me the most valuable information.

I am working on a project where I look through binders upon binders of curriculum from different grades and different subjects and examining and analyzing the information and the way it is being taught. One specific thing I am learning through this project is finding the important parts and separating that from the other parts which are less relevant. The curriculum project I am working on requires me to look through unit and lesson plans and analyze them to see the overarching themes among the middle school grades, if the information flows from year to year, if the different subjects flow as well, and if there is anything repeated in the different curricula. By looking through dozens of binders and curricula, and writing up my findings, I have learned that there are some aspects that are important, but not necessarily important for this specific project.

Additionally, one other skill I am learning is how to talk and act professionally. This is my first job outside of being a camp counselor, so I am learning how to act professionally. Although every job and work environment is different, these work ethics, attire choices, and conversational skills will help me at any future job that I will have.

These are some of the binders which I looked through, examined, and analyzed for my project.

WOW Post #1

My name is Devorah Meyers and I am a rising junior at Brandeis University majoring in education. This summer I wanted to find an opportunity to be in a school environment which led me to become an intern at Westchester Day School, a Jewish preschool through 8th grade day school in Westchester, New York. I will be specifically interning and shadowing the principal of the middle school. Westchester Day School is a  modern-orthodox, co-educational school which values both the values of Jewish culture as well as the American culture and be able to infuse them.

This first week, I experienced and saw many aspects of a school which I was never exposed to as a student. I was able to sit in on meetings with individual teachers and the principal as well as grade meetings with teachers and administrators where they talk about what is going on in that grade, ways to help certain students, and challenging things that happened recently. Because of confidentiality of the administration, teachers, and students, there are many things which I cannot share about these meetings. These meetings gave me a new view of being a teacher or administrator. The middle school staff was so united and all brainstormed ways to help out each other. Additionally, I was able to sit in on some of the meetings which the principal had with some students to discuss aspects that they want to change in the school, as well as social and academic issues. These meetings were very surprising to me, as when I was a middle school student I was terrified of my principal and would only go to the office if I was in trouble. Sitting in on these meetings showed me a different way to be a principal in a school. The principal that I am shadowing wants to have a positive relationship with the students and the students as well want to have a positive relationship with her.

Additionally, I have covered many classes in the past week. I did not feel comfortable enough teaching a lesson to the students, so instead, with the permission of the teachers, I gave them work which the teachers gave me ahead of the class period. Although I was not teaching the students directly, I had the opportunity to be in the classroom with the students. This gave me the opportunity to see what a middle school classroom is like, how it functions, the challenge of controlling the behavior of the  students, and seeing the different personalities of students both socially and academically. This is extremely valuable for me as an aspiring teacher to be in the classroom with the students and begin to develop a relationship with a handful of them. I am very thankful for this opportunity and believe that it was very valuable for me to be in the classroom with students.

This is Westchester Day School

In addition to covering classes, I have also had the opportunity to observe classes and teachers. I have seen different ways and methods used by the teachers to teach different subjects and specific students. I have also had the opportunity to talk to the teachers after observing their classes to hear the reasons behind the strategies they use, the students who need more help and attention, and how to give them what they need. This was also very valuable for me to see and do because I was able to see the students and teachers in their environment and observe how a classroom functions. It was also very helpful to debrief with the teachers after the classes so I was able to understand why they repeated certain things, the abilities of the students, and the methods which work best for the class.

I hope through this summer and my projects I will be able to reach my goals of learning about the “behind the scenes of education,” including curriculum development and planning, scheduling, administrative work, hearing teacher’s feedback on their classes, and professional development.

Thank You, WOW Fellowship

On my first day at the United States Mission to the United Nations (USUN), a Regional Security Officer later told me he thought I looked “terrified.” As much as I tried to hide my nervousness on that first day, I had no idea what my summer in a new city would hold for me. As I exit the Mission ten weeks later, I know that I leave with more knowledge about political reform and public policy, professional skills, as well as personal confidence that have exceeded my expectations for this summer.

In helping with projects bigger than myself and providing support in the offices I worked in, I gained a better understanding of the meaning of teamwork and communication. I learned when to listen and apply knowledge from coworkers, but also when to step in with suggestions. It was challenging navigating how the Mission fit into the bigger system of the State Department and the United Nations, and being surrounded by important and successful diplomats was certainly intimidating, but also incredibly inspiring.

I gained a better understanding of the various career paths I can take as someone interested in international relations, and global health and development. Through weekly brown bag lunches with political officers, deputy heads of sections, and even an ambassador, I heard about diverse backgrounds that have led to successful careers at the State Department and at the Mission.

USUN Interns with Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo

My advice to those who are studying International and Global Studies (IGS) is to be open-minded in your opportunities. Find what you are passionate about and work towards a career doing exactly that. In trial and error and in figuring out what you don’t want to do, you can figure out what exactly it is you do want to do.

I am most proud of the independence that I have gained this summer. Living and working on my own in New York City brought on many new challenges that my small town in Arnold, Maryland certainly didn’t prepare me for. Whether it was navigating the subway system, learning how to network at events and meetings, or simply making sure I had enough food in my fridge for the next day’s lunch, I have definitely gained professional and personal life skills that I will take with me back to Brandeis.

Spending some last few moments in the General Assembly hall

As I finish up my last few days at the US Mission the UN, walking through the United Nations “Delegates Entrance” has become bittersweet. The functions of the UN that I have studied huddled under a textbook have come to life in multilateral negotiations at the General Assembly and Security Council, and I will certainly miss being surrounded by so many inspiring individuals who I can learn from. I hope to keep the relationships I have made in New York, and I hope to return soon. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have interned at the United States Mission to the United Nations, which I know would not have been possible without the WOW fellowship, and I am eager to see what the future has in store.

P.S. The Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Jonathan Cohen’s parents went to Brandeis! You never know who you will meet along the way!

It takes life-long passion to be in academia

 

My teammates and I (third person from the left)

Many people think that doing research in the medical field is about constantly gaining more knowledge, keeping up with advances and new findings in the field, and coming up with the meaningful unanswered questions. Research is also known to involve continuously doing experiments, analyzing and gathering data. From my personal perspective, I have discovered that research is a great learning environment. In order to contribute to any research project, the learning process never stops. The deeper your understanding is, the better your hypothesis will be. You are constantly learning while doing experiments and looking at your data. The hands-on experience is a crucial part to help me understand the projects.

In the Lichtman lab, people learn from each other on a daily basis: when the principal investigator and the postdoctoral researcher teach students new techniques or when students discuss underlying concepts with one another. It takes kindness to spare time to help other people learn. It takes cooperation and effort for everyone to be involved. Most importantly, it takes passion to keep all of this going.

The World of Work is not like university life. At school, students are taught by lecturers, assigned homework, get checked on for completion of homework, and get tested during exams to be evaluated. In the World of Work, how much you can learn and how much you can achieve entirely depends on you. There isn’t any limit about what you have to learn. There aren’t any criteria for you to be evaluated upon. People will not tell you what you should be doing, and they will not keep track of your work. However, they will evaluate your performance. They will want to know whether you can set up and carry out experiments independently, whether you can generate accurate data, and whether you can effectively analyze data. Furthermore, your performance is not the only thing that will be taken into consideration. It is also very important to maintain a good relationship with other people in your workplace and to be helpful to team members.

The most important skill that I have learned this summer is how to do research. I have learned how to come up with a question and how to set up the experiments and different techniques that can be used to do research. This will help me in the future whether I take lab courses at Brandeis or I do research as part of my career in the medical field. Besides my passion in patient care, I really appreciate the enormous impact of research in medicine. It may take a lifetime effort of scientists to do research, but the impact could be life-changing for improving patient treatment and health care services for all people. The World of Work has also taught me a lot about what I should do in order to be a worthwhile person and valuable team member. It’s all about having the passion and the resilience to pursue your passion.

Post 4: Communication is a Skill

Naming every skill I’ve gained in the past eight weeks would not fit in this blog post, and the skills I’m aware of make up probably only half of the total skills I’ve attained.

That being said, my skill that I can confidently say has improved the most throughout the summer is communication/public speaking, both in-person and in writing. This is a skill that fascinates me; it is a skill that is extremely important to have, especially in today’s world with technology and social media when you must stand out from everyone hiding behind a keyboard. You can read for hours, but you can’t master this skill by reading. You can practice time and time again. You can know everything about a problem, and you can know a solution, but if you lack conversational skills, you lack the skills to succeed in many ways.

I’ve met hundreds of strangers in the past two or three months, and the impression that I make on these strangers will either lead to success or to resistance. I’ve learned how to converse with all different kinds of people about the same thing, and in so many ways. In just the category of business owners, I’ve communicated with people from all education levels in regards to electric buses. I’ve also been reaching out to students, chairs of neighborhood associations, TriMet professionals, and other environmental groups. I’ve spoken in a number of meetings and in front of small and large crowds.

Here’s me speaking at the “electric bus happy hour” event that I organized at a local brewery

I’ve learned a crucial point to effectively converse with others is to listen to them. I’ve been in many meetings where I just listen. I’ve attended TriMet meetings, Oregon legislative committee meetings, and I’ve listened to people who have questions or concerns. I’ve learned that each interaction is unique, and the way for someone to understand you is for you to make an effort to listen and understand them.

As a result of this internship, I now feel confident speaking in front of people and approaching strangers and starting conversations. Having strong conversational skills is important for just about everything. For any path, creating and maintaining good relationships is a fundamental skill for success. Developing listening skills is important for school, for jobs, and it is a skill that many people lack (especially in today’s world). Today, it seems like everyone argues but no one listens.

I’m eager to have more life experiences to enhance my communication skills, and I strongly believe that this skill will only grow if you are thrown into uncomfortable situations, like I have been this summer. Staying in one place or engaging with a just a select group of people will limit your ability to grow socially, and I’m inspired to go out of my comfort zone to talk with people who have varying sorts of stories and perspectives.

Last post: Overall internship experience

Interning at The Center Houston during this summer has helped me achieve academic and career goals. Marketing has always been something I had an interest in, along with not-for-profit work. The Center gave me the opportunity to combine two of my passions and become more knowledgeable.

The Center is constantly fighting for social justice. I have come to learn that social justice is something that should be present in every field. However, the reality is that sometimes things are not as we imagine. The Center brings equality and opportunity to grow for adults with disabilities. Coming to work has never been so fulfilling as it has this summer, because I understood the true meaning of social justice and how it plays out in our society. I have learned that The Center fosters social justice by bringing people together! Social justice can be done in multiple steps and the most valuable one is helping someone gain a skill to break away from the injustice.

During my internship, I was assigned multiple projects. However, my favorite project was contributing the idea of hiring a job coach. I believe that teaching skills to clients to obtain jobs is as important as teaching a client the process of a job interview. This idea was something that I contributed to by making a presentation and being part of hiring someone, which was exciting.

The whole idea behind obtaining a job coach is to teach clients how to dress and answer questions during a job interview. We also keep in touch with clients because we want to make sure that they not only get a job, but also maintain it. It’s very fulfilling when a client obtains a job because of all the hard work he or she put into it.

This was my supervisor Breanne Subias

Before starting my internship, I never worked on writing a press release that was going to be read by 11,000+ people. I wish I had known how to write one; however, at the same time it was a good learning experience to grow and learn from the professionals around me. Organizing volunteer events is something I wish I had known before, because of the details and time each one takes. During my internship, I had the opportunity to meet several volunteers whose stories were amazing and who were passionate in giving back to The Center.

Interning at The Center was a very rewarding experience for me. The level of professionalism you are exposed to makes you adapt to a fast pace of work, while recognizing the things you need to work more on. The support system from the departments was something I loved, as well as how my supervisor was always teaching me something new. The staff is welcoming and you are free to work on any project that will help you achieve your academic or career goals.

A career in marketing can be very competitive, but working for a not-for-profit organization with experienced professionals in that field can be rewarding when starting. The network that you are exposed to is large, which means you can reach out to potential mentors who are eager to help you succeed.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the WOW Social Justice fellowship and for that I am very thankful!

Lesbia ‘20

Post 4: Social Justice, But Not for Everyone

For the past week, I have been working at a public hospital in Abidjan called the CHU. It’s a bigger public hospital that has all services. This time I am working in the neurosurgery department, a career I want to specialize in after medical school.

The CHU has its problems and is not perfect. The CHU is bigger and has more space for its patients, but it lacks resources. People with financial burdens usually go there because they can’t afford hospitals like the military hospital, which is a semi-private hospital. Being exposed to and having to adjust to many of the issues that different hospitals face, I have learned important skills. One that I think was very important is interacting with patients, especially in an area where the population is not very well-educated. At first, I saw that doctors tried explaining things to patients but being so overworked and busy, they explained little. Patients were sometimes left confused about their conditions. Before I went home after work, I would go back to the patients to explain medical information that was given to them in clear ways that they were able to understand. Some patients were not very fluent in French. I used my language skills and translated in Madigo for those patients (thanks to my parents for teaching me their language).

hospital
The hospital where I began working.

As a person who is committed to social justice, I also found myself advocating for some patients who needed immediate attention. I loved listening to the patients and empathizing both intellectually and emotionally with them. It made it easier for me to understand their problems and propose solutions while staying professional. Sometimes, I would received text messages from my colleagues on my days off telling me that some patients asked after me and were looking forward to our “end of the day” conversations.

I hope to take the skills I have learned to Brandeis University and advocate for the lives of the underserved and the marginalized. My goals are to receive an education, become a doctor and use my professional platform, or even as an undergraduate student, to be a catalyst in the fight for human rights. I can start this by first going around the world to provide quality healthcare to the underserved.

I am definitely for the idea of making the world a better place. I have access to quality health care any time I want, so I believe these people deserve to have the same opportunity I have. This is very important to me, especially because I lost my aunt at a very young age for the same financial reasons that some of the people on the Ivory Coast are facing. She could have been saved if someone helped her or at least advocated for her life.

I hope to become a person who is grateful enough to give back to the community. I will take my public advocacy skills to Brandeis University which will allow me to fight for human rights, especially for the marginalized groups around the world.  I refuse to feel guilty every time I see someone in need of treatment. I want to sustain a responsible and fair society, and the most powerful way to do so is to study the wonders and miracles of science in my pursuit of a medical career.

– Awa Soumahoro

Some medical students I have met there. Here we were shadowing a doctor in his consultations.

Midway through my time at Columbia

The view of campus on my way to the office.

Things are going really well at the Cuba Program. Lately, we’ve been having a lot of people visiting from Cuba. We have a meeting a few days ago with the President/Director of the Fundación Antonio Nunez Jimenez which focuses largely on sustainable development and environmental issues in Cuba. I was able to meet her and sit in on the meeting. FANJ had worked with several European funders that also donated to our office (as well as with the Environmental Defense Fund, Ocean Doctor, and others from the US). They are in the process of building the first ever solar paneled “green” building in Cuba and wanted to see if Columbia could collaborate in any way. More information on the Fundación Antonio Nunez Jimenez can be found here: http://www.fanj.org/

I have also been gathering data for a book my boss/mentor is helping to write. The book is focused on academia and the direction the modern discipline of international relations (not specifically in relation to Cuba) is taking. It seems as though the field of international relations isn’t as “international” as one may think- the US hegemony is growing more and more evident. Looking at the graph below, one can note how the majority of the respondents to the question of who has the greatest influence on the discipline cite US-based scholars. In her upcoming book, my mentor is calling for a diversification of influences in the scholarship so that students can learn and grow from a variety of theories/countries rather than just one.

Graph made available by:

Maliniak, Daniel, Powers, Ryan, Peterson, Susan, Tierney, Michael J. January 08, 2018. “Is  International Relations a Global Discipline?            Hegemony, Insularity, and Diversity in the   Field.” Security studies, (accessed August 02, 2018). http://wmpeople.wm.edu/asset/index/smpete/ss2018

 

Also, some advice for students who have a passion but don’t know what to do with it:

I walked into this internship knowing only one thing: I loved Cuba and cared dearly for its financial/political progress. If you know that you’re passionate about something but don’t know how to make that into an internship, the university research setting is a great place to start. There are so many programs (at Columbia and elsewhere) that are similar to the Cuba program in the sense that they focus on one thing specifically. I was able to find my internship simply by Googling “research on Cuba NYC”; once you have a passion and know where you would want to pursue it, finding like-minded people is easier than you think!

And some tips for future interns who may be a bit shy (like myself):

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Taking a genuine interest in your boss/mentors’ career should be part of your experience. Chances are, if they chose you for the position, they’ll want to share their knowledge and experiences with you. By asking, you’ll not only learn more about the industry but also more about what you may want from your own time there.

If you have any questions about the Cuba program or Columbia or NYC in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out! nataliagonzlz@brandeis.edu

Post 4: Progress from the Desk Space

At the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club I have been gaining much insight as to how non-profit activist groups organize themselves and create real change.  I came in expecting lots of protest organizing and direct, politically charged outreach. While this is a large portion of what members of the Sierra Club take part in, it does not cover what happens behind the scenes in the office. At my work site there are lots of educated, driven, determined, compassionate people all striving towards a common goal: protect the earth and protect the people.  First and foremost each of them has taught me how to take my frustration on a social justice issue and use that to fuel each step we take in reaching towards a better future.

On a more technical note, I gained much valuable knowledge on what needs to happen in the office in order for it to function smoothly and efficiently. These include, but aren’t limited to, skills in Excel Spreadsheets, data analysis, professional communication, organization, and time management.  Sometimes it felt like I would be working on the same spreadsheet for days at a time, and to what end? I admittedly got frustrated because at times it felt like all the hours spent in the office didn’t amount to any actual progress on the important issues. I eventually realized my place in it all, however, would not be solving every hard case of bureaucratic gridlock that plagues this country.

My personal desk work space in the office

Climate change is not going to be reversed any time soon or by any one individual. This took some grappling with in order to come to terms with, but when I finally did I understood that I had so much to gain by simply doing the seemingly mundane paper pushing tasks. All of them make my bosses’ jobs easier, and on top of that the skills I gained will be relevant in almost any future job setting. Some of the more important takeaways included learning about equity and inclusivity challenges as well as being conscious that no organization is perfect, even social justice oriented non-profits.

Ever since I arrived at Brandeis I have been wanting to get more involved with all the social justice activism present on campus, and I think now that I am more familiar with a wider range of what that justice means I can do so with more confidence and capability. Specifically, when I get back on campus this Fall I plan on getting involved with S.E.A. (Students for Environmental Action). As far as personal revelations, this summer I’ve learned that a desk job isn’t my strong suit, though someone has to do it. Furthermore, I’ve learned that I’m passionate about protecting the environment, and I never want to forget to take the time out of my schedule and fight to protect our planet.  While this doesn’t align perfectly with my neuroscience major, I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to. These issues at hand are more important than ever and need everyone’s attention.

Post 5: Looking Back at a Summer with the Sierra Club

In my last post I expressed some of my angst regarding the nature of social justice work in an office setting, but this made me realize the necessity of every small cog and gear in a system. Similarly, with social justice one must advocate not just for their own liberation and welfare but for everyone around them who may not even have the privilege or opportunity to make their voice heard. Every voice matters, so use yours and use it effectively.  With each story of a marginalized experience that you can bring to light, your cause becomes stronger in solidarity and authenticity. There is power in numbers, and the trick is to make sure those numbers, even if large, are representative of the relevant and diverse struggles that require constant awareness and action to address.

At the Sierra Club I have learned much about grassroots efforts specificaly.  They are so powerful because of the amount of voices (the Lone Star Chapter alone has 22,000 members). Similarly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has increased awareness of systemic racism in the United States as it gained momentum with more and more stories being shared, especially through social media.  #BlackLivesMatter is very distinct from the Sierra Club, however, in that it has no hierarchal structure for organization, purely the voices that choose to use the hashtag.  Such a decentralized movement thus loses the weight of beurocracy and becomes much more focused in its goals. As an intern at my site, I felt like a very small gear in the system, but by now I have learned that the small gears don’t just help the system function, they are necessary for it to function whether there is a central organization scheme or not. My desk work, while semi-mundane depending on the day, made my superiors’ jobs easier as they had less of the number crunching and media reading on their plates. Furthermore, I believe it was a valuable opportunity for my coworkers, because through teaching me the basic ins and outs of the organization and the daily work they do, they got to practice communicating these issues in layman’s terms.  In the office, I provided an increase in demographic diversity as the youngest person (and especially one not thoroughly educated in environmental issues). This lead to many insightful discussions relating the Sierra Club’s work to social justice as a whole, and I genuinely believe was a learning experience for all parties involved.

Sierra Club Clean Energy Coordinator speaking in San Antonio (from @TexasSierraClub Twitter)

If I could go back in time, I wish I had come into the internship with more knowledge of the business and legislation side of environmental justice.  All of the policy and lawsuit side of things blindsided me, and when I first got on site I had a lot of research to do on the current political climate in Texas surrounding environmental issues. To anyone considering an internship with the Sierra Club or other environmental justice organizations I would advise to be aware going into it that you are going to take many losses.  It can be a discouraging field at times, but you’ve got to keep your head up, continue to fight the good fight, and believe in every part of what you are doing.

Post 4: Reflecting on my experience in Berlin

During my time here I have been asked many times about the purpose of my stay. Explaining that I am an intern often invites questions like “Why here?” and “Is this a requirement for your studies?” So I had to ask myself the same questions. Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time working independently and have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience and the decisions I have made. Naturally, I experienced many moments of doubt and frustration where I felt the work I was doing was minor and fruitless. In these moments, I had to remind myself that nothing is achieved overnight and small steps can lead to major change. If I am asked now, towards the end of my internship, if I made the right choice, I would undoubtedly say yes!

I came here with certain expectations that were not met professionally, but I feel I have grown in other ways. I learned to become much more mobile, adaptable and patient. I learned that not everything can be accomplished quickly, especially when working with others. I also learned how to work on my own with a lot of freedom.

To be frank, I have yet to discover the magic of time management and what it would be like to actually work within a timeline or stick to a deadline (hence I am submitting this post late!). But navigating that has also been part of the adventure. I was certain that I am not the type of person that would ever work a conventional nine to five, but I have found that there are disadvantages to working remotely in a freelancing type of way as well.  I realized the freedom I was allowed at my work space required me to become a lot more self-disciplined and that freedom was at times restricting because I was unable to use my time wisely and productively.

My view working in Monbijou Park last week

On a personal level, when I decided that I would move to Berlin and work with my internship remotely, I had no idea what to expect and I was thinking that my work life and my social/personal life would be very different. However, the type of work I am doing with refugees has opened my eyes to so many different ways of viewing and experiencing German society as a whole. Whether in a big city or a small town, it has been fascinating to observe the different groups of people who live here and the ways that their lives collide.

The city has also offered me great opportunities to network and meet people from all over the world who are involved in similar work. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to hear from refugees in Berlin and to listen to their stories and think about the different integration methods in a big city versus smaller communities.

Working remotely has proven challenging yet rewarding. I look forward to the adventures yet to come and the experiences not yet lived.

PS: if you ever find yourself in Berlin and want to find co-working spaces here are a few of my favorite places  where hipsterism is at its best:

Betahaus

St. Oberholz

Post 3: What Progress Looks Like

The last couple of weeks have been milestone weeks! Eighty-four businesses have signed on stating they are in support of a fully-electric bus fleet, thirteen neighborhood associations in Portland have signed on, and we had our first happy hour event about electric buses last night at a local brewery! Momentum is picking up, and at a meeting that we had with TriMet yesterday morning, I discovered we might really be getting somewhere. A twenty-two-year, detailed plan for TriMet to transition to a fully-electric fleet may still need revisions, but it will be proposed to the TriMet committee and board in upcoming weeks.

While there are a few complications and logistics that need maneuvering, it’s really encouraging to see a plan, and to see people who work with TriMet and people who don’t–mostly environmentalists–responding to public support around electric buses and creating an in-depth proposal. Now, more than ever, it’s important for me to reach out to the community and communicate between Portlanders (individuals, business owners, neighborhood associations, and other leaders who care about clean air in Portland) and TriMet that this plan is something we must agree to and then follow through with.

Here is a picture from the happy hour event last night. This is the Multnomah County Commissioner, Jessica Vega Pederson, talking about the urgency  of electric buses in Portland

For me, there’s a large spectrum of what progress looks like. Getting a single bus-line business to sign on is progress, but adding up all of the small grassroots work and events and sharing it with TriMet is what might lead to the bigger successes that I’m looking to achieve down the road. And, frequently, change doesn’t come right away and it definitely won’t stop once this campaign is achieved. Getting TriMet to ditch diesel and go electric will hopefully just be a small stepping stone leading to other big things that, when combined altogether, will have the biggest outcome. Since it takes legal action to get private organizations that are major contributors to our diesel pollution to reduce their emissions, it is best to push for a public organization that really cares about how the city views them. These organizations will see TriMet following what the public is pushing for, and hopefully that will result in changing practices for them as well. The local change we are hoping to create could thus factor into  national change and possibly global change. But everything starts small.

It’s important to have big goals and big dreams and hope to achieve things that some might think are impossible, but it’s also important to recognize that some big changes need to start small. You cannot expect that you will make progress and change right away, and sometimes you have to be patient.

Post 2: The Fire in the Belly

“Get tough. Have the fire in the belly.” That was an ADA’s response when I asked him what makes a good lawyer. It’s about being a fierce advocate for what you believe in and having a commitment to getting to the truth of things in an effort to be as fair as possible.

In criminal proceedings, a heavy burden falls upon the prosecutor. They must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This principle of law is enshrined in the Constitution, helping to form the foundations of our judicial system in which a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Every day at the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, I get to both observe and assist Assistant District Attorneys as they seek to satisfy their burden. It’s a difficult job because not all parts of the incident will be introduced in court, and preparing for a case requires extensive preparation and communication with the defense. Being a prosecutor is, at its best, about uncovering the truth, which reminds me of Brandeis University’s motto, “Truth, even unto its innermost parts.”

Some court rooms are used for arraignments, while others are reserved for trials or dangerousness hearings.

Over the course of my internship, I have realized how much the law shapes the society that we live in. It can be frustrating to see the same defendants appear in the courthouse again and again, or to go through a defendant’s discovery folder for a case and see that their record is several pages long and usually is motivated by addiction or gang affiliation. This further proves that early prevention and diversion programs, such as the community outreach that I help with, can change the trajectory of a person’s life. While free will (and the personal responsibility that accompanies it) is of course the single most important factor that determines whether or not someone commits a crime, there are many systemic issues and injustices that contribute to such a heavy caseload for ADAs, the most pressing of which is the opioid epidemic in this country.

The ADAs that I have had the privilege of interning for face the uphill battle of uncovering the truth and seeking justice with hard work, determination, and steadfast support of one another. This internship is extremely hands-on, so I have pushed myself to take the initiative to reach out to ADAs and seek out projects that give me exposure to court proceedings. The courthouse is a new world that I have had to learn to navigate and understand. The legal profession is like its own language, so asking for clarification is now something that I am extremely comfortable doing because that is the key to understanding my surroundings. Everyone involved in a trial is in the courthouse at the same time, meaning that being able to read the room and navigate the nuances of a particular situation is essential. Law is an obsession with accuracy of language. Lawyers use the power of expression as a means of advocacy. In order to be a good lawyer, you have to be committed and prepared. You have to have the fire in the belly.

Post 5: The Personal is Political

Hello everyone!

I cannot believe that five weeks have gone by already. How time has flown! Working at Ancient Song Doula Services for the past two months has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences in my life.

Going into this summer, I was fearful that I would not gain as much from working here compared to all that I learned last year. Quickly I realized, however, that with such important work, the responsibilities are constantly growing and evolving and so is the learning.

My work this year has been centered around tackling current events and political reform as we have gotten closer to the reimbursement of doula services through Medicaid insurance, which has been a long awaited goal. , If done correctly, this reform can assure accessibility to undeserved communities. With progress and change around the corner, it is important to keep the momentum going. This does placed added pressure on community-based services who have been at the forefront of the birth justice movement since the begining.

Here is a flyer I created on our upcoming Decolonize Birth Conference!

Because Ancient Song is such a lean organization, every role is vital. Returning to the organization or a second summer appeared to make everyone else’s job a lot easier as responsibilities were better distributed. In my second year, I continued to learn and grow as a professional. In particular, I strengthened my organization and prioritization skills. I am able increase my productivity when I organize my tasks according to what is most urgent. I continue to work at how to confidently I communicate with my coworkers/supervisors letting them know when I feel something needs to change in the work space.

Before starting this work, I wish I would have understood how personal this work is for me. I thought I could separate the personal from the political, but the two are very much intertwined and layered within each other. This is what makes social justice work sometimes taxing on your body and mental health. You have a constant urge and feeling as though you are not doing enough or you could be doing more, especially with such a small team. Reminding myself that I am doing the best that I can while giving myself constructive feedback is something I find myself constantly doing.

Last year at Ancient Song, I found that it was difficult for me to say no whenever I was asked to take on additional responsibilities or stay additional hours, and I found that this became very taxing on my physical and mental health. This is why I would recommend to anyone who pursues this work to prioritize themselves and their well being over anything. This is an important lesson for professional development in general.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always be prepared to pitch yourself to folks who may come into the work space, as you may not know the connections they have or the network of people and organizations with which they are linked. I’ve found that this year at Ancient Song, I have met so many amazing people within the birth justice world. I am always introducing myself and what I do and this often leads to sharing contact information.

Overall, I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to work at Ancient Song Doula Services, and I am looking forward to what future summers may offer!

Post 3: The Ripple Effect

Outside the courthouse

Change: “to make or become different.” When we contemplate the meaning of change within a context of social justice, it broadens not only to making something different, but ideally improving or enhancing. However, change–the results of compounded efforts over time–does not imply universal progress; just as it can build, it can equally oppress and recede. Nevertheless, with an intention of betterment, change can be a sequence of positive events that occur as the result of structured and defined goals. Embodying this at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, our ultimate goal is to provide free representation to low income and marginalized communities in the greater Boston area, responding in a way that addresses the poverty-inducing sins of systemic racial, social and economic inequalities.

I can recall a conversation I had the other day with a clinical instructor and director at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. We discussed her experiences working at HLAB, and some of the most significant injustices she’s witnessed at the courts during her time. One issue that stood out over others was the disparity of representation among tenants and landlords in the housing courts. While ninety-three percent of tenants are unrepresented during trials at the housing court, seventy percent of landlords are represented.

The Edward W. Brooke Courthouse

The other week, I was able to witness this great discrepancy firsthand. Assisting counsel members at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse for an event known as “Attorney for the Day,” I helped direct and prepare unrepresented tenants for their court cases. In supplement to the assistance I was able to provide, I had the opportunity to sit in and observe ongoing cases in the courtrooms. The number of tenants who were unrepresented in court was overwhelming. As I sat on the bench in courtroom 12, alongside individuals who faced the very real possibility of being evicted or losing their homes, I could only imagine how daunting it would be to partake in a court case without legal guidance and representation. In observing these cases, the advantages that represented landlords had over their unrepresented tenants was extremely evident. Without proper legal guidance or representation in court, the justice system will always be skewed to favor the party who has the privilege of legal representation. In this, the systemic racial, social, and economic inequalities that poverty is the result of will only be preserved.

The nonprofit legal work that the Bureau and other organizations do is integral to activating and sustaining social change. Targeting our social justice issues at the roots of the problem, from a systemic legal standpoint, is crucial for change to occur. But how can we measure and quantify change? How can we be certain that the work we are doing is making an impact? At the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, a multitude of clients have walked through our doors in search of legal aid. While the outcomes of these cases differ notably from each other, if HLAB is able to provide representation, guidance or even support, I believe we are making progress towards change and a justice system that provides equal opportunities for all. Quality legal representation should not be a luxury afforded by only the privileged, but a service accessible to everyone. By exerting the mission of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, we will influence positive change and create a ripple effect; influencing continued efforts for change and ultimately a justice system that works equally for the justice of all.

Post 4: Adaptability

I have learned a myriad of skills at my position this summer. Most of these skills are technical skills which are useful in the realm of public health policy. One specific subset of skills that I know I will be utilizing elsewhere is the different methods of organizing and displaying vast quantities of qualitative data.
At Brandeis, I learned how to analyze data is a quick, simple and categorical way. If one question had to be answered, perform this function and you will arrive at the answer. If you wish to convey something else, then this other function will do the trick. If other parameters exist, create new models and test them again. However, in the work I am doing at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, this is not enough. I have to engage with the data in a different way. Often, the data I use needs to not only be analyzed but also presented in a way that is understandable to the general public. It is not enough for me to know that a certain average means something, but the data has to show this in a graph or chart that other people can understand. While at the beginning I thought I understood how to do this, I learned so much more throughout this experience. More specifically, I began to realize that non-numerical data is hard to show. It can not be summarized easily and it must be clear and concise enough for the average person to understand it. This became especially apparent to me through one specific project I was asked to do.
A project I am working on right now aims to organize and categorize food policies in five boroughs by government entities. While the research aspect of this was difficult, I have struggled more with how to organize the over 500 entries we have acquired. Working with my boss, we brainstormed a few ways that this could become an interactive and visually appealing database. We finally settled on using a google software called Mindmup. MindMup makes use of a mapping tool called “mind maps” which organize data as “nodes” or offshoots of other data points. This program has allowed us to begin compiling and creating an NYC database of food policies that will eventually be accessible everywhere.
Before settling on MindMup, I learned about other ways to organize information that I can hopefully put to use in the future. This sort of skill set will be useful in every policy related job as compiling large amounts of information for public consumption is often necessary.
This experience also taught me how adaptable I can be. I started creating our database using a different program that I found to not be conducive to what I wanted to do. I was able to walk back to my boss’s office, explain to him the problems and troubleshoot with him and ultimately choose a new format. I repeated this multiple times and settling on MindMup became both exciting and rewarding. Learning this about myself is useful and I will definitely use my adaptability as a tool in future endeavors.

Post 3: Food as a Social Determinant of Health

Learning about social determinants of health at Brandeis informed the work I am doing at this internship. I am working a lot with poverty and food insecurity and its relation to poor health outcomes. Being able to understand this in the context of determinants of health allows me to understand how to best approach research problems.

For example, on one project I was asked to research policies in New York that affect food in any way. While I was first inclined to merely look at policies with the word ‘food’ in the title, I began to realize that so much more went into this task. I started looking for policies that addressed negative health outcomes associated with poor nutrition, such as diabetes and heart disease. I found that food was an upstream variable that was creating poor outcomes and consequently policies to remedy them.

The topics I learn in class I often thing I will not use again. Especially in my social science classes I am often skeptical or do not fully appreciate the value of the topics I am learning. I am very grateful that I had this knowledge for my internship. It enabled me to understand the policies I was working with.

Another aspect that I appreciated was seeing something I learned in school come to life. I knew that social determinants of health effected the health outcomes of individuals but this showed it to me. I saw briefs on policies about providing language assistance to individuals applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the New York City Human Resources Administration. Often, these individuals would either go hungry or buy less nutritious food because they did not know how to get onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. However, providing them with translations enabled them to provide for themselves in a way they could not before. This is important because if this one seemingly small factor had not been addressed these individuals and their families could become sick. This results in an undue burden on the American Health Care System. By stopping and mitigating this upstream effect, this Human Resources Administration of the the City of New York was able to save the health and lives of many while saving taxpayers’ dollars. I not only learned about this in school but this summer I was able to see it and to experience its use in public health and public policy.

Incorporating my classwork into my internship was not only interesting but it was necessary. It created a solution to a problem that I did not yet know occurred and enabled me to present my best work. Without the information I remembered from my HSSP class, I would not have thought to approach this task in this way. I understand the work that my organization does in a new light. Rather than treating negative health outcomes, we work to mitigate upstream factors by focusing on social determinants of health. This creates a solution that will have long-term impacts.

A sample policy: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/cbrboro4-17.pdf

Post 3: Big Change from Small Places

When attempting to create real change to better environmental and social equality, the Sierra Club tackles every level of the issue. The biggest priority of the Lonestar Chapter is shutting down fossil fuels in the state, and there has been (perhaps surprisingly) a great deal of progress and success here. The Sierra Club has been enforcing clean energy building codes and consistently shutting down coal plants over the past several years, each one providing a major win for the fight to obtain cleaner air for all. Many of the environmental goals of the organization are motivated by the public’s health and well being, which is harmed by the countless pollutants companies spew into our air and water everyday. These actions hurt wildlife, the ecosystem, our atmosphere, and the climate that future generations to come will have to deal with. Many if not all of the Sierra Club’s actions align with the 17 sustainable development goals that the United Nations released in 2015, with the goal of achieving them by 2030.

Rio Grande River Valley

When examining how progress is achieved, the Sierra Club’s small steps always start at the grassroots level. This mostly includes local outreach, education, and protesting. One current hot topic for our organization is the campaign “Save Rio Grande Valley from Liquified Natural Gas” or Save RGV from LNG for short. There is a prospective pipeline for liquified natural gas (which needless to say is extremely harmful for the environment if there were any leaks or accidents) in Southeast Texas, and the Sierra Club has been pushing to stop it in its tracks.

This issue isn’t solely environmental, however. The pipeline would run through the lands of many indigenous groups who have lived there for generations. They have been some of the most active in voicing their unease about the project. Thanks to the momentum of this grassroots campaign, the issue has been getting more and more public attention in the media. The next step is to go for the “bad players” involved, which in this particular case would be those funding the pipeline. Societe Generale is a French company supplying money for this as well as other pipelines in South Texas, and the Sierra Club has been directly calling them out in an attempt to continue to increase awareness.  

Map of South Texas Counties Affected

Big steps in general to achieve environmental justice are rooted in either corporate players who could be swayed to view the environmental aspects with more care, or more often legislators who can pass bills to enforce real change. These legislative changes are usually difficult to accomplish at the state level here in Texas, but the Sierra Club lobbies nonetheless and has a PAC fund.

On a more broad scale, the Sierra Club has been trying to change the demographic makeup of its organization and members. The organization historically has been primarily white, middle to upper class members and the current staff is trying to diversify the communities involved so that all marginalized communities’ voices can be heard. After all, the earth belongs to all of us, so we all have to protect it.

Post 2: Going Downtown to Protect Local Democracy

In my first semester of sophomore year at Brandeis I took the course Global Pandemics: History, Society, and Policy. This class, while teaching me much about the horrifying diseases and plagues around the world, also gave me a stronger take away: to always think about the different perspectives of any issue. When talking about global health, we often take a global perspective with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the World Bank. Furthermore, “best practices” lead the way when determining what actions to take on an issue. However, we must learn to also consider cultural, economic, social, spiritual, and geographical factors when looking at issues. I also learned to ask who has the power to enact change versus who should have that power.

Applied to my internship, I realized that environmental issues need a global perspective in order to address the fact that climate change is real. But sadly, there are deniers all around the world, usually with special interests in mind such as selling oil and coal. Environmental justice also needs more fine-tuned, local perspectives. The class Global Pandemics helped me realize that the biggest actions unfortunately ultimately come from the system which holds the power and money, but progressive change starts with the people’s voice. The Sierra Club is advocating for marginalized groups affected by the destructive actions of special interest groups.

These concepts strongly resonated with me when I got the opportunity to attend an American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) meeting in downtown Austin with the Sierra Club communications director. The meeting topic was centered around protecting the power of local democracies, and how the term “preemption” has changed connotations over the years. What once was the state fighting federal government power (such as in states legalizing medical marijuana or raising the minimum wage) has turned into state governments overstepping bounds on municipal governments.

Local elected officials know the needs of their community better than any other level of government representation. Local governments put in place policies that will benefit their people and local businesses such as increasing paid time off, ensuring equal pay for women, or turning their area into a sanctuary city. State governments recently have been trying to strip municipal governments of these powers, which is effectively destroying the power of not just local officials but also the people.

Democracy itself is being threatened by a tiered power structure. This leads to obvious social justice implications and effects on local communities not being protected by the leaders who know them best, because instead state officials will often make policy decisions based with corporate interest groups in mind since that is where the money is located, and unfortunately in America money too often equates to power. We must learn to listen to the people’s voices, or else we will begin to lose sight of the principles on which this country was founded.

World Health Organization Infographic – Environmental Impacts on Health

Post 2: Small Steps to a Big Outcome

The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute focuses on bringing healthy and affordable food to all areas of New York. One way they do this is by mapping out food deserts in Upper Manhattan. This project consists of many different small steps which all lead to a larger goal. Though each step may feel small, taken together the project will produce a lot of change.

Food deserts are areas that do not have access to healthy or affordable healthy foods. This often means that the predominant form of food that these citizens eat is processed. This could mean packaged food but is also often fast foods and the like which are not nutritious. This ultimately leads to poor health outcomes down the line. To ensure that we do not have to

pay for costly medical procedures in the future, we should pay up front now in the form of ensuring that everyone can eat in a healthy way. Another problem with food deserts is that they are self-sustaining. This means that they create communities that prefer packaged and processed food instead of whole foods and fresh vegetables. Therefore, we must go into communities in an educational way that teaches people what to buy and how to use it. Engaging the community and centering programming on youth is an often used and successful tactic

To begin, a list of food stores in Upper Manhattan had to be created. These thousands of locations were then found on google maps and linked to a spreadsheet. Each location is linked to a 2007 snapshot and a 2017 snapshot. Then, it is coded to reflect the type of food retailer it is, any changes that have occurred and current status. While each step feels small and the coding takes a while, it is all very important. One intern may only be able to accomplish a few hundred entries but after a while this becomes a few thousand and then, as we progress, we are able to use GIS mapping to show our results.

It is sometimes hard to feel motivated when you don’t feel like you are making progress. However, the small steps are always important and it often takes time to see their true impact. At our site, we often are motivated by the ability to use GIS because it is a cool and novel technology to many of us. Knowing that in the end this will become a tool to bring healthier foods to disadvantaged communities also creates incentive to keep building the database. It is also disheartening to think that I may not be here when this project is complete. Since it is so large and the data quantities so vast, the project could take years to complete. However, I still know that the effort I am putting in makes a difference just as the effort of the person who completes the project will. Every step of the way is important and even though each step might feel arduous, the final product will make everything worth it.

Navigating Landlord Tenant Court and Housing Law in D.C.

It’s hard to believe that my summer internship is almost over. It’s been a jam packed summer full of learning moments. I’ve become familiar with not only my host organization but also the city of DC, as well. From navigating the metro to exploring the museums there is always something to do.  Washington DC is a great place to be as an intern. There are many events geared towards interns. My cohort of interns have been to multiple events hosted by the Washington Lawyers Committee that explores law and politics. Recently we went to a panel featuring D.C. judges entitled “Poverty From the Bench”. We heard judges discuss poverty and how it affects our judicial system. They also shared how they try to make rulings that are not biased. It was inspiring to hear these judges speak.

As an undergraduate intern, in the housing unit at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, I have  interacted with members of the client community in person and over the phone. As part of my internship, I spend two days of the week working at our courthouse project. The courthouse project provides clients with same day representation on their first court appearances in their housing cases. These cases tend to be eviction cases. In D.C. if a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they have to go through the courts in order to do so. I believe that this is a good process due to the fact that tenants have the right to fight against the eviction. However, I have learned that in practice there are many problems with the landlord tenant court proceedings.

A very important statistic that I learned early on in my internship is that 90% of landlords have lawyers in these proceedings, while only 10% of tenants are represented. This creates a power differential between landlords and tenants. Often times, tenants that are unrepresented get intimated by their landlords’ lawyers and consent to a move-out agreement even though they  frequently do not have anywhere else to live. There is a book by Matthew Desmond that goes into detail about eviction statistics entitled “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”.

Photo From the Evicted Exhibit

There is currently an exhibit dedicated to this book and eviction work at the National Building Museum. Ironically, the museum is directly across the street from the landlord Tenant Courthouse in D.C.. As part of our internship program, I went to this exhibit with my fellow interns. It was truly an eye opening experience for me. I don’t think I ever knew just how bad evictions were not only in D.C. but across the country as a whole. The exhibition contained a section that talked about the Right To Counsel. Right To Counsel (RTC) is a movement that supports individuals having guaranteed representation in civil matters. While the sixth amendment of the constitution grants us a right to an attorney in criminal matters, it does not apply to civil matters such as housing cases.

Photo From the Evicted Exhibit

The Legal Aid Society of D.C’s Courthouse project is  a part of this movement. Housing lawyers are down at the courthouse five days a week to serve as “AOD” (Attorney of the Day) to help represent as many clients as possible. Unfortunately, there are to many cases on the docket and not enough attorneys. The average number of eviction cases on any given day is roughly 160. Of those cases, approximately half are deemed defaults which means that the tenant did not show up for court. This is very disheartening and something that the attorneys I work with are hoping will change. Being able to work down at the courthouse has been inspiring and motivating. It has led me to believe that my desire to go to law school is very much what I want to do in the future. I want to be able to help provide legal services to those that are underrepresented. I believe that everyone should have a right to counsel in cases that can have an affect on their well being such as eviction cases.

 

Learning more about the Farm and Sanctuary

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted but my internship is halfway over and I have learned so much in the past few weeks. Besides the daily routine of cleaning animal enclosures and preparing diets, I have had the chance of learning about a lot of other different aspects of wildlife care, education, and conservation.

I spoke last time about my part in an internship project. I decided to focus on designing and building new enclosures for some of our species here on the farm. Our American kestrel needed a new enclosure design because we had moved some of our animals around into more suitable enclosures. I got the chance to research and design all the new perches and the layout of the interior of the enclosure and then with some help, built them. I learned that the falcons needed flat perches to rest on as well as rounded perches that mimicked what they would find in nature. Our kestrel at the sanctuary had a prior wing injury so she has limited flight and needed a lot of low lying perches in order for her to climb around. With all this new research about enclosure designs, I have come to appreciate how difficult it is to keep captive wildlife and be able to care for them so that they are able to live comfortably.

Left: A picture of the kestrel enclosure I designed. Right: The American Kestrel, photo courtesy of Mass Audubon.

One amazing opportunity that this internship allows for is the chance to handle some of the animals at the wildlife sanctuary. All the interns that come through Drumlin’s Wildlife Care get a chance to do some

Handling one of our screech owls who was molting. Below is an audio recording of an Eastern screech owl’s call. Audio courtesy of National Audubon Society.

raptor handling under the supervision of our amazing Wildlife Program Coordinator, Flavio. Raptor handling entails being able to take a bird of prey or a raptor out of their enclosure and keep them on a gloved hand for educational presentations and then bring them back into their respective enclosures. I have been able to work with one of our broad-winged hawks and a screech owl here at the sanctuary. These birds have all been trained to be handled in such a manner and we always handle the animals with their safety and level of stress in mind.

In our downtime, interns also get the chance to learn more about Drumlin Farm as an institution and all the different fields of study and professions that go into the everyday management at Drumlin Farm. We got the chance to meet with Senior Naturalist, Tia and Visitor Education Manager, Sandy.

Talking with Tia, we learned about the efforts of conservation, especially in the lens of keeping invasive species in check. We helped clear out black swallow-wort, an invasive species native to Europe, in a small field on the farm. Tia explained how the swallow-wort plants were outcompeting and reducing the number of local species in the area. Swallow-worts are especially detrimental to monarch butterflies as female butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed which looks remarkably similar to the black swallow-wort, but monarch caterpillars cannot feed on black swallow-wort, leading to declining monarch populations.

A picture of Black Swallow-wort, an invasive species.

We also met with Drumlin Farm’s Visitor Education Manager, Sandy. Sandy walked us through the daily programs that happen on the farm and what a schedule for teachers that work with the farm looks like. Visitor education programs often showcase conservation and biodiversity efforts that the visitors do not immediately see. There are programs about different bird wings, the different weasel species of America and, of course, animal exhibition shows in which a teacher will take out one of our wildlife species and talk about that animal’s habitat, eating habits and their importance to the New England ecosystem. It was a very enlightening experience and Sandy even hinted at having the interns do some animal showcasing in the future as well!

Being able to see all the different parts of how the wildlife sanctuary work and how the farm functions has been extremely educational and I’ve had so much fun learning and gaining experience working in this field.

Post 5: Slow Work Is Still Meaningful

My time as an intern for the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute has been an amazing experience overall. Not only do I feel that I learned a lot from this opportunity, but I know that I have contributed to the work at the institute in a meaningful way.
The research I did this summer felt tedious and monotonous at times. There were days where I sat at my computer for hours and did not think I got a lot done. I would sympathize with the other interns, discussing how we had never-ending piles of work and what seemed to be small results. One project in particular took up the middle three weeks of my internship. I, along with the other interns and colleagues at the institute, developed a survey to be administered in the Harlem community. The ultimate goal was to create a long-term understanding of the food services offered and opinions on the demographic shifts in the community. This was difficult and tiring to see through from start to finish. However, it was all worth it when last week the director sent out the first draft of the report on our research. Seeing our work in writing made me realize what an impact we are having. More importantly, this report is being sent to other organizations and to funders who will use it as a guide to understanding our progress.
 
Social justice work can be hard and it can be tiring. It can seem like you are not getting anywhere, but this internship has taught me that even if it feels slow, you are still making progress. The impact that I have had on this organization is through my work on this project and so many others. I have enabled them to create further programs with my support of their research. Additionally, they have given me experience in fields I did not even know existed. This internship exposed me to the good and the bad parts of public health and helped me grow in my field.
 
If I could give advice to someone starting this or a similar internship, it would be to use your support system. For me, this was the other interns in my office, as well as my bosses to whom I reported. When I was confused or lost or needed motivation, they were always there for me. Furthermore, by helping them I was able to show myself my own capabilities. Also, I was worried at first that I did not know enough or was not capable of all of the tasks for this internship. If I could, I would go back and tell myself that although that is true, I will learn everything I need and that there isn’t a challenge I could not accomplish, whether it be alone or with the help of a coworker.
 
This internship and this summer have helped me grow in immeasurable ways and I know will put me on the path to a great career and a great future.
A link to the research the institute has done: http://www.cunyurbanfoodpolicy.org/publications/

Post 5: Skills for the Future — What I’ve Learned Working at the Hartford Public Defender’s Office

Through my work with the Hartford Public Defender’s office over the past two summers, I have learned a great deal about my passion for the field of law as well as many of the issues in the criminal justice system. Because my job is very hands-on and involves contact with clients on a daily basis, many of the skills I have learned relates to communication. The clients we serve come from all walks of life and from a variety of different backgrounds. I believe knowing how to properly communicate with every client to make sure they feel comfortable, respected, and supported is a very important part of a public defender’s job.

Me (if you look closely) sitting on the bench in one of our courtrooms

While interning this summer, I got the chance to work alongside many of the lawyers at our office. One lawyer in particular that I had the privilege to shadow on many occasions taught me a lot about how to work with clients who suffer from severe mental health problems. Because she also comes from a background working in a mental health-related profession, she has many skills that help her to more effectively communicate with her clients. For instance, when talking to a client who is very worked up, anxious, and unstable from the process of being arrested and in lockup, she is able to speak with them in a calming manner that allows them the chance to calm themselves and act more rationally. She not only helps the client to feel a bit of relief when in an extremely stressful situation, but it also helps them to avoid presenting to the court in a more erratic state, which can be important when the judge is considering bond or other important decisions. I hope that in my future career as a lawyer or even just in my daily life I can use the skills I have learned from her as well as the many others I work with to be a better advocate and person overall.

View of Hartford from my morning commute

While it can be difficult to articulate exactly what I have learned about myself and my skills in the workplace, I believe that I have learned a lot about my interests in the field of law and criminal justice as well as what it means to be a working, professional adult. When I first began this internship last summer, I had few ideas about what I wanted to do for a future career. I had also never had experience working in a professional setting. During my time here at the public defender’s office, I have been able to find my passion for working with others and the field of law. It has allowed me to combine my interests in people, my background in psychology, and my fascination with crime in one place. I now have a much clearer idea of the potential careers I hope to pursue, such as working in criminal law, family law, and other social service agencies. Additionally, it has opened my eyes to the multitude of backgrounds people come from and the discrepancies of how people live in my city. Furthermore, this internship has made me excited about my future and the many different paths I can take down the road.

Post 5: Something I wish I knew before my internship

Before this internship, I did not know what I should do after graduation. I started this internship with a hope to try out whether I liked research and whether I can do research. As I have spent seven weeks in this internship, there is a clearer path before me, and I am more determined about the path I choose.

Before this summer, I did not have a lot of experience in psychology laboratory or clinical psychology. I had passion for clinical psychology, but I was overwhelmed by everyone telling me how difficult it was to pursue a career in clinical psychology. I was anxious and lost as I did not know what I should do and what I can do. When I applied for this position, I was not sure whether I wanted to be a researcher or not, but the only way of knowing was by doing it.

It turned out that my anxiety and worries were relieved once I started trying. Part of my anxiety came from the fact that I was not doing anything instead of being worried, and an internship is a great way of trying out which path is suitable for you. I have noticed that many people my age, including me before this internship, are stressed about the unclear future and afraid of trying. Many of us are too eager to point out a clear future. The fact we often overlook is that very few people have a linear career path, and that uncertainty is in the nature of life. It is okay to be unsure of what to do in the future, and the key is to try. If you do not know which field is the one that you want to devote the rest of your life to, try all that you are interested in. There are so many possibilities in front of us, and we are so young that we have the privilege to explore them all. In the meantime, it is okay to find this not to be the right path for you, because career paths are frequently not linear but full of trials and failure.

In my case, I intended to join the field of economics or business up until the end of my sophomore year. After I realized that I could not fit into this field, I decided to see if psychology worked for me. My internship during this summer has confirmed my passion for clinical psychology. The arduous laboratory work can be boring to many people, but I find it interesting and feel motivated by the high-end purpose behind it. It is important for me to be happy with my job and feel like I am making a difference in the world. Every week, I need to process, scan, and store data collected from patients, but I can overcome this tedious work and stay motivated when I see how the patients are getting better every week. Being around people who share passion for the field is helpful. It is not as difficult as I thought once I started working on it, and once there are peers working hard along with you. The supervisors also gave valuable advice and made the path ahead clearer for me, as they are ahead of us along the way and have been through what we are struggling with now.      

Post 5: Self-Advocacy in Women’s Health

Themes from the women’s health workshop

On Wednesday, after a month and a half of planning, I walked into a room of thirteen women sipping tea and chatting around a large table waiting for a workshop on women’s health to begin. I’m interested in women’s health and health education because I believe it is so essential for women to understand how their bodies work and to be able to express any concerns to their doctor. So many times, women place the wellbeing of their children and families ahead of their own, and, with our clients who are trying to support their families in a life-altering transition, it can be even more apparent.

I’d noticed in the first few weeks at my internship that my clients did not volunteer information readily and that very pointed questions and relationship-building were needed to hear their concerns. Most providers start appointments by saying, “How are you doing today?” Clients reply, “Good,” and providers move on. When this happens, clients aren’t able to share their worries or problems. Since there is little access to women’s healthcare in Afghanistan, and speaking about reproductive health is culturally taboo, many of our clients did not know what was normal or abnormal, nor did they have the tools to self-advocate and ask their providers questions. So, I initiated and planned a women’s health workshop with a local OBGYN to provide some of our clients with the knowledge and tools to self-advocate at their appointments and understand the various tests and cancer screening procedures.

While the workshop was meant to be 30-45 minutes of presentation and 15 minutes of Q&A, it ended up being cut off after 2 hours! At first, the women were nervous, but as the doctor spoke, they began to smile, nod, and those that could write feverishly took notes. The doctor shared information about routine pregnancy care and labs; cervical, breast and colon cancer screenings; menstruation patterns; and controlling or augmenting fertility. She stressed the importance of women’s healthcare for reasons other than pregnancy as well, since so much focus is put on the health of women during pregnancy and for the sake of their children and not necessarily for their own benefit.

The doctor did an amazing job presenting the information in a straightforward way and encouraging the women to share their thoughts and ask questions. She used anatomical diagrams to help explain the female reproductive systems so that everyone could understand what their bodies looked like. The doctor stressed that because providers and patients don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture, doctors aren’t always able to communicate well with them. She shared that she doesn’t always ask the right questions of them and that sometimes she makes mistakes, so it’s crucial for them to tell her how they’re feeling and self-advocate. This openness allowed the women to feel comfortable sharing their worries and questions on everything from missed periods, to colonoscopies, to questioning why American women had such high breast cancer rates. The biggest revelation for the group was when they found out that men’s sperm is truly what causes the sex of babies, so having only girls was not the “fault” of the women. Jaws dropped, and several women yelled, “They lied to us!” through their interpreters.

The most rewarding part of the workshop for me was seeing the women’s faces as they processed the information and seeing their confidence grow as they asked and even answered questions for other women in the group. One workshop participant commented that while it was so important for the women to learn this information, that we should also hold a workshop for the husbands because they needed to know this information too! I know that this information will be handed down to daughters and other women in the community so others will also be able to understand their bodies and advocate for themselves at OBGYN visits. But, I also felt sad because as my internship comes to an end, I will have to say goodbye to the women and families with whom I have built relationships. There are still so many loose threads I wish I could help fix before I have to say goodbye.

I am so thankful to have witnessed the strength and determination of these women and their families adjusting to life in a new country. My advice for someone beginning a position like mine would be to listen and absorb as much information as possible. Being able to go with the flow and be all-hands-on-deck when a crisis arises is extremely important. Most importantly, being thankful for the relationships you build with people from around the world, as there is so much to learn from others.

-Maya

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and not indicative of those of IRC.

Post 5: BridgeYear and Beyond

My experience at BridgeYear turned out to be exactly what I wanted when I decided to apply to startups in the education sector. I am very interested in the EdTech industry, and I wanted exposure to the education system, the different organizations in the industry, and to expand my network. In addition, I love learning about startups and have usually only worked at larger firms before. I wanted to witness the type of work, resilience, and mindset it took to start a venture, and be a part of that growth. I was able to experience working in a smaller team in which I had significant projects and responsibilities that extensively and rapidly developed my skills. It also provided immense personal growth, as I received constant, actionable feedback and was given opportunities to take initiative. BridgeYear gave me a memorable internship, and has made me feel more confident and prepared moving forward.

During my time here, I learned about many facets of the organization, a large part of which is the nonprofit and social justice aspect. I am able to work on projects to grow the organization, while also having direct interactions with the students we are targeting. This is highly rewarding, but also taught me different elements of the issue while going through the processes with each student. In addition, I learned about the workings of a nonprofit in terms of the organizational structure, how the board functions, the finances, and how it differs from for-profit companies.

At BridgeYear, I was mainly responsible for communications. Some of my work for the organization is showcased through the redesigned website and the social media strategy. This has helped to strengthen the brand and mission, spread awareness, and attract more donors and supporters. I also had the opportunity to be part of projects that were implemented for the first time at BridgeYear, including coordinating the Volunteer Build Day event and creating the first impact report. This was extremely exciting, as I learned and developed numerous skills, but was also able to offer my perspectives and opinions.

Team bonding at an Escape Room

One of the most important things I learned during this internship is the extent to which someone must be passionate about the work they do. This is crucial for any type of work and industry, as one needs to reflect on what drives them to perform their best. However, it is especially true for nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Working at a nonprofit requires great passion for the mission, as it revolves around helping a community and raising funds, rather than making a profit. Passion and grit were things I often heard about in classes or read in articles as what you needed to create and sustain a startup. I was able to witness this firsthand at BridgeYear by seeing the mission-driven mindsets, diligence, and drive of the cofounders and the team. This internship has been an amazing learning experience, and has made me excited for what is to come in the future.

Post 5: My Fifth Week At The Quad Manhattan

One important lesson I have learned during my time at The Quad Manhattan is that in order to be successful in a social justice field, you have to have perseverance and be willing to be flexible. During the past five weeks, I have been faced with challenges that came completely out of left field. Whether it was working with the kids or sometimes with my fellow staff members, I had to keep a thick skin and always be willing to reach out for help and go the extra mile. I believe that these skills are important in any social justice environment.

It was this flexibility and perseverance that allowed me to have a large impact on The Quad Manhattan this summer. As the summer progressed, I proved myself and was given more responsibility. I have three kids that I am “tracking” and have been given most of the responsibility of taking care of them throughout the day. In addition to overseeing these three kids, I have helped out extra with the camper’s theatre classes. Whenever possible, I have worked with the theatre specialist and used my past theatre experience and psychology education to tailor the theatre lessons to my kids. I truly think that by being at The Quad Manhattan I have increased the experience of all the campers in my group.

Food made by campers during cooking class

One thing I know now that I wish I had known when I started this internship was that it is okay to stand up for yourself when you are placed in an uncomfortable situation. As I began to prove myself this summer, I was placed in harder and harder situations with both the kids and the staff until I reached a point where I just hadn’t received enough training to continue on by myself. At first I tried to just tough it out, but eventually it became apparent that if I didn’t reach out and ask for help I would be doing a disservice to both myself and the kids. I was hired as an intern whose job it was to learn and use what I learned to help the campers, not as a paid teacher who was expected to run the classroom. Once I reached out, I was given more tools to succeed, and I felt much more confident in dealing with these difficult situations.

A piece of advice I would give to someone else doing this internship next summer would be to make sure to make time for yourself. It has been very easy to let work overwhelm my life this summer. I found myself in a terrible cycle of going to work, eating dinner, sleeping, and then going back to work, and I quickly became burnt out. Luckily, I realized this a couple of weeks into the internship and made much-needed changes to my routine. I started organizing going out after work with other interns, seeing as much theatre as possible, and even just making sure I watched an hour of television without doing any work before going to bed. These tiny changes helped keep me from becoming drained and improved both my personal health and my ability to do my job.

I love working with these kids and have been putting everything I have into making sure they have the best experience possible and take away as many skills and strategies as they can. Even though there have been ups and downs, I am very glad that I chose to take this internship at The Quad Manhattan this summer. I have learned so much and have been exposed to so many new theories and ways of thinking and can’t wait to take this experience and work towards what is next.

Post 5: My Advice Navigating the Internship Application Process

For anyone who studies International/Global Studies (IGS), when considering summer internships, the options may seem overwhelming because the world is your oyster. This can be beneficial because all across the globe, there are great organizations with which to intern. However, it also makes the decision of where to intern difficult due to the wide array of choices in programs and locations.

Here I will speak a bit about the process of navigating my past two summer internships. In my opinion, the first thing one should think about when considering a summer internship is their preference regarding a domestic or international internship. Several things to think about include the ease/difficulty of going abroad, where the impact of the work is most relevant, and how the connections made during the internship can play a role after graduation. After weighing these factors, I decided that spending my summers based in the U.S. working towards global issues would be the most beneficial.

I applied for a summer internship at the Millennium Campus Network (MCN) in Boston last summer, which I had heard about when the executive director, Sam Vaghar (’08) gave a presentation about the organization on campus. I was accepted for the internship and spent the duration of last summer there. I had such a positive experience; each and every day was exciting, characterized by creating new partnerships and meeting leaders from organizations all around the world. I saw the impact of my work in planning the ninth annual Millennium Campus Conference and taking the lead on outreach and registration.

Hannah with other MCN interns, Summer 2017

 

When looking ahead towards summer 2018, I was hoping to explore what public diplomacy looks like in the realm of official foreign policy by interning for the federal government. With the idea of joining the Foreign Service in the back of my mind, I thought it would be the best use of my summer to intern in Washington, D.C. at the Department of State and learn as much as possible about a career representing the U.S. abroad. I created an account on usajobs.gov, which is the website used to apply for all U.S. government positions. On several occasions I consulted the site, looking for openings for student internship positions at the State Department, and in September I decided to apply. I then received notice that I qualified for an interview, which went well, and was offered a position in November in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

I arrived in D.C. to start my internship at the end of May. The time has gone by so quickly and I can’t believe I only have two weeks remaining. I have learned so much about working at the Department of State and am so grateful for the experience!

Bye for now!
-Hannah Cook, ’20

Post 5: My Summer at JVS

Although I am only able to intern at JVS for ten short weeks, I have been able to have many invaluable experiences through my work both with clients and career coaches. I have been able to meet with clients and help their job search in concrete ways. Every week, I assisted with the Refugee Services intake, during which we met with new clients and determined their needs in terms of English classes, child care, and job searching efforts. I helped conduct job searches to find the best fit for a specific client. I am able to assist clients in creating their resumes and cover letters and submit job applications, which often lead to job interviews and offers. I work to prepare clients for those job interviews so that they feel more confident about the process.

Additionally, partway through my internship, I was assigned my own child care clients. Since then, I have had the opportunity to understand what it is like to manage your own caseload and clients. I am often assigned my clients as soon as they register for JVS and it is my job to help them locate a child care facility that will allow them to attend classes at JVS and obtain a stable job. I conduct the search, contact the child care providers, and set up appointments for center visits and to obtain vouchers. Also, I meet with my clients to prepare the myriad of forms necessary and inform them of the rules regarding maintaining their voucher.

One of my goals going into my internship at JVS was to learn more about how nonprofits actually work, and their successes and the challenges. I saw firsthand how important the services provided at nonprofits like JVS are to those who we are trying to serve. When approaching social justice issues, in class or out, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the size of a given challenge that may appear insurmountable. It seems that issues such as the immigration crisis, poverty, or hunger are so daunting that you don’t even know where to start.

At JVS, I have learned that often it is the small actions that matter. Instead of focusing on changing laws or popular opinion, which seem like near-impossible tasks, JVS focuses on making positive change in the lives of individuals those laws and popular opinion are affecting. We work with individual clients to give them the skills and support they need to establish themselves in a new place. We offer classes to help our clients better their English skills along with certain subject-related skills. We coach them one-on-one to help them locate, apply for, and secure a job to help them provide for themselves. We assist them with searching for and obtaining child care that will allow them to pursue their career. We help one client at a time to establish meaningful lives in the United States after having to leave their home country. Although progress may seem slow, JVS serves roughly 17,000 people a year. This experience has taught me that no matter how small the action, your social justice work is meaningful. At the time it seems as though you have only made a small difference in one person’s life, but over time you realize that these small actions are what make up a movement.

Post 5: Final Week at the ACLU of Utah

ACLU of Utah legal observers at the March For Our Lives town hall; Courtesy of ACLU of Utah Facebook page

After reading the most recent New York Times article on ACLU litigation, social justice has become more controversial than ever. From working at the ACLU of Utah office over the summer, I have learned that social justice does not always agree with the political agenda of representatives and specialty groups. When I first started, I only understood the logic and reasons behind supporting social justice movements and causes. Now I realize that many people view social justice as a one-party cause. While attending a March for Our Lives town hall—where the ACLU of Utah was represented—I was happily surprised to see members from both sides of the argument participate in civil conversation and yes, dissent, in order to find common ground. Although these moments are tense, I realized that it is possible to create a dialogue with people you never thought imaginable. Social justice is about human advocacy that should permeate throughout political spectrums.

Throughout my internship, I have observed and participated in meetings on topics like criminal justice, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, immigration, disability rights, media strategy, and so much more. I have worked independently on research about gay straight alliances (GSA), judicial bypass statutes, and social media strategy that will be used in upcoming advocacy and litigation work. Most recently, I accompanied the legislative and policy counsel, Marina Lowe, on an appearance to the Utah capitol to sit in on interim judicial and legislative sessions. I even got to see my representatives! Being able to both observe debates between Utah representatives on various topics and contribute to those debates with the ACLU of Utah makes me feel empowered about my role to change policy in my hometown.

But of course not everything came easily. I wish I had known more about the arduous process behind pushing for positive legislation or initiating events and meetings. Everyone in the office works very hard to accomplish goals that protect and enhance the Bill of Rights. Because I feel passionate about the issues that the ACLU of Utah advocates for, learning to be patient setting up meetings with other organizations and taking the time to complete thorough research was a skill that I was eager to enhance. For anyone who wants to pursue an internship at any ACLU location, one piece of advice I’d give is to show passion for an issue that you believe in. Stay up to date on pertinent legislation and inquire about the legal careers of people around you. Even though I have to say goodbye to the ACLU of Utah office over the school year, I fully plan on contributing as a volunteer when I’m home.

Thank you ACLU of Utah team for having me!   

Post 5: Final Weeks at 826 National

I have spent this summer immersed in 826 National’s innovative approach to supporting young people’s education, and I will leave this internship more motivated than ever to cultivate education practices that ensure all our young people can meet their full potentials.

Despite the fact that the 826 mission revolves around supporting students, I have spent virtually no time working hands-on with students. Instead, my internship has focused on the behind-the-scenes end of nonprofit management. I have learned a staggering amount about the day-to-day processes that are required to support the vast network of 826 chapters. Many of my projects have supported the annual 826 National Staff Development Conference, which hosts more than one hundred staff members from across the country. Other tasks have been focused on expanding the resources available on 826 Digital, a free online resource for educators looking to take their writing curriculum to the next level.

This summer, I have learned that nonprofit work is not always easy, and that it takes a particularly patient, inspired type of person to do this work the way it should be done. Because of that, I have met some truly incredible humans this summer. The people who work at 826 National really believe in the power of this organization, and it’s easy to understand why when you see the writing that our students produce:

Our students are witty:
“Because they’re spicy. They’re rebellious. They don’t play by your rules. If you double-cross a jalapeño, you get the seeds.”
-Calvin, Grade 8, 826michigan

They’re eloquent:
“If writing was a medicine, there would be universal healing.”
-Jennifer, Grade 5, 826LA

They’re wise beyond their years:
“One of the worst things in the world must be when your mother’s ridiculous advice turns out to be right.”
-Cole, Grade 9, 826 Valencia

So while 826 National staff may not be working with students directly, reading through student writing — which I spent a good portion of my internship doing — makes every challenge worth it. That’s my first piece of advice to others looking to intern with a nonprofit like 826 National: the work will be hard, so find what makes the challenge worth it, and surround yourself with that as often as possible.

Get to know your fellow interns, too!

My second piece of advice is to get to know the people you are working with, and to start doing so as early as possible. The wonderful thing about this kind of work is that people don’t end up in these positions unless they have a deep passion for the mission. Every single person in my office had a different journey to their position at 826 National, but all of their paths reflect an incredible drive for social justice work. Building relationships with others in the office can give you some insight into the extensive number of jobs that exist in this world, but it’s also a great reminder that there isn’t one “right” way to build a meaningful career. There are a million potential paths, and college really only shows you a few. You’ll never know what might be out there unless you chat everybody up!

Which brings me to my last piece of advice: ask all the questions! In addition to asking about others in your office, ask what more you can do. Seek out opportunities to make your impact, because the best ones won’t just fall in your lap. Ask how your organization supports itself financially. Ask what your supervisor’s dream is for the organization. Ask to learn about everything that seems interesting, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your intern position. Remember that even though you are there to provide a service, you are also there to learn everything you possibly can about the real working world in the short time you are there.

Well, that’s my last post for the summer! Thank you to World of Work and the Hiatt Career Center for making this internship possible, and to 826 National for making this experience a dream. I am so grateful to have spent this summer learning under the 826 team.

-Katie Reinhold ’19

Post 5: Navigating the Professional World, Not Yet as an Adult

A few months ago when I was shopping for business professional clothing, I vividly remember standing in front of the mirror staring at myself in a suit, blazer and all, thinking, “I look ridiculous.” The mere idea of seeing myself in the professional world seemed silly and unrealistic. Now, with less than a month remaining of my work in Congresswoman Clark’s office, I have begun to feel comfortable imagining myself in the “adult world.” Over the past few weeks I have experienced a job I don’t hate, I learned that I can handle a 9 to 5 job, and even after weeks of sometimes monotonous work there are still things I get excited about every day.

The Capitol at night

The way a government internship works is that there are different “hot topics” that are the buzz of that week or month. For my time on the Hill so far, those topics have included separation of families at the border, Trump’s tariffs, the Russia investigation, the farm bill, and more. Every time there is movement on those relevant issues, you see a small difference being made and you feel a part of it. Something that drew me to D.C is that no matter what your role is, you feel as if you are part of something larger than yourself.

Social justice is something that has been important to me, even before I could put a label on it. When I was little I would tell people when I grew up I wanted to be a superhero because I wanted to make a difference. Now I go to a university where social justice is a literal pillar and runs through everything Brandeis does. Through my government internship this summer, I feel as if I have experienced social justice through a new lens. Something I have learned is that if you agree with whoever you work for, social justice jobs are inevitably rewarding. Every time a constituent calls and thanks us for our hard work, every time a project is completed, an amendment we were rooting for passes, or your member does something that you are excited about, you can’t help but think how proud and honored you are to work in this office.

At the same time, however, this work can go unnoticed, underrated, and under-appreciated. Many times, social justice work is usually a behind-the scenes-movement that is necessary, but also forgotten. Constituents call and question what we are doing about this or that and forget about all that we have done for the issues they called about only a week ago. Because of that, I don’t think jobs driven by social justice are for everyone, but for me, there is still that little kid inside with a towel around her neck flying behind her like a cape, hoping there is an opportunity to make a difference.

The view from outside my office, behind Longworth House Office Building

For anyone considering or planning on doing a Hill internship, it’s important to know that your experience is what you make of it. Working in a congressional office allows you to take on a possibly difficult, possibly intimidating position, and gain confidence in ensuring you are doing work you care about. The more you are willing to take on, the more you are willing to try new things, go to hearings, do things you have never done before, the more you will get out of the opportunity. Being a “Hilltern” is unlike any other job I’ve ever had, but the amount that I have gained and learned so far has been incredible. I would highly recommend this internship for someone who is trying to challenge themselves in the policy/politics world.

While mistakes might be made–you will probably get lost countless times in the tunnels, and there will be moments when you have no idea what you are doing–this job also brings times when you will feel absolute pride in the work you are a part of, and that is why it is worth it.

Post 4: Skills I gained at Interfaith Worker Justice

During the 2 months that I worked at Interfaith Worker Justice, I learnt a lot first-hand about social justice causes.

My supervisor Sarah, my intern colleague Audrey, and I worked as a team to organize. I do not remember learning how to be an activist in any other internship that I have had so for.

I learnt a great deal about networking for the action itself through unions, faith and labor organizations, worker centers, guilds and NGOs. Constantly joining meetings, panels, protests and congregations, I saw the power of networking in activism; strengthening the working people.

I worked in the office. I made phone calls to the activists that were on our list or to the public to inform them about a ballot campaign, a task or a question. I crafted e-mails to invite activists and supporters to our events or to try to find sponsorship for catering and decorating for our annual breakfast. I learnt a great deal about communication.

I worked out of the office collecting signatures for our campaign “Raise Up Massachusetts.” I had a lot of disappointing moments at first, hearing discouraging comments or harsh reactions from people refusing to talk, but I slowly learnt to be more professional and let go of all the negative reactions. I learnt a great deal about canvassing and professionalism in canvassing.

I met with community and religious leaders and union representatives to mobilize and organize for campaigns, events and actions.  I learnt a great deal about community building.

On top learning about the job, I learnt a great deal about myself as well. Once again, I saw that when I love what I am doing, I will give it a lot of attention and do the best I can. Once again, I reminded myself that I hope to be in a politically, fulfilling career to be happy in life.

All these skills Interfaith Worker Justice taught me will be a plus for me for my entire life. If I choose this field as a career option, obviously, I will benefit from these skills. If I do not end up choosing it as a career, however, I will still benefit from these skills in the volunteer jobs I will have.

– Ece Esikara

Post 5 – What I learned at NCL

Members of the NCL team expressing the League's support for one fair wage through posters.
This photo was taken last week at a rally for raising the tipped wage. I attended the rally with NCL colleagues and got a chance to see Jane Fonda.

My experience at National Consumers League has been fantastic. I’ve learned so many tactics  advocates use to create change and I am grateful for the chance I had to take part in pro-consumer movements.

Hard work, patience, and having an open mind are all essential to social justice. In some cases I haven’t worked as hard as I should, but interning at the League inspired me to put full effort into my work, something I hope will continue in the fall at Brandeis.

Everyone I work with knows just as well as I do that you cannot wait for change to happen to you, you have to make change happen yourself. We are constantly looking for ways to help consumers. When we work harder, we cause more change and help more people.

Even if we work as hard as possible, things still might not happen as quickly as we want. That’s why patience is essential. Whether we are waiting for the next election or working on a years-long project, social justice efforts require a big time commitment.

Before you can change anyone’s mind, you have to know what they think in the first place. Good activists patiently listen to people, even those with opposing views. Open-mindedness is an important part of listening to others.

Rather than stubbornly rejecting everyone who disagrees with you, you should understand their perspective first. Often, immediately or totalling changing something about the world is practically impossible, but compromises would be more easy to create.

Last week, as I left a rally for raising the tipped wage in the capital with other interns and NCL’s executive director, we all stopped to listen to protesters, even though we were hurriedly heading to the museum of African-American History and Culture for a visit.

The protesters brought up important points about D.C.’s initiative to raise the tipped wage. While some of their arguments didn’t make sense, many of them had merits. Yet, a few D.C. council members didn’t see it that way. Some of the offices and members of the “One Fair Wage” movement dismissed restaurant workers’ worries without acknowledging that these were the same people they were meant to serve and help.

I’m proud of the impact I made at NCL. I wrote many questions that will teach kids life skills through NCL’s trivia competition, LifeSmarts. I also brightened up my coworkers’ days with lots of baked goods and worked as hard as I could on all the assignments I was given.

If I had known anything before I started, it would be that NCL is an amazing place to work, but also that I needed to advocate for myself, not just consumers.

I was worried about working in a place where I didn’t know anybody, but the League has such a fun environment that not knowing anyone didn’t matter. I also realized after the past weeks that I could take on more work if I just asked around for it.

My two supervisors didn’t always have much to assign me, but plenty of people in the office did. Working with other colleagues brought me out of my comfort zone and gave me more to do. I just had to learn to seek work out.

I would tell anyone who wants to work at NCL to be hardworking, patient, and open-minded, but I would also tell them to be unafraid of where consumer advocacy and social justice take you. Having an impact is nothing to be afraid of. I wish more people knew that.

Spherical fried zucchini donuts made with an Italian great-grandmother's recipe
I’ve made a habit of bringing everyone at NCL baked goods on Mondays. This week I brought zucchini donuts made from the recipe of my aunt’s neighbor, an Italian great-grandmother. I also made sour cherry biscotti using a recipe from King Arthur Flour.

– Caleigh Bartash

What BridgeYear Has Been All About!

BRIDGEYEAR

After working at BridgeYear for more than seven weeks, the biggest lesson I have learned about social justice work has been that everything, no matter how big or small, counts towards progress. Sometimes when people sign up for social justice work, they expect to have a tremendous impact within the first few days or weeks. The truth of the matter is that impact is built on years of dedicated and arduous work. One might not even get to see the true impact of their actions while doing social justice work, but all that matters is that every step is taken with a purpose. For me, social justice work relies on the belief that change will come eventually. It might take years and a lot of work, but it will come.

As an advisor, it always feel great to receive this type of message!

Since we’re on the subject of impact, I believe that through my work at BridgeYear, I have been able to pave the way for future teachers and students to engage in career exploration in a more meaningful way. I’ve created lesson plans and self-assessment activities designed to allow students to think of career exploration in a different way from what they are used to.

Back when I was in high school, all that mattered when it came to choosing a career was salaries. You didn’t have to love the field you were going for, as long as it paid the bills. With the self-assessment activities I created, I have tried to move away from that way of thinking and focus on individual interest and strengths when choosing a career.

I will say this though, I didn’t really think I would have so much influence on the core aspects of BridgeYear. I truly wish I had known how a start-up nonprofit organization works before beginning my internship at BridgeYear. I had no idea just how much my actions and decisions would affect the future of the organization. In reality that’s the beauty of a start-up; it changes and evolves every single day.

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone thinking of joining the BridgeYear team for the summer would be to be ready to organize your life. The fact that the interns at BridgeYear are not bound to a single project and collaboration is encouraged by the supervisors, keeps everyone on their toes at all times.

The BridgeYear team of advisors taking work on the go at a local coffee shop.

For a start-up, deadlines are crucial; there are many constant moving pieces that dictate the success of the organization. Moving from one project to another will also leave a lot of room for learning. This is another tip for any future BridgeYear interns: be ready and willing to learn. While the supervisors work closely with you to improve your professional skills, it is ultimately up to you to take that first step towards learning and applying that knowledge. Just remember to also have fun!

Post 5: Overall Experience

While I still have 3 weeks left at the American Jewish World Service, I have already learned so much in my time there. I have learned a lot about social justice work, especially the work that the AJWS does. The AJWS goes into a region and supports a grassroots organization that is already trying to do the work, and we support them. Therefore, once we leave, the region is not defenseless but has learned how to defend itself and has received support from outside organizations. I have learned that it is better to help people help themselves than do try and do it for them because if we do, once we leave everything would revert back to the way it was. Moreover, I have learned that social justice work is not just going in and helping organizations, it takes a lot of people in different divisions. It takes people who can reach out to donors and people to communicate with the public, etc. Social justice work goes far beyond the ground work, and that can be seen within any social justice organization.

In my time at the AJWS, I believe that I have made an impact because I helped the finance division be more productive. Nothing can get done without the finance division and my help has helped them complete their tasks that the rest of the organization rests upon. Furthermore, myself along with the other interns has helped all the departments. Each week we have met with different department heads and we have had the opportunity to hear about each department and pitch ideas to help reach our generation.

I wish I had known when I started to appreciate the time I had there. Six weeks has already gone by and it still feels as though I just started working there. I still have a lot to learn but the experience has been amazing. I would tell anyone who wants to enter this type of work, to appreciate the work they want to do and really care about it. Social justice work is important and it takes a lot to help people fight for rights or convince others to want to help. Therefore, you yourself must really care because if you don’t it is hard to expect others to do so.

Remember to check out the website to find out more about the American Jewish World Service!

– Melissa Frank

Post 5: What I have learned at the Center Houston!

Hi everyone,

I have now spent almost two months interning at the Center Houston. The Center is a not-for-profit United Way agency that promotes the pursuit of choice, growth, and personal independence for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It partners with other organizations such as ExxonMobil to provide their clients with work and opportunities to improve their day-to-day life. I enjoy seeing the smile the clients have when I ask them for an interview to be featured in weekly newsletters. The work that I do is very fulfilling and rewarding.

I have learned to be more outspoken, manage time, write press releases, conduct presentations and get people together. As a new CA this coming year at Brandeis, the skills that I am currently gaining at my internship will help me manage and work with students in groups. As a CA it’s important to plan monthly events with your hall. The Center gives me the task of bringing in groups of volunteers, which include scheduling a set day for their visit, giving an orientation of what the Center is, and writing volunteer highlights. The skills that the Center is providing me with are rewarding for networking and for public speaking, which is something that also happens in most of my classes at Brandeis. Beyond Brandeis, the skills that I am learning will help me as I would like to pursue a career in marketing–preferably in the field of medical technology.

So far I have learned that I am able to work with large groups of people while maintaining a structure. From previous experiences, large groups were something that always terrified me because that meant public speaking to more people and having multiple opinions, which can be challenging. However, working with experienced adults has helped me with mentorship as they welcomed me with open arms and gave me the opportunity to learn what I always wanted to learn in a professional setting. For this challenge, I was very intrigued to learn more about fundraising for large organizations such as the Center. I have learned that it has multiple moving parts, but the one thing that stood out the most is the passion that the staff have to do their job.

I have learned to fail. Even if my internship has been a great experience so far, writing my first press release was not a huge success. However, I was mentored by my supervisor and I have gained skills that I can apply in classes and my future career.

This picture was from a cookie photoshoot that took place two weeks ago. We had a photographer who volunteered to take pictures for the new Gingersnaps website, which is being updated.  For this project, I helped the photographer with picture ideas that would make the cookies more appealing. It was a great experience, because I was able to apply skills I have learned such as networking, putting project together, and managing them. The best part was eating the cookies after the photoshoot was over!

Lesbia Espinal ’20

Midpoint at Gervay-Hague Lab

With my internship being at the midpoint, I have learned many lab techniques from such as dry transfer between vessels, analysis techniques like NMR and COSY, as well as the use of the argon chamber, drying oven, and microwave instrument. But, in addition to these various lab techniques, I have also learned valuable workplace techniques that can be applied to the lab, academics, and any job. Some of these techniques include multitasking, planning, and time-management.

Most days, there are certain things that need to get done, and I have to figure out a plan to ensure I can get everything done that day. This requires both planning and time management. In accordance with this, I frequently have to do multiple things at the same time. For example, when I am waiting for a TLC plate to finish, I have to take advantage of those few minutes by setting up the next TLC plate. This requires multitasking. Little things like this ensure that everything runs according to the schedule that I set for myself.

But, there are certainly some challenges that I have faced while researching at JGH lab. The most difficult and frustrating challenges that I have faced are when different instruments don’t work properly. For example, sometimes the GRACE doesn’t properly recognize when peaks occur, so I have to spend more time analyzing that and determining exactly when they occurred. Additionally, sometimes spots don’t appear on the TLC plates. So, I have to redo them. All of this takes time and perseverance. But, it’s part of science, and I think people in all areas can learn from pushing past challenges like these.

Although the reactions I perform in the lab are a small part of the overall research taking place in JGH lab, I am able to see the bigger picture and the significance of what this research offers in a practical sense. This is why it was such a great experience to attend a private tour of the Wakamatsu Farm in Placerville, CA. Although they do many different things on the property, one that was particularly important to us was their growing of tea plants, specifically Camellia sinensis. But, it was also fascinating to hear about the long history that the farm has since it was founded in 1869. Fun Fact: the Japanese farmers that came to America choose Placerville, CA as the location to grow their tea since it has the same latitude as where they came from in Japan

Wakamatsu Farm has a total area of 272 acres. This is a great view of the trees and different shrubbery at Wakamatsu Farm.

The plants in this picture are both Camellia sinensis, the tea plant that JGH Lab is studying. Camellia sinensis can be used to make many different kinds of tea such as green tea, black tea, yellow tea, white tea, and oolong tea.

Here is the link to the Wakamatsu Farm website for more fun and historical information.

I thought it was very interesting to spend over a month doing research that ultimately focuses on this one plant, and then we got to go to this farm that grows that plant. It brought about an interesting connection between science and agriculture.

I am looking forward to what the rest of my internship brings!

Post 4: Personal and Career Development | Lessons From Morrie Schwartz

Interestingly enough, this past week, I was introduced, randomly, to Mitch Alborn’s “Tuesdays With Morrie”. Shortly after beginning to read the book (in an attempt of accomplishing one of my personal goals this summer to read more books), I realized that the book is a memoir of a former student and a professor at Brandeis University, several decades ago. The professor, Morrie Schwartz, who suffered from ALS disease and was, thus, terminally ill, would have weekly coversations with Mitch, his former mentee and student, and reflect on several aspects of life, giving Mitch all the advice he could from the perspective of someone who was at a crossroads between life and death. I mention this book because I feel as though it came unto my life, unexpectedly, at a coincidentally very reflective time.

Over the past few weeks, I have definitely developed my ability to multitask and think quickly. When you are a part of an organization that tackles political and current events while offering a wide-range of services, everyday looks different and your workload can suddenly increase depending on the political and social climate of the week.

As someone who plans to pursue very similar work, I plan to be equally as engaged in activism on current events in addition to the services I will offer,  so I know that multi- tasking will be a crucial aspect of the work and managing time wisely.

I also learned that, in the work place, it’s very difficult for me to sit for long periods of time at an office desk and remain productive. Taking walks definitely helps, and keeping myself hydrated through out the day is key for maintaining my energy. As I remember to take care of myself through it all, I’ve tried to learn how to set my limits, and not take on more than I can handle.

My relationship with my coworkers is pretty great, and I’ve learned that this plays a big role in one’s work experience. Being able to easily communicate what your needs are and offer support to each other within the work place, makes hectic days a lot easier especially given that we are a small team. This work has also taught me the importance in diligence and accountability both on my end and everyone on the team.  

Here is a flyer I made for our third annual Decolonize Birth Conference that I was super proud of!

Additionally, I feel as though I have also gained a much better understanding of the financial aspect of running a small business that offers free/ low- cost services. This understanding has come through my work with processing grant applications and the extensive work I have done on sponsorship/donation requests for our third annual Decolonize Birth Conference. I am grateful for this learning and experience.  I am fully aware of the importance of this skill set especially given my career goal: to begin my own non-profit that offers reproductive health services and family planning resources to primarily LGBTQ+ people of color.  Given my lack of experience in these administrative areas, I was nervous and unclear about how to develop and enhance these skill sets. Having the chance to jump right in through my internship has helped a lot.

This summer, thus far, has  allowed me to gain a clearer vision of what I want my future to look like in several aspects. Morrie Schwartz’s anecdotes have been teaching me how to fully experience my fears and emotions so that I can detach myself from them and to prioritize love in every situation. My internship has brought me clarity, and taught me patience, finding a balance, and persistence. I am grateful for the experiences that have afforded me this knowledge.

Post 3: An overview of what progress/change looks like at The Center Houston

Hi everyone!

As a marketing intern at The Center, change is something I have seen and experienced during the duration of my internship. The Center promotes equality in the community for people with disabilities. As an institution, The Center is constantly looking for programs and activities that will aid their clients’ growth and bring the community together.

Here are some of the events, programs, and staff that contribute to The Center’s mission:

Weekly volunteering events

The volunteer events for the duration of the summer are planned by the intern (that’s me!). My job is to get a group of people who want to serve and learn more about The Center and are driven. Some of the volunteers we had previously are part of the ELCA Youth Gathering , a Christian church group whose commitment to The Center has been greatly appreciated. The volunteers from the ELCA Youth Gathering have been serving The Center for almost four years! During Hurricane Harvey, these volunteers helped with cleaning out the Gingersnaps workshop and also the Adult Activity Center.

Lots of changes have happen since Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston, including changes for The Center and its clients. As the main person in charge of the volunteering events, I always try to bring in young adults that can benefit from learning how to help those in need. Below is a picture of my youngest sibling Lia, who visited The Center during our annual Volunteer Day in June. Lia was excited to visit The Center after hearing me talk about how great the staff and clients are and the cause that we try to fight for one day at a time.

Staff

The Center makes sure that all employees are happy and love the work they do for their clients. You could not imagine how important obtaining the right staff is for an organization like The Center because of their commitment and teamwork. I was excited to be part of the hiring of the new Chief Development Officer, Marilu Garza. Obtaining someone with experience and passion for what The Center believes was something critical because of the relocation that will happen later this year. Marilu Garza brings more than twenty years experience in the not-for-profit world and education.

Gingersnaps

The Center provides work for their clients. The Gingersnaps company is partner up with  The Center Houston, providing clients with the job of packaging the cookies that are later sold online or at local farmers markets in the Houston area. A portion of the profits that Gingersnaps raises goes to The Center. The Center aims for the goal of providing clients with skills and lots of opportunities.

Progress at The Center is something that happens through the events and the amazing staff that is constantly helping the clients. The small steps that The Center takes to create a home-like environment are organizing activities and events, and having the right staff to work towards becoming a better organization every day.

Lastly, besides the small steps are the big steps The Center is currently taking, including moving to a new location.

Stay tuned to learn more about my experience!

Post 3: Finding Power in Coalition Building and Communal Growth

Hey everyone!

This week, I have been thinking a lot about how I define change and progress both personally and within the organization where I am working. In thinking about the goals of my organization–which are very much centered around social justice and health equity– it is always crucial to question where there are areas for continued growth and development, while also acknowledging the big and small strides and positive outcomes. This evaluation is key in assessing what could be the most effective steps to reach our goals as an organization.

With the goal of making equitable maternal healthcare accessible to low-income families, as well as black and brown folks, Ancient Song Doula Services wears many hats as a community-based organization. It is important to note that this lack of access to healthcare, resources, food, and housing stems from a much larger root cause: anti-blackness. Because of this, reaching our goal as an organization is not solely about providing resources to our communities, but also involves taking action around the systems and institutions that first put these barriers in place. Given the immense nature of this multi-faceted goal, what one could consider an “immediate success” becomes difficult to measure, making endurance and consistency key in this work.

At Ancient Song Doula Services, we are constantly multi-tasking, taking on different roles, planning for community outreach events and reaching out to other organizations for support and/or partnerships. We are always looking for different opportunities to spread the word and collaborate with other social justice collectives because it is crucial to identify the intersection of different movements, whether it be birth justice, food justice, or environmental justice. It can be very stressful–especially for a small organization–to take on such a wide range of tasks, but this is why we stress the importance of collaboration and solidarity.   

” A Day of Solidarity” held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Click on the image to watch the full panel

So, what does change or progress look like for me? Progress, I’ve learned, is very much rooted in and driven by coalition building and communal growth. Recently, my supervisor was a panelist in an event called “A Day of Solidarity” held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where the panelists engaged in a conversation around the recent policies regarding the separation of immigrant families and discussing ways to take action. One of the main topics discussed was how crucial it is for communities to gather in support of each other, stand in solidarity as allies, engage in dialogue and, most importantly, listen to each other. Listening and trusting one another gives marginalized identities agency over their own narrative and experience. At Ancient Song, we often practice this is, as we not only hold events by and for the community in collaboration with other organizations, but also center our workspace around physical and mental wellness. In this way, I’ve learned that, as an organization, listening and building trust and community allow us to constantly assess and reassess the needs of the communities we serve so that we can continue to evaluate our methods for change and be that much closer to reaching our goals.  

There is power in unification, as it is crucial not only for the healing of marginalized identities, but also, in standing firmly against or for a movement and demanding action. This is progress.

The Woods of Weston, MA

I’m am at the midpoint of my internship with Brandeis Professor Eric Olsen, studying the relationship of deer, ticks, and Lyme disease in the city of Weston, MA. I have learned and experience a lot since my first days with the tick surveys. When I first came into this internship I viewed it as being a traditional internship where I would just be doing minor things like helping prepare the tools that we needed for a routine survey, assisting in the input of data, filing things etc. Now as I am in the midpoint of this internship I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The way that Professor Eric Olson coordinated the internship, it was as if I was conducting my own research. We both did the same amount of work, followed the same procedures, and both worked towards a common goal. After a regular day of collecting and looking at the information I collected, it left me with a feeling of accomplishment. Knowing that I was finally getting the resources that I never had leading up to my involvement in the WOW fellowship program is like a feeling of liberation.

I have also been learning about different tick species, the history of our seven different locations, how certain terrains form naturally and other interesting facts. It’s is weird seeing how different it is learning things about nature from a professor outside a classroom setting. It’s a lot less stressful and more like a gift rather than a chore. I found myself listening to what he had to say and retaining the information more than I would have in a classroom. I started to see myself noticing different types of plants like bedstraw, and milkweed. While my knowledge on how to identify the all the different types of plants there are, it has gotten a lot better just hearing him talk about them.

This internship also allowed me to really see how much I love being in nature. The city of Weston has some of the most beautiful forests I ever have seen. Just walking into one you can see the lush green vegetation of the forest, the smell of pollen and wildflowers, hear the scuffle of animals in the leaf litter, and think about just how peaceful it is being in the woods. It’s sort of a distraction from our daily lives and to just become apart of an ecosystem that many of us have lost touch with.

It reminds me of a class that I took during the fall semester of my freshman year where we had to observe a specific place in the woods that we chose and just try to connect the place as much as possible. We were told to observe the trees, notice if anything change, to use it as something therapeutic in our lives, and this internship is just like that. I have been able to use this internship as a way to take time away from working two jobs, having to worry about paying for things and helping my family.

All in all, I have really been enjoying the internship. It has been a good experience so far and I have been able to learn about many different things that I probably wouldn’t know about if I didn’t do this internship.

Post 2: It Can Seem Impossible

Brandeis is a place where individuals can openly uncover their eclectic life narrative, unusual odyssys and tangled obstacles and really hold pride in these experiences that define what makes them unique in this immense world that we live in. Students at Brandeis endeavor to change the world and no one shys away from shouting these aspirations from the rooftops. I’ve heard individuals discuss their personal and maybe complicated life goals – most surrounding ending some sort of social justice issue.

Many social justice issues have existed for years and years, but I’ve learned from students at Brandeis that giving up isn’t really an option. Students know Justice Louis Brandeis’ saying “most of the things worth doing in the world were declared impossible before they had been done” and they really run with it. 

Each day working at Environment Oregon I learn more about the impacts of pollution; I learn the impacts of single-use plastics on wildlife, I learn the impacts of diesel pollution locally and globally. One take-away I’ve had is that if environmental catastrophes are not affecting individuals directly, or affecting them right now, many are not even aware that these problems exist.

Here’s the kind of electric bus we’re pushing for

This is why spreading public awareness is incredibly important. My job to gain support from individuals, businesses, and leaders in Portland through teaching people about the effects of diesel pollution and how our city can decrease our footprint and better the health and environment of communities throughout Portland is incredible. The excitement, questions, and encouragement I receive back makes the end goal seem less impossible. There has to be a movement before there can be change, and there has to be education and awareness before there can be a movement.

There are many instances where I think about how hard it is to imagine myself being able to change the entire city of Portland. But what I’ve learned from Brandeis and from all of the students following in Justice Brandeis’ footsteps is that the biggest obstacle can be yourself – if you believe in yourself everyone else will too.

Post 4: Update from DC

NI Logo

This internship has been a really incredible learning experience so far. There are so many different elements of the job that employ a variety of skill sets. As I mentioned in a previous post, one skill that I have worked on significantly is critical thinking. The ability to think critically is one of the main pillars of the Brandeis experience, and I am continuing to realize its importance in the “real world.” Thinking critically does not mean challenging every single idea that you come across. Rather, it means understanding all of the perspectives of a situation and gaining as much background information as possible to support a claim.

The research I have been conducting is not only tedious, but very politically charged, and it is easy to fall into the polarizing loop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an era of so-called “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it is important to not take articles, news headlines, and other media sources at face value. I am a firm believer in the power of “soft skills.” Of course my internship requires me to utilize hard skills such as data analysis and programming; however, my internship really focuses on the acquisition and implementation of vital soft skills.

One significant skill I am working on is communication. Communication is a fundamental aspect of both the workplace and life. I have had previous experience in other workplace settings, as far as working with management, supervisors, and coworkers. This summer, however, I have learned about forms of mass communication, such as email and social media. Different forms of communication have distinctive strategies that need to be employed, which has been somewhat difficult to navigate at times, but has definitely strengthened my skills overall.

For a firm focused on conflict resolution, we still have our own conflicts that can arise. I have definitely learned the importance of transparent communication as a tool for conflict resolution. From what I’ve witnessed, many of the problems that arise in the workplace setting stem from minor miscommunications. One of the facets of this internship is working closely with both projects and the other interns. Teamwork and team-building skills are extremely valuable to the work world, and I have gotten an incredible amount of experience with this over the summer. I wouldn’t say this is my first time learning about these skills, but I have been able to perfect and practice soft skills that will be relevant to my future at Brandeis and in my career.

This summer has taught me a surprising amount about myself. Since there is a wide variety of tasks in the office that the interns work collaboratively on, I have found that I emerge as a team leader more often than not. While taking initiative is not necessarily a bad thing, I have had to learn to release some control and cooperate in a group setting more efficiently. Overall, I would say that I have learned a few new things, but more importantly have employed and practiced my pre-existing skills and ideas.

Post 5: My Last Weeks at Gardens for Health International

Looking back at my experience at Gardens for Health, I have learned so much about a field I am incredibly passionate about. Although I have many lessons I can take away from this internship, one of the most important ones is that social justice work is intersectional. Gardens for Health primarily focuses on nutrition and agriculture education, but doing home visits with some of the staff this week made me really see the change that the GHI trainings are making in the homes of the people they are working with. New mothers who had recently completed GHI’s program expressed their gratitude for what they learned, and discussed how they have put it into practice. One of the things I took away from this visit is the impact othe GHI program has on husbands, too. Seeing their week-old babies are healthy, that food was prepared faster, and that it was more nutritious made them supporters of this type of education for women. Changing some of the stigma surrounding women’s education in rural community’s highlights how GHI’s mission expands beyond nutrition and agriculture.

One of the houses in a community I did my home visit (Gasabo District, Rwanda)           

I have loved doing home visits and going into the field, but my work with GHI has focused primarily around developing a data repository for the different monitoring and evaluation indicators GHI uses. Through this project, I am helping the organization work to make accessing data more efficient, and I am definitely proud of the work I have done. Another intern and I were also in charge of a weekly email updating subscribers about the most recent news in nutrition and agriculture that week. I loved being able to interact more directly with GHI’s supporters, and I am sure they will continue the “weekly digest emails” when we are gone. Additionally, I was involved in a number of amazing projects that were not part of my initial job description such as the Training of Trainers program, and helping with different visitors who came to the farm. With all these projects I feel I have gotten a holistic view of how GHI operates.

I really think I have made the most of my time here in Kigali and at GHI. I have established a great social network made up of GHI staff and other residents of Kigali. I have traveled all over the north of the country to visit some of the health centers GHI works in. And, I have made sure to work with every team at GHI to see how the organization as a whole operates. For someone trying to pursue a similar internship, I would advise they take full advantage of their time in the field, because opportunities will not just fall into your lap. Additionally, to always ask where you should go, what you should do, and most importantly, how you can help!

Pictures of all the staff with their favorite vegetable from the farm

-Eli Wasserman ’20

First Day at Internship

Today I started my internship I have to say it was not what I imagined. I came into this internship thinking that I may be bored with having to do continuous walks in the forest looking for ticks and it taking forever. To my surprise I was wrong. It’s actually amazing to see just how many ticks there are in different parks in Weston where people go every day to go for hikes, walk their dogs or just go for a stroll on a beautiful day. Pretty much anytime I walked off the path, I managed to get one or two adult ticks crawling up my leg ready to make a meal out of me. In addition to that, once you get the hang of the methods of preparing the tool that we use, to actually collecting the ticks, it manages to go by pretty fast.

On our first day, we went to one of the locations named Jericho Forest: Sunday Woods.  When we got there it was bright, warm, flush with vegetation, while at the same time with a lot of dead young trees that littered the floor like garbage. We started off by going over the procedure of how to sweep and was taught how to hold the stick, how long to walk for before we check the flag, and also how to identify the ticks. At first, neither one of us were getting any ticks on tour flags and then out of nowhere ticks started popping out the woodworks. There would be sometimes that we would get multiple ticks on the cloth at once. We ended the day collecting seven ticks and I learned the difference between dog ticks, deer ticks, which one is a male which one was a female, etc.

There was really only one downside to being in those woods, and it was the mosquitos. They manage to eat me up alive. Even though I was covered up from head to toe, they still manage to attack my hands and left me with plenty of itchy bumps that lasted for a couple of days. In addition, I also helped professor Olson with another project that he had going on planting a tree for a memorial. Before we actually planted the tree, I didn’t know that it was so much going into trying to plant a tree. I didn’t know that you couldn’t just dig a hole and just plant the tree. There is a risk that the new place could be a shock to the tree and would stop it from growing. He also informed me about little tricks like cleaning off the dirt by removing the grass and other things that would help. Overall I really enjoy doing this field work and learning about new things that I have never worked on in my life.

At the Halfway Point at the US Mission to the UN

I’m lucky enough to have an internship that makes it easy to get out of bed each morning. Walking through the streets of New York, $2 coffee from a local coffee shop in hand, I am always excited to see the new opportunities each day has in store at the U.S. Mission to the UN (USUN).

Rose Garden, United Nations

In the Research Unit, I have enhanced my investigative research skills by assisting with research requests. During my time at USUN, I have taken classes at the UN Dag Hammarskjold Library on Security Council and General Assembly documentation, which have helped me better understand the UN system, as well as how to use UN databases in order to find information. If you’re curious to learn more or would like to engage in your own research using official UN documents, links to these databases can be found here (ODS) and here (UNBISNET).

Additionally, I help in management of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, after a recent surge of requests since fall of 2017. Tasks range from assisting in finding information requested within the Research Unit’s records to management of documents. I also assist with a records management project in order to properly archive official USUN documents.

In the Host Country Affairs Section, I organize notifications to Permanent Missions to the UN, and their respective responses to a project to confirm the official status of members of their households in the United States. I distribute to members of the United Nations community the return of their national passports when U.S. visas have been issued as well as Department of State Diplomatic and official identification credentials. This past week I attended a meeting of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country in which I observed how the United States administers its responsibilities as the host country for 192 member states.

Additionally, I have been able to sit in on meetings during the UN’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, and write short readouts about the events and panels I attend. Click here for more information about HLPF.

HLPF Meeting, Japan Society

Through these experiences and tasks, I have gained vital information on how political reform is executed on a global level. I have begun to understand the complexities of multilateral negotiations at an international institution, and the difficulty of implementing change. This knowledge has opened my mind to the abundant number of career paths I could pursue after I graduate, and I am excited to see what the future holds.

I am also extremely grateful to be in New York City this summer, as I have  explored many new parts of the city and met people from all over the world. For the 4th of July, the U.S. Mission hosted a party at the UN, which I attended and viewed the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks from the best seat in the city, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. I have also explored many historic and cultural parts of the city, and with every new item I check off my “list of things to do in NYC,” many more are immediately added to the list. I have  met many interns who are interested in pursuing similar career paths as I am and have been able to learn from their experiences,  as well. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer has in store!

Post 4: What I Have Learned

This will be my sixth week at the American Jewish World Service and my time there has taught me a lot that will be beneficial to me not only during my time at Brandeis but beyond that. One of the greatest skills it has given me is organizational skills. When you have several meetings a day, paperwork from different people to file, collect, or input, etc.. it is important to stay organized or else things will be lost or forgotten and that will create issues for the organization later on. I have learned a lot about what it is like to work in an office and that will help me in the future.

Here’s a little office humor joke about the filing cabinets

As an intern I do whatever is asked of me whether that be cleaning files or cleaning the file cabinet. However, I know that all the work I do is appreciated. For example, the minute I organized the file cabinet we were able to find documents that we needed and could not find before. I have learned that even the simplest of tasks can have rewards.

What I have learned about myself is that I enjoy being busy at work. I thought when I came into the office and had piles of work to do would feel daunting but I enjoy it. I like being occupied and not having free time to sit on my hands, I enjoy feeling useful. Moreover, I learned that I like to be a part of a team that relies on each other. Not only the finance department itself, but the whole organization. At a place like the American Jewish World Service, everyone knows everyone else and appreciates the work that each department does. Its a great office culture and I love being a part of it. I have learned that the people are what makes an organization great and working at the AJWS has taught me why everyone there loves the AJWS and all the work we do.

-Melissa Frank

The People First

Working at ImprovBoston has taught me that the most important aspect of any job is the people you are working with. I have the pleasure to work on a team of funny, easy going, and passionate people who are so supportive and make even the hardest days enjoyable. It has been incredibly reaffirming to work at ImprovBoston because it has shown me that comedy is not just about the art you are making but the people you are making it with. I now know that I want to be part of teams that are supportive and push me to think more creatively.

The infectious creative energy that permeates through the staff of ImprovBoston is what makes this work different from my university and academic life. There is a professionalism to the creativity at ImprovBoston that is not present at my life at Brandeis. For example, a creative project to start a new musical improv group goes through all the steps to find a director, music director, and producer so the results are professional and polished. At Brandeis, I have started many a creative project that has been missing the key components of professionalism and follow through. I hope to take these skills to projects at Brandeis. The WOW experience has also differed from Brandeis and academic life because I live in an apartment and cook my own food. I love it and it will be very hard to go back to living in the halls because the independence I have found in my life has made me happier and more confident.

Not only have I built on my skills of professionalism, follow through, and independence but also in networking. In comedy, networking is closely tied to being friends with folks within the community. During my semester in Chicago, I got the note that I should be confident and take up more physical and emotional space. I have been going to shows and hanging out with people before them to really connect and forge friendships. By fostering friendships with the people I work and perform with I am hopeful to create more opportunities for creative collaboration. I have more fun performing and working with people when I also know them as friends.

The most important thing I have learned at ImprovBoston and through working in comedy is that you have to, “be around.” Being around means reading everything; going to shows; staying up to date on global and local current events; and collaborating with as many different types of people as possible. I will transfer this to my academics by collaborating with my classmates, seeking more reading on the subjects I am studying, and going the extra-mile to connect my comedic work to what I am learning in the classroom. My work has also proven to me that for my future career plans it is essential I work with people who challenge and support me, while also being enjoyable people to spend forty hours a week with.  On and off campus I want to be part of projects that challenge and excite and have a level of professional organization and pride in the work they is doing.

– Mina Bond

 

Learning about Cuba at Columbia

To provide a quick background of the Cuba Program at Columbia University in New York, the program is aimed at increasing scholarly exchanges between Cuban and U.S. based scholars and other experts in other countries on topics of mutual interest through a variety of mechanisms, such as publications, public lectures, and academic visits. Columbia academics also visit Cuba to engage in comparative analysis of topics of mutual interest. The research undertaken by both Cuban and US scholars has resulted in a variety of publications in the US and abroad. Cuban entrepreneurs and scholars have spent extended periods at Columbia on study trips to deepen their knowledge of strategies to meet the challenges of the non-state sector on the island. The Program has also actively cooperated with the media in promoting greater understanding of US-Cuban relations.

Today marks the end of my first two weeks on the job. The amount of resources available here at Columbia is absolutely incredible. The Institute of Latin American Studies here at Columbia has its own library and reading room along with a full-time librarian who is an expert on all publications, databases, etc. pertaining to the region. I met with him this week and he showed me how to navigate through the different databases. I was introduced to a whole world of knowledge that I had only scraped the surface of before coming here. In the photo below, you can see my official ID  (figure 1) which gets me into all different buildings on campus (including the libraries and archives) and thus, allows me to checkout different books/documents needed for our research.

I am already learning a lot about Cuban history, culture and politics but I feel like I am also learning a lot about how academic/research institutions function and are successful. My boss/mentor/professor is so well versed, wise and knowledgeable. She has gone into conflict zones in Latin America to conduct research and serves on several Human Rights councils. Not only has she traveled to Cuba 63 times for research purposes alone but she is also considered one of the world’s leading scholars on religion and society in Cuba. It is truly an honor to work alongside her. I have a feeling that I am going to learn a lot from her. She was even kind enough to invite me to her home this past weekend to borrow a few books from her personal library. I was so happy! Below you can find the book she and her colleagues published last year (photo 2) and the one for this year (photo 3).

 

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(3)

 

My mentor will be heading to Miami in a few days for a conference at the US Southern Command (the part of the military that deals with the Latin American) to do several presentations on human rights challenges facing the armed forces in the region. Most military leaders of the Latin American countries will be in attendance! We’ve been working tirelessly for the past few days on gathering data for that. It can be tough at times because you can look through countless books and articles and still not find what you’re trying to convey. That being said, nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment when you finally find the perfect data! Below you can find one of the graphs (figure 4) we’ll be using (source: Isacson, Adam. and Kinosian, Sarah. U.S. Military Assistance and Latin America – WOLA. [online] 27 April 2017) as well as a chart (figure 5) that I put together regarding US involvement and human rights program effectiveness in Latin America.

I am so excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!

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(5)

Natalia Gonzalez

Post 4: Skills Learned at JVS

During my time at JVS, I have learned and improved upon many skills that will be useful to me not only at Brandeis but also in my future career, whatever it may be. I have learned a great deal simply about daily office life functions as well as skills more specific to the work done at JVS. Coming into JVS, I had never worked in a large city office, and just the size of the space was intimidating among other things. I arrived on my first day to row after row of cubicles, hallways of classrooms, and numerous meeting rooms. I realized that my internship at JVS would be far different from any that I had had in the past.

I have learned a lot about myself and how I fit into and function in a workplace setting. I have learned many small things like where to locate client folders all the way to much more important skills, like how to best conduct a mock interview with a client. I have learned that I love the parts of my day where I get to interact with clients the most. Whether through our weekly intake process where I get to meet new JVS clients or hour-long meetings with clients I’ve met before, I love getting to talk to our clients face to face.

Most importantly, I have learned how to better work with clients. Whether it be on interview skills, editing their resume or assisting them in finding child care, I have learned what one-on-one interactions with clients in an office setting look like. I have recently begun taking on clients of my own and heading their search for child care. I have learned step-by-step how to manage client relationships. From the time I am assigned a client by their career coach through the search process to their registration with a care provider, I have learned how to manage each client’s specific needs.

Additionally, I have learned so much about the bureaucracy involved in the job and child care search process for our clients. I have learned how to navigate the paperwork and rules for government agencies in order to ensure that our clients are able to retain the benefits that to which they’re entitled. I have observed the difficult bureaucratic process that our clients encounter upon their entry into the United States and have seen its challenges firsthand.

Overall, during my time at JVS, I have gained a myriad of tangible skills through my experience working in a large office. However, more importantly I have gained valuable insights into the immigration process for refugees, asylees, and others into the U.S. I have learned about the complicated institutions that they must confront upon their entry and the difficulties they must face in establishing their lives here.

Post 4: My Fourth Week at The Quad Manhattan

Throughout my time at The Quad Manhattan I have been developing a lot of different skills that will be applicable when working both with neuro-typical kids and kids with disabilities. As I mentioned in my last post, one idea that has been reaffirmed during my time at The Quad Manhattan is that our education system is moving in the wrong direction. The push for common core curriculum is killing the sparse amounts of adjustable education that existed and ALL kids are worse off for it. I always knew that common core wasn’t the right move for education, but before working at The Quad Manhattan I had no idea what other techniques were out there.

The wall of camper and staff art

Collaborative problem solving (CPS) is one of the skills that they have been teaching us. This system puts an emphasis on the fact that all kids want to be good and do the right thing, but when they are acting out they are lacking the skills to do so, not the wish to. Another large part of CPS is involving the child in the decision making. Instead of telling the child “you were doing this so we are going to do this,” you have a conversation where you try and see if they have any ideas of what is the problem and how to fix it. Most of the time the kid has ideas but is so used to just being told what to do that they don’t know how to take control of their own behavior because they have never been allowed to. I hope to employ these skills whenever I work with kids in the future. Not only has employing CPS helped me connect with kids in a new way, but I have seen this technique give kids a sense of autonomy like I have never seen before.

The Quad has also given me a lot of confidence in myself. Once camp started, I was thrown right into the thick of things. I am constantly problem-solving with kids, helping them through activities, and maneuvering tantrums. This is also my first job that requires me to work typical hours. In the past, my jobs have been either part time or in theatre where I worked long but strange hours. Even though the days are long and challenging, I have loved every second of it, and my time here has proven to me that I am ready to enter this field.

Our ‘noticing trees’. The leaves are full of positive actions of all of the campers.

Post 4: 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs – Dolly Parton

This is my first experience working a 9-5 job. Because of that, I have learned a great deal that expands over all fields, and I have also learned about a lot about myself. I have learned about what is important to me in a work environment. I learned that I am a big snacker, but I like to bring my own lunch. I learned I very much like to get up during the day, go for a walk, or just do something semi-physical as opposed to sitting at a desk all day.

The flags outside of my office representing Massachusetts and a safe place for the LGBT community

I’ve also learned that I am very comfortable speaking to people in person and on the phone, and I have been able to develop that skill through my work in the congresswoman’s office. Public speaking is a critical skill in every and all settings and I am excited that I am able to utilize and strengthen this skill in my work this summer. I have gotten much better at talking to people that do not share the same views as the congresswoman and may be harsh or angry, and I have simply gotten much more comfortable answering the phones for anyone.

I have also been given the opportunity to improve my writing skills, a skill that, like public speaking, is relevant and useful in all walks of life. My internship challenges me through researching and writing on topics I am not as familiar with, allowing me to broaden my scope of what I can truly understand. There are times when I feel I am starting a project from nothing, but after trial and error, I get to a place where I feel confident in my ability to convey the topic.

I also very much consider my job, working for the government, to be a privilege. I feel like almost every week I am given the chance to take on a new opportunity because of where I get to work, and from that I am learning more about how the government literally funtions. This past week I helped our legislative director prepare for a major appropriations markup for the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies committee. I helped handout my member’s amendments, kept the staffer updated on major organizations stances on introduced amendments, and I even got to listen for a bit. This markup ended up being over thirteen hours long, so you can only imagine the hard work and time put into every major bill.

Pictured are the protests moments before President Trump announced his Justice nominee

In addition to the skills mentioned above, I have also, in the simplest terms, become a more well-informed citizen. I have developed the habit of reading the news daily through different mediums. I feel comfortable talking about what is going on in today’s world, and I am excited to continue to learn. For example, Monday evening I stumbled upon the protests happening outside the United States Supreme Court in response to the pending announcement for President Trump’s justice nomination. I was literally counting down the minutes to 9pm to go online and find out who was the president’s decided nominee. I honestly cannot tell you another time when I was on the edge of my seat waiting for a news release to happen.

This is a habit I am proud to have nurtured, and I believe it will help me in my future work as a social justice advocate. You cannot present your greatest work if you are uninformed. But it is the skills I talk about here among others that I believe will continue to help pave the path for me to be a better student, citizen, and learner.