Midpoint Review and Rethink: Can We Change Their Lives?

“Dear volunteer, this is Terry Chenyu Li, the coordinator of the Pujiang New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) Program. Welcome to our team! …”

This is the format of the emails that I have been sending for the past two weeks. As the coordinator of the summer English program at a community center in south Shanghai, I have to notify the volunteers about their teaching times and give them directions to the center. The NCLC4 program is the distant program from the city center. Volunteers have to spend 30-50 minutes on the subway and 15 minutes on the bus to reach the school. Since most volunteers are foreigners, I try to accompany them on their first teaching days to make sure they can get to the center on time. I usually take advantage of this commute time to investigate volunteers’ motives. This is of great interest to me because of one of the classes that I took in my year abroad at University College London. In this class titled “development geography”, I learned the importance of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and volunteerism, and some of the problems associated with them.

New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) in Pujiang Town. south Shanghai
New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) in Pujiang Town. south Shanghai

One of the benefits of volunteerism is that it can build mutual understanding between different cultures. Some of our volunteers are foreign students and expats. They live in gated communities and thus have little contact with local communities. One of their motives for volunteering is to “get to know the people better”. Many of them have never heard the terms “migrant children” or “hukou” before. After participating in our program, they become aware of the social injustice in Shanghai. Some of the volunteers are so inspired that they decide to join Stepping Stones. For example, Oliver Pointer, our current training manager, had volunteered with two of Stepping Stones’ programs before he joined Stepping Stones.

Many Shanghai high school students also choose to volunteer with us during the summer. Most public middle and high schools do not admit non-Shanghai citizens, also known as migrant students. For those who do, they usually have separated classes for them. As a result, most Shanghai middle and high school students do not have close contact with migrant children. By volunteering with us, these students develop their understandings of this “unknown community” who build the skyscrapers, clean up the streets, feed the people, and drive the subway. Given that these students could have a great impact on the future of Shanghai, they could, in time, alter the prejudice against migrants and possibly be part of the force that abolishes the hukou system. Therefore, their participation is especially important.

Some of the volunteers at NCLC4. Oliver is the tall man standing in the center-left. I am on the very right.
Some of our volunteers and students at NCLC4. Oliver is the tall man standing in the center-left. I am on the very right.

Working at Stepping Stones also provides me with the opportunity to interact with other NGOs in Shanghai. One that Stepping Stones closely works with is Shanghai Young Bakers (SYB). The French-initiated SYB provides free nine-month bakery training lessons to disadvantaged youths from rural China. SYB adopts the “alternance” concept, meaning that their students spend two weeks of classes at school and two weeks of practical internship at international hotels for the whole duration of the program. Since English is one of the working languages at these hotels, Stepping Stones offers free English classes to SYB students. When I attended SYB students’ graduation on July 15th, I was surprised to see that all SYB students, who had variable knowledge of English before coming to Shanghai, were able to give fairly informative personal statements in English. They even delivered two short dialogues based on their daily conversations. During the graduation ceremony, I talked to interns, volunteers, and staff from SYB. I could feel that they are very passionate about their jobs. They believe that this nine-month training could change many of the students’ lives. However, after talking to one of the training managers at SYB, I realized that the impact might be much less than many people anticipate. The manager suggested that the first ten years of working in bakeries or hotels is a tough time. Only those with dedication and talent would remain in this industry. Some of the students may choose to work in other fields or return to their hometowns, and many of them will remain economically vulnerable in the society.

John is a graduate from SYB. He interns at the Renaissance Yangtze Hotel in Shanghai.
John is a graduate from SYB. He interns in the Renaissance Yangtze Hotel in Shanghai.

This seemingly disappointing opinion exemplifies a real problem of NGOs that I learned from “development geography”: as long as the social structure remains unchanged, NGOs can scarcely change the lives of the poor. The disadvantaged will remain disadvantaged. In China, NGOs have little effect upon the structure of the society. They do not want, nor do they dare, to challenge authority.

If NGOs can scarcely change society, why do we still do what we do? How can NGOs be improved? We had a discussion regarding these questions among Stepping Stones staff on July 16th. We discussed the possibility of turning Stepping Stones into a “social enterprise”. If we provide the same level of English education as educational corporates do, why don’t we charge our students for some of our programs? We could use the money to expand our programs and to help those who cannot afford them. Social enterprise is a possible solution to the sustainability of NGOs, expanding their influence and alleviating social injustice, yet it still cannot fundamentally solve the injustice that is deeply rooted in the local structure of society. This links back to one of my previous points: by raising young Chinese people’s awareness towards the unfair treatment of migrant children and involving Chinese youth in this force for change, we can probably influence the future of China.

I am glad that by the halfway mark of my internship at Stepping Stones, I have met so many passionate people at various occasions. I have explored my studies of NGOs in real life, and real life has raised new questions for my studies. I am sure I will learn more in the next few weeks at NCLC4 and Stepping Stones. The weather is getting unbearably hot in Shanghai, but I am in love with the city and what I am doing here.

I am ending this blog as the format of my emails always end:

“Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.


Terry Chenyu Li”

Discrimination Law 101: Educational Presentations

I cannot believe that it is halfway through my internship already! The summer is really flying by.  Since my last post, a lot has developed in terms of my responsibilities at the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

When I first began calling human services organizations, it was a bit frustrating because it was not always easy to reach the right person, or sometimes anybody at all! After a frustrating day of unsuccessful calls without feeling like I was truly connecting with people, I tried to have more natural conversations with program coordinators and directors.

Soon, I began to schedule many presentations, which gets to the heart of what my responsibilities are as a public education and outreach intern. Now, I have given six presentations, and I have over ten more scheduled for the upcoming weeks.  Each presentation that I give is different depending on the population; the settings are as varied as ESOL classes, youth programs, and homeless shelters, just to name a few.

The presentations are really fun since they are interactive and the audience often becomes very involved.  It is nice to be able to see how much more comfortable I am giving these presentations—now I don’t need to use the notes much at all, and I know the right questions to ask to engage the people listening.  I’ve also become more accustomed to fielding difficult questions and determining the appropriate responses.  My public speaking skills have certainly improved from all of these phone calls and presentations.

Probably the best part, though, is seeing how beneficial these presentations are for the people attending.  While it can often be a bit upsetting for somebody to realize that they were not only treated unfairly, but were discriminated against, it is really inspiring to see people taking notes and asking questions so that they can be better equipped to stand up for their rights.



Explaining the four types of discrimination during a presentation.

I have also been able to expand my own knowledge and understanding of the legal proceedings that take place at the MCAD.  My supervisor has been especially helpful in this regard.  All of the interns get to observe various parts of the complaint process, and I was able to sit in on a public hearing and an appeal hearing last week, both of which involved some very interesting cases.  I have attended a few lunches with commissioners and hearing officers, where I’ve been able to ask specific questions, and learn about interesting cases that the MCAD has received. This is a great way to see how the law is continuously progressing and being redefined.

Even though my internship duties are focused on outreach and are more informational than involved with changing the laws, I’ve realized that I am more interested in policy change as opposed to its enforcement. 

I have also recognized though, that even if a particular law is in place, education is essential in ensuring that the law is enforced, and that people actually benefit from that law’s protections.  Many of the people I have spoken to at these presentations did not even realize that illegal actions may have been taken against them, because they were unaware of their protections under the law. 

Thus, it is not simply enough to create a law for it to actually make change. I hope that I will use this knowledge in the future if I decide to pursue a career in policy change, and will remember the importance of spreading education and awareness in bringing about a law or policy’s full potential.

 I am looking forward to the next few weeks of my internship, and I am very excited to see what else I will learn!

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Helping answer a question regarding housing discrimination.

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Kelley answers a question about whether a particular scenario might be discrimination.

Intersectionality and Breaking Classism

The past month working with Interfaith Worker Justice has been a reminder that creating change is slow, grinding, and often unglamorous work.  One of my primary goals has been to explore community organizing from a labor and economic justice perspective, the strengths and weaknesses of labor organizing in Boston in relation to my experience in climate organizing, and building bridges between the two movements.

I think that the climate movement does many things well—it has a lot of energy and momentum around youth right now; the horizontal, democratic nature of a lot of its organizing allows people to take initiative and become leaders; and a shift away from rote protests and rallies towards creative tactics, civil disobediences, and direct actions resonate more powerfully with the public and media. However, for all its innovation and energy, a major critique of climate change activists is that it is a homogenous group—white, upper-middle class—partly because climate change is seen as a “privileged” issue, especially when compared to violence, poverty, mass incarceration, racism, etc. However, climate justice sees the intersections of race, class, and the environment; those most vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation are marginalized communities, i.e. low-income, minority groups. And to build a movement strong enough to take on climate change and the fossil fuel industry, we need to make these intersections clear, create cross-connections in struggles for justice, and support communities with the most at stake from climate change.

Photo I took/edited of an action at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office during an action where immigration and labor organizers joined together.
Photo I took/edited at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office during an action where immigration and labor organizers joined together–an example of intersectionality and movements creating synergy.

This is where my time at Interfaith Worker Justice comes into play. Every day is filled with meetings to plan campaigns and actions, as well as participating in actions themselves. My work has narrowed to focusing on the Raise Up Massachusetts campaign—raising the minimum wage and establishing an earned sick time standard for all workers in MA; the Bangladesh Solidarity Network, which is focused on getting apparel companies such as Gap and Walmart to sign a Fire and Safety Agreement that would improve the safety for Bangladesh garment workers, and participating in numerous pickets and rallies in support of various workers trying to unionize with a fair process without fear of retaliation.

My time with IWJ has been useful in seeing and understanding how the labor movement has been successful in building a strong, diverse group. Labor organizers see their work and thus frame their issues around class and race, resonating strongly among the constituents it needs to raise. However, I’ve learned that messaging that focuses on class and race only goes so far in building community support and legitimacy if without an intentionality to incorporate marginalized people into organizing. At work I have picked up on how labor organizers intentionally reach out to a diversity of people to not only attend events but become part of the organizing process. I am starting to pick up on various habits and incorporate them into my organizing in order to be more inclusive. For example, it is important to pick up the phone and not rely solely on the Internet (which many low-income people do not have 24/7 access to). For a week of actions against deportations of undocumented immigrants, I spent hours calling housing authorities, immigration groups, civil rights groups, workers centers—any organization whose constituents could be those impacted and thus would be most passionate about deportations. In addition, we made sure at the week of actions against deportations that almost all of the speakers were those directly affected by deportations. It is useful to establish relationships with other organizations that deal directly with communities not only to collaborate with but also to utilize as a resource when outreaching—I have been discussing with various labor organizers about my own climate work and working to establish contacts that can then be later used for outreach and collaboration. Organizers also make sure to plan meetings and events at times when people are not working and at locations accessible by public transportation and nearby or, better yet, in low-income communities. Going through work every day with an intentionality on classism and racism and picking up nuisances of how the labor movement effectively resonates with marginalized communities will be extremely useful as I continue organizing on Brandeis campus and beyond, irrespective of the issue.


Picket at Le Meridien hotel over the company's failure to allow workers to organize (Cambridge, MA).
Picket at Le Meridien hotel over the company’s failure to allow workers to organize (Cambridge, MA).

I learned from some labor organizers of a carbon tax bill in MA that people were upset with due to the regressive nature of how it distributed tax-cuts. Effectively, this bill would put a divide between many well-intentioned environmentalists and labor activists who would have to spend crucial resources and energy into defeating the carbon tax bill, hurting both movements. I have been discussing with various environmental organizers about the regressive nature of the carbon tax and trying to set up a meeting among environmental and labor organizers to meet with the grassroots organization behind the ballot initiative of the carbon tax bill to see how the bill can be revised to avoid these internal conflicts.

More generally, I have been working on crafting connections between the two movements to avoid scenarios such as the carbon tax bill that could have been avoided if there were communication; currently I am working on getting together a meeting of student organizers across different issues (labor, environmental, immigration) to seek out synergy and unity.  I am excited to see where my connections in the labor movement take me as I continue organizing around climate and environmental justice in the future; I especially hope to create collaborative efforts between the two issues, perhaps first on-campus to help revitalize the activist scene.



Diak ka lae?

Diak ka lae is used in Tetun, the local language of East Timor, for “How are you?” The literal translation is “Good or bad?” In response, people usually reply “diak”, meaning good, or “lae”, meaning bad. Diak ka lae is one of the many Tetun phrases and words I have learned here in my time in Dili. Although I am far from being fluent, I know enough phrases to understand some of the patients and to get a basic patient history. As I go on rounds with the doctors and follow up with the patients, I am getting more comfortable in a health care setting. Most importantly, I am also getting comfortable interacting with the patients. Being familiar with the language is one big step in communicating and interacting with patients and their families at the clinic.

Bairo Pite Clinic sign outside clinic gates

After spending over a month at the Bairo Pite Clinic, I am definitely seeing how a health clinic in a developing country like East Timor operates. I work almost daily with the staff and volunteers in providing health care for its patients. I observe and interact with a variety of staff members vital in running the clinic. However, the BPC is steady changing as health care in East Timor progresses. As I am working, I am witnessing the failures of the system and the improvements being made. I believe this knowledge I am gaining is important in becoming better informed as a future primary care physician.


Since I have started working at the clinic, I have been exposed to many medical procedures used to diagnose and evaluate patients. As I am picking up the language here, I am also becoming familiar with the medical techniques and tools being used during these examinations. I am able to understand why these techniques are being used when a doctor uses them and I am able to provide these tools when a doctor needs them. These skills would be useful in the future for work in a health care setting and for facilitating patient care.

Me and other volunteers with our N95 masks (masks that protect us from TB) on

I am most proud of everything that I have learned so far at the BPC and the fact that I am able to make myself useful around the clinic despite my lack of knowledge. Most of the volunteers at the BPC are medical students with some medical experience. In the beginning, I was worried that I would not be able to get the learning experience I need or be able help out. However, the doctors and medical students have been very willing to explain and teach me if I had questions. This in return helped me understand what was going on and be able to help them and by extension, help the patients.


Alice Luu ’14


Many volunteers from all over the world hanging out in the administration office
Many volunteers from all over the world hanging out in the administration office


Busy in the Small Non-Profit

Approaching the midpoint of my internship at WATCH, I can look back and appreciate the progress that I have made since it started almost two months ago. Although I had been familiar with the setting and the work at WATCH from my semester involvement with the Housing Clinic, I had made it a goal to understand and experience firsthand the work of a non-profit organization. WATCH proved to be a great place to get the right perspective about the public sector. The amount of responsibility that I am given at WATCH, as well as the degree to which I am involved with the inner workings of the organization, would have been unheard of had I been employed at a government office, big organization, or larger company. As an intern at WATCH, I have been given the opportunity to work closely with the full-time team, which is comprised of only four people: an Executive Director, Development Director, Office Manager, and Program Manager. In a big organization, I would have worked in a small department, which would have had its own niche objective, and I would not have been able to see the big picture. At WATCH, our staff meetings involve only the full-time staff and me. I am able to learn about every role in great detail, and this experience gives me a great perspective on the management and inner workings of a non-profit organization.  *maybe add an example about viewing the annual budget and having a real-life example to what I learn in my economics classes.

Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting
Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting

My other main goal was to learn more about community organizing and successfully engaging with community leaders to seek action to better the housing situation in Waltham. We decided to schedule a Tenant Action Group meeting (TAG) at the end of this month. In this meeting, community members will get educated about their rights as tenants, and we will try to address a specific housing problem that the people are facing, such as unsanitary and unsafe housing conditions. We are hoping to empower the TAG participants to actively seek change and action from their local representatives – for instance, sending personal letters to them describing the issues they face. The first step we took to schedule this meeting was to compose and send out a mailing to recent Housing Clinic clients inviting them to attend. Next week we are going to call approximately one hundred people to notify them about the meeting. I am very excited about it and cannot wait to get my first taste of community organizing. To learn more about community empowerment and organizing, please visit WATCH Community Organizing page.

I am using several methods to keep track of my personal progress and growth. I have a Google document in which I write down everything I do; projects, activities, people helped, etc. I track clinic progress under four categories: Walk-Ins, Emails, Phone Calls, and Letters that we empower tenants to write to their ward councilors, which are the representatives of each ward in Waltham in the local government. In the first period, we had 26 Walk-Ins, 9 emails, and 32 phone calls. We did not write letters to ward councilors because we are still working on implementing letter writing to the intake process.

Sending out the mailing

At the beginning of my internship, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work, follow-ups, and resources I was told to update. At this point, however, I feel that I am finally on top of my work and I am now much more experienced than when I started. I spent a great deal of time learning about the Massachusetts housing law, and about different resources that I can offer as an advocate. I feel proud that I can assist the clients that come into the Housing Clinic and actually be able to help them with their struggles. Since I started, we have had a couple of success stories, such as a family who got their security deposit back from their landlord after two years of court disputes with the support of WATCH. Also, we helped a number of households communicate with their landlords and demand repairs to their apartments in order to improve their living conditions. Besides increasing my knowledge of the law and assisting people, I feel that through personal contact with real people and real situations, I become a better communicator and problem solver. Working at the Housing Clinic entails rationalizing, thinking critically, and assessing the problems I encounter. It is gaining skills like these that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I believe that they will prove invaluable as my career path develops.


– Shimon Mazor ‘16

Creative Action and Social Media

I am halfway through my time at UFE and enjoying every minute of it. As I mentioned before, I was looking forward to

– Working on my own independent project with UFE

– Joining the fight for a great cause

– Forming great relationships with the UFE family.

How do you think that is all going? Well, I’ll show you!

My project:

Many organizations use social media for a variety of functions. Like these organizations, UFE has  Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo accounts through which it shares news and event information and raises awareness about issues pertaining to economic justice, fair taxation and equality for all.

My project is to explore one additional benefit of social media tools to UFE – fundraising – and to develop recommendations and corresponding case studies which support my research findings and proposed strategy. Having worked on this for the past few weeks, it has been an enlightening experience learning how different organizations are going about raising money through Facebook posts and YouTube videos. In the process, I spend hours on different websites looking at informative, sometimes hilarious and powerful content that organizations use to effect change and encourage action. (I am having about as much fun doing this as when the “Harlem Shake” craze hit YouTube.)

At the end of my internship, I will have the opportunity to present my findings to the rest of the UFE staff and I look forward to doing so. I hope that my work will provide actionable recommendations that will benefit the organization and enable its work to continue.

The UFE family:

I have yet to each lunch alone since I started working with the UFE. There is always an opportunity to interact with any one of the staff members at UFE; from the other interns to the director of the organization. Being comfortable with the people I work with is always top on my list of things to look out for in a career and I am happy to find that at UFE.

One other opportunity to bond with the members of the organization was during a state hearing at the State House in Boston. Steve Schnapp (one of the founding members of UFE) was set to testify in support of a resolution calling for responsible state and budgetary policy. We came together to join the rally and eventually sit in for the hearing. I got to experience the “action” part of the organization and meet people from other groups and organizations united for the same cause.

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 Here are some more pictures on the UFE facebook page

Last week, the other interns and I were invited to brainstorm, with the rest of the staff, ways that UFE could address federal tax issues and effect awareness and change at that level. I was excited to be a part of this and proud to be able to contribute my own ideas to the gathering. It was fascinating hearing from the earlier members of the group as they narrated (hilarious) accounts of how they had coordinated “Creative Action” (use of creative mediums such as theater and art for activism) in the past.

Side note: If you ever see dancing dollar bills anywhere, you know who’s responsible.

So far, I am enjoying my time at UFE. Since this is a major learning experience for me, each day is different and fulfilling, whether I am going through an organization’s Twitter feed, watching a webinar on the importance of email in fundraising or holding a banner outside State House.

Thanks for reading!

Pokuaa Adu

Onward and Upward!

With week seven rolling by at The Oregon Bus Project, I have steadily become accustomed to my responsibilities within the program. All twenty-one of the Fellows of the political-organizing fellowship, “PolitiCorps”, have been working tirelessly in the four weeks that they have been here. As I discussed in my previous post, the Fellows had the opportunity to vote on which public-interest campaigns they wanted to work on for the duration of their ten-week fellowship. After hearing about the summer campaign goals from eight advocacy groups, the Fellows decided to work on marriage equality with Basic Rights Oregon, voter registration of people of color in marginalized neighborhoods with the Portland Urban League, and building support for the passage of a district school-bond with the Gresham-Barlow School Board (which has historically been a neglected and under-resourced district). In the ten weeks of their fellowship, they are knocking on doors and making phone calls, to build support for their campaigns.

As field intern, my responsibilities have revolved mainly around taking photos of the Fellows in action, maintaining a social-media presence through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,  managing day to day logistics for the program, and occasionally involving myself in the public-interest community outreach blasts. Working as a staff member on the PolitiCorps Fellowship Program has not only allowed me to work firsthand as a social-justice advocate, but also has fine tuned my management, social-media, and program-operation abilities. While working with the 21 fellows, I have acted as a group facilitator and resource for the fellows, for when they need advice or campaign resources. Having the opportunity to not only spend time in the office, but also talking to members of the community about significant legislative issues that affect social equity and equality, has allowed me to grow as an ally to socially marginalized groups and also has equipped me the necessary skills to pursue a professional career where social-justice is a focus.

In the past three weeks, I took on two additional responsibilities: field data tracking, and a personal project, which will illustrate the development of the Fellows by word-cloud at the end of the program.

On the data-tracking side of things, I have been using excel formulas to record and analyze the progress being made by the campaigns. By configuring data spreadsheets to convert raw data into percentages and sums, we are realistically able to determine the impact that the fellows are having on their campaigns, and the aggregate opinions of community members polled using campaign-related surveys.

I have also been able to track the development of individual fellows quantitatively, by recording individual values of: doors knocked, numbers called, and voters registered.

I am most proud of a personal project that I have started on my own initiative, to map out the daily experiences of the fellows visually. Beginning three weeks ago, I started asking the fellows to each write down one word describing their day working in the field. I began taking these daily anonymous twenty-one descriptors, drawing up a word-cloud, and e-mailing it out to the fellows each night; to allow fellows to gauge the emotional and experiential dynamic of the group, and adjust interpersonal behavior accordingly. (see below)

July 1st: Debrief Word Cloud

In addition to using the word-clouds as a means of increasing awareness within the group of fellows, it has also been a useful asset to staff; allowing us to gauge where the group is at emotionally as a whole. By the end of the year, with over one thousand words describing the ten-week PolitiCorps program, I will design a final word cloud which will be unveiled at the Fellows’ graduation ceremony, with the most commonly used words standing out as the largest in size.

My experience thus far has been ripe with practical skill-building, creative problem-solving, and management leadership skills; leaving me with a true sense of time well spent. As I continue to learn about the managerial and operational techniques that go into running a successful low-budget organization, I know that my acquired skills will help my future endeavors with my recently founded campus-organization, Brandeis Microfinance Global Brigade, to successfully make it’s maiden trip to Honduras this coming year. I have been able to talk to professionals within The Bus Project about grant-proposal writing, effective organizational communication, and the importance of properly promoting the brand and missions of an organization. In addition to the ways in which my experiences thus-far will aide my campus-organization, it may well also affect the trajectory of my professional career after Brandeis. But who knows? Perhaps it it will simply make me a more informed and active citizen. But it was, after all, Justice Louis D. Brandeis who aptly commented that, “the most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

My understanding of social-justice and identity issues has been stretched, and although it has been difficult at times to adjust the complexity of the lens through which I see the world, it has left me with a greater sense of awareness. I am thoroughly enjoying working at The Oregon Bus Project, and look forward to the final weeks ahead. 

-Noah Litwer ’15

Voter Reg'n

How Times (and Scarlet Macaws, Hummingbirds, and Toucans) Fly By at UTC/GMT -6 hours!

Fer de Lance: one of the deadliest snakes of the region! Surprising encounter after a peaceful weekend afternoon of fishing.
Fer de Lance: one of the deadliest snakes of the region! A surprising encounter after a peaceful weekend afternoon of fishing.
Bombacopsis quinata: our daily spiky field companion...the project site is an entire 20-year-old in-grown plantation.
Bombacopsis quinata: our daily spiky field companion…the project site is an entire 20-year-old in-grown plantation of it.


“¡Pura vida!” again from a piece of conserved Osa rainforest! New wildlife I’ve observed: many scarlet macaw pairs, a bicolored coral snake (the most deadly snake of the region), 2 deadly Fer-de-lances (the third-deadliest snake of the region), a boa at the beach, a 3-toed sloth neighbor, several toucans, a tamandua anteater, and many toad and froggy evening visitors!

As I reflect on my summer goals with Osa Conservation with daily journal entries (as per advice from Adrian Forsyth: Osa Conservation Secretary, co-founder of Osa Conservation, president of Amazon Conservation Association, vice-president of Blue Moon Fund programs, and renown natural history writer), I realize that some of them have been met, others in the process, and others have pleasantly hit me hard without notice.

Environmental science research: I entered with a general goal of learning more about how to conduct professional-level environmental research, and I knew it would be the easiest goal to reach this summer given the nature of my work. I believe I have up to this point surpassed this by designing a carbon-monitoring system from scratch using literature review, so that the project design complies with many of the most up-to-date recommendations from the international carbon-research community and will serve as creditable and practical data for Osa Conservation’s land regeneration and reforestation projects in the near future. It has been and continues to be a blast going into the field everyday and getting pretty close to being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Local environmental advocacy: To respond to a very helpful comment I received on my first blog post, I am doing my entire internship here at Osa in Spanish, including speaking with my Costa Rican supervisor. It is tremendous practice and further helps me learn the lingo and vocabulary associated with nature and the environment so I can better communicate with the people surrounding me here. As of now, I have gotten the chance to explain my project and advocate carbon to other interns and the international Board of Directors in English and the workers and staff—with whom I interact most of the time—in Spanish. As a result of my own initiative, I am in the middle of contributing a bilingual post titled “¿Por qué carbono?” (Why Carbon?) to Osa Conservation’s public online blog (found HERE), which will update local and international readers on my thoughts and experiences here so far. I am also scheduling and will be practicing a general talk about Osa Conservation that is often and will be given at nearby farms and hotels in Puerto Jiménez for the same purpose on a smaller but more important scale. I hope to continue taking advantage of the ways that Osa Conservation promotes their organization and conservation as much as I can, especially touching on climate change. Costa Rica wonderfully seems to inherently value conservation, but I have heard no talk about climate change since I have been here. Climate change is the primary reason for tracking and paying attention to carbon, but perhaps motivations for monitoring carbon here may be more economic. Either way, I will be sure to address this in my blog post…and maybe the Princeton intern who recently told my supervisor, a staff member, and an intern that I am no less than obsessed with carbon.

Envisioning for a non-profit: I have been fortunate enough to live where the Executive Director—a former employee of Conservation International—lives on his days off from meetings and errands in San José. In this time I have regularly sat in on his conversations with guests and have listened to him describe Osa Conservation’s current projects and his plans for the new piece of land that was purchased 2 weeks ago with grants from funders like the Blue Moon Foundation and a loan: restored-forest and sapling monitoring, invasive species removal, active planting and experimental reforestation, building a school for organic and sustainable agriculture for local farmers, and a great deal others. Many of these projects are joint efforts with other highly relevant and quality environmental institutions like EARTH University: a wonderful university focused specifically on agricultural sciences (website HERE). By integrating myself fully in Osa’s professional and philosophical atmosphere, I have very fortunately learned a great deal about what it takes to move a non-profit forward and into which aspects of conservation to mentally branch in today’s modern environmentalist world. This axis of learning has been a beautiful one on which I hope to turn for the rest of my life.

Right now, I am probably most proud of 2 things: having learned to differentiate among many local plant families and genera, and my ability to coordinate a 4-person field-research team on 2 different projects in both English and Spanish everyday. An Earth and Environmental Sciences professor from Lehigh University actually has a somewhat similar project monitoring the survival rates of common local reforestation plant species in the same 20-hectare lot on which my project lies. Every summer (or winter, here) he sends 3 students to work on this project. However, for maximum efficiency managing all other 15+ land-stewardship projects, my supervisor asked me to take responsibility for completing both projects. As it turns out, this was a great idea. I am building my leadership and organizational skills, we are moving faster than ever on both projects, and everyone has more field buddies with whom to learn, laugh, and sing!

The research, networking, and advocacy skills that I am building by interning with Osa Conservation are undoubtedly super relevant and easily transferrable to my pursuit of environmental academia, career plans in environmental research and conservation, and on-campus involvements with groups like SEA.

Sending good vibes back to EST and every other time zone around the world!

Nick Medina ’14

A helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus): another surprise to our tree-measuring adventures!
A helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus): another surprise to our tree-measuring adventures!
Our energy levels after a long day in the field!
Our energy levels after a long day in the field!

At the Midpoint of My Internship at American Jewish World Service


It’s so hard to believe that I’m more than halfway done with my internship at AJWS!  My experience here has been very dynamic, and I could not be happier with my choice to work at this organization. A lot of my goals at the start of my internship were very general, and I feel that the comprehensive nature of this internship program has provided me with the opportunity to make progress on all of them. One of my main career goals was to develop a greater understanding of the operations of a nonprofit organization. I could not have chosen a better place to start. The culture of AJWS is a learning one, so it is very fitting that the organization makes a concerted effort to educate its interns about its work and the way all of the parts fit together. The starting point for understanding the functionality of a nonprofit is to think critically about its mission. During the first few weeks, the interns had a special session called “AJWS 101,” where we had discussions about the mission statement and what it meant in the context of the organization’s daily operations. Aside from the fact that the mission statement itself is very meaningful to me, this session provided me with an important perspective: that every organization has a starting point and guiding principle, and that things make more sense when that principle stays relevant.  I have started to think critically about what it means for a mission statement to be met: how can we measure things like “realizing human rights,” “ending poverty,” and “social justice?” These are big, abstract ideas, and thinking about them as end goals has contributed to my understanding of human rights nonprofit work.

AJWS's Mission Statement
AJWS’s Mission Statement

Another aspect of my internship that has enhanced my understanding of nonprofit organizations has been my meetings with people in diverse roles. I have had the opportunity to discuss career goals and experiences with many different members of this organization- people in the development department, vice presidents, and even the president, Ruth Messinger. It has been both inspiring and educational for me to hear these different perspectives, because they help paint a picture of what makes an organization successful, and how to contribute effectively. These discussions have also been important for my personal development because they have exposed me to the “language” of nonprofit- there are several key phrases that I have come to understand are very important. Particularly, I have enjoyed hearing about “measuring impact,” which asks the question of how we can measure aspects of social change that seem unquantifiable. One of the most valuable skills I have developed at AJWS is breaking down a big idea into smaller parts. For example, the goal of “empowering women in Senegal” seems abstract, but when it is broken down into specific community initiatives, there are measureable results. This leads me to ask questions- how many villages have stopped particular harmful practices, how many lives have been changed by group education programs? This way of viewing social change at a grassroots level underlies all of the work that AJWS does, and will definitely relevant for me as I continue my interest in sociology and social change.

Aside from a general goal of understanding nonprofit work, I also am working toward specific career goals. I had hoped to learn about different managing and working styles, in addition to developing my own. Since this was my first internship, I have learned a lot about my own work ethic. Most of the projects I have been working on this summer have been long-term, and require ongoing research.  As a result, I have become much more task-oriented. Every evening before I leave the office, I make a list of tasks to complete (and check off) the next day. I break down larger assignments into smaller components so that I can be efficient in the way I allocate my time.  Additionally, I have learned about professional team work.  The first week of the internship, the interns had a session called “Social Styles,” where we learned about different types of personalities and the best way to interact with them in a professional setting. I found this training to be extremely useful, because it is incredibly important to understand other people’s personalities in order to work together effectively.

Even more specifically, I have met two of my other goals: improving research skills and learning to use a database! One of my projects was to research organizations and events in different geographic regions, as a part of the process of planning AJWS events for the next year. As it turns out, using Google effectively is a very useful and valuable skill! In my research, I have begun to identify trends in the types of events hosted by different organizations, and make connections. I have supplemented this research with the use of the database “Raiser’s Edge,” which I was trained on during my second week. I have become more comfortable using this database over time, and it has added much more specificity to the research I’ve been doing.   One of the ways that I can tell I’m learning is that research is becoming easier and more efficient. I have noticed that it takes me a much shorter amount of time to complete research tasks now that I have found good resources and websites for the information, and have found the best way to organize and present that data.

My workspace, where all the research happens!
My workspace, where all the research happens!

In addition to conducting research, my other projects have been more communications-focused. I have drafted a one two page summary about AJWS’s grantees and strategy for disaster relief, and have sent it to the communications department to be designed. The reason I created this publication was for one of my other projects, which was to compile all of the publications and information about a few different issue areas for staff members to use in meetings with people who want to get involved. In my search, I noticed that there was no summary of all of the different disaster relief efforts and campaigns that AJWS has been involved in over the years. After meeting with my manager and the Director of Publications, I embarked on the unfamiliar journey of writing for AJWS to fill in the gap!

These are a few of the publications in the LGBTI/Sexual Health and Rights issue packet I'm creating.
These are a few of the publications in the LGBTI/Sexual Health and Rights issue packet I’m creating.

Aside from the issue-oriented packets and disaster relief publication, I have been working on some writing for the AJWS website. Specifically, I have been compiling information and summaries for the upcoming Study Tour trips to Senegal and Burma.  I have learned a lot about the work that AJWS grantees are doing in these countries, but also about the most interesting places to travel there! I feel that my projects creating publications, writing for the website, and compiling information for presentation have all developed my skills in strategic communication. In all of these contexts, I am creating an image of AJWS’s work and values. I have learned about the different ways to talk about the work and philosophy of the organization, and how that might be used in a targeted way to create change by raising both awareness and money. I am also utilizing this skill in thank-you calls to AJWS donors. This experience is transferable, and has also taught me a lot about my interests. I have greatly enjoyed my work in the communications realm of development at AJWS, and am interested in pursuing a career in fundraising, communications or marketing. I feel that I will be able to use my experience writing and creating a face for AJWS when applying to these types of jobs in the future.

As I gear up for what will be the last few weeks of my internship, I am reflective about my progress and how much I have learned. I am grateful for the opportunity to soak so much in at such a great organization, and I look forward to continue getting the most out of my time here.

– Shira Almeleh ’14

Six Weeks Later: Hitting A Home Run at My Internship

Federal Court Building, Central Islip, NY (http://aedesign.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/court-1.jpg)

The past six weeks have flown by!  It feels like my program just started, yet, this time next month, everyone will be back at their respective colleges or law schools and the program will be over.  I almost wish that I could slow time down (for some parts of the internship; I am in no hurry to slow down the copy machine- it is slow enough as it is!) because I am really enjoying my time at the US Attorney’s Office – except for the part where I have to wear a suit to work everyday in 95 degree heat!

Before the summer began, my primary goal was to prepare myself for an entry-level position in the legal field when I graduate next year — that’s the goal of any internship I suppose: job preparation.  And while I have gained exposure to legal motions and briefs, and drafted several responses myself, most of the learning that I will take away from this experience will be from observing the Assistant US Attorneys and their routines.  From the outside looking in, being a lawyer calls to mind images of attorneys  experiencing thrilling arguments with their opposing counsel in a courtroom and feeling the euphoria of having their objection sustained – people expect attorneys to spend most of their time standing in front of a jury, and dazzling them with their rhetoric, like on TV shows such as CSI.  In reality, though, what I’ve found is that most of the attorneys I work with spend 90 percent of their time behind their desk preparing for cases that may never make it to trial.

Nevertheless, the office keeps its interns busy — half of the time I enter the office in the morning expecting to work on one project, and finish the day not having done a thing for that project because I was assigned three other priority cases to work on.  Lucky for me, we record all of our assignments on a daily log, which serves as a helpful reminder for what projects we’ve finished and what we still need to do.

I split my time between researching cases in the library, organizing exhibits for trial into binders and boxes in the office and observing or assisting trials in courtrooms.

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Researching cases in the library; one of my fellow interns gave me his old LSAT book (on my right) to help me prepare for the exam when I take it in the fall!

So far, the most fun that I’ve had has been getting to know my fellow interns, most of whom have taken me under their wing and given me tons of advice for law school.  I’m going to miss our lunchtime arguments about which superhero movie series was the best or which team will win the World Series this year.  Just this afternoon, we all played softball against the clerk’s office — it was the Assistant US Attorneys and their paralegals and interns against the judges, court martials and their interns.  Unfortunately, we didn’t stand a chance – nobody expected that federal judges could hit 300 foot fly balls!

As one last note: something that I’ve learned about the legal field in the last six weeks is that detail matters.  If the font on the cover page of the exhibit binders is not the same size for all 4 sets, they need to be redone; you need to cite the jurisdiction for any case that you include in a legal brief, not just the name and the year; and most of all, always remind your superiors to “shake it off” after they strike out at the plate.

– Ricky Rosen ’14

Midpoint Reflection

My internship has been going well. I have grown accustomed to the working environment and my coworkers, and my work processes have begun to speed up. With a reminder from the WOW advisor, I just realized that this is already the midpoint of my internship, how time flies! It took me some days to get into this “working beat”, so now I want to cherish the time left, keeping this “beat”, and contributing as much as possible in the second half of my internship.

The Jinan urban planning projects I had been previously working on got delayed due to some political reasons. I feel it is a pity that we cannot continue this project since we have done a lot of research on papers, reports, and international examples. Then I was assigned to the Beijing urban planning and transportation group. We have regular meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning & Design to discuss transportation policy every two weeks. Our organization provided the government technology and policy support, and our goal is to assist the government to write a new Beijing Transportation Guide. Three other interns and I are working on one chapter of the guide called “International Transportation Examples.” I am mainly researching the transportation of the following cities: Hong Kong, Portland, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen. I learned a lot in this research process, both from how successful transportation projects in those cities have guided people to live a lower carbon life and how unsuccessful urban planning can result in inconvenient transportation to citizens. Also once the roads and the transportation systems are built, it is very hard to change it later on. So the best way would be doing the right things from the very beginning. I read a lot of papers and reports in the past three weeks, both about real policy and academic theories, and I realize how different they are and how hard it is to make theories a reality by making policy and working in the real world.

This project is a perfect match to my academic learning goal. It enhances my research abilities through reading many papers and reports and summarizing them for government use. Reading is the easy part!  However, it sometimes gets ambiguous which parts of the material are related to my research topic and which parts I should just ignore. This project trained me to find the key points among tons of materials in a short time, and this will also help me build stronger academic reading and writing skills, and at the same time, will be good preparation for graduate school in the future.

Second, the “International Transportation Examples” chapter we are working on will be discussed in our following meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning and Design, which makes me feel proud that I am doing a “real” project and that my research results will directly reach policy makers, and hopefully contribute to the Beijing Transportation Guideline. I am proud that my supervisor is very satisfied with the Hong Kong transportation report I just finished; he said it is a very mature report and it could be used directly in the Beijing Transportation Guideline. He also used my report as a good example for other interns. Through writing reports for government, I realized how important it is to strictly follow the structure requirement and rules. Details such as words count, type setting, and page design, if done incorrectly, can all lead to the need for revision.

Third, from this internship, I did not only gain working and research experience, but also expanded my network and learned about how an NGO works in China. I think a successful NGO in China needs to maintain a good relationship with the government because we need their support and approval to get projects done. Many of my friendly colleagues are experts in different fields, such as transportation, urban planning, LEAP modeling, statistics, computer science, etc. Also, I am very lucky to be in the same office with the program director, who is in charge of hiring new staff and conducting interviews. Sometimes she evaluates candidates and shares with me what characteristics of candidates she is looking for. For example, she weighs candidates’ working experience, the ability to get work done, and responsibility more than whether their major and degree match the position. And she prefers candidates who are willing to be devoted to work without excuses to those who have many “personal” requirements and whose personality stands out too much or does not fit the organization culture. It really opened my eyes and influenced me about what kind of staff is preferable from the boss’s view.

In the second half of my internship, I hope I can do more research and have a better understanding about the relationship between urban planning, transportation and low carbon city construction. Since I also have strong interest in analyzing data, I hope that I can diversify my working fields and join other groups which will focus on data analysis and do more technical work so that I can gain both research and technical working experience from this internship. Again, thanks for the support from WOW to make this great opportunity come true to me.

– Yifan Wang ’14

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This is my office table, where I did most of my research.
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Our action plan is on the wall of our meeting room, very clear to both staffs and visitors

Facing the challenge of Holocaust education in Asia

There are few people I know who have not watched Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglourious Basterds”. Most of those who watched it enjoyed the film, which depicts a fictional American commando unit during World War 2, made of Jewish soldiers only, working behind German lines to gruesomely avenge the Nazi crimes against Jews. Interestingly, not even one person who watched the film, told me he sided with the German soldiers, despite the incredibly violent and cruel behavior of the Americans. We all, after all, know that Nazis are bad. That is, until I watched the movie a few weeks ago for the first time with a Chinese person who barely ever studied the Holocaust and World War 2.

Invitation to an HKHTC exhibition in downtown Hong Kong - creative ways to solve challenges
Invitation to an HKHTC exhibition in downtown Hong Kong – creative ways to solve challenges

The said person’s reaction – in support of the Nazis who are attacked in the film – provides a glimpse into the main challenge for Holocaust education in China, the challenge I have been facing together with my colleagues at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre since I began interning here a month ago. How do you explain the Holocaust to local Chinese students who know little of anything about it? For them, the Nazis are not automatically bad, as they are for the vast majority of people who were educated in the west. The first answer to this question is creativity.

The first learning goal I feel I am constantly progressing on so far is, thus, creativity. The most recent example, which I am particularly proud of, is an application my supervisor and I submitted to hold a large exhibition in a very crowded public space downtown Hong Kong. To address the issue of a lack of context described above, we thought it would be powerful to exhibit the artwork of Jewish children who died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp next to artwork created by Hong Kong students in response to studying the Holocaust. Children are easy to connect and identify with everywhere, to anyone. By bringing their sets of artwork together, we can create a connection that will place the distant Holocaust in a local and more relevant context. Fortunately, the selection committee agreed with us, chose our application over many others, and the exhibition will be presented in October, to the eyes of thousands Hong Kong residents who pass by its location every day.

The same sort of creativity was also necessary as I worked with my supervisor and a paid web designer on creating a new and more relevant website for the Centre. The website was launched this week and has received many positive comments (check it out here!). Expanding the Centre’s outreach also naturally required finding ways to make its social networks more relevant, such as posting in Chinese with the help of other volunteers. Overall, since the HKHTC is a new organization, there is much to create and a lot of creativity to develop.

Speaking to students - Experiencing educational work
Speaking to students – Experiencing educational work

Another learning goal I set for myself was experiencing with educational work and learning more about education as a career. Being that the HKHTC’s work is all about education, I constantly feel like I’m achieving this. Be it while speaking or lecturing to students on different occasions or while learning about local curriculums and devising lesson plans that could suit local students with the HKHTC’s education committee members.

Last, but not least, coming here I was hoping to improve my discipline and organizational skills. Since the HKHTC is, as mentioned, a new and small organization, much of my work is independent, and requires both skills. From larger projects, like the ones mentioned above, to smaller ones, like cataloguing the Centre’s resources, creating a Wikipedia value and more, I am constantly required to show initiative and work on my own to get things done.

Cataloguing the Centre's resources - required discipline
Cataloguing the Centre’s resources – required discipline

As I set out for my last few weeks in Hong Kong, I already feel that I have learnt a lot and can be proud of some of my work. I look forward to continuing my work, and feel that my time here left made a true contribution – both to the goals of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre, and to my skills and experiences.

Midpoint Reflection

As is often the pattern when we embark on a new experience, it seems as though just as we settle into a routine and get comfortable in our new environment, it is already time to be uprooted and reflect on the elapsed time. As a summer intern at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools housed at New York University’s Steinhardt School, I am certainly experiencing this phenomenon. It is unbelievable to me that I am over half way done with my internship – how quickly time flies!

One of the major highlights of the first half of my internship was meeting with New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) team that is heading the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI). Three of us from the Research Alliance met with the DOE to discuss the experience of administering surveys in the ESI schools and to bounce feedback back-and-forth on how to best produce and distribute the survey results for the schools’ principals. Because the DOE ESI team leads schools through activities relating to the ESI program and advises schools on relevant policy changes, this meeting greatly inspired me as it demonstrated how the research-based work I was assisting on would be used on the ground to tangibly improve schools. I realized then how much of a collaborative effort education reform truly is as it takes great cooperation between researchers, policy makers, principals, and teachers to make a difference – not a single one of these positions alone could make the necessary change to improve New York’s public schools.

“The Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) uses new ideas and creative solutions to tackle the educational achievement gap and increase the number of Black and Latino young men who graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers.” PHOTO: NYC Department of Education.


Throughout the summer, I have been reflecting on what I’ve learned and the skills I have gained from my internship. At the start of my internship, my goals included gaining a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes process of education research and of the collaborative efforts of a professional research team. It is undeniable that I have learned a great deal so far in my time at the Research Alliance. Thus far, I have led the effort in designing the report template for the ESI survey data that will be distributed to principals of participating schools. I helped select the survey questions and data constructs that will be included in the reports by determining which findings I thought would be most relevant and interesting to principals, and after much discussion on the best findings to report on with both my co-workers and our partner Department of Education ESI team, I have gained a much better understanding of how to present research findings and what sort of findings have the potential to engage a principal’s attention and ultimately, influence school initiatives and policies.

By being involved with the Research Alliance from preliminary steps of selecting the most indicative survey constructs to report on to the anticipated final stage of report distribution, I have certainly gained a much greater familiarity with the many steps it takes to implement and administer an education survey with the goal of obtaining concrete, tangible and processed results for school and policy use. As an intern I have also been granted the privilege of collaborating with a close team of researchers, survey managers and data analysts in weekly meetings in order to track our progress, give feedback to one another and ultimately, to ensure the successful distribution of the Expanded Success Initiative reports.

It has been very eye-opening to be a part of a dynamic research organization that plays a significant role in the movement to advance education equity in New York. My experience to date with the Research Alliance has equipped me with skills that I will undoubtedly carry on in both my academic pursuits in graduate school and, more importantly, with a reinforced commitment to working for an organization with a social justice mission.

I am eagerly looking forward to what my last couple weeks at the Research Alliance have in store for me!

Read more about the Research Alliance’s work in the news here

Midpoint in Monsoon

Dove Logo, Before
Dove Logo, Before


New HD Dove Logo
New HD Dove Logo

My Big Fat Indian Birthday, #21


My Big Fat Indian Birthday, #21

Hello again from Varanasi, India! As I type, the monsoon rain is pounding heavily on my window. It sounds very romantic, but upon leaving the Guest House this morning, I found the road to be completely submerged in 7 inches of brown water! I should have added street canoeing to my defined learning goals in my WOW application! Here’s the weather where I’m at!
My month in Varanasi has certainly afforded me many life lessons as well as career skills. I am (quite literally) flooded with new experiences every day. There are two ways in which I can measure my growth throughout this past month: first, as an intern, and second, as someone adjusting to living in a completely new environment. As an intern, I am more familiar with the Dove Foundation and how it functions. Yesterday, I had a meeting with my supervisor, Mr. Abhinav Singh. He explained to me that the Dove Foundation provides effective programming for the community only by catering to their specific needs. For example, I had originally planned to videotape an event for Project Aarambh, which provides support and health education for young rickshaw pullers with, or at risk for STDs. The day of the program, it rained heavily and effected road conditions, which made it difficult for the rickshaw pullers to attend the event, so it was cancelled. Very last-minute weather conditions affected the plans for dozens of people. However, if we followed through with the program in a heavy rainstorm, then we would have stressed the community of individuals we were trying to help, which is very counterproductive. If Mahatma Gandhi were alive and working for the Dove Foundation, he might say, “Be the change you wish to see in the world, but if you want people to catch on, make sure it’s convenient.” So, if there is one thing this internship has taught me (among the many other things) it is to be flexible…you have to be willing to make small changes if you want to make a bigger change.
There is no formal office complex where all volunteers convene on a daily basis, so I have been learning how to effectively communicate and collaborate with different members of the Dove faculty if they are out of town. This means making many phone calls, sending a lot of emails, and using DropBox and Google Drive to upload and share documents. These are certainly some of the media skills I will use later on in a future career or even more immediately at Brandeis. I’ve also polished my graphic design software and video editing skills. Spending hours using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop to create a professional-looking brochure, new High Definition Dove Foundation logo, and a final report for the 2013 World Blood Donation Week has made me more confident as a graphic designer. I also edited a short film to be uploaded on the Dove website, highlighting Dove events from the past month. It’s been a little tricky getting a large-file HD video to upload on YouTube here with very spotty Internet, but my major goal for this internship is to give the Dove Foundation a series of completed projects, which they can use for the future to help them advertise their mission and gain support within and beyond India. I’m even more excited to work with the energetic, creative Dove Foundation team to get it all completed!

-Aliza Gans ’15

A Healthy Half

Wet lab centrifuge and hood, i.e. where they handle the blood and saliva we will collect
Wet lab centrifuge and hood, i.e. where they handle the blood and saliva we will collect
Brandeis Health Psych Lab! Where the magic happens. In the bottom floor of Brown.
Brandeis Health Psych Lab! Where the magic happens. In the bottom floor of Brown.

I’m a little more than halfway done with my summer of Health Psychology, and it is flying by! The Athletes and Stress study is coming along steadily. Currently we are mapping out the different portions of the study, deciding which survey or sample goes at what time, which samples we need to collect on the in-lab study day, and which can be reserved for the take-home portion. It is amazing to see the precision this process requires and the variety of factors that must be considered. For example, if we have participants take a survey about the social support they receive on a daily basis, and this survey makes them realize they are not receiving as much support as they would like, it can trigger feelings of loneliness. This negative affect can influence how participants respond on following surveys, or how they perceive their experience during the in-lab stress test. It is essential for us to eliminate this form of bias as much as possible.

I am feeling more incorporated in the research team and confident in my involvement. I can tell that I am progressing in the lab as I realize I have a voice in the project and can have relevant input. I am also amassing quite a large file on my computer of literature on the subjects we are studying. Here is an example of the type of studies I am analyzing. Luckily, during an internship I held last year at the Brandies Women’s Research Center, I learned how to use EndNote citation software. This has been so helpful in keeping my research organized! The organizational skills I’m fostering this summer will be extremely helpful in my future coursework.

Additionally, my critical reading skills are improving. Originally, I assumed that if the articles I read made it to publication (the psychology student’s dream) they must be relevant to my interests and study. However, I’m learning to be more careful with my scrutiny. Looking at researchers’ motivation and tone, how they collect their data and where the article is published reveals another level of information. Their findings may be true, but for what population or from what angle are they relevant?  Perhaps there is a missing piece of information, or other psychological phenomena taking place that can explain the found association. Between these lines is where I need to look to find the really interesting information that can guide future research.

This is how I am trying to approach the literature review for my independent focus. I’ve decided that I want to examine why and how people communicate about their bodies, how these social interactions translate into internalized body-related attitudes and behaviors, and the larger effects these attitudes and behaviors may have on mental and physical well-being. More specifically, I am looking at the role of “fat talk” communication (a term coined by Harvard Anthropologist, Mimi Nichter), what motivates this kind of discourse and what results it may have. What strikes me most about my research is the volume of work that has been done and is being done. It feels like searching through Mary Poppins’ carpet bag – it just never ends and the findings are stunning! There are always more papers to read, or new angles to examine, or new measures to critique. It is incredible to realize the volume of knowledge that is being generated by researchers around the world, but it is important not to get bogged down or overwhelmed by all the information.

I’m most proud of my personal initiative and organization. I have a lot of freedom with the work that I do – which is both a luxury and a difficulty. I have a much easier time when someone tells me what to research, or when, where, and how to do things. I’ve also found satisfaction doing the more concrete tasks, like working on the online diary, learning to use equipment and organizing the study. During a meeting with my advisor in the lab I was talking to her about all the possible directions my project on “fat talk” could go, and she stumped me with the simplest question. “Why do you want to research this? What interests YOU?” My answer was stuck somewhere between “everything” and “I don’t know.” This is the problem I face when the options are so broad! I’m trying to let these simple questions guide my research and keep bringing me back to the purpose of research – finding interesting questions and important answers.


Halfway through my internship

At this point, I have completed six weeks of my internship with IDG Ventures Vietnam. This has been a long journey, and I feel grateful for this opportunity. I am privileged to work for one of the top venture capital companies in Vietnam and have learned so much from this internship. People at work are very friendly and understanding: they made me feel comfortable and offered me helpful advice on the job. My research about how better to incorporate social networking into our business model is nearly complete. I have developed a comprehensive understanding of social network sites in the world, their business drivers, revenue models, cost structure, and organizational framework. My business writing skill has improved a lot, and I have nearly mastered XLSTAT-PRO and STATA for data researching purposes. My supervisor frequently checks in on me and provides critical feedback on my work so that I learn as much as I can from my job. He was pleased with my progress and confident that I would finish this research before the end of my internship period.

IDG building located in the centre of Hanoi capital

Last week I had a chance to join on a CEO meeting with Vat Gia, a small IDG portfolio company that has been growing tremendously over the last few years. Although it was just founded two years ago, Vat Gia has emerged as one of the leading online marketplaces in Vietnam. Its mission is to follow eBay’s model, with much attention and resources on providing pleasing purchasing environment platforms  for buyers and sellers. During the meeting, my manager requested updates from the company’s CEO, assessed the working condition and reviewed the annual goals. As the administrative assistant, I took notes and wrote a memo of the meeting afterward. Based on my notes and analysis, the CEO will have more ideas about future contact and potential next steps with this portfolio company. I really enjoyed the trip because I was exposed to a real business situation and learn about professional etiquette and communication techniques. I also told the start-up CEO about my research and he was very excited and willing to help me improve the research. After the trip, I grew a few good contacts in the technology industry.

vatgia web intf
Vat Gia web interface, similar to eBay

Besides working on the research and joining business meetings, my daily tasks also consist of assisting IDG analysts and associates with handling phone calls, scheduling meetings, and organizing electronic files. You might say these seem like boring tasks that no intern likes to do during any internship; however, by doing this, I have greatly enhanced my communication skills in the office. Although I have heard about this a lot, knowing how to communicate with other employees and managers is highly critical in today’s work environment. When I come back to Brandeis in the Fall, I will fully utilize these skills to network with alumni and reach out to potential employers during full-time job recruiting season. Besides, familiarizing with work environment also allows me to quickly adjust to a new workplace and deal with pressure in the work environment.


I look forward to finishing up my internship and please let me know which part of my internship you want to know more about! I hope you all are having a great summer before returning to campus in the Fall!

Looking to the Future: Sustainability and Green Energy

Now that I am at the midpoint of my internship, I am sure that I want to pursue sustainability and green energy in my future career. I have seen how valuable this discipline is, and how much it is needed on a national and international scale.

From the start of my internship until now, I have been researching for the follow-up publication of LAGI’s [Land Art Generator Initiative] Field Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies (linked here is LAGI’s already published guide). Through this research, I have learned not only about the many renewable energy projects that are currently happening across the world, but so too I have studied the art of grant writing, and the process of finding and applying for grants. With the application of these funds, LAGI and similar non-profits have helped multiple communities save money with energy management, make towns cleaner and healthier to live in through the implementation of green technologies, and have added additional comfort and beauty to urban surroundings. With the experience I have gained, I have begun learning about how I can help the world in tangible ways through the use of visuality and environmentalism. Growing up wanting to pursue the arts, I was often told that specializing in any career related to the creative process was a waste of my time and money. Going into art was never something that my inner circle wanted for me–mostly because they wanted me to be financially secure. But I now have seen, firsthand, how useful, important, and present art is in our daily lives.

One aspect that I have noticed is that design and visuality influence the happiness and overall mental health of workers, especially those who spend the entirety of their days enclosed in small offices. During my time working in a cubicle, I remember feeling so isolated from the outside. I would’ve given anything to have seen the blue of the sky or the green vitality of the trees and grass from my tiny office window; many of my coworkers felt the same. I have realized that even though some businesses need to conduct work in offices, that doesn’t mean that their employees need to be isolated and withdrawn from nature. Quite the contrary, a recent trip I took to the Phipps Conservatory proved that cubicles don’t have to be disconnected at all.


The Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA has recently constructed a revolutionary green building that creates more energy than it uses, saving energy for the city of Pittsburgh as a whole. This building is called the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. Its entire office space utilizes natural sunlight from glass windows; the internal temperature is stabilized from the condition of the outside heat, and plants are placed in nearly every corner of the building, adding another source of life to the indoor space. I have never felt so comfortable in an office space; this building was also generating energy for other Pittsburghians, too. I was truly amazed.

The skills that I have learned in my current internship have laid the groundwork for developing more advanced research skills for non-profits who utilize grant writing, and if I happen to work for a company engaged in international business, I can also mention that I have first hand experience understanding the difficulties the company faces going green (such as funding and grants, managing public space vs. private space rights, navigating internal politics, or overcoming the NIMBY point-of-view (Not In My Backyard: those who are opposed to renewable structures because they take up too much of the natural landscape).

This internship experience has helped me in decide what graduate degrees to consider and what additional minor/major I want to declare. By going into environmental studies and green energy, not only is this field of work helping societal and global concerns, but it is also fascinating and gets right to the heart of urban maintenance and development.

With this career I have the possibility of seeing the fruits of my labors, and seeing the people that I am helping through making their lives more convenient and healthy.


me at work
–Karrah Beck ’15

Beginning my (small) role in working for greater economic equality

UFE Responsible Wealth Logo

As I get off the bus that takes me to my internship, and walk into the heart of Boston’s Financial District, I think about the mission of Responsible Wealth, the project of United for a Fair Economy that I am interning for this summer, which seeks to create a more progressive tax system and greater corporate accountability. The large scale changes this organization seeks would greatly impact many of the large corporations represented in the District, such as Fidelity Investments. What I find most interesting about Responsible Wealth is that instead of fighting for change from the outside of these corporations or circles of wealthy people, the organization has created a network of hundreds of the richest people in the country who seek to further their mission. As the organization puts it, Responsible Wealth is “a network of business leaders, investors, and inheritors in the richest five percent who advocate for fair taxes and corporate accountability.” This network works toward the larger goal of United for a Fair Economy, to reverse the growing wealth inequality in this nation.

I discovered and applied for this internship through Hiatt’s B.hired job search site, and after a Skype interview with my two current supervisors which I did while studying abroad in Chile, I was offered the job. On my first day I was given a large binder full of training guides as well as information about the non profit, which included a large poster containing a quote from Louis Brandeis: “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both”. This led me to more deeply consider why I had been given the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice WOW for this internship, and how my experience at this organization could be tied back to my studies at Brandeis. As of now I am not sure exactly what I want to do after graduation (less than a year away!), but I do know I want it to be social justice oriented. I believe that this internship can help me understand how to use the knowledge I have gained from my majors in International and Global studies (IGS) and Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) as well as my minor in Economics to work for social justice, locally and globally. Through this internship I hope to gain a greater understanding of various aspects of inequality, including racial, gender, and economic inequality, and how to address them.

View from the front door of the United for a Fair Economy office.
View from the front door of the United for a Fair Economy office.

My first week at Responsible Wealth consisted largely of becoming oriented to the organization and its many projects, the layout of the office, and my duties as an intern. One fascinating aspect of the office is its small library of books covering many topics related to the organization’s mission. Within this library, I am especially interested in reading a book that one of my supervisors co-authored, titled The Self Made Myth: and the truth about how government helps individuals and businesses succeed. This, along with many other sources of information I have come across since beginning my internship, touch upon many current debates in the US political sphere, such as: Who built it? and more broadly, What is the role of government? It is a nice change to be surrounded by current events, as opposed to theory, which is what is usually more focused on within the classroom.

As an intern I will be involved in research and reaching out to members of Responsible Wealth, among other things. Within this realm, I have already begun to research which organizations in the US are addressing immigration reform, promoting the living wage, and preserving social security, as well as how they are addressing these issues so that Responsible Wealth can determine which organizations to reach out to and partner with when confronting these issues. I have also helped mail out the monthly Responsible Wealth Newsletter (hard to be an intern without being assigned a task like this). While I’m sure there will be a few tedious tasks such as mailings throughout my experience as an intern at Responsible Wealth, I am very excited to be a part of the organization and believe I am going to gain a lot of information and experience applicable to my future career, and be able to think more critically about topics such as social justice and economic inequality.

Here are some of the interesting articles and videos I have come across on immigration reform, the living wage, and social security.

Image Citation: United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth Logos were retrieved on 6/22/13 from http://faireconomy.org/responsible_wealth

*United for a Fair Economy. Projets. Retrieved on 6/22/13 from http://faireconomy.org/programs_projects

Suzannah Scanlon ’14

The only constant variable: the unexpected

Anyone who is from the Dominican Republic or has lived here for a while may be well acquainted with the phrase esta es la tierra de los imprevistos, meaning  “this is the land of the unforeseen.” Never be surprised. As a general rule of every-day life and survival, Dominicans know that the unexpected must always be expected. The only constant variable you actually can rely on is the fact that unanticipated events will come up.

I arrived to the Dominican Republic five weeks ago to work with sexually abused girls from El Caliche, one of the most impoverished and marginalized urban slums in my city, Santo Domingo. I was going to help impart a summer camp that would help them enforce what they have learned (or haven’t learned) through our poor public school system. Sadly but not surprisingly, the funding that was promised to operate the summer camp was never received and the program consequently fell through. We have been trying to get a group of volunteers to still work with these girls during the weekends, even if it is not through an official summer camp, and we are hoping to start this Saturday! Updates on it will be coming soon.

In search for internship alternatives, my site supervisor suggested that I ask for work in Oxfam, one of the world’s largest international humanitarian organizations that works in over 90 countries to eradicate poverty, fight against injustice and advocate for human rights. I obtained an interview with Oxfam’s branch in Santo Domingo, and was accepted as an intern four weeks ago. I was immediately assigned to an investigation project that is directly related to the precarious living circumstances of El Caliche.

photo (7) photo (8)

Because of the alarming high level of poverty, socio-economic inequality, and particularly imbalanced land distribution in the country, a very big percentage of the Dominican population cannot afford a place to live in. As a consequence, entire villages and urban slums composed of shacks made of wood, cardboard or even mud by the poorest segment of the population have been built on land belonging to the riverbeds across the country, which are by law supposed to be green areas off-limits to construction due to drastic river growths during the rain and hurricane season.


One might ask, if these lands are recurrently flooded, why do people choose to build their houses there? The reason lies in that these riverbeds are often the only available land that is not privatized, and therefore poor communities without any resources have nowhere else left to go. It is, theoretically, the government’s responsibility to prevent anyone from living in these dangerous areas and relocate them somewhere safe – but the political will to help this vulnerable and dispossessed segment of the population is completely inexistent. Thousands now live in these overpopulated riverbeds, and the empty promises of being given a dignified place to live in repeatedly vanish after every presidential election.might ask

In light of these circumstances, every year during the hurricane season hundreds and sometimes thousands of families lose their homes and their means of subsistence due to large-scale floods and destructive winds. Entire villages are recurrently swept away by rivers or submerged under highly contaminated water, leaving behind infectious diseases and a myriad of other problems with each tropical storm or hurricane that comes by. El Caliche is unfortunately one of these communities.

334310_1 Inundaciones

The government, in response to this scenario, sometimes evacuates villages or slums that are at high risk of being flooded and relocates them in provisional shelters next to those communities who have already lost their homes and no longer have a place to live in. In theory, these aggrieved communities will only temporarily remain in the precarious, often improvised, and drastically overpopulated shelters until the government fulfills its promise and responsibility of reconstructing their homes.

However, in most cases, the government never keeps its word and does not give any further assistance to the refugee population past the emergency response stage. That is, the communities relocated by the government into provisional and overcrowded shelters are more often than not neglected or bluntly abandoned by the authorities and left at their own expense without access to water, food, or medical attention, not to mention the inexistence of a sewage system, toilets, schools, proper infrastructure and electricity.

The most outrageous part (though sadly not surprising at all) is that some of these communities have been abandoned in these “provisional” shelters for over 30 years since hurricane David in 1979 – and virtually no one knows about it. There is no record of how many refugees there are, what communities have been displaced, or what has happened with the populations relocated into government shelters after the storm or hurricane is over. The information has either been silenced, deliberately hidden – or the worst option of all – never been recollected because no one ever cared. It is a population that was made invisible after their country forgot about them past the first or second newspaper headline.

My assigned task: to find out where these communities are located, how many there are, how many families are still living as climatic refugees and for how long, under what circumstances they live in, how have they managed to survive, and why hasn’t the government done anything to fulfill its promise. Where has all the budgetary money destined to rebuild houses gone? If the refugee population is still homeless, who has received all the houses that the government claims to have spent millions in building? Who is responsible of giving continuity to the situation of these refugees? Their constant cries being ignored, who is there to advocate for their rights?

The level of chaos, disinformation, institutionalized corruption and deliberate negligence that is present with the funding, construction and distribution of houses destined for storm and hurricane victims is alarming and deeply disturbing to say the very least. When I petitioned an interview with government officials to request information – which by law every citizen should be able to have access to – they hung up the phone. I now have to call from a different phone number each time (and have them hang up again) or otherwise they would not even pick up knowing it is me who is calling.


Hurricane season has already started, and tropical storm Chantal came through the Dominican Republic yesterday, leaving floods across the country and 6,500 people displaced. All government offices are closed, and the country has been “paralyzed” since Tuesday and will remain so for the rest of the week. Evacuations of high flood risk areas were in place Wednesday morning, but government officials had to take people out of their houses at gunpoint, as per usual. Why? Because even if this population knows they will be underwater in a few hours, they refuse to leave their homes. Leaving would mean that anyone could come and steal the few possessions they have… They prefer to bet on the river not sweeping their houses away.


– Andrea Verdeja ’14

Observe, Learn, and then Create!


Hi everyone! Hopefully all of you are enjoying your summer and internship as I am.
The past 4 weeks have been more about learning and observing the new workplace and technology. I am becoming  increasingly comfortable with my co-workers; we spend more time together, and have longer conversations. Because I am better able to understand our technology, I have the ability to ask more interesting questions, which create substantial conversations. This differs from the beginning, because then, I used to almost always ask descriptive questions, such as, what does this mean? and how does this work?. That didn’t allow for much conversation.

This is the cover page I made with Photoshop for our Online Video Industry overview.

Through the daily work I am doing here I am improving my research, presentation, and networking skills, which will certainly be helpful in school, and future activities. I know I improving because my research is more specific to the needs of the staff. After 4 weeks I had plenty of opportunities to learn what they look for and care about, so I am able to tailor my research reports accordingly. I am learning how to filter the information and decide what is most important spending time on. I am becoming more fluent when speaking about most online video technology. Also, I am able to better understand the industry news, and as proof, I am becoming very good at writing weekly reports, based on the industry news.
Though doing all these tasks may sound boring, it’s actually very exciting because I have the opportunity to make the blueprint. For example, there wasn’t an official weekly report, so I took the initiative to create a template, with a front-page cover. It’s motivating when you know everyone in the company, and outside the company (partners, allies) will see your work. It makes you feel part of the company.
However, I think the most important skill I am improving is being comfortable learning a completely new business/industry than the ones I have been taught in college. I consider myself lucky that I have the opportunity to study and work within the industry of big data analytics, and the online video players, because I am learning it will become one of the most important industries that will power all businesses.
While doing work for IRIS.TV, I often read technology news articles who advise all media and entertainment companies that the 2 most necessary things they need to do are 1) to acquire more content, and 2) work on improving the viewers’ experience, which is exactly what IRIS.TV does through its analytics and recommendation programs. It’s very exciting to be part of a company that is one of the leading forces of an industry that is only now starting to mature. It makes me feel like the opportunities are endless.
In conclusion, if the first 4 weeks have been about observing and learning, I plan to make the next 4-5 weeks about taking the initiative and creating. I am most proud of my progress in studying and understanding the technologies employed by our company, and that of our competitors. I can finally begin to understand our company’s strategy and why our CEO takes certain decisions. I believe that in time, if I keep observing, I will also be able to make viable strategies that will lead to our company’s success. It’s time to be more proactive and create!

Paul Vancea ’14

My fellow Interns and the Platform Developer
The workplace with some of my co-workers

Half-way through the summer

Wow (no pun intended), I can’t believe I’m already half-way through this internship.  Time flies!  The past month has been filled with learning and personal reflection.  My time thus far has mostly been split between working with our new database that just went live, and working on my major project for the summer: familiarizing myself with all early childhood federal and state regulations, reading the agency monitoring protocols, and interviewing all of the agency employees mentioned in the protocols on how they ensure that regulations are being met.  While I know this sounds rather dry to an outside observer, this project has ultimately led me to achieve all of my goals for this summer, such as learning new things in the field of early childhood education, enhancing my research skills, learning how to work in an office environment, and networking with possible future employers.

While all of these new areas of learning are inherently valuable to me in that they are intellectually stimulating, they will also prove invaluable as I enter graduate school and look for jobs in the future.  Being intimately familiar with the federal regulations relating to Early Childhood Care and Education and knowing what resources are available will afford me an advantage in negotiating what type of setting I want to work in when I enter the job market.   Utilizing my research skills has no doubt augmented them and contributed to my success in my monitoring project, as well as acquainted me with the resources available to me in all aspects of Early Childhood Care and Education.  Working in an office and having constant meetings with my supervisor (a highly educated and talented professional), no doubt contribute to my feelings of ease and comfort in a fast-pased, intellectually stimulating environment.  Lastly, knowing the ins and outs of an organization such as this one will surely allow me to thrive in graduate school and the job market and will put me many steps above all other applicants.

I am proud of myself for the work I have done in this organization so far, but mostly for putting this whole summer together: from finding and securing the internship, to getting the WOW, to finding an apartment for the summer (which is no easy feat when working through Craigslist!).  This microcosm of experiences and successes will no doubt aid me in similar future endeavors, and I can now approach them with a confidence and know-how I did not previously possess.  I very much relish being trusted as an integral part of the Parent-Child Development Center and I  look forward to what the rest of the summer holds in store for me.

Avital Silverman ’14

Hard at work in her brand new data lab!
My supervisor, Amanda Thayer, hard at work in her brand new data lab!




Chennai: One Toilet at a Time

Street market outside of railway station near Corporation of Chennai
Street market outside of a railway station in central Chennai

I arrived in the city of Chennai, India on a steamy evening in June and it has been a whirl of crazy auto rides, dosai, mangoes, toilet mapping, and new colleagues at my internship with Transparent Chennai ever since.

Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is located in the south-eastern state of Tamil Nadu, on the Bay of Bengal. With a population of 4.68 million people, it is the 6th largest city in India, and struggles considerably to meet the needs of its citizens, partly due to the incomplete and inaccurate nature of the data surrounding public infrastructure held by the local government body (the Corporation of Chennai.) Transparent Chennai, a research based organization at the Institute for Financial Management and Research, strives to fill in this gap. Its mission is to collect and redistribute information about civic issues to the citizens and government of Chennai and provide a platform for the people to have greater input in city planning and governance and to advocate for a safer, healthier city.

Public toilet near Marina Beach - Chennai, India
Public toilet near Marina Beach – Chennai, India

The majority of my work in the coming months will be on the cleanliness and availability of public toilets; a key issue for sanitation and health, particularly in a city like Chennai with a large population of informally settle people who do not have private bathrooms. Women are particularly affected by this as they are vulnerable to sexual assault when using the toilet and require more privacy as there is greater shame surrounding the act of relieving themselves, while low quality facilities in schools can contribute to girls dropping out once they hit puberty.

My work will involve organizing mapping of the city streets to gather information on all existing public toilets and assisting the development and implementation of a survey for mapping out toilets in public schools. Digitizing this information, creating maps for the public, analyzing the data and making reports for the government will also take much of my time. In addition to this I will assist in the copy editing the blogs posted on our website, as well as writing two of my own blog posts.

(The first of which can be found here! )

My interest in working at Transparent Chennai stemmed from an Anthropology of Development class I took last fall. We studied how development projects often came about without any consultation of the people whose lives were being “improved” and provided what was not needed (or wanted) if they managed to produce anything at all. This experience inspired me to try to find an organization that recognized and addressed this seemingly common problem in development work.

I started getting in touch with people I knew that were involved in urban development work and it was these conversations that ultimately led me to Transparent Chennai. I got in touch with the director directly, and despite her busy schedule she took the time to email with me and talk over the phone about how Transparent Chennai came to be, the challenges associated with living and working in a developing country and my professional goals.

From the start I felt that Transparent Chennai would be a good fit, and so far that has proven to be the case! As it is a relatively small organization there was a lot of flexibility in the work I wanted to do, and continues to be in my first weeks. Everyone here cares about their job and works really hard, while also being incredibly welcoming and social! I was able to immediately jump right into it, organizing and co-leading a mapping session for 46 student volunteers, editing four blog posts, learning how to use QGIS, and digitizing the data all in my first week!

My goals to improve my data analysis skills, my writing — particularly in a professional context — and to gain experience in the field of urban planning, are already being met, and so far I feel very lucky to have found this internship.

Toilet mapping orientation for student volunteers
Toilet mapping orientation for student volunteers – Marina Beach, Chennai

Sophy Burns ’14

Bridging Research and Education Policy

When starting my summer internship search this year, I reflected on how I could contribute to and what exactly I wanted to learn from a potential summer internship. After much introspection, my commitment to further the effort in closing the academic achievement gap in America inspired me to find an organization dedicated to improving public education. This determination led me to correspond with and talk to several such organizations and brought me to the site where I am currently interning – The Research Alliance for New York City Schools. The Research Alliance is a research center housed at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. The center works in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education to advance equity in education by identifying important questions for research and by providing reliable evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ academic success in order to build capacity in schools throughout New York City. Finding the organization’s mission overwhelmingly compelling, I eagerly set off for my first week as part of the Research Alliance team.

My responsibilities for the summer primarily center on working on the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), a program that seeks to close the educational achievement gap and improve college readiness and career outcomes for Black and Latino young men in New York. This effort is the cornerstone of Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative, which is the nation’s most comprehensive effort to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of Black and Latino young men.

Explore the Research Alliance’s recent report “Moving the Needle: Exploring Key Levers to Boost College Readiness Among Black and Latino Males in NYC.”

Forty high schools throughout the city were selected as part of the ESI. In the spring, students at these schools filled out surveys administered by the Research Alliance on topics ranging from future goals and college planning to perceptions of fairness and equal treatment in their school. Using the data from these surveys the Research Alliance hopes to better understand the impact of school climate on the challenges facing many Black and Latino young men and identify opportunities to intervene and support students more effectively. This praxis between theory and practice is critical to the greater success of any such initiative, and forming this bridge between raw data and on-the-ground policy is exactly my task for the summer.

My project for the summer is to create and distribute individualized reports for each school’s principal that focus on key findings in the data and highlight why the data is relevant to ESI and how it can be leveraged to improve school policies and students’ academic success. My first week included assisting in correspondence with the principals to thank them for their participation in the survey administration and conducting research on similar education-centered publications.

My first week excited me for the prospect of bringing principals such valuable insight on their school population and for the possibilities of policy change in schools as a result of the data and information acquired over the summer. From the very first day, my enthusiasm was further ignited by the welcoming, knowledgeable and compassionate close-knit team of researchers, data analysts and professionals I would be working with. And it was on my first day, while getting to know my supervisor and fellow colleague over lunch at Washington Square Park on an idyllic, blue-skied summer day with the faint echoes of a nearby jazz musician, that I thought to myself about how excited I am for the summer that lay ahead.

– Dina Kapengut ’14

Mid-way into Justice

I know that many WOW interns have mentioned how fast time is flying by – and without trying to be redundant or stating the obvious, I have to say that I’m genuinely surprised at how short this time I’m spending as an intern really is. Part of me feels like I’ve just arrived and thus, done nothing yet! But then when I take a look at the learning goals I’ve set for myself and see how much closer I am to realizing them, compared to when I started – then I see the progress.

At the beginning of my internship, I set two main goals for myself: learn how to effectively organize people, and understand how a non-profit organization works. Regarding the former goal, I received a reality check during my internship-training when a former intern, now community organizer said that becoming a good organizer (and knowing truly what effectiveness is) comes after about two years of doing this job. So I lowered my bar… However, even if I won’t become an effective organizer in such short amount of time, I can already say that I’ve gained a deeper understanding of what motivates people to stand up for a cause. I’ve also understood when it’s beneficial to move on from a specific project or to move organizing efforts from one place to another. Last week, a day before my phone-banking event was about to happen, the partner organization supplying the phones decided to pull out. A couple weeks ago I would’ve been angry and frustrated for days, but my supervisor helped me move on and find a different project supporting the same cause. This incident was also a good insight into how non-profit collaborations work. Due to limited resources and organization-specific strategies, we can’t expect everything to go smoothly. The non-profit world can get competitive and territorial, similarly to for-profit companies. Since we’re fighting for the same donor-base, the competition is extremely high – but meanwhile, we have to know how to cooperate.

I’m more proud of what I’ve learned and my flexibility in the workplace than I am of any specific project.  However, I’m working on putting content on my organization’s new website which we’re launching hopefully by the end of this week! So by Friday, I’ll be proud of a specific accomplishment. There’s even going to be an intern blog on our new website, which you can check out here in a couple days when the website becomes active. As I said above, I’m most proud of my flexibility, simply because it was never one of my strengths. I was hoping to have an office space and set working times and conditions. When I first realized that I won’t have the latter, I was desperate. On second thought and ever-since, I found it to be an opportunity to build adaptability for myself.

Immigration Reform Press Conference
The day after the Senate passed the CIR, several organizations came together for a press conference to urge the House to take the bill seriously. This is an Episcopal priest arguing that Jesus, too, was an undocumented immigrant. (Sorry for the bad quality!)


2013-06-28 12.01.19
Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach – My supervisor took another intern and myself to see it. The rabbi who was on the advisory board for the memorial is also sitting on our board.


I’ve already started thinking about how I will transfer the skills I’m gaining here to my life back at Brandeis, and then further on. I’d like to be involved/start a campaign around Brandeis employees’ rights. While my skill is organizing, I’ve also contacted a friend of mine who would be great for planning strategy. Since the power behind fighting for social causes is mostly people, not money, it’s important that every campaign has people with specific skill-sets. I’m also hoping to take my limited non-profit knowledge and intern for a different organization in the spring, where I can also use my NEJS major.

– Viki Bedo ’15

Injustice and Hope behind the Glamorous Shanghai

My internship is in what I consider to be one of the most exciting cities in the world. The skyscrapers in Lujiazui point their needle-like rooftops to the sky. Hundreds of thousands of cars run across Puxi on the Yan’an Elevated Road. If you drive slowly on the elevated road, you could spot some of Asia’s most expensive real estates in the former French Concession. Yes, this is Shanghai, a city known for its rapid urbanization and its splendid lifestyle. However, behind the shiny office buildings and luxury shopping malls lies the institutional discrimination against migrant workers and their children. The Hukou system restricts non-Shanghainese’s access to the social welfare in Shanghai, such as free public education and healthcare. Many migrant schools were established to provide education for migrant children. In recent years, the Shanghai municipal government has integrated migrant schools into the public education system and has allowed migrant children to join public schools. Nevertheless, many migrant students still have learning difficulties, especially in English. Schools in many other provinces only offer English to students from the third grade and above. Meanwhile, schools in Shanghai offer English from the first grade. Thus many migrant children cannot catch up with the class assignments. In addition, most of the migrants have little knowledge of English, so they cannot provide sufficient assistance with their children’s English studies. As a result, migrant students are in relative disadvantages when competing with Shanghai students.

Stepping Stones aim to help these migrant children with their English studies. It runs English programs in numerous migrant schools and community centers across Shanghai. All the teachers are volunteers. Some of them are foreign expats, some are exchange students, and some are passionate Chinese. Their main tasks are to help migrant children with their spoken English and to increase their interests in English. As an intern, my task now is to assist Professor Friederlike, a German Professor, to investigate the feedback from teachers, parents, and students.  Professor Friederike used to be a volunteer at Stepping Stones. She is interested in how the English program has changed the children’s perception of English, how the program has changed their grades, and how it could be improved. She is also interested in the Chinese people’s perceptions of NGOs and migrants’ living conditions. Her research topics are in my interest as well, and I learned quite a lot from our conversations with teachers, parents, and students.

Tangsi Elementary School in Pudong, Shanghai. 999 migrant children study there.
Tangsi Elementary School in Pudong, Shanghai. 999 migrant children study there.

We have spoken to four English teachers, one parent, and more than ten students at two schools and two community centers. Their feedback is all positive. When asking what is their definition of “volunteer”, they tell us that volunteers are warmhearted and benevolent people who are willing to help those who need assistance. Students enjoy the classes taught by volunteers. These classes have greatly increased students’ interest in English. A teacher from Tangsi Elementary School tells a story about a student from the second grade. The student used to be sleepy in her English class, but he is now very active in the English classes taught by volunteers. In these classes, students not only can consolidate their English studies, they can also gain new perspectives of the outside world. For instance, volunteers introduce western festivals to the students, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. The children have the opportunity to experience these festivals in their classrooms, and the experience has inspired them as well. One of the students that we interviewed hopes that China will adopt Thanksgiving and make it a day for children to thank their parents.

Although government regulations are unfair and the prejudice against migrants is rooted in some local people’s minds, you can still see that many migrants enjoy their lives. Living in this mega-city can mean that it is hard to find the sense of belonging, yet migrants have discovered and developed their own communities. Moreover, they have not given up their dreams. The students are confident about their future. They talk about going to colleges in the US, becoming a lawyer, and teaching English abroad. What really impresses me is that the migrant students from Tangsi Elementary School donate money to a school in the relatively underdeveloped Anhui Province every March. They believe that even though they are not rich, they still need to help those who are poorer than them. I am moved by their kindness, and I am glad to see that such spirit is still powerful among the so-called “selfish and spoiled generation” that is the Chinese youth nowadays.


View from Stepping Stones' office, with the skyline of Xujiahui in the back.
View from Stepping Stones’ office, with the skyline of Xujiahui in the back.


In the following weeks, I will be one of the program coordinators at a local school, so I will interact with the volunteers and the students more closely. I am looking forward to that, and I hope I can learn even more about social works and social justice. Everything is changing rapidly in Shanghai, and I am glad to be part of the change.


Terry Chenyu Li

Post #2: Midpoint Report!

The first half of my internship has been fantastic. It has gone by fairly quickly, and I have been having a great time, while also working very hard. So far, it is everything I was looking for in an internship.

Making phone calls in the office!
Making phone calls in the office!

Over the past four weeks, I have already learned so much about non-profit work and community organizing. I have learned about how to best recruit people for action and to keep them engaged, and how to help those people lead and take action. I have definitely learned how to effectively plan, and to make goals that I can reflect on and grow from. This summer, I set out to become more motivated to work even harder for causes I believe in, and this organization has definitely done that for me. Everyday, I repeatedly discuss with co-workers and the public why opting for tap over bottled water is so important and every conversation I have reminds me why I care so much about the issue. Unsurprisingly, my communication skills have grown immensely throughout those conversations.

My goal to meet more activists around my age and role models who organize the campaigns I’ve worked on has been met on a level I did not even expect. The staff at Corporate Accountability International, as well as my fellow interns, inspire me every day to embrace my passion for fighting against corporate abuse. I’m constantly reading new articles and seeing new blog posts and videos that once again remind me how important it is for us to reinvest in public water systems. For example, check out this video that urges people to tell the National Park Service to phase out bottled water.

Every week, I meet with my supervisor to discuss what we have been doing well, and what we could do better. These weekly meetings help me monitor the progress I have made as an individual, and the progress that we have made as a team. We reflect on our goals, and our accomplishments and compare how well we are doing with how well we should be doing.

Right now, I’m most proud of the progress I’ve made in effectively asking individual members to take action in getting involved in our Think Outside the Bottle Campaign. At first, I was afraid to burden people by imposing on their lives and asking them to take the time to help our campaign. However, through many supportive conversations with my coworkers, I have come to terms with the fact that I’m not burdening anyone. How could I be when in fact I’m fighting for issues that I care about and that others may care about as well?

One of the most important lessons that I have learned at this internship thus far is that it is important to be confident in the work I’m doing, and never to apologize for asking people to help because our cause is worth it. Whenever I get a little intimidated on the phone, or nervous that someone doesn’t have time to listen to what I have to say, I have to remember that they need to listen, and if they don’t have time, or don’t want to participate, they will tell me. Further, I need to convey the fact that I believe in what I am saying. It is easy to fall into a script or a routine, but what I am saying is more than that. This skill is especially important academically, as an essay will become much stronger and easier to write if I remember to write about what I believe in. Furthermore, remembering what I care about and making sure it is always conveyed in what I’m saying and writing, will benefit me throughout my remainder at Brandeis and beyond, as I apply for any and all future jobs and pursue my passion for community organizing.


Check out this awesome article about Western Washington University becoming the largest public college in the US to ban bottled water! Our Think Outside the Bottle Campaign has worked on initiatives there to phase out bottled water so this is really exciting for us!

Showing our support for bottled water free National Parks!
Showing our support for bottled-water-free National Parks!


Busy Working at CBHI

The major task that I am completing as an intern with CBHI is a directory so that we as the CANS training providers can have direct communication with those supervisors who are in charge of CANS training within their prospective organizations. In order to make this directory I drafted a letter which was sent to CANS news email list serve. I then created an excel spreadsheet to document the contact information that I receive. I have been very satisfied with the number of responses and the willingness to become a part of this directory. So far, I have entered about 150 people into the directory. My next steps will be to filter through the data and contact some of the people again to make sure that we are receiving complete information and the contact information of the right individual within each organization. I am most proud of my accomplishments on this task because this is one project that is completely my own.

My Cubicle!
My Cubicle!

Academically, this internship has helped me progress towards completing the HSSP major. My time at CBHI has also given me a glimpse into what it is like to work in the health care field. Thanks to this opportunity, I now have a better idea of which aspects of a work environment I am looking for in a future career. This internship has been very useful in connecting me with other working professionals and fellow students who share similar passions related to social work and law.

I have met with employees from the Office of the Child Advocate who are also interested in both law and social work.
I regularly check in with my supervisor and members from the department to discuss tasks that I am assigned to and work that CBHI is doing. When I first began this internship I did not understand a lot of the information that was discussed at staff or interdepartmental meetings. I am aware of my growth because now that I have spent about 5 weeks with this organization, I understand and contribute to discussions.  I also have a much greater understanding of the MassHealth program and services, which is the umbrella organization that CBHI is a part of.

Boston Common
Boston Common

This internship has taught me about government organizations and how agencies within the government are run on the business and customer service end. In school you learn about the three branches of government and how there are agencies within them that work to provide the needs of the state. However, now that I have experienced working in the government firsthand, I have a much better understanding of how different agencies and organizations work together to complete projects. While I do not plan on working for the government in the future (I actually want to work as a lawyer with children), it is helpful as both a citizen and a professional in the workforce to have an understanding of how your state is run.

This chart shows how CBHI fits into the organization of state government.

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are right down the street
Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are right down the street

In terms of academics, I am an HSSP major and this internship involves MassHealth services, mental and behavioral health issues, and matters of general public concern. By having this internship I will have a better understanding of how what I am learning in class applies to real world issues and potential jobs in the future. The specific duties of my internship require me to contact many clinicians and psychologists who work with children seeking mental and behavioral health assistance. While I am not the one specifically working to help improve the health of these children, I am learning how to professionally communicate with and reach out to others. One major lesson I have learned through this internship is that in order for social and health care services (as well as any other service/good) to be possible, a lot of behind the scenes work and business/bureaucratic applications such as contracts and development meetings must be involved. Prior to my internship, I did not expect public health work to require so much business work as well. This realization has taught me that no matter the specific industry one goes into there are always business applications involved. Hopefully I will be able to apply those business aspects that I have learned in this internship to my future career as a child advocate.

-Elizabeth Chalfin ’15

Halfway Through My Time at Walker

Before I began my internship at Walker, I outlined several learning goals I hoped to accomplish by the end of the summer.  One of my learning goals is to integrate the Walker experience into my school work once I return to Brandeis.  During the fall semester, I will be enrolled in courses called “Disorders of Childhood” and “Education and Social Policy.”  During my time at Walker thus far, I have implemented developmentally appropriate social and recreational activities for children that have encouraged creativity and teamwork (if you’re interested, visit this link to participate in a training on how to therapeutically play with children).  By implementing different types of activities, I have begun learning various techniques that can be applied in a school setting to encourage student learning and growth.

New School Building
The New School — One of the buildings that contains classrooms

A second learning goal is for the Walker experience to help me develop some of the attributes of an excellent social worker – a position I aspire to.  A very important part about being a social worker is maintaining the trust of those you work with and are trying to help.  The children in my program typically do not live with their parents and thus do not get to experience many things that people take for granted, such as having someone read a bedtime story.  There have been nights where I was the person who put a child to bed, and through interactions like these, the children have begun to trust me and open up to me, thus allowing me to truly begin to help them.

My third goal for this summer is to become more comfortable adapting to an unpredictable environment.  Throughout my internship, I have worked with children toward the improvement of life-skills, ranging from how to wash their hands to how to make a grilled cheese.  By working one-on-one with children who have different strengths and weaknesses, I have  continuously altered my approach to properly teach these children various skills.  This constant need to adjust to the varying circumstances has allowed me to begin to be more flexible with the changes in my own life.

Barn Building
The Barn – the administrative building that is next to one of the playgrounds

Even though I have achieved a lot during my time at Walker, I am most proud of the fact that I have begun to develop relationships with the children in my program.  It has taken a lot of time and hard work, especially because of the trauma many of these children have experienced, but they have finally begun to trust me, talk to me, and allow me to help them.  I started working at Walker because I wanted to help children who had gone through extremely difficult times, and now that I have formed relationships with them, I can now begin to teach and help them to the best of my ability.

The skills I am developing at Walker will also help me in other aspects of my life, especially in a career setting.  By going to work every week and interacting with the staff and children, I am learning teamwork, leadership, and the ability to provide a nurturing environment.  These skills will help my future career plans because I want to be a social worker for children, and as such, I need to be able to work with my colleagues to provide a safe and therapeutic environment for the children in my care.

Even though I am only half way through my internship, I have already learned so much and am excited to continue learning as the summer progresses.

If you would like to learn more about The Walker School, visit this link to watch a video that talks about the different components of Walker.  It is a special place.

– Avi Cohen ’15

AVODAH Midpoint Report: Goals, Networking and Reflections

It seems impossible that I am already halfway through my 8 weeks at AVODAH. In my time here so far, I have learned the importance of reflection. Both consciously and unconsciously, the organization constantly reflects upon current practices and programs to determine future direction. Reflecting back upon my goals for the summer, then, is rather fitting.

Before beginning my internship, I came up with a list of academic, professional and career goals, and I have definitely progressed on many of them. I learned one method of non-profit evaluation through observing the development of a detailed grant report on AVODAH’s Alumni Retreat. I have observed the challenges and advantages of integrating religious values into a non-profit’s mission through the development of this evaluation, as well as in the planning of upcoming events. I am learning firsthand about managing data as I am maintaining and creating new methods of data and resource organization. In thoughtful staff discussions about the current and future state of AVODAH, I have learned about the importance of adhering to and modifying goals and mission statements.

Reflecting upon the areas of my education that have been most useful thus far led me to some interesting conclusions. From the classroom, basic business knowledge has been helpful, and so has having a background in psychology. Writing skills have been extremely important too. The skills that have been most helpful to me so far–communication, observation, teamwork and motivation, to name a few–have come from what I consider a very prominent piece of my education: my extracurricular activities. For example, coordinating the Brandeis Big Siblings program and our program partnership with Jewish Big Brother Big Sister has taught me so much about professional communication, and I have used and improved upon that knowledge through my internship at AVODAH.

To continue, I am a big believer in passion and motivation–whatever you are doing, being passionate and motivated is key. The reality is, though, that everyone usually ends up filling roles that they are not totally motivated to fill. Sometimes, becoming passionate and motivated takes time and effort. As AVODAH is dedicated to strengthening the Jewish community’s fight against the causes and effects of poverty, my volunteer work in this field as well as my involvement in Jewish life on campus initially fueled my motivation in my position at AVODAH, although I quickly fell in love with the organization. Last week, my supervisor and I attended an intern and professional networking luncheon at the Bronfman Foundation, where we discussed what The Week determined to be the “4 Workplace Skills you Need Right Now”. One of those skills was empathy, “the ability to directly relate to others’ experiences”. Through working with my supervisor, I quickly came to understand why alumni and community engagement work at AVODAH was so important. AVODAH engages energized and intelligent young adults in a year of direct service fighting the causes and effects of poverty and activities that challenge them to become social justice leaders. To fulfill AVODAH’s mission, it is vital that after their year in service, corps members partake in the network of Jewish social justice leaders that they are now a part of. Actively drawing on the immense knowledge and experience of alumni and connecting them with like-minded individuals as well as opportunities to fight social injustices fulfills the Jewish practice of Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World, and the mission of AVODAH. My experiences with volunteer work, both domestic and international, have been most helpful in allowing me to practice empathy and directly relate to the goals of the Alumni network. 

Heading into the luncheon at the Bronfman Foundation!
Heading into the luncheon at the Bronfman Foundation!

The skills I mentioned being helpful so far–communication, observation, teamwork and motivation–have additionally all been built upon as a result of my internship. I have had many valuable opportunities to observe AVODAH staff in action, both internally and in collaboration with other organizations. In observing staff members displaying the professional skills I am striving to achieve, I am then able to practice these skills through my independent internship responsibilities with new knowledge. The workplace is very much a classroom for an intern: while it may sound cliché, the quote “tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn” is a great way to describe why I have learned so much as intern thus far. 

To expand on a connection I made earlier, the skills I am building through my internship will be transferable to nearly all other areas of life. I think it is almost impossible to categorize different skills by “classroom skills”, “career skills”, or “social skills”, etc. Independence, communication, motivation, organization and the many other skills I am learning here are virtually useful everywhere. Another skill from the article we discussed at our luncheon, one of the four current necessary skills for the workplace was being social media savvy. While this is a skill that might not originally have seemed to be professional, hence the word social, social media has already become a very educational and professional tool, and goes to show that skills can be useful in a multitude of fields.

Lastly, I am most proud of my new found love of networking. I like to think I have always been a people person and love learning about others’ career fields and passions, but through observing my supervisor and discussing the importance of networking at the Bronfman Intern luncheon, I have realized the importance of following through and following up with my connections. The importance of and power behind a network of educated and inspiring people has become even more evident as we work together to strengthen AVODAH’s Alumni Network.

Re-discovering a love for sticky notes
Re-discovering a love for sticky notes in my lovely workspace!

– Sophie Brickman ’16

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research centers.  The Institute’s mission is to educate young scientists by integrating them into the research world.  Their Feinberg Graduate School hosts approximately 1,000 graduate students each year from around the world.  The Institute’s labs are wide ranging in the sciences, with scientists working on projects including combating heart disease, cancer, and world hunger.  The Institute also conducts programs for elementary and high school students to work alongside scientists and learn about science careers.  The Weizmann Institute of Science fosters creative collaboration, intellectual curiosity, and equal opportunities in scientific research.

The Weizmann Institute of Science - www.weizmann.ac.il
The Weizmann Institute of Science – www.weizmann.ac.il

During my summer internship at the Weizmann Institute of Science, I will work in the Segal Neuroscience Laboratory, alongside Dr. Menahem Segal as well as his graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  The work in Dr. Segal’s laboratory is focused on the neuronal basis of long-term memory in the brain.  This work relates to investigating decay of memory systems in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and mental retardation.  I will assist with several studies investigating the cellular basis of neural plasticity.  I will use live imaging of cultured neurons in a confocal microscope, transfect various plasmids into neurons and test the effects on cell morphology.  I will help assess the results of the studies using various imaging and analysis methods.

During my first week, I learned to use the confocal microscope in order to assess neuronal firing patterns. This microscope has a tiny laser that continually scans the cultured neurons, so I can watch neurons firing in real-time. Once I became acquainted with the microscope and its accompanying computer system, Dr. Segal set me up with Dr. Fisher, a visiting professor, to begin tests on a drug that could be used to reverse the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Fisher believes his drug can target amyloid plaques, tau hyperphosphrylation, and mitochondrial death.

Check out this great video to understand how these cause Alzheimer’s Disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjgBnx1jVIU.

We apply the drug to hippocampus neurons from mice, and observe any changes in firing patterns. Each time the neurons on the screen light up, Dr. Fisher and I jump in our seats, excited to witness this amazing molecular event. With so much unknown about the workings of the brain, it is incredible to be able to watch the most basic principle of the nervous system at work.

An abstract summarizing Dr. Fisher’s can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15989509.

Working on the Confocal Microscope in the Segal Laboratory
Working on the Confocal Microscope in the Segal Laboratory

Dr. Fisher has developed hundreds of drugs in his career, with one currently in use for treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome.  While working with the confocal microscope one day, I asked him about the process of designing a drug, testing it in laboratories, and eventually bringing it into clinical trials. Though lab research can often seem like a tedious endeavor, following a drug from discovery of its molecular mechanisms through clinical success must be an incredible experience.

My goal this summer is to have an active role in the Segal laboratory and find a way to make a difference in these experiments, ultimately improving quality of life for people with Alzeimer’s disease.

– Shoshana Weiner ’14

“Humanity can go wrong if we are not careful”

Looking into internship opportunities for this summer, I was hoping to bring two personal passions together. The first, is my academic interest in China and Asia as an East Asian Studies Major at Brandeis. The second is my deep rooted belief in the importance of spreading awareness of the Jewish Holocaust as far and wide as possible, to all humans wherever they live. A week into my work at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center, I knew I found the right place.

The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre at Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan
The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre at Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan

With all honesty, I was a little surprised when my preliminary research for summer internships a few months ago led me to the website of the HKHTC. Mostly because the two concepts – Holocaust Education and China – are not commonly associated. Around the same time, when I first started sharing the idea of getting involved with Holocaust education in China with my friends, many of them responded with a slight surprise. “Holocaust? in China? Really?”

But the more I thought about it, the stronger I felt about it. In 2003 as an Israeli high school student, I visited prominent death camps in Poland with my youth movement. One of my most striking experiences was seeing how some of those camps operated a few short feet outside large Polish cities. The thought that ordinary people in Poland – just like many other Europeans at the time – lived their lives for years during the war constantly smelling the scent of burning bodies emanating from nearby death camps, and did stop the madness, troubled me deeply. It still does. What troubled me even more was asking myself whether I would have acted differently in their position, had I lived at the time. As much as it might be uncomfortable to admit, that question is difficult to answer and has much to do with our education and awareness. Ever since that trip to Poland and the insights it left me with, anywhere I went and whatever I did, I made promoting education and awareness of the Holocaust one of my personal missions.

The Holocaust - Through the artwork of a ninth-grade student in Sha Tin College in Hong Kong
The Holocaust – Through the work of a ninth-grade student in Sha Tin College in Hong Kong

I believe that increasing awareness of the Holocaust is specifically important in China. As a United World College student in Canada in my last two years of high school, I made some wonderful friendships with Chinese fellow-students. When I mentioned the Holocaust and my insights about it to them, I realized many of them had very little knowledge about that part of human history. As China and Asia grow in power and political influence, the need to ensure that their populations are aware of what the humans can do to others when the majority of people are passive, grows as well. The Chinese might very soon be the majority that has the power – and the responsibility – to take action and prevent future genocides.

The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre was founded by leaders in the Hong Kong Jewish Community about two years ago, with that exact mission in mind. The only institution of its kind in East Asia, the Centre seeks “to promote, across Asia, education and awareness of the Holocaust”, as its mission states. It was founded a little more than a year ago by prominent members in Hong Kong Jewish community, local educators and Holocaust survivors and activists.

In the short time since it was founded, the Centre managed to hold a number of significant events. One example is a concert featuring musicians from Israel, the United States and Hong Kong, who played songs composed by inmates in Nazi concentration camps. The concert was very successful, received a wide coverage and was attended by hundreds of Hong Kongers, including diplomats and politicians. In addition, the Centre began forming relationship with local schools, offering them assistance and support with teaching their students about the difficult subject that is the Holocaust.

The concert organized by the Holocaust Centre on January 27th, for the UN Holocaust Memorial Day
The concert organized by the Holocaust Centre on January 27th, for the UN Holocaust Memorial Day

As a relatively young organization the Centre did not have any existing internships positions. Needless to say, a paid internship was not even an option. To secure my internship, I first contacted the Centre last September to interest them in having me as an intern. After some correspondence, when I was given a green light, I began looking for financing, finally – to my delight – receiving the WOW grant.

As one could imagine, being a first-ever intern at an organization holds both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, I have a lot of place to contribute, be creative and truly make a difference. At the same time, I am also required to demonstrate a lot of initiative and self-discipline – two capabilities I hope to develop while I’m here.

My main responsibilities at the Centre divide into three: Advancing the Centre’s public relations and social media outreach, and take charge of designing and editing its new website; Research local schools’ relevant curricula and work with the Centre’s education and Chinese culture specialists to design and write lesson templates suitable to be used in by educators to teach about the Holocaust; And last but not at all least – to find ways to reach more local schools and educators – within both the private and public school systems – and form relationships with them.

Two students presenting a Holocaust Memorial they designed, during the Exhibition at Sha Tin College
Two students presenting a Holocaust Memorial they designed, during the Exhibition at Sha Tin College

During my first week in Hong Kong, in addition to adjusting to the time difference, warm weather and different culture and language (even though English is very useful here), I focused mostly on the first responsibility. I spend much time expanding the follower base of the Centre’s Facebook page. The Challenge here, as it is with the HKHTC’s work as a whole, is reaching not only English speakers and students and educators in the many private and international schools, but also those in public, Chinese-speaking schools. I also set-up a twitter account, began working with the Centre’s administrator on designing a new website and met with a web designer. Additional PR related projects that I anticipate for the summer – and have suggested to my supervisors – are writing a Wikipedia value for the HKHTC, and perhaps most importantly working on translating all of these into Cantonese, the local Chinese dialect.

Naturally, my short time here so far was also used for getting acquainted with the organization’s board and other professionals I will be working with at the Centre’s office, which is located inside the local Jewish school in the neighborhood of Shau Kei Wan.

 "The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole."
“The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole.”

One of my best experiences so far, was visiting a Holocaust Memorial exhibition created by ninth-grade students in the Sha Tin High School. The exhibition, a result of cooperation between teachers at the school and the HKHTC, was powerful and thought-provoking. Listening to the students talk about their works and how much they learnt, reiterated to me how important the Centre’s mission really is, and how happy I am to be a part of it. The words of one student I spoke with were specifically powerful: “Our classes about the Holocaust and working on my memorial really made me realize that it’s not only a Jewish issue”, he said, “the Holocaust is something that shows how all of humanity can go wrong if we are not careful”.

Chen Arad ’15


Namaste from the Dove Foundation, Varanasi!

Namaste from the exotic, hectic, sweltering, holy city of Varanasi, India! On my daily rickshaw ride to The Dove Foundation, the vibrant colors, smells, and sounds of Varanasi bombard my senses. The Dove Foundation , the largest youth-led non-profit organization in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The foundation aims to provide quality healthcare, education, and to expand educational and employment opportunities to youth members of marginalized communities, with a high emphasis on urban slums. At 3 years old, the Dove has already established three programs including Project Arambh, which has received the 2010 MTV Staying Alive Foundation Award. Project Arambh provides HIV/AIDS and reproductive health education to the low-caste community of bicycle rickshaw pullers in India. The Dove Foundation also runs two other programs: The Youth Education Program (2011), and the Community Involvement Program (2012).
I found the Dove Foundation through internship site leads posted on the Brandeis India Initiative website. I emailed Abhinav Singh, the listed Dove contact person, over winter break showing general interest in their organization. I soon received an enthusiastic response that we might be able to work together. We had many Skype interviews over break and continued to talk about what the Dove has already done, and what present needs I could meet with my already developed skills set regarding fundraising, publicity, and outreach.
As a Communication Intern for the Dove, I will help develop the organization’s online fundraising campaign; create a short promotional video about their various programs sponsored by their organization that will be distributed on social media sites and their WebPages; facilitate programs for members of the marginalized communities that The Dove assists; write and edit web content and brochures; and manage the Foundation’s social media sites.

When I first arrived at the Indian Medical Association Building, where Dove Foundation is based, I was thrilled to finally meet Abhinav Singh and Mohita Keshware, my two internship coordinators with whom I had been corresponding with since last winter. Both introduced me to several other Dove volunteers, all less than 35 years old. The youthful spirit and energy of the group of volunteers is contagious, and makes working for this organization much more fun, and I’ve already picked up some interesting slang from my co-workers.

The first week, the Dove organized the World Blood Donation 2013 mega event. My first day at work involved advertising the Dove Foundation’s blood donation campaign in Varanasi’s bustling IP Sigra Mall. This was fantastic exposure. I met up with other Dove volunteers, and learned several phrases in Hindi about the blood drive:
Didje to-fa dzindi ghee-ka: Donate blood, save a life!

Ya “Blood Donate” carne aye gha!: Come Donate blood now!
Also… Apke sahg-nam kiya-he? : What is your name?

me at the blood donor rally

The following day, I visited a local ashram/ orphanage with Dove volunteers to create a skit for a street theater performance with the young children for the Dove Foundation’s World Blood Donation Day rally. For this, I learned more lines in Hindi, and felt warmed by the bright faces of the young boys.
The rally was the most exciting part of my first week. An open-backed van mounted with several large speakers pulled into our office parking lot for the rally event. We decorated the van with vinyl posters and white and red balloons on all sides. The van blasted music as it drove towards the IP Sigra mall, where it a large crowd gathered. After we performed our skit for a hundred or so pedestrians, the van drove to its second destination, the gates of Benares Hindu University, for a flash mob performance to promote World Blood Donation Day 2013. A procession of motorcycles roared along the van’s path and volunteers holding signs followed the van as it reached the destination. As the van made frequent stops to announce its campaign to the community, volunteers distributed informational pamphlets and free coupons to a local restaurant.
At the gates of the university, loud music began to play and a group of fifteen dancers gathered behind the van. The crowd circled around them, and the dance troupe broke out in a choreographed hip-hop piece. In addition to publicizing World Blood Donation Day, and passing out pamphlets, and acting in a Hindi skit at the rally, I also took pictures.

Overall, my first week at the Dove Foundation made me even more excited to be working for a group of energized creative individuals for the rest of my summer. I anticipate learning much about how non-profits function in non-western countries, in addition to understanding the conditions and issues facing the marginalized populations the Dove Foundation assists. However, I did not anticipate donating my own blood for World Blood Donation Day.

– Aliza Gans ’15

AJWS Week 1

The Organization

My first week at American Jewish World Service provided for a joyful, eye-opening experience. This summer, I am working as the Experiential Education Intern for the organization. To set the scene, AJWS is a non-profit organization based out of New York, founded nearly 30 years ago by Brandeis’s own Professor Larry Simon. Their mission states: “inspired by the Jewish commitment to Social Justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”

To bring this vision to life, the organization focuses on two spheres of empowerment that together embody one transformative force of global justice. The first sphere works domestically, with the focus of:

  1.  Creating a greater critical consciousness of inequality and global struggles for human rights through outreach and education.
  2. Mobilizing political activism to end regressive US international policies that harm millions of people abroad and inhibits development.
  3. Leveraging the resources of our communities and nation as a whole to make the second sphere of the AJWS’s work – the international operations – possible.

This second component, the international work, serves to advance the goals of fighting poverty and progressing human rights by awarding grants to hundreds of grassroots organizations in marginalized communities throughout 19 developing countries, focusing on pressing issues from land rights and sustainable livelihoods, to gender inequality and health care.This approach to international development speaks to the very core of AJWS’s values – that people on the ground know best what is needed to create change. And with the solidarity and support of AJWS, these local (yet global) leaders and movements can make major strides towards a more just world.


This young woman from AJWS grantee Southern Farmers Alliance, in Thailand, is using sustainable agriculture practices to increase local food yields. PHOTO  James Robert Fuller
This young woman from AJWS grantee Southern Farmers Alliance, in Thailand, is using sustainable agriculture practices to increase local food yields. PHOTO James Robert Fuller


Experiential Education

Reflecting on my role as the experiential education intern and the EE department as a whole, I have come to see that how this work exists at a crossroads among the organization’s duality of operations, one that I find to be very deep. In rooting the educational approach in experience and critical reflection, the learning and pedagogy that AJWS brings to our communities is undoubtedly unique and visionary. It immerses the American (and for many of the supporters, Jewish) identity and existence into challenging truths of global injustice, while always shining a light down the road towards justice. And there is no better place to encounter both sides of this coin – the difficult realities of the world and hopeful future – than in the courageous work of the grantees

These encounters allow us to see that the narratives of “us” and “them” are but one – now ever apparent as we experience the forces of globalization and confront world-wide collective challenges like climate change. In contextualizing our separate existences into one shared struggle, we are empowered to launch down a powerful path towards more informed, compassionate, and productive change. This process of critical reflection and action, often called praxis, is most eloquently described by the late Paulo Freire as the pursuit of “the vocation for humanization.” To come into work and be a part of an education which serves to make us more fully human is a truly beautiful thing.

AJWS program participants establish relationships that, inspiring their activism and advocacy on global justice issues long into the future. PHOTO  Melissa Sobin
An AJWS travel program participant and a host-site collaborator. PHOTO Melissa Sobin


Beginning Work

As for my own role, the first week comprised of a fair amount of learning about the organization and discovering what I can bring to the EE department and their initiatives. There is a pleasant irony in holding an internship with this department. In being surrounded by a group of unbelievable, thoughtful, and witty educators, the learning curve was a dynamic, informative, and fun-filled process with great intentionality.

The EE department is now in full throttle working to implement a brand new program called the Global Justice Fellowship (GJF). The GJF is a yearlong program for American Jewish leaders to facilitate the deepening of knowledge and engagement with global justice issues and give them the tools to better mobilize for change. For me, seeing first-hand the process of crafting and implementing this fellowship is an exciting new lens of engaging with an educational pedagogy that I have long sought out and experienced from the student perspective. At AJWS, the process it is certainly collaborative, innovative, and detailed. My work thus far entails supporting a few projects related to the GJF, and in the coming weeks will also include helping to reach out to alumni of various programs in addition to helping create a capstone homage to the work of the service trips that AJWS ran for many years, which are now coming to a close. More details to come as the internship proceeds!


Happily sitting at my desk at the AJWS's New York office.
Sitting happily at my work station in the New York office.

 – Samuel Porter ’14

Finding Artistic Power at LAGI

Hello Everyone! This was my first week working at the Land Art Generator Initiative [LAGI], and already I have learned so much about urban processes and the teamwork required in making urban spaces healthy and successful. A city is really a living, breathing organism. It is shaped by the inhabitants, growing and changing with the times and through the culture of the area. For some, it is a place where good times can be found through public musuems, parks, restaurants, and entertainment. For others, like those who work at LAGI, it is a place of endless possibility where opportunities to support the livelihood of social justice can be found through creative and inventive means.


LAGI is located in Pittsburgh, PA in an urban town called Lawrenceville. I’ve known about LAGI since last year, and was able to secure a position for this summer. I found LAGI through searching the internet, as I knew that I was interested in both art and urban development–and LAGI offers the best of both.

Upon first receiving this internship, I knew that LAGI worked to aid energy consumption and the beautification of cities (including those in Copenhagen, Dubai, New York, and Pittsburgh) but there was also more to their business that I had missed. A huge part of LAGI’s work is holding competitions where artists, architects, and engineers are encouraged to collaborate on building artistic and functional energy efficient structures. Though these collaborations are for potential projects and winning does not guarantee that the rendered plans will be constructed, these collaborations are creating something very powerful. They encourage creativity and inspire teams to be imaginative when they are not permitted to so otherwise. My supervisor, Elizabeth Monoian, shared that the competitions they hold give participants a creative freedom, for in their normal day-to-day responsibilities they normally are too busy with client obligations to utilize their more unique approaches to architectural design. She stated that the art form she has seen being born, as a result of collaboration between disciplines, is rapidly developing and may change the face of art as we know it.

This type of art practice, comes from the methods of Land Art or Eco-Art. This discipline has a wide range, but it can either use the natural world as a material, or speak about environmental issues through creative expression. At first I thought that all projects of Land Art would be healthy and conducive to the environment, but Elizabeth told me that this was not the case. Land Art can be as equally destructive to the natural world as it can be helpful. That is why when entering LAGI’s competitions, the pieces submitted must be helpful to the environment, and not cut down trees or damage the environment to come to fruition.

I was unaware of this practice of art.   Throughout my artistic education, I learned about aesthetic mediums (paint, pencils, pastels) and the various types of canvases I could use, or the wonders of digital manipulation and graphics. Land Art so speaks to me on a personal level, because it gives art a purpose it has never really been assigned before. It makes art useful in everyday life and current global issues, which is exactly what I’ve been struggling to find in my career. As an interdisplinary major (IGS) with an undeclared minor (I really think its going to be environmental studies now), I really did not have a great idea of where I would end up. All I knew was that I was a social justice advocate who loved the arts since birth.  I wanted to make that a reality in my adult life. Now, happily, I think that that dream will be possible.

During the first two days of my internship, I researched grants that LAGI could apply for, and  looked for current “happenings” of the surrounding communities and possible future reconstructions. I am very happy that next week I will begin to learn the art of grant writing, which will be a useful skill when I start looking for careers post-college.

The last day of my first work week I helped set up an art gallery opening in mid-June. One of the exhibits is LAGI’s work, and there are other land artists featured as well. From abstract pieces to city planning architectural sketches, everything surrounding the gallery was pro-environment and pro-urbanism, and I felt very much at home.






I am very excited to see where this internship will take me as LAGI furthers their creative powers and efforts. I am so happy to just be learning about this relatively unknown art form, and I seem to be finding myself as I reawaken, and respect, the creative artist within me.


–Karrah Beck ’15



Interfaith Worker Justice: Tree-Hugging the Labor Movement


Every night for the past week I’ve come home exhausted, spending all day jumping from meeting to meeting on various labor campaigns. As an organizer of the Brandeis Divestment Campaign and being involved in the climate justice movement, transitioning to working for Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) and its Massachusetts branch this summer is an exciting new direction. IWJ is a national network that engages faith communities in issues of worker justice, drawing upon religious values to mobilize community members around efforts to improve working conditions, wages, and benefits.

The Massachusetts IWJ is located in downtown Boston and works closely with Jobs with Justice, another organization dedicated to workers’ rights. In addition, Mass. IWJ works with various local affiliates, unions, and coalitions. There are currently four main campaigns IWJ is supporting. The past week I have been getting an overview of IWJ’s work by attending meetings, trainings, and various actions such as pickets and rallies. While my work plan is still developing, I will most likely be working on a few campaigns. First, I will be working to raise the minimum wage in MA to $11 per hour, as well as advocating for paid sick days. I will also be working on campaigns related to immigration reform and deportation.

In addition, I will be assisting to a lesser degree on a few other campaigns. There is a campaign called “Making Change at Walmart.” The campaign works to educate and organize Walmart associates into OUR Walmart, a group striving to improve working conditions for associates. The campaign is also working with local communities that Walmart is attempting to build new stores in by educating residents and crafting community standards that Walmart will have to uphold if they wish to expand. Tying in with “Making Change at Walmart”, I will also be helping with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network-Boston, which is a group trying to get Gap and Walmart to sign on to Fire Safety Agreements to help prevent further factory deaths of Bangladeshi factory workers. Lastly, I will have various opportunities to meet and participate in actions with local coalitions and unions such as SIEU 615.

After spending last summer participating in Climate Summer, a program that allowed me to do community organizing around climate justice, I knew I wanted to broaden my breadth of experience. I found out about IWJ on the Hiatt Career Center website, as it is a partner organization for the Louis D. Brandeis Social Justice WOW Fellowship. It was a difficult decision to work for IWJ because my passion is climate justice and environmentalism, and I do believe that climate change is the most dire and urgent issue of our generation. However, I decided IWJ would benefit my organizing abilities by giving me new perspectives and experiences that I could take back to climate organizing. In my first week working with the labor movement and the faith community, I have started making connections and begun to try to bring the labor movement more into the Boston-area climate justice movement. I am excited to work on coalition-building, tying in interfaith, labor, and environmental perspectives in order to build a broader, more inclusive movement for transformative change.


A Day in the Life (of an Intern!)

I have officially spent five weeks interning at Women’s Center for Wellness, which means I’m a little over halfway done! It’s amazing to think how quickly my time here has flown by. I have had so many interesting learning experiences during my short time here. I’ve observed a stereotactic biopsy, a breast ultrasound, mammograms, and worked closely with our resident nurse practitioner, who provides preventative care for under-insured or uninsured women in the Connecticut area. I love meeting new patients and knowing that I am helping in whatever way I can to ensure they maintain or improve their health. When I submitted my WOW application, I had one reasonable but very important goal to attain during my internship: I wanted to learn how to confidently interact with patients, which is a skill that is vastly underrated by many healthcare providers. No matter how skilled a healthcare provider is, a patient will never be satisfied if they feel that they weren’t treated well. So for the past five weeks, I have worked hard to learn how to interact with patients in a way that is professional and informative, yet also comforting and personal. I feel that this is a skill that will help me throughout my career, and I think I’ve made a lot of progress on this goal. At the beginning of my internship, I was quite shy, but now I am confidently working with patients. Although it is not entirely scientific, I can usually gauge my growth in this area by how easily I can accomplish certain tasks, such as accommodating a patient with special needs. At this point, working with patients has become almost second nature to me!

The work station – lots of monitors and notes!

I am also learning a lot about the field I am in (specifically breast health and imaging) and the way my organization operates. I think one of the most telling signs that I am becoming a valuable part of the organization is when I am able to help a radiology technician figure out what happened with a particular patient or how a case was resolved. I am proud of this because it shows me that I can integrate all the things I’ve learned here in a way that helps both the patient and the technicians, rather than only understanding bits and pieces of what goes on around me. It’s very exciting to know that I am learning more and more as I gradually become immersed in the organization.

Checking to see if any patients have arrived


I hope that my increased awareness of the biology behind breast cancer will help me in my academic career where it pertains to hard science. Seeing cancer firsthand is much different than reading about it in textbooks, because I get to see all the other ways it can affect an individual. I am also lucky to have a firsthand perspective of the American health care system and how it can affect an organization such as Women’s Center for Wellness. I feel that I am supplementing what I learned in my HSSP courses with real-life experience. I am also slowly gaining the skills to be a successful health care provider by learning how to interact with patients and seeing how various procedures are performed.  Now, I can only hope that my remaining few weeks with Women’s Center for Wellness will be just as educational as the first five!

The Beginnings of My Summer with FringeNYC


The New York International Fringe Festival, or FringeNYC, is a festival that brings performances from fringe theatres (non-mainstream, off-off Broadway) throughout the world to New York City for a sixteen-day festival. In terms of it size, it works in what FringeNYC refers to as “the great inverted period” with: 75,000 audience members, 5,000 artists, 1,500 volunteers, 1,200 performances, 190 shows, 100 volunteer staff, 20 venues, 16 days and 2 full-time employees. It began in 1997 when a theatre company on the Lower East Side had received an invitation to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but realized that New York City – one of the greatest theatre hubs in the world – deserved a festival of its own.

Our favorite Bostonian, Mindy Kaling, got her start at the festival with a show called Matt & Ben!
Our favorite Bostonian, Mindy Kaling, got her start at the festival with a show called Matt & Ben!

Living in New York City during high school, I had always heard of the wonders of FringeNYC. Therefore, there was not much locating or researching to be done in finding my internship. I’ve always had a passion for fringe theatre; I find it has a rawness and a propensity towards pushing boundaries that is much more interesting than for-profit, Broadway theatre. Therefore, when looking for an internship this summer, I needn’t looked much further than the FringeNYC website to find that they were looking for administrative interns. Shortly after submitting a cover letter and resumé, the festival administrator – now my boss – contacted me for an interview and the rest is history.

As an administrative intern – or FringeTERN as FringeNYC likes to call us – my duties include most of the daily tasks needed to produce a festival. So far, I have helped with inputting data – such as show times and the technical and scheduling needs of participants – and have facilitated a marketing mixer with FringeNYC participants in which we discussed how best to market their shows. Right now, FringeNYC is in the midst of scheduling their festival. Much is involved in scheduling the festival; we as FringeTERNS must consider the conflicts of both the participants and the venues, as well as take care to make sure that the number of shows, show times and dates are fairly distributed between the approximately 190 participants.

In 2011, Brandeis’ Tympanium Euphorium produced the musical, Urinetown. Urinetown made its debut at FringeNYC is 1999!

FringeNYC has only two full-time staff: the Festival Administrator and the Producing Artistic Director. Volunteers do everything else. When I heard this, I was amazed. How was it that a festival of this magnitude could run so smoothly with only two full-time staff? However, since I have started working with FringeNYC, I have come to learn that it is because the two administrators – in addition to doing all they do – are so patient and helpful in training and educating the volunteers and FringeTERNS like myself on the inner-workings of the festival. There are fifteen of us FringeTERNS and on any given day – in addition to the two full time staff members – five or six other FringeTERNS could be in the office.  Since we’re all roughly the same age and share the same interests, having the other FringeTERNS in the office with me allows for a very comfortable working space in which we can all collaborate and help each other. Everyone is so supportive and hard working; I fully attribute the good times I’ve had at FringeNYC thus far to the people with whom I’ve been working.

Being an intern for FringeNYC is a dream come true. Every day I am surrounded by and learning from those who share my passion. It has been fascinating learning the hard work and planning that goes into making the fringe festival that so many will enjoy come August. Additionally, with the marketing mixer, I was fortunate enough to meet many participants and artists and hear what their shows are about and where their interests lie. This summer promises to be one filled with new experiences and new, innovative and exciting theatre. I am excited to continue my work with FringeNYC and I especially can’t wait for the festival itself to begin because – instead of just knowing blurbs, show times and show names – I can finally see all these performances FringeNYC has been working so hard to put up!

If you’re going to be in NYC August 9-25, come check out FringeNYC! With just a little under 200 shows, there’s sure to be something for everyone!

Everyone Deserves a Share: United for a Fair Economy

HomeMy internship this summer is with United for a Fair Economy, which works to raise awareness about economic equality and to move people into action in their own states and communities to counter the policies that continually widen the wealth gap. The organization has projects through which it works towards its goals

Racial Wealth Divide: tackling the racially determined economic gap

Responsible Wealth: Encouraging the wealthy members of American society to fight for equality

Popular Economics Education: giving other organisations the tools to understand economic policy and implications

Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative: advocating for fair and progressive tax policy

Estate and Federal Taxes:  tax fairness at the federal level

– One if the ways the UFE raises awareness about the inequality. (Source: UFE/Info-graphics)

A week before I started working with the group, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the organization’s mission and the projects that it engages in at a film screening at Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Inequality for All stars former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, as he and his trusted mini cooper work tirelessly to fight economic inequality in America. He explains inequality, how we perceive it and its realities. The film highlights one major point:

that the top 1% of the American population holds more than a third of the country’s wealth and that this share is growing.

 A combination of wit and simplified everyday language helped the group gathered in the auditorium on a warm Tuesday night to understand how increasing economic inequality can negatively affect their livelihood, their health, their rights and their freedom. Not all of us hold a bachelor’s degree in Economics (I can at least speak for the 9 year old in attendance who understood enough to join in the conversation afterwards).

My First Week

I am one of three development interns at UFE. Our role is to help with the fundraising side of the organization, a role that is instrumental in keeping the wheels of the UFE well-greased.

–          I attended a staff meeting the first day I arrived. The first few minutes were spent acknowledging each member’s hard work and achievements during the previous week. This was a sign that the UFE is an empowering and supportive work environment where everyone is recognized for their contribution.

–          I was given a chance to identify projects I would be individually interested in, something I appreciate as an opportunity to show my skills and learn new things. I expect to have this kind of freedom for the rest of the summer.

–          I met two other Brandeis students who are also interns at UFE for the first time, which is always a pleasant experience.

–          I started working on projects almost immediately. Everyday, I learned something new, both about the organization and fund-raising in general. My supervisors give me the background and motivations behind every project and how they affect donations and donor retention.

–          The people at UFE immediately struck me as passionate about their cause. They are a diverse group with different skills that are valuable to the group. It will be interesting observing and learning what those are.

In this environment where everything seems to be happening at once, I expect to make some great relationships, learn many new skills and have the chance to contribute to a great cause.

Thanks for reading,

Pokuaa Adu ’14

P.S. Please take a look at all the links highlighted all over this post to learn more about the UFE, the film and other interesting things I have seen in the past week.

The People United: A Summer of Community Organizing

I started my internship in Miami at an organization called Interfaith Worker Justice, just a couple of days ago. IWJ is a non-profit dedicated to faith-based organizing around labor rights issues. These issues include fighting against wage theft, securing living wage or paid sick days for low-wage workers, ormaking sure that overtime wages are given to workers. In addition, my organization has also been voicing the urgency for an immigration reform for years, which is currently gaining momentum on a national scale with the upcoming Comprehensive Immigration Reform to be voted on in Congress.

The South Florida branch of Interfaith Worker Justice is very active in most of the areas that the national organization addresses across the state. During the first meeting I attended with representatives from unions and other community organizers, I had to pay very close attention to which cause they were talking about (since there were so many!). So far, I started organizing a phone-banking session for synagogue members who will be making phone calls urging voters to ask their Senator to support the immigration reform. This type of “organizing work” will be very common throughout my internship, as part of my responsibilities will be to engage religious communities and leaders in political activism. I will also be attending “actions” myself – protests and demonstrations fall under this category. On Friday I already attended my first protest as part of my internship, you can read about the reasons why people gathered to protest here.

Miami Herald journalist interviews activists at protest
Miami Herald journalist interviews activists at protest
IWJ Shirt, Quote from Isaiah
IWJ Shirt, Quote from Isaiah

However, my work also entails parts that don’t include shouting slogans and marching on the streets. The administrative part of my internship will be gathering email addresses of potential constituencies and organizing the mailing list of existing supporters. I will also be in contact with the board members, and potentially recruit new members to join the board.

I admit that I’ve had some mixed impressions about my internship initially. I’m really excited about the work that I’ll be doing, but I was expecting more structure. However, soon I realized I’d like to develop in this area, structuring my own time and managing my own projects without supervision is a skill I will need in life. Thus, one of my expectations for this summer is to learn to articulate clear goals for myself, and become a better time-manager. In addition, as I was sitting in on a few meetings and conference calls, looking perplexed, I concluded that I will need to do a lot of research on my own. Reading about state legislation and federal labor rights, stances of particular politicians, and problems of border security will be part of my daily job. Thus, I definitely expect to end the summer with some tangible knowledge on these issues!

Viktoria Bedo ’15

“Working There is Reward Enough”

“Hello? Hello Ladies?” We had finally made contact with Camilo, FIMRC’s Community Health Coordinator in Alajuelita, Costa Rica. This was one more reminder of how things we take for granted, like internet connectivity, pose a challenge for FIMRC’s remote locations around the globe. After six weeks interning at FIMRC Headquarters in Philadelphia, I am still amazed at how much I learn every day. This morning’s conversation between Camilo, Gauri (another Brandeis student intern) and me was no exception.

Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, or FIMRC for short, provides healthcare and health education for mothers and children in under-served areas around the world.

“Hi Camilo, how are you?”

“I am very well ladies. It is so good to speak with you.” It became apparent that Camilo treats everyone with the utmost respect and care—not just us, but the patients he treats at the San Felipe Soup Kitchen in Costa Rica as well.

FIMRC Interns and Staff at HQ
FIMRC Interns and Staff at HQ

Camilo explained that his role at FIMRC is to provide health education to the Costa Rican residents and mostly Nicaraguan refugees who come through his doors. He teaches them about everything from nutrition to cancer to what to do in an environmental catastrophe. FIMRC puts a huge emphasis on health education, and in the past 6 weeks of interning I’ve come to understand why. The local residents at FIMRC’s seven project sites and other underserved areas around the world suffer from conditions caused by the lack of things we take for granted, like clean water and sanitation. Camilo teaches them basic concepts, such as the value of hand-washing, the food pyramid, and first aid. Prevention, especially in rural areas where the nearest hospital may be hundreds of kilometers away, is critical.

Camilo learns everything he can about his patients—their home situations, children, families, jobs, likes and dislikes—all before being able to treat them. The importance of building personal relationships with the people in the community was reinforced by my supervisor, Taylor, who said that the best way to have an impact is to let your guard down, be able to laugh at yourself and show people that you are invested in learning about them. Thus, a very valuable lesson I have learned from FIMRC is “seek first to understand.”

I asked Camilo how he makes health education fun. I mean, if you ask a child from the United States if they want to sit down and learn about Dengue prevention, they will probably respond with a confused look and an emphatic, “No!” Camilo countered that the people at San Felipe are always interested and engaged, because the living situation in Alajuelita is “very sad.” The people are poor. Many of them come to San Felipe for three meals a day. Some of the mothers are very young, and husbands do not always treat their wives well. So any small, kind gesture makes a difference. The women in Alajuelita know Camilo cares about them and their health, and that show of concern and respect makes the women and kids want to listen.

At FIMRC Headquarters the other interns and I have been engaged in many interesting and important projects for the organization—crunching data, creating surveys, doing cost analyses, and revising a fundraising packet. But it seems to me the victories in each of FIMRC’s sites, where FIMRC implements its mission, are achieved in a more humanistic way. Kindness and an open mind can mean the world to people, and this is a lesson I can apply in the future when I hopefully work abroad in healthcare… maybe even at a job like Camilo’s.

A mural painted by FIMRC volunteerson the wall of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita
A mural painted by FIMRC volunteers on the wall of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita

Camilo did an incredible job answering Gauri’s and my questions regarding his job and experiences in Costa Rica, but he seemed to have some difficulty formulating answers. Some feelings, experiences and situations just can’t be put into words. “You’ll understand when you get here. When are you coming?” he asked us. There seemed to be a slight miscommunication in that Gauri and I weren’t actually planning to travel to Costa Rica, as much as I wanted to. I feel that I’ve achieved my goal of learning so much about each of FIMRC’s sites by speaking with FIMRC staff, reading reports, and doing other research, but I’ve come to realize there is only so much I can learn secondhand. I will only truly understand the system once I experience it personally, which reinforces my desire to work abroad in public health someday.

I asked Camilo, “What’s the most rewarding part of your job?”

“My job…how do I say this in English…Seeing that every day people’s lives are improved. FIMRC means the world to them. When they smile, say thank you…they come with open arms and are so happy that FIMRC is here. …Having this work…they humanize you, and they really show you to be grateful for what you have. The kids will bring you small things like bread, or toys, or a smile, invite you into their homes. Working there is reward enough.”

To see Camilo take so much care in a community, while he himself is privileged just having obtained his law degree, was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had at FIMRC. It’s amazing to see someone do this kind of work, not for money, not to impress others, but because he genuinely cares about the well-being of these people and knows he can make their lives better.

A child enjoying an ice cream cone outside of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita
A child enjoying an ice cream cone outside of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita

I’m proud and pleased about how much I’ve learned and grown through my internship at FIMRC. Not only have I become comfortable in an office environment and forged amazing relationships with my peers, I’ve learned to see the big picture—that an open mind and heart can go a long way in enriching people’s lives. I believe I have found my purpose in life: to serve and to help those less fortunate than myself through healthcare. This internship is the first step in hopefully a long line of adventures and experiences working in healthcare abroad.

“Alright ladies take care, and see you soon.”

“Yes Camilo, we’ll see you soon,” Gauri and I joked…but part of me hoped we actually would.

-Erica Granor ’15