A Fulfilling Summer in the Office of Water

I can’t believe my internship with the EPA just wrapped up! My internship at the EPA Office of Water (OW) immersed me in water policy, and I now know so much more about water quality valuation, water scarcity, environmental justice, and public health. My office had a diversity of professionals, and I enjoyed learning about the overlap of water policy with economics, tribal affairs, climate change, and more. My internship offered me the opportunity to attend seminars throughout Washington D.C. and the EPA, learn more about the economics work at the EPA, and delve into meaningful research for the agency.

My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye, though I a may be back some day soon!
My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye to my co-workers, though maybe I will be back some day.

My 25-page report about water indicators to add to EJSCREEN, the agency’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, was my largest contribution to the Office of Water. I proposed and researched ten water indicators related to environmental justice: water scarcity, flooding vulnerability, sea level rise, storm surge, safe drinking water, lead contaminated drinking water, nitrate contaminated drinking water, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFOs) waste discharge sites, access to water recreation, and water infrastructure quality. I assessed the public health ramifications of each indicator, disparities in the indicator’s burden on the population, and the data quality of existing datasets for these indicators. Each of these water indicators could provide important information for communities and lead to community and agency action to mitigate these risks.

At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to present my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering Committee. I spoke to a group of representatives from different EPA offices and regions and highlighted the importance of considering water scarcity, flood vulnerability, and sea level rise as indicators in EJSCREEN. The presentation offered an excellent opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, and I feel confident that the committee will focus efforts on the water indicators related to climate change. Maybe the next version of EJSCREEN will feature these indicators!

I also compiled a report comparing EJSCREEN with another agency community screening tool called C-FERST, and I passed this report along to both the EJSCREEN and C-FERST teams. I wrote two policy memos for the Water Policy Staff after I attended two different seminars in D.C., and I was able to help a co-worker with an Office of Water Tribal Sharepoint. A few of these assignments stemmed from conversations with co-workers in the office, and this emphasized the importance of speaking up, asking questions, and taking initiative.

Special OW intern seminars were one of the highlights of my summer. All six interns met professionals throughout the Office of Water and had the opportunity to learn about OW work ranging from climate ready water utilities to drinking water in Flint, Michigan. We met the Deputy Assistant Administrator in OW, heard the EPA’s Deputy Administrator speak, and learned about how to apply for federal jobs through USAJOBS. Just these seminars alone were an incredible learning experience!

EPA Internship Certificate

Interning with the Office of Water was also an eye-opening experience into the workings of the EPA. On a water policy level, I learned how society often undervalues water. The EPA has an important role to communicate the expensive and intricate process of protecting valuable watersheds and treating and distributing our drinking water. On an agency level, I saw how natural science and economics work together to help protect the environment, as science must be translated into meaningful policy. My experiences illuminated the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental field and the need for our nation to better address water management and disparities in environmental burdens related to water. Overall, my internship was a fantastic learning experience, and I am thankful for the WOW Fellowship and my supervisor at the EPA for their support.

 

A Humbling Experience: Seeing the World From A Different View

Just in my time with The Fortune Society thus far, my experiences have already far surpassed any and all expectations I held for my internship before it began. The people I work for and with are some of the most genuine and driven individuals I’ve ever encountered; their unremitting desire to help others, despite the constant uphill battle, is a truly remarkable trait that makes this organization one-of-a-kind. In my contact with clients and staff thus far, one thing has become abundantly clear: a lot of people take a lot of things for granted. The fact that people can drive, gain employment with no clear discrimination, or even obtain individual housing or food, is now something I consider to be privileges rather than rights. To contextualize this idea, about a month ago I took a client to the Human Resources Administration to receive his food stamps benefits but was told he did not qualify due to his citizenship status (despite being in the country legally and even showing the staff proof of his legal status).

Another humbling event, or rather sequence of events, was a New York State Assembly hearing I attended in which the president of Fortune, JoAnne Page, testified along with others concerning housing barriers encountered by those with criminal justice system involvement. Within a couple weeks of the hearing, I attended a rally outside New York Governor Cuomo’s office to protest his reneging on a promise to construct 20,000 new supportive housing units over the next fifteen years with 6,000 of those coming in the next five. This was an issue that was explicitly mentioned by every individual who testified in front of the Assembly members.More information on his original promise is available here.

Rally outside Gov. Cuomo's office in New York City surrounding suppotive housing issues.
Rally outside Gov. Cuomo’s office in New York City surrounding supportive housing issues.

This summer, disregarding the obvious differences from my academic work, has contrasted from my experience at Brandeis because I’m able to observe concepts I’ve learned as theoretical, abstract ideas as real issues that impact real people. One particular course I took this past semester has really affected the way I perceive my experience with Fortune so far. As a seminar-styled course, we explored the ideas of justice and punishment in various fashions, including through historical context, literature, and even from a philosophical point-of-view. I find that I’m able to apply the concepts I’ve learned from this course to further delve into the intricate issues regarding the criminal justice system.

This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.
This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.

I’ve gained many things from my internship so far, but one of the most applicable to my future, whatever it may hold, is learning how to advocate for those who can’t do so for themselves.  In attending numerous events that included a call for action, the speakers have often taken personal experiences and applied them to others’ issues and subsequently systemic issues.  I find this to be a particularly effective because it takes an issue and makes it real, and one you can’t ignore.  I’ve also learned how to organize events to conduct studies.  Currently, along with others in the policy department, I’m coordinating a focus group to explore the unique needs of veterans with criminal justice involvement.  You can find out more about this project here.

My experience with The Fortune Society, even though I still have a bit to go, is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience that I will be able to apply to my life in the years to come.  I’m excited to see what’s in store for me for the rest of the summer!

Midpoint at Rosie’s Place

I can’t believe how quickly time has passed that I’ve now reached past the midpoint of my internship! I think a true mark of my time at Rosie’s Place so far is that it has felt like I’ve been working there for much longer than just five weeks. By now I am familiar with many of the names and faces of the guests and a number of them know my name too. I can walk through the doors at 9 AM already expecting what tasks I will need to do but never fully knowing what the day will bring.

Daily calendar of events

One impression about my new environment in the workplace is that no two days are ever the same. It is always busy, but some days the sign up list for the computers may be very long and other days the computers may not be as high in demand. There are also days when I get to step away from the front desk. For example, I have attended two trainings for the Social Justice Institute, a summer volunteer program for high school students. Generally it can be stressful and tiring working in such a fast-paced environment because I am trying my best to help as many people as possible. It can also be emotionally taxing when I encounter situations I can not help, and so I need to take care and not bring such feelings home with me.

The World of Work has shown me how much time I have in my university life in comparison to working 35 hours a week. While I still juggle classes, work-study, and clubs, I often have small breaks between everything to help me recharge. I have also noticed what it is like working in just one building rather than walking up and down campus to get to class, and how really important it is that I get the chance to outside for lunch and fresh air. The World of Work has made me aware of my age as well. I am so used to interacting with others around my age that I forget I am a still budding young professional who may not be as taken as seriously.

Home at the front desk

I am, however, building many skills as a result of my internship. I am learning how to better communicate with all people from different backgrounds, especially when answering the phone. I no longer hesitate as I used to when I had to answer the phone because I understand that it is okay to put someone on hold if I do not have all the answers right away. In anything I encounter whether is be academics or on/off campus involvement, I will know there is nothing wrong with asking questions. Certainly in my future career plans, I need not to put pressure on myself and stress myself out about getting everything right, no matter how good of a first impression I want to make when I start, It is only with time that I will learn and become more comfortable in my position.

Tina Nguyen ’17

A Summer of Learning

Every day at the EPA brings a new and exciting learning opportunity. My supervisor has encouraged me to attend seminars throughout the EPA and Washington, D.C. and to write memos for the Office of Water. In the end of June, I attended a seminar about federal coal leasing at Resources for the Future, an environmental economics think tank, and heard Jason Furman, the Chief Economic Advisor for President Obama, give recommendations about reforming the federal coal leasing program.

As a student studying environmental economics, the discussion was intellectually stimulating and offered a new perspective on energy policy. In the following week, I attended a town hall meeting led by EPA Deputy Administrator Gina McCarthy, and I learned about EPA’s amazing accomplishments in the past few weeks—the Toxic Substance Control Act reform and the Volkswagen settlement. The talk was energizing, and I felt proud to be part of such an impactful agency.

Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water
Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water management.

The DC-Israel Water Summit, a conference about Israeli solutions to its water scarcity crisis and its applicability to U.S. water policy, was the highlight of my summer so far. This summit was absolutely amazing, as it brought together both my love for Israel and my passion for the environment. The summit was also relatively small, so I had a chance to meet water professionals from around DC and meet the author of Let There Be Water, a book about Israel’s approach to its water crisis. I heard from panelists who were from USAID, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Israeli research institutions, Coca-Cola, the Israeli embassy, the Brookings Institution, and more.

 

Seth Siegel's book about Israeli water innovation
Seth Siegel’s book about Israeli water innovation

The summit was both personally and professionally fulfilling. The Israeli response to its water crisis was incredibly inspiring and gives me hope for other countries to overcome their own resource scarcities: Israel recycles 85% of their wastewater, decoupled water usage from economic and population growth, and now has a water surplus and exports water to Jordan and the Palestinian authority. We have a lot to learn from Israel! After learning all of this from the summit, I had the chance to write a memo for the Water Policy staff to share these findings and offer recommendations. For myself, I may consider a career in the water field— water management will be a growing focus in the U.S. and has potential for great reform and modernization.

I also started working on two reports for the Water Policy Staff. First, I am comparing two similar environmental screening tools—an environmental justice tool called EJSCREEN and the Community Focused Exposure and Risk Screening tool (C-FERST). Two different committees worked on these tools, and I am tasked with comparing any overlap between the two tools and providing my thoughts and recommendation to both the C-FERST and EJSCREEN committee.

Additionally, I am in the midst of writing a recommendation of water indicators to add to EJSCREEN. This requires doing a literature review of different environmental justice topics related to water and climate change, assessing available data sets to find high-resolution data, and making an argument for adding these new indicators. So far, I feel most passionate about my water scarcity indicator, especially after attending the DC-Israel Water Summit. I know the EJSCREEN committee is most open to adding climate change related indicators, so perhaps they will add this indicator. At the end of the July, I will pitch my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering committee. I have my fingers crossed!

Inside the EPA: My First Week in the Office of Water

This summer, I have the privilege of interning with the Office of Water at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. I am an Environmental Studies and Economics double major, and I am working with an economist on water quality policy. The internship is a perfect fit as I get to apply my economics coursework, help impact our nation’s water bodies, and learn about the incredible work of the EPA. I appreciate the OW’s warm welcome for me, and I am fortunate to work with so many talented environmental professionals this summer.

IMG_2066
My cubicle for the summer

My first week has been a whirlwind of getting my cubicle set up, meeting lots of new people, weaving my way through the labyrinth of the EPA headquarters’ building, and getting a taste of the economics work in the EPA Water Policy office. For the first few days, I shadowed my supervisor and read environmental economics academic papers pertaining to water quality. I sat in on engaging meetings, ranging from discussions about the water quality index to planning for a stated preference study (a survey given to people asking how much they would pay for improvement in water quality for a water body near them). I enjoyed learning about economist’s role in the EPA and seeing coursework theory applied in the meetings.

The welcoming and friendly vibe of the EPA has been one of the highlights of my internship. The EPA feels like a community, as everyone is passionate about the environment and effecting change. My co-workers have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and make me feel part of the office. The Water Policy Staff has an interesting variety of professionals in the office—staff that focus on climate change and water, tribal affairs, water scarcity, ecosystem services, water quality economics and more. Throughout the summer, I will try to get to know more of my co-workers to learn more about their career path and their current work in the office. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from them!

This week I also started my first intern tasks. I started brainstorming water indicators for EJSCREEN, an environmental justice mapping tool that maps proximity of at-risk populations to environmental hazards. There are few water indicators on the tool, so I began to brainstorm new indicators, such as water scarcity, access/proximity to water resources, and drinking water violations. It is a lot of work to collect the data, create a methodology, and pitch my idea to the EJSCREEN committee! I am happy to be making a difference, and I hope the additions in the tool can be used to flag environmental hazards, like Flint Michigan, and to help the EPA implement policy.

ID
My ID badge

In addition to my intern tasks, my supervisor is encouraging me to attend water-related EPA and NGO seminars throughout the summer and to write summaries for the office. Today I attended a talk about urban ecosystems, and tomorrow I am going to a seminar at Resources for the Future to learn about the federal coal leasing program. I cannot wait to delve in to my internship, and I am very thankful for this learning experience.

 

-Allison Marill

Working with Refugees on the Path to Employment at IIB

I have so much to reflect upon about the beginning of my summer as a Workforce Development intern at the International Institute of Boston (IIB). IIB is a refugee resettlement agency, with two other locations, in Lowell, MA and Manchester, NH. When a refugee (or asylee, Cuban/Haitian entrant, or Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipient) is resettled in Boston, they are enrolled in Case Management, Employment Services, and English classes. I work with Employment Services. You can read IIB’s mission on their website, but to explain it in my own words, I will describe my job as a Workforce Development intern.

IMG_2744

This summer, IIB is in a temporary location, since their new building is under construction. Their interim space is now with the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), another non-profit with a goal of developing the workforce and promoting economic self-sufficiency.

My walk to AACA in Chinatown.
My walk to AACA in Chinatown.

I do many different projects and tasks with Employment Services. I create resumes for clients and then meet with them to review. I apply for jobs for clients after knowing their preferred positions and locations– the positions are mostly entry level, but the jobs vary on the English level of the client. I make retention calls to clients after they get jobs, and update the records, which is important for IIB to track how clients are doing in their jobs. Clients are enrolled in CRES or TAG, and both are funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, and you can read about them here. Something I did not expect was the amount of French I would be speaking (I took French from 6th-12th grade). I am often assigned to meet with Haitians with low-English literacy because I can translate material.

A big part of my job is teaching. On Mondays, I teach the Cultural Orientation Program (COP). New clients are enrolled in COP which runs for four weeks. This class covers living in the US, rights/ laws, education, personal finance, government, health/ hygiene, and sex ed. I never thought about these aspects of life in the US since I grew up here, but many of the clients come from countries where there are different cultural norms and expectations.I never pictured myself teaching consent to a group of young men from Somalia, but this internship always surpasses expectations.

On Fridays, another intern, Sylvia, and I lead the COP trip. Examples of the trips include the Freedom Trail, Boston Public Library, Harvard Square, and the State House. Also on Fridays, Sylvia and I teach the Workforce Orientation Workshop (coincidentally, another WOW acronym) to the same students in COP. After the trip, we give the students a break, and we prepare for the afternoon class, which also runs for four weeks. This class covers getting a job in the US, job etiquette and workplace standards, interview skills, and personal finance/ budgeting/ taxes. This class is a great way for people to learn about jobs they may have in the US, and how to apply and interview for them. It is difficult to find a job in a new country where you may not speak the language well, do not have professional references or a career network, and do not have an equivalent degree in the US to one you may have earned in your home country.

COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and who may have low levels of English proficiency.
COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and may have low levels of English proficiency.

My main goals for this summer were to see how this furthered my career interests and to apply what I am studying in school to my work. For my career interests, I have become more interested in non-profit management. For my academic goal, I have seen how my studies apply to my internship. I have been able to apply Politics and Economics classes, as well as certain classes like American Health Care. When I am teaching US policies, laws, and personal finance, I want to think more about what I have learned at Brandeis, and how it can help refugees who are assimilating to American social, political, and economic life.

I have already seen how rewarding the work can be– two brothers were recently resettled in Boston and enrolled in programs at IIB. From teaching them in COP and WOW, I could see how determined they were to get jobs. They were excited the day they received Social Security cards, which meant I could help them apply for jobs. I helped them apply for a job, took them to the local Citizens Bank to set up bank accounts, and practiced interview skills. In the same week, they each interviewed and were hired at the same full time job. After their first job, they can come back to IIB to enroll in the Service Industry Training Program or the Hospitality Training Program, and they can use any other employment service.

This is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to a fulfilling summer at IIB!

Emilie Kahn-Boesel ’18

First Week at Rosie’s Place

The front doors of Rosie’s Place located at 889 Harrison Ave in Boston.

This summer I am working at Rosie’s Place located in Boston’s South End. Rosie’s Place is a sanctuary for poor and homeless women founded in 1974 by Kip Tiernan as the first women’s shelter in the United States, with the mission to provide a safe and nurturing environment that helps guests maintain their dignity, seek opportunity, and find security in their lives. Rosie’s Place provides a wide range of services and support for women including meals, emergency overnight shelter, education, advocacy, and many more found in the directory of programs and services.

One of the first things I learned about Rosie’s Place during my phone interview and reiterated during my first day was Rosie’s prides itself on being a sanctuary – not just a shelter – for women and being there to help with the needs of the guests who walk through the doors. Rosie’s is committed not only to help guests and their needs on the day to day basis but also working in public policy to change laws to bring social change in issues relating to poverty and homelessness.

My first week at Rosie’s as one of the eight summer interns (including Ari Keigan ’18) was overwhelming but very rewarding. I am in the Direct Service department and am on the front lines helping guests at the front desk.

As the first point of contact for guests, I work to create a warm, friendly, welcoming, and supportive environment and learn about the needs of the guests and direct them to how Rosie’s can help. I have covered the front desk before at my job at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, but I had not expected how busy and demanding it would be. It truly requires me to be flexible and be able to multitask.

The bulletin board with bios of the summer interns posted for the community to see.

For example, some of the tasks I am responsible for include answering questions in person and over the phone sorting, organizing and checking mail for the guests, and helping guests sign up for showers, laundry, phones or computers. During my first week I have already experienced having to answer the phone while organizing mail and politely asking a guest to wait before I can help them all at the same time. At first I was quite intimidated working at the front desk because I was afraid of giving out the wrong information but with the help of my supervisors, I was encouraged to ask questions and assured that it was okay if I put people on hold because I was not required to know all the answers right away.

I am grateful as part of my internship, all summer interns participate in a series of seminars that explore social justice issues on Friday afternoons. During our first meeting, we got the chance to listen and discuss how the week went in our individual departments. Two points we had discussed were checking our own privilege and wanting to help as much as we can but learning how to say no. We also discussed the four main goals of the internship and our two individual department goals.

The four internship goals are to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and oppression from the women who come to Rosie’s Place as well as the root cause of these conditions; to learn more about who are poor and homeless women in Boston and what circumstances brought them to Rosie’s Place; to develop a greater sense of responsibility and ability to work to bring about social chance and equality; and to better understand how a medium-sized non-profit operates. My two department goals are to learn how to communicate effectively with all the different people that I encounter and to learn to take more initiative as I get more comfortable with the front desk.

The work that I am doing is difficult but it is work that needs to be done, and I am excited for what is more to come.

Tina Nguyen ’17

Gaining New Perspectives: My First Week at The Fortune Society

This summer I am lucky enough to have an internship at The Fortune Society in New York City.  This is a non-profit organization that provides a wide variety of services to formerly incarcerated or at-risk individuals, such as housing, counseling, and employment services to name only a few.  The mission of Fortune is “to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.”  This is accomplished primarily by believing in an individual’s ability to change with the right guidance.  This site is good because it elaborates on some of the most popular of services provided by the agency.  During my time at Fortune, I will be working in the housing department as well as the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP), where one of the bigger projects I will help with is to conduct a study related to the effect of criminal background questions in New York State.  This effort is called Ban-the-Box, and can be more closely reviewed here.  This week, I spent most of my time at the housing center and orientation for the DRCPP starts next week where I will look forward to meeting the rest of the interns.  

Fortune's Harlem site, known as Castle Gardens. (photo: fortunesociety.org)
Fortune’s Harlem site, known as Castle Gardens. (photo: fortunesociety.org)

During my time at the housing center thus far, I have worked with numerous people with varying roles in the organization so I can learn about the efforts of the Center in a holistic manner. I look forward to understanding more about how to create a successful and supportive transitional housing building which is occupied by formerly incarcerated individuals.  Every client utilizing the housing services at Fortune is immediately assigned a case manager upon entry to the program who remains in close contact with the client during their time at Fortune.  

Case managers typically talk to their clients at least every other week, and through my experience so far, there seems to be an amicable relationship between the two individuals, which creates a more comfortable environment for the client.  I had the opportunity to work closely with one case manager in particular; he walked me through conducting room inspections for clients, compiling reports into the computer, and then filing the reports.  Next week I will start having one-on-one conversations with clients to discuss their progress in the program including strategizing employment opportunities, overcoming substance abuse, and addressing other issues relevant to their successful re-entry from prison.

My desk at Castle Gardens.
My desk at Castle Gardens.

Earlier in the week I also worked closely with the supervisor of residential aides; in addition to him showing me the conveniently stocked break room, which was a plus, he guided my through documenting incidents concerning clients. From what I documented, incidents can range from an ambulance being called for a client to a client’s unfortunate re-incarceration to a physical brawl between clients.  Perhaps the most shocking and dare I say uncomfortable thing I’ve done so far was administer a urine toxicology test, where I had to watch a client urinate into a plastic cup and proceed to test it for a variety of drugs.  Luckily for both me and the client, all of the results were negative.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the summer—I really feel like I have the ability to both directly and indirectly help people.

Ely Schudrich ‘19