Wrapping up at the Department of Public Health

I can hardly fathom that I have, in fact, completed my internship with the Department of Public Health’s SAPSS Unit! This internship has been an incredible learning opportunity for me, with chances to grow intellectually, learn more about my selected career field (and state government in general), as well as challenge myself and my previously help assumptions about social justice work at large.

dph logo

My tasks throughout the summer were varied and stimulating. My main job was being the primary point person for a Governor’s Council committee, The Higher Education Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Working Group, as I’ve mentioned in past blog posts. This was the task that most encompassed my main learning goal for the summer: I got to truly see how my two passions, social justice and gender studies, combined through the work of the dedicated professionals on this committee. As a staff-person for the group (charged with organizing meetings, taking minutes, and a few research projects), I got a behind-the-scenes look at how sexual violence activism takes place among campus leaders. This is a project I’ve been very involved in at Brandeis throughout the past few years as a student, and it was inspiring, as an activist myself, to see how passionate these professionals also were about this issue.

The DPH Building, at 250 Washington St., in Boston!
The DPH Building, at 250 Washington St., in Boston!

Working at the DPH also taught me a lot about the inner workings of state government: that is, all the details of their privacy policies, various leadership positions and management. If I had to give advice to another student looking to intern at the Department of Public Health, I would tell them not to be discouraged if things move slowly! For example, for my research project (collecting and analyzing data from rape crisis centers about their prevention work), it took much longer than expected to actually receive the information I was tasked with organizing and reporting. According to my supervisors, however, this is all part of the job.

This sometimes slow-moving aspect of my internship also challenged my previously held ideas about social justice. Before interning with the DPH, my vision of social justice consisted purely of on-the-ground activists, who only could “affect change” in communities by face-to-face interactions with survivors, perpetrators, and the Big Guys in charge. I envisioned the student leaders, the hotline workers, and the protestors; I took on many of these roles myself, thinking this was the only way to make a noticeable difference in my community. The Department of Public Health taught me that social justice could also take on a much different form. Through this internship with the SAPSS unit, I learned that activism can (and does) exist even within bureaucratic systems like state government, and it can happen behind a desk… even behind an excel graph.

Through my internship this summer, I had the chance to learn so much about my desired career path, my academic and extracurricular passions, and myself. I would strongly recommend an internship with the SAPSS unit at the Department of Public Health to any other student who is interested in sexual violence prevention work, state government, and is willing to take on both leadership and research-based responsibilities. In my remaining year at Brandeis, I have no doubt that my experience with the Department of Public Health will inform my career choices (as I begin to make them!) as well as my academic understanding of research. I hope to build further on these research skills I’ve learned at my internship this summer, both in a scholastic and professional capacity. I am very grateful to my devoted, enthusiastic supervisors at the DPH, as well as the generosity of Hiatt’s World of Work grant for making this opportunity so truly great!

Time Sure Does Fly: Midpoint of My DPH Internship

It’s hard to believe that I’m already at the midpoint of my internship with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health! They say time flies when you’re having fun, but I’d like to edit that for my internship experience with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services (SAPSS) Unit: time flies when you’re learning something new every day, especially when it’s about a field that encompasses so many of your interests, goals and passions.

The busy city street where you'll find the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
The busy city street where you’ll find the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

When I started my internship, I was looking forward to combining my passion for social justice with my major in Women’s and Gender studies, while also learning more about the field of public health in general, and testing the waters in terms of whether I’m interested in something like this as a career. So far, I definitely feel like I’ve done that. The projects I’ve been working on at the DPH have provided me with chances to learn new, applicable career skills (like proficiency with data analysis software, and team organizing) as well as feel like I am really helping to “make a difference,” in terms of the support that my unit provides to rape crisis centers throughout Massachusetts. The longer I work with SAPSS, the more I see how vitally important that DPH support is to the organizations doing on-the-ground work, and it’s exciting for me to be a part of that. I’ve also had the chance to network with many professionals in the field, through being able to attend conferences, summits and workshops about sexual violence prevention; this was one of my career goals for my summer internship, and it’s been an exhilarating experience so far!

Some inspirational and feminist decor on a filing cabinet near my cubicle!
Some inspirational and feminist decor on a filing cabinet near my cubicle!

I am most proud of the work I’ve done with staffing a Governor’s Council committee, called the Higher Education Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Working Group.  This project requires me to set up conference calls with various committee members, take notes on these calls, as well as compile and distribute a monthly digest and plan for committee meetings.  I’ve really honed my people skills, organizational techniques and leadership ability through this opportunity. Staffing the Governor’s Council committee initially seemed like a daunting challenge, but has proved rewarding in that I am directly helping professionals to create serious change in their communities and beyond. I’ve been able to weigh in on conference calls and conversations not only as a moderator or an intern, but as someone whose opinion on the topic really matters, which is incredibly valuable.  I’ve learned so much from the committee members themselves, as well as my supervisors who have helped me out with many of the technical aspects of the project which seemed especially difficult at first, making my work with the committee my favorite project yet.

Speaking of those supervisors… what I most appreciate about this internship experience so far is how willing my co-workers are to provide opportunities for me to learn new things. Whether that means assigning me a type of task I may never have tackled before, or inviting me along to a meeting about social media and public health, I’m never at a loss for chances at personal growth and professional development. I’m excited for the second half of my internship with the DPH… if it goes as quickly as the first, I’ll be writing my final blog post in no time!

Learning the Ropes: First Week with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

It’s only week one, but I can already tell that my summer internship at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is going to be a whirlwind of a learning experience! Since the DPH is such a vast organization, I suppose I should clarify where exactly I’ll be situated… and how I got here. This summer, I have the exciting opportunity to intern with the DPH’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services Unit, or “SAPSS,” as it’s colloquially called around the office. The SAPSS Unit is dedicated to changing social norms that foster sexual violence, encouraging a state-wide climate in which sexual assault is not tolerated, as well as promoting and enhancing effective and accessible services for all survivors of sexual assault. This means allocating funds to rape crisis centers and other organizations, advocating for sexual assault prevention policies and programs, and providing information about sexual assault and various other resources to agencies and individuals throughout Massachusetts. I secured my internship by getting in touch with Marci Diamond, the Director of the unit (and a Brandeis alum!), and talking with her about how my passion for social justice and sexual violence prevention work might be an asset to the department. An internship with SAPSS seemed like the perfect professional growth opportunity, and so far it’s living up to expectations: I have already met so many interesting and important people to learn from.

The scenic Charles River on my commute home!
The scenic Charles River on my commute home!

As an intern for this incredible group of dedicated professionals, I’m set to take on quite a few tasks throughout the summer. I’m responsible for staffing a group called the Higher Education Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Working Group, which is comprised of leaders from many Massachusetts colleges and universities that work to collaborate on sexual assault prevention. This committee plans university-based informational summits (such as one which was held at Brandeis last fall!), and has regular conference calls to discuss their various ongoing projects.

I’ll also be using surveys to collect, and later analyze, data on Massachusetts rape crisis centers and the ways they are preventing sexual violence. This data will serve as an inventory of the prevention work and capacity-building that rape crisis centers, or “RCCs,” are doing throughout the year. My eventual analysis of the data I collect over the next few weeks will help to inform federal reports regarding the prevention of rape and sexual assault in our state and hopefully help to improve prevention outcomes. All of these projects, and the people I’ll get to work with, will teach me valuable lessons necessary for a career in sexual violence prevention. I’m especially excited to learn more about the field’s data collection and analysis methods, with which I’ll be working closely; proficiency with these programs (like Excel, Qualtrix and even Surveymonkey) are important skills for any future profession I might choose.

This is a list of the rape crisis centers in Massachusetts that I'll be surveying on their prevention efforts.
This is a handy list of the RCCs in Massachusetts that I’ll be surveying on their prevention efforts.

One of my favorite things I’ve noticed throughout the past week is how closely SAPSS works with other relevant units. SAPSS is part of the Division of Violence & Injury Prevention, which also includes other units such as Suicide Prevention, Injury Prevention, and Youth Violence Prevention. All these teams collaborate and communicate with one another on ways to achieve their common goal of making Massachusetts safer overall. This incredible teamwork makes for a great work and learning environment; I’m enthusiastic about spending my summer not only with SAPSS, but as a part of this remarkable DPH community.