My Last Month at Columbia

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


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

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


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

4: Law as an Instrument for Change

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

Post 5: What I Have Learned

What have I learned about social justice work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ece Esikara

Post 5: Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mahala Lahvis

Post 5: Final Reflection

What have you learned about social justice work?

With one of the younger Samsungwon children

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

With YeJin

Impact on internship organization?

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

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

What do you wish you’d have known?

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

Advice to others?

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

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

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

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

Working abroad is no easy task

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neurosurgeon at Abidjan hospital

– Awa Soumahoro


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

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

Logo from the Connecticut Public Defender’s website

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

View of Hartford from inside the courthouse

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

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

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

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

Thanks for a great summer!

– Olivia Kalsner Kershen ‘19

WOW Post #1

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

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

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

This is Westchester Day School

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

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

Post 4: Communication is a Skill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last post: Overall internship experience

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

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

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

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

This was my supervisor Breanne Subias

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

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

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

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

Lesbia ‘20

Post 4: Social Justice, But Not for Everyone

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

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

The hospital where I began working.

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

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

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

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

– Awa Soumahoro

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

Post 4: Progress from the Desk Space

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

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

My personal desk work space in the office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 4: Reflecting on my experience in Berlin

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

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

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

My view working in Monbijou Park last week

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

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

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

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


St. Oberholz

Post 3: What Progress Looks Like

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

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

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

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

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

Post 2: The Fire in the Belly

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

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

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

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

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

Post 5: The Personal is Political

Hello everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: The Ripple Effect

Outside the courthouse

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

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

The Edward W. Brooke Courthouse

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

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

Post 4: Adaptability

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

Post 3: Food as a Social Determinant of Health

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

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

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

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

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

A sample policy:

Post 3: Big Change from Small Places

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

Rio Grande River Valley

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

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

Map of South Texas Counties Affected

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

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

Post 2: Going Downtown to Protect Local Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

World Health Organization Infographic – Environmental Impacts on Health

Post 2: Small Steps to a Big Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

Post 5: Slow Work Is Still Meaningful

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

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

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

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

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

View of Hartford from my morning commute

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

Post 5: Something I wish I knew before my internship

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

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

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

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

Post 5: Self-Advocacy in Women’s Health

Themes from the women’s health workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Post 5: BridgeYear and Beyond

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

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

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

Team bonding at an Escape Room

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

Post 5: My Fifth Week At The Quad Manhattan

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

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

Food made by campers during cooking class

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

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

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

Post 5: My Advice Navigating the Internship Application Process

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

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

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

Hannah with other MCN interns, Summer 2017


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

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

Bye for now!
-Hannah Cook, ’20

Post 5: My Summer at JVS

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

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

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

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

Post 5: Final Week at the ACLU of Utah

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

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

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

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

Thank you ACLU of Utah team for having me!   

Post 5: Final Weeks at 826 National

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to know your fellow interns, too!

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

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

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

-Katie Reinhold ’19

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

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

The Capitol at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 4: Skills I gained at Interfaith Worker Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ece Esikara

Post 5 – What I learned at NCL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Caleigh Bartash

What BridgeYear Has Been All About!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 5: Overall Experience

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

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

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

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

– Melissa Frank

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

Hi everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

Lesbia Espinal ’20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi everyone!

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

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

Weekly volunteering events

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

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


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


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

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

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

Stay tuned to learn more about my experience!

Post 3: Finding Power in Coalition Building and Communal Growth

Hey everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 2: It Can Seem Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 4: Update from DC

NI Logo

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

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

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

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

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

Post 5: My Last Weeks at Gardens for Health International

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

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

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

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

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

-Eli Wasserman ’20

Post 4: What I Have Learned

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

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

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

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

-Melissa Frank

Post 4: Skills Learned at JVS

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

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

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

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

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

Post 4: My Fourth Week at The Quad Manhattan

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

The wall of camper and staff art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 4: Building Those Skills

Event planning and fundraising are the two activities I have most often engaged in during my internship. I’ve had several opportunities to test both; however, my time with KKOOM has expanded these skill sets in surprising ways.

At the start of my internship, I began with a list of possible activities and skill sets my supervisors wanted participating students to build during our Dream Camp in Seoul. Over the past several weeks, I have developed three missions. Each mission required hours of research, creating a points system, and compiling instructions–a lot of administrative and logistical details to wade through.

Mission 2, for example, is comprised of three separate activities: (a) an on-campus scavenger hunt at Hongik University, (b) an interview with a foreigner, and (c) a cafe/restaurant review. The scavenger hunt requires students to navigate Hongik’s campus by finding and taking pictures in front of various buildings. Our hope with the interview is to encourage students to use their English, no matter how limited they perceive their English speaking ability to be. Lastly, the cafe/restaurant review will help students learn the importance of budgeting (they receive a set lunch stipend) and observing one’s surroundings.

Before I needed to upgrade to electronics …

I’m an old soul and appreciate planning things with pen and paper. However, with all the necessary research and cross-referencing needed to plan Dream Camp, almost all my work was done electronically. Call me old-fashioned, but this experience helped me learn to plan events in a different way. I started off with pen and paper, and had to switch to my computer for efficiency’s sake.

I have held several fundraisers for various NGOs and 501 (c)(3)s in the past, but KKOOM fundraiser gave me an extra challenge. Asking for money wasn’t the problem; the concern was being as non-political as possible. A challenge our organization has faced is that of people associating us with adoption. Our focus is opening up educational opportunities for orphans and it’s important to us to keep things focused on the students. The language used when creating a donation pitch was incredibly important.

So grateful for the family, friends, and strangers whose loving generosity helped me achieve beyond my goal!

I successfully meet my goal. In fact, I raised 400% of the original $500 goal. (To save you the math, family, friends, and strangers together raised $2000.) Before launching my campaign, I needed to carefully contemplate my wording. It is important to not only understand an organization’s mission, but also know how to clearly explain it.

Although I’m hoping to pursue a career in speech pathology or forensics linguistics, I know that having experience with event planning and fundraising will always serve me well.

13 Days ’till Korea!

As the youngest member in KKOOM, I am grateful for the confidence and trust the other Board members have in me. From our time spent together at our LA Board Retreat to our emailing/messages to the upcoming weeks in Korea, I have benefited and will continue to benefit from their experience and knowledge.

In terms of lessons I’ve learned about myself in the workplace, there are several, but to me, the most important is learning to have more confidence in myself. Planning the Dream Camp seemed rather impossible at times; reaching my fundraising goal, unlikely. But, they both happened.

Post 4: Midpoint of My Internship

In my previous three blog posts, I have stated how Community Psychiatry PRIDE, my internship organization, addresses social justice. I have spent plenty of time elaborating on the social problem we are targeting, the significance of our work, and the difference we aim to make.

At the midpoint of my internship, I feel I should also talk about the arduous work behind the higher purpose. It is exciting how we are trying to bring treatment to the most-needed communities or to help high-risk young men break the cycle of incarceration and poverty, but the hard work building up to the glamour of social justice practice should also be noted. While I am working on a project about implementing evidence-based treatment to resource-limited communities, it includes endless data entry and going back and forth to check data. No matter how excited you feel about the high order purpose, you will need to deal with the arduous part of the job. It is important to be aware of this, and find a way to stay motivated.

There are some incidents I want to share that keep my morale up. The first time I tried to take the commuter rail from Chelsea to North Station after work, I took the wrong one and I ended up in Lynn. I was worried and anxious, looking into the map at the Lynn station that did not make any sense to me. A middle-age man approached to me and asked me whether I took the wrong train too. He started talking to me and told me that the next train back to Chelsea was in twenty minutes. He was super talkative and based on what he told me, it was not hard to notice that he was struggling as he constantly switched from job to job, frequently visited emergency rooms, and was chronically involved with psychiatrists. I was suspicious when he first approached me, and I felt embarrassed for thinking this way as I found him to be a genuinely good person. He talked about his favorite novel and showed me how he learned math by himself on the back of the train ticket.

The idea of Community Psychiatry PRIDE to bring culture-sensitive treatments to resource-limited communities is based on getting to know people’s lives and the struggles in the communities. That incident in Lynn was my first time to be with one of the people I want to help through this internship, and I was moved by his faith in life, curiosity about the world, and eagerness to learn. This experience helps me to stay motivated through this arduous work, because they are not just quantitative and qualitative data anymore, but real people who are holding on to faith in life and seeking help.  

-Bingyu Xu ’19

Post 4: Learning About the Foreign Service

When working for an agency as diverse as the Department of State, it is important to learn as much as possible about job opportunities within the Department. In hopes of gaining an understanding of the range of different positions people hold within the Department, the intern supervisor in my office encouraged me and the other interns to reach out to full-time employees from other bureaus and offices to carry out “informational interviews.” I was able to locate the email addresses of several individuals who currently hold positions that sounded interesting to me. I then reached out to them in order to learn about what they do and how they got there, in hopes of learning what I can do now to start working towards a similar career. I was also generally interested in how they were able to get their current position.

Hannah in the “Flag Hall” at the Department of State which holds flags from all countries that host diplomatic missions.

This lesson has taught me the importance of reaching out and arranging meetings as a way of networking with professionals, and that it’s not necessary to have a certain purpose for meeting, but rather, being curious about someone’s work is a good enough reason. I also realized that this initial “informational interview” meeting is only the first step of networking and it is important to follow up and keep in touch with people so that a relationship can be fostered, which will be important for years to come. You never know where contacts might be able to land you a job!

I am happy to say that this internship has successfully catered towards my “Career Goal” of observing how diplomacy works in the realm of official foreign policy. Within my first week at the Department of State I had the chance to speak with a Foreign Service officer who was stationed in my office. In the following weeks, I have met many more individuals from the Department of State who serve in the Foreign Service (working for the U.S. government while being stationed abroad, promoting peace, supporting prosperity, and protecting American citizens).

In addition to networking, I have also had the chance to attend panels and presentations devoted to the discussion of the Foreign Service. The panels have been catered towards different target audiences: some for interns in particular, as well as others for Civil Service Staff (employees based in Washington, D.C.) who may be interested in serving in the Foreign Service in the future, and even one for women who were interested in a variety of different government jobs (including the Foreign Service). It has been a great experience learning about this specific career path and I feel more informed than ever before about the job options available in the realm of foreign policy!


-Hannah Cook, ’20

Post 4: What I Learned at BridgeYear

During my internship at BridgeYear, I enhanced my skills, expanded my knowledge about the industry, and learned more about how I work best. My role has allowed me to develop a number of skills including critical thinking, project management, and leadership. These skills were actually what I chose as areas of growth at the beginning of the internship, and were reflected as strengths in my 360 evaluations.

My projects enable me to use each aspect in anything I do. Since BridgeYear is a startup, I need to manage multiple projects at once, developing my time management, organizational skills, and efficiency. Similarly, because the organization is implementing certain processes for the first time, one needs to work without prior examples or structure – like developing a social media strategy or creating an impact report, for example. I find this extremely exciting, as I enjoy starting up new projects and leading them to execution.

My leadership skills have also improved immensely. My projects rely greatly on collaboration and delegation of dependent tasks, as they overlap with various aspects of the organization and require different areas of expertise. We are given opportunities to present our progress, ask for feedback, hold brainstorming discussions, and discuss team-asks during meetings. This provides a platform for one to delegate tasks, but also creates an environment in which that becomes easier. In addition, another intern and I are responsible for organizing a “Volunteer Build Day” event, which allows BridgeYear to double its capacity. I look forward to this, as it will allow me to further exercise my leadership abilities, while learning more about event planning and coordination.

Testing out a new Career Test Drive

Along with the management and business-related skills I gained, I have also been able to practice skills related to social justice. I advise around fifty students, which helps me greatly improve my communication skills. However, it also makes me more invested in my work, as I get invested in each of my students. This helped me realize the importance of resonating with the purpose and mission of my work, as it motivates me to perform to my potential.

In addition, I learned more about the type of environments and styles that drive me to perform to the best of my ability. For example, I really enjoy leadership positions, particularly in smaller teams. It gives me a balance of being able to manage projects and assign tasks, while remaining part of the execution and collaborating. I also enjoy the combination of independent work and meetings, as the mixture allows me to be most productive.

I have learned immensely from this internship, most of which I can apply moving forward. I gained numerous transferrable skills that can be applied to any kind of task I perform, learned more about the industry I am interested in, and discovered plenty about how I work best. This is all extremely helpful when looking for the right job opportunity and knowing how to adjust to perform to my best potential.   

Post 4: World of Work at the ACLU of Utah

My time with the ACLU of Utah has felt like a whirlwind experience. It’s odd to think that I won’t fully see my research come to fruition because I simply won’t be in the office everyday. I have had the opportunity to meet with leaders of other non-profit organizations in the area, participate in marches, and oversee team meetings. It all feels strange to have to go back to a classroom setting after everything I observed and learned over the summer. But nonetheless, I am eager to go back to Brandeis and bring the skills and knowledge I have learned with me.

Looking back, I can split my final takeaways into two categories: 1) workplace and 2) social justice. Both can go hand in hand but are also very different.

As an intern or as I like to the call myself the “bottom of the office totem pole,” it was important for me to adapt to the workplace environment. For the most part, everyone is pretty relaxed and flexible; however, appropriate workplace etiquette is still required. Some of these things include appropriate language when talking to one’s superior or just with the other interns, being patient with yourself and those around you, and being proactive to complete assignments or ask for more to do. Especially in an environment where everyone is older, it’s extremely important to make your voice heard.

Logo for the Odyssey House; Courtesy of their twitter @OdysseyHouseUtah

On the social justice front, I realized that any goal—no matter how small or large—will always take time. Usually, the ACLU of Utah will work with a lot of different organizations in order to get to an end result. For example, this week I was able to join the entire office on a field trip to tour the Odyssey House—a non-profit organization that serves individuals and families with addiction, mental health, and physical health issues. Although there is a lot of work to do to reduce recidivism and addiction care within the criminal justice system, the partnership between the ACLU of Utah and the Odyssey house begins to repair the gap. This visit opened my eyes to the struggles of everyday Utah citizens and the many outlets that exist to make a change in the community.

Moreover, I have also learned that by collaborating and inviting more than one voice to the table, it’s important to be respectful of the varying opinions in the room. There are always two sides to every story—maybe three— so to enact meaningful change means to find a balance of what you want versus the other party. Monthly, the ACLU of Utah hosts a meeting with their legal panel of attorneys to discuss current cases. While observing, I noticed that even when members of the ACLU of Utah community come together, everyone has their own thoughts on how to best handle a situation in the courtroom. But no matter how each attorney felt, they all engaged in civil discourse and used respectful language to persuade the group. To me, this example demonstrates what social justice is all about: it’s about embracing teamwork and asking for help when you need it.

I am excited to go back to school but I am really going to miss the faces I saw everyday in the ACLU of Utah office. Everyone took on a challenge with a “we’re in this together” attitude that I will not forget. For my sophomore year at Brandeis, I aspire to be open to learning new things and shop classes that may be outside of my comfort zone. I realized that I may never be the smartest or most experienced in the classroom, but those qualities are not faults to feel worried about. Instead, I am going to embrace what I can learn from my peers and professors. All in all, I feel bittersweet about what my final weeks at the ACLU of Utah have to offer!

Post 4: Warrior Princess, Cheerleader, Coach, Listener

Sometimes, my supervisor calls me a warrior princess after I get off a long phone call advocating on behalf of a client. Sometimes, I make exaggerated excited faces and silently cheer as my client successfully schedules their own appointment with a doctor for the first time. Sometimes, I spend the afternoon in the ER coaching a client through asking the doctor questions about how to re-insert their child’s feeding tube. Sometimes, I just sit and listen while a client tells me what they miss about their home country. Sometimes, I spend the day on the computer researching MediCal insurance policies, housing assistance programs, and childcare programs with language capacity to help connect my clients to resources they need.

Example of tasks to be completed during a “normal” day at the office

Every day, I walk into the office, and I’m not sure what the day will hold. Maybe I’ll spend the morning scheduling transportation and interpretation for medical appointments or submitting low-income housing paperwork. Then, in the afternoon, I might be helping a client apply for disability benefits. Maybe I’ll spend the morning calmly reviewing case files, but spend the afternoon completing urgent phone call requests on sticky notes handed to me by my supervisor as she talks on the phone to a client in crisis. The all-encompassing skill I’ve learned at my internship so far is the need to be flexible and willing to play different roles according to the needs of each individual client.

In a prior blog post, I wrote about how IRC offers holistic programming to cater to the needs of each client as an individual. My clients have varying needs because the ethnic, language, cultural and educational backgrounds they come from dictate their transition to a new country.

I have one client who speaks English, has experience in security for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and is working on enrolling in community college classes. This client and I are working on helping him apply for jobs and become more confident in advocating for his daughter with special needs to receive services and quality medical care. For this client, I am a cheerleader and coach.

I have another client who does not speak English, is living in an area without other Afghans, and has no transportation and little awareness of or connection to local resources. This client is focused on getting a job to feed his large family and making sure his wife receives mental health treatment. For this client, I am a warrior princess making sure his wife receives timely care by calling insurance, medical providers, and mental health providers to get her authorizations, referrals, and appointments. I am a coach for phone calls to insurance and doctors as well as a cheerleader when those calls go well (see my last post!). I am also a listener when this client describes feelings of worry around his wife’s mental health and difficulty providing for his family.

As I get to know and work with different clients, I have learned to play a variety of roles to ensure that their needs are met, their thoughts are heard, and their progress and victories are celebrated. To be able to transition between these roles I have learned the importance of being flexible, multi-tasking, and becoming familiar with local resources and policy.

Unfortunately, social justice work can slip into the realm of grouping individuals into a singular “oppressed” category with disregard for their individual characteristics and try to “fix” all of their problems. The recognition of the various identities, strengths, and weaknesses of my clients allow me to think of them as individuals and serve in a variety of roles as a warrior princess, cheerleader, teacher and listener to assist them in achieving their goals.


Post 4: Lessons from 826 National’s Leadership

My internship at 826 National has reinforced my passion for education equity and my ultimate goal of working in education law, working toward education equity for our most under-resourced students. As I move forward in my professional career, one of the things I will take away from this experience is the incredible leadership I have seen in my office. As I approach my last few weeks, here are a few of the leadership qualities I will take with me to my future workplaces:

Building a Vision
When I first started at 826 National, the intern cohort participated in a visioning activity. The exercise was modeled after one that the 826 National board members did a few years ago, about what they wanted the 826 network to look like in ten years. The process begins by writing, in present-tense, about that ideal future state. Then you work backwards to determine the steps necessary to make that vision happen. In the nonprofit world, a vision is hugely important in maintaining and growing an organization. A clear vision (the desired future position of the organization) informs a strong mission statement (the objectives and the approach to those objectives), both of which make up the backbone of an organization’s operations. A leader’s ability to spearhead the building of a vision, both on a small and large scale, help guide a team toward a common future goal. To be quite honest, when I first started at 826, I saw visioning as a pretty cheesy, time-consuming activity. But this summer, I have seen how visioning can motivate and inspire staff, and how working backwards from a vision can actually streamline projects. Now that I have learned the steps myself, refining my approach to vision-building is a skill I can take with me long after I leave 826.

Connecting Even the Small Tasks to the Mission
826 National has also shown me that having a strong vision and mission in place is just the beginning. An effective nonprofit is careful to tie each task to the mission, and to communicate that connection to the staff. Doing so gives purpose to the work being done and improves team morale. This seems small, but a leader without this skill is not executing their job to its fullest extent. 

Visioning can lead to tremendous growth, like when the 826 Network reached more than 32,000 students!

Acknowledging the Value of Your Team
This one might also seem small, but it has been one of the biggest lessons for me at 826. This summer, my main responsibilities have revolved around the annual Staff Development Conference (SDC), during which 826 staff from all over the country come together to discuss best practices and ensure that every chapter is ready to put their best foot forward in the coming school year. It’s a huge event, and 826 National is responsible for its planning and execution. Crucial to the success of SDC has been my supervisor’s commitment to recognize the vital role, however small, that every person plays in making SDC what it is. This summer, I have watched my supervisor take time to thank every person for their contribution to SDC throughout the process, not just after it was over. Showing her genuine appreciation for the support team makes every person feel energized and willing to do the work, because she makes it clear that their work matters. This leadership trait is a big deal to me because of how easy it is! A simple “thank you” can make a world of difference in team-oriented projects, which, as an aspiring lawyer, I am sure to see many of.

Using Interns Strategically!
Every college intern knows that internships can sometimes feel a little hit-or-miss. Sometimes you land an incredible internship that gives you genuinely valuable skills for the future, and other times it feels like you spent your entire internship photocopying documents. The leadership team at 826 National has done an incredible job making sure interns have the tools we need to learn as much as we can this summer, but also that our skills are being utilized to do meaningful work for 826. Part of that is listening to what interns are interested in with regular check-ins, but another part of it is connecting our work to the mission. Since we are only here for a short time, knowing how our work matters in the long run is extremely motivational. This experience has given me concrete examples of how maximize the use of interns, even when their turnover rates can be a bit discouraging. As a leader, figuring out what skills your interns bring to the table lightens your load while still ensuring that your interns are truly growing during their experience.

I look forward to utilizing these skill for many years to come, as I enter the workforce and maybe even lead a team myself one day!

-KR ‘19

Post 4: Taking BridgeYear Lessons Back to Waltham Group


The summer internship at BridgeYear is a unique experience and quite different from what I had expected this internship would be like. One of the reasons why I decided to be a part of BridgeYear was because I wanted to improve my skills as an effective leader.

The 2017-2018 Symbiosis Coordinators during the Waltham Group celebration of service.

This upcoming year at Brandeis, I will be the senior coordinator of Symbiosis, a Waltham Group program. As exciting as that is, I know that in order to ensure the success of any Waltham Group program, a good deal of leadership is required from the coordinators. Symbiosis is fairly new in comparison to other programs, so it will need committed people to run it, now that all of the founding coordinators have graduated.

One of my close friends from Houston and Brandeis had worked as an intern for BridgeYear this past summer, and she told me that she was able to learn many new things during this internship. When I spoke to her, she mentioned that working at BridgeYear was a lot of work, but it was work with a purpose. The supervisors were always looking for ways to improve different aspects of the organization and its people.

After working six weeks with the BridgeYear team, I can say that I have not had two completely identical weeks. During the halfway point of the internship, every team member had the chance to evaluate and provide feedback for other interns, as well as the current supervisors. The entire exercise was very eye-opening to say the least.

BridgeYear interns enjoying some bonding time at Escape Hunt’s very own “Houston we have a problem” attraction!

I learned that while I am capable of taking charge of projects, I am often times more willing to support others and their projects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. All it means is that I need to be more comfortable making choices on my own without having someone else to direct me in the right direction.

I take feedback very seriously, so during the four weeks I have left at BridgeYear, I will try my best to become more independent when it comes to making choices. I will deliver finished projects with urgency, but more importantly, with a sense of pride. It’s not enough to deliver a good project if I feel like I could have spent more time on it. This lesson can be applied to my work as a Waltham Group coordinator as well.

Symbiosis prides itself on its commitment to the community of the city of Waltham and its environment. As a coordinator for Waltham group, it is my responsibility to make sure every volunteer and community partner feels like they are making an impact. This means that each of our events should be structured in a way that allows everyone to do their personal best. In Symbiosis’ fight for a brighter future for the environment, we cannot be satisfied with just good. We have to be, and will be, eco-wonderful!

Post 4: Professionalism and Politics | How I’ve grown at NCL

After working at National Consumers League for seven weeks, I’ve have honed my research, analytical, and social skills far more than I would have dreamed. I’ve prepared myself for the real working world three years early instead of waiting until I graduate. I still have much to learn, but I now feel ahead of the game professionally and I’m confident that I can be successful in the working world.

Working on my food labeling policy memo and exploring nutrition and personal finance have both educated me and strengthened my research techniques. I never had the time or encouragement to delve into financial topics like loan servicing and microloans, but I learned about those two things and more with the LifeSmarts program. LifeSmarts even inspired me to look for more scholarships to help pay for my Brandeis education.

A view of the siding of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). I got sunburned while waiting to get in, but it was worth it.
I went to the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History for the first time on Friday. I also went to the Holocaust Museum. I had never been to either before despite being a D.C. native. The Oprah exhibit at NMAAHC was fun while the exhibit at USHMM was a disappointing reminder of a piece of shameful U.S. history.

My first ever internship at Fusion GPS during junior year of high school taught me lots of tricks in how to conduct good research, such as using quotation marks in a search to find exact results. Three years later I am building on that knowledge thanks to NCL. I realize I learned more at Fusion than I thought. The League is not just helping to shape my perspective for the future, it is also influencing my perceptions of my past.

Writing over two hundred trivia questions for the LifeSmarts national high school competition and developing proposals to improve misunderstood food spoilage dates have also fostered my analytical growth. The point of LifeSmarts is to motivate kids to learn life skills. When I write trivia questions for LifeSmarts, I narrow down which facts are significant and helpful. I have learned to filter out useless information and focus on what’s practical.

Food labeling policy is a broad subject that includes everything from figuring out what can be called organic to determining the date by which a grocery item should be sold. I had to propose two solutions to improve the system of date labeling and I ignored some key points at first. When I got feedback and started looking at the problem differently, I discovered what I had been missing and adjusted my proposals. Thanks to my adviser’s help, my analytical skills have improved tremendously.

When I say I learned how to interact socially at NCL, I mean that I learned social skills to use for a social justice purpose. Last Friday, I supported a rally for “One Fair Wage” outside the office of the D.C. council, who were trying to overturn a bill voted for by the District’s citizens. The League’s executive director and my fellow interns listened to protesters’ complaints while some less patient supporters of the fair wage fired back angrily.

Actress Jane Fonda getting interviewed about raising the tipped wage in D.C. to equal the general minimum wage.
I got a chance to see Jane Fonda while at the One Fair Wage Rally with NCL. She was very poised and serious.

Some people at the rally got bitter, but they didn’t change each other’s minds. As I have said throughout my experience, social justice on a personal scale cannot work without polite and open communication. I used to think otherwise, but my internship has changed my mind.

I can use all of the skills I learned to succeed at Brandeis and in the future, but the most important part so far has been learning about my behavior in the workplace. I’m still working on how I present myself, but people at NCL are already offering to be references without waiting for me to ask. I have a strong desire to get along with people and make a good impression. I’m no longer worried about increasing the pace of my workload in the future because I finish my assignments early.

Most of all, I have learned that I love working closely with others. I really enjoy learning from my colleagues, especially the ones whose offices are close to me. I have learned a lot about fraud this way and a lot about how much fun offices can be with the right atmosphere. Before, I was afraid to think about heavy workloads and office life, but after this internship, I know I’m ready for wherever professional life takes me.

Post 2: State Rep. Carvalho for DA

Halfway through the summer, I have begun to realize how much my story and perspective connects to my internship. Recently, I began to realize that campaigns are about more than a political process. They are also an opportunity for individuals and communities to have a voice.

I am a young man who came to this country in 2015, barely knowing how to speak English (only the essentials, like how to ask for food…😊). Still, I worked very hard for two years and got into Brandeis University and the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP). MKTYP is a year-long program designed to prepare students to maximize their full college experiences. One class that directly related to my internship was Introduction to American Government with Professor Daniel Kryder. In this course, many topics were discussed, including the Constitution; democracy for realists; inequality, public policy and the American mind; parties and polarization in Congress; and most importantly voting and marching.

At the time, I did not realize how much these topics would continue to support my develop. As a Brandesian, I have observed the way our community highlights the importance of one’s your vote. Now, as a WOW fellowship recipients, through my internship I am beginning to observe how a campaign and its outcomes are driven by people’s vote. It is crucial that every individual exercise their right to vote because EVERY VOTE MATTERS. Beyond the outcomes, casting your vote demonstrates that you’re an active citizen and that you’re looking to change and better your community and lifestyle.

Powerful examples of the links between one’s vote with one’s voice have emerged following the school shooting in Florida. At Brandeis, community members marched outside of classrooms for seventeen minutes in memory to those seventeen students who were killed. They did so to state their discontent with gun violence and to give voice to important issues. At my internship, Representative Carvalho’s team marched in the Dorchester Day Parade and gave out pamphlets. These pamphlets explained how Representative Carvalho was the most qualified candidate to be in the district attorney’s office because as a former assistant district attorney and current state representative, he’s led the fight for criminal justice reform by working to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses and raising the age of criminal responsibility. In this way, Representative Carvalho is giving voice to community members. By casting their vote they can give voice to important issues by having someone in service to represent them and to speak for others who seek change.

State Representative Evandro Carvalho’s daughter marching on Dorchester Day Parade.

It’s crucial to show people how much you believe in your candidate, and to share their qualifications and purpose. I also find that it’s equally important to let people know that what happens next in our world is up to them. It’s up to them to decide who they want as the district attorney and whether they want someone working on the social justice issues mentioned above.

For more information on what State Representative Evandro Carvalho represents and is fighting for, please go to

Post 3: Start Small

When I first began my work at Integrationswerkstatt I was concerned that the work I would be doing in this small organization was not going to have a major impact. Before moving to Germany for my internship I had imagined a thrilling work abroad experience. Instead, I found myself in a small remote retirement town in the suburbs. My impression was that any work I could do would only have immediate impact on the local community and that real integration needs to be grander and more inclusive.

I could not have been more wrong. Every refugee I have met so far, no matter how old, expressed their need for security and stability. They all expressed a longing to feel that they belong to a community. I realized the smallest initiatives that aim at bringing people together and creating common ground are very important.

Many refugees expressed that language barriers have deterred them from being fully involved socially and professionally. In Germany, in order to start working, refugees have to go through a series of German courses on different levels, which then open up the doors for them to apply for work. They need to become fluent in a short manner of time to be eligible for work. So even things that seemed pointless to me, like a cafe gathering every once in a while, allowed refugees a rare opportunity to practice their language skills and understand the nuances of society.

However, there are also many frustrations when it comes to planning and organizing small-scale community-focused work. One of the refugees who I met with was a successful lawyer in Syria but cannot practice law anymore or pursue a degree because of the language barrier. He explained to me that he has to now think of other work alternatives and finds that a small business is the only viable solution for economic independence. He says he would be content if he could open a small restaurant that serves Middle Eastern food, which would allow him to finally be able to get off of government aid (indeed, he makes great falafel). Unfortunately Integrationswerkstatt does not have the proper funding to support refugee business.

Some of the work can be frustrating due to lack of funds, but it also allows for creativity and resourcefulness for that same reason. I found that a lot of the work that we do was based on what we thought the refugees needed rather than what they actually need. I decided to conduct a series of interviews to allow refugees to share their stories and make clear what their true needs are. This has allowed me to put my knowledge of Arabic to use, and I felt that refugees felt comfortable speaking in Arabic.

I have come to realize that the smallest gestures can lead to real change if we have enough patience to witness it. It takes time for a society to become fully integrated and it takes time for people to change misconceptions and free themselves from stereotypes, but it is possible!

– Siwar Mansour

Post 3: A platform for workers of faith to talk and express the injustices committed at work

Founded in 1997, IWJ supports and advocates for a living wage, health care, safer working conditions, rights to organize and bargain, and protection under labor law both for U.S.- born and immigrant workers. IWJ condemns discrimination, harassment, intimidation and retaliation in and out of the work place. Overall, IWJ’s goal is to advance fair and just participation in a global economy that promotes the welfare of both domestic and foreign workers.

IWJ addresses these issues through a network of unions, worker centers, faith and labor organizations, guilds and NGOs that have similar agendas. By organizing congregations for campaigns around these issues, IWJ strengthens the working communities.

Grassroots worker centers, faith-labor allies and other groups in our network support workers and lead their communities and states in shaping policy and advocacy. The network includes more than 60 faith-labor organizations and worker centers across the country.

IWJ accomplishes its goals solely based on its networks. Without action networks IWJ would not be able to unite and mobilize the masses as it does now.

IWJ starts networking by connecting to both individuals that are acquaintances of IWJ members and the organizations that they hear, see or meet at the congregations, actions or panels.

Meeting the faith groups with unions and other labor organizations IWJ sets up a platform for workers of faith to talk and express the injustices committed at work. And the progress comes gradually as workers informs their friends and families and organizations hear more and more about IWJ. – Ece Esikara

Post 3: Pursuing Global Justice

At the American Jewish World Service, our motto is “Pursuing Global Justice through Grassroots Change” and the social justice work we do embodies that motto. The difference between the AJWS and other funders is that the AJWS recognizes the crucial role that local people play in solving the issues. Therefore, the AJWS does not go in to a country and try to fix the problems for the people, they go in and find an organization that is already trying to make that change and they support that organization. The AJWS gives the organization the means through which to achieve their goals and overcome the issues. 

Change or progress can look like any number of things at the AJWS. It could mean convincing a donor that ours is a worthy cause, spreading the word about the work the AJWS does or achieving real change, no matter how small, in any of the 19 countries that the AJWS works in.

There are many steps that lead to these kinds of change and the different departments work together to achieve them. The donors department gathers intel on potential donors and reaches out to them. We also have people who are in contact with leaders and members of the Jewish community and they play a large role in both out donations and our work. The communications team keeps our funders and our supporters updated on all our work and sends out a “Daily Digest” to keep everyone updated on issues around the world. Then we have the programs division. They analyze different situations. They look to see if the country is safe for us to go into, whether there are any grassroots organizations there for us to support, and whether the people there actually want out help. After all of that is assessed,  money is granted and people can go in and start helping the grassroots organizations and the people in that country achieve their goals. All of these processes happen simultaneously and feed off of one another to ensure that the process works and that we do good work.

This is a diagram for how the AJWS works. This shows that any help anyone gives serves to create human rights for all, even something as easy as buying gelt.


Post 4: My Growth at Gardens for Health

My time at Gardens for Health International has taught me so much about the global health development field. One of the lessons I have learned during my time with the organization is to take every opportunity to go into the field.

On days where I go into the field, I wake up at 4:30 AM to take a two-hour bus up to a district in the mountains named Musanze. After the bus ride there is another hour to hour and a half car ride depending on the health center. Then, we are put to work at the health center, only to do the same commute again later in the day. As a college student on summer break, I was definitely not prepared for this intense schedule. However, after a couple trips to Musanze, I realized why it is so important to go into the field. For the families Gardens for Health is working with, it means so much when visitors from the main office come, and I can see how much joy it brings them to learn about nutrition. Being able to see the impact GHI has on communities like the ones I visited make every long day worth it.

Musanze, Rwanda

Additionally, being a part of a staff with significant cultural barriers has taught me so much about interacting with coworkers. When I first started at Gardens for Health I found it hard to get to know my colleagues as a majority of the time they were speaking Kinyarwanda. I soon became comfortable inserting myself into conversations and they gladly would respond to me in English, and often go out of their way to talk to me. Because of this, I have become so much more social at work, and I really feel like I have become a full-fledged member of the GHI team. These interactions taught me that you should never be afraid to talk to anyone you work with.

I also now have a deep appreciation for GHI’s unique work environment. One of my favorite things about working at Gardens for Health is that I have access to fresh produce. Every. Day.  For usually no more than a dollar, I am able to buy fresh vegetables from the GHI farm like carrots, beats, spinach, chard, and other incredible Rwandan favorites. I am also able to take a walk to local markets if I get tired of staring at my computer, visit the goats and other livestock, and just walk around the farm on a nice day. I learned to appreciate this working environment so much more than I did at the beginning of this internship, and it makes me really think about how special this summer real is. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Gardens for Health and I will certainly be thinking about the beautiful GHI farm on the next Brandeis snow day.

GHI Office in Ndera (A neighborhood in Kigali, Rwanda)

-Eli Wasserman ’20

New Haven and Criminal Justice

The Federal Courthouse is an interesting place to come into every morning. I grew up in New Haven, went to school here, and thought I knew everything there was to now about this city and even my home state of Connecticut. Growing up, whenever I told someone I was from New Haven, I was met with scoffs and half-joking questions about the high murder and crime rates in the city. I always had nothing to say in response; no defense of the beautiful city I called home. Crime rates have significantly decreased since my growing up, as a result of more efficient policing policies, cooperative community efforts to combat criminal activity, and more rehabilitation and reentry programs. But still, I sometimes feel I have nothing to defend my city with.

In many recent proceedings, I have witnessed an incredible amount of compassion for the accused. I am consistently impressed with the care that the Federal and Magistrate Judges have in the Connecticut District for the welfare of the defendants. I realize that this in not necessarily a general rule for Federal judgments, but the Judges whom I have met truly seek out rehabilitation, using the law not as a tool to punish, but rather a tool to rehabilitate. I now feel that I have a much better insight into the inner workings of justice in my home city and state, and can defend it! Each day, I’m consistently impressed by the justice system of the Connecticut Federal District, both its expediency and its compassion. I can now respond with confidence, saying that we as a city and state are a work in progress, constantly striving towards a safer community, using compassion and empathy as the tools of justice.

– Jonathan Hayward

Humor and Justice

On the way down to a court hearing recently, I got into the freight elevator as usual. Between the floor where I work and the floor where I was going, is the mezzanine floor, where the prisoners are held for a short time before appearing for their hearing that day. The elevator stopped, doors opened, and two Federal Marshals escorted a handcuffed defendant into the elevator. My boss had told me on the first day that if I ever called the elevator and a prisoner was in it, that I should just take the stairs instead. I had never been told what to do if I got into the elevator first, and then a prisoner entered. I was a bit surprised, but kept my calm, quietly observing the marshals’ interaction with the prisoner. I expected the prisoner to be quiet and introspective, solemn in some aspects, and for the marshals to be stern and gruff, as often seems the case on television shows and movies. Instead, the defendant was surprisingly upbeat, joking with the marshals, who equally reciprocated his sense of humor, creating a humanizing atmosphere. In another recent instance, I witnessed a man being escorted out of the courtroom after being sentenced to five years of imprisonment, joking with the marshals. Recent studies have indicated a correlation between humor and both self-compassion and empathy for others.

While working here at the Courthouse, I’ve found that everyone seems to have concluded the best (and fairest) way to deal with the intense job of criminal and civil justice, is not to simply dehumanize the accused. Rather, the judges, marshals, clerks, and even the accused themselves, all strive to reach outside of their given role to express a common and shared humanity. Not only does this profoundly change the dynamic of the workplace, but it also leads to a more equitable approach to justice. Humor, and the humanization it brings about, seems to ease the anxiety of the defendants, and assists the workers of the court in bringing about justice and rehabilitation.

-Jonathan Hayward

Post 2: Fair Does Not Mean Equal

Throughout my life, my mother always taught me that kindness is the most important thing. This principle was instilled in me at a very young age, and every day I try to live by it. Coming to Brandeis, I have realized that the social issues we face today cannot be solved by kindness alone. While being good natured is an important way to live life, the social justice issues we are confronted with today need to be met by our own awareness and willingness to initiate change.

During the first semester of my freshman year, I took the Immigrant Experience Practicum with Professor Marci McPhee. During Professor McPhee’s course, we were able to volunteer at various organizations in Waltham that work directly with the immigrant community. During class, we reflected on our experiences and discussed the difficulties this population faces such as misconceptions, stereotypes, and negative stigma surrounding immigrants.

For the duration of the course, I spent my time working at the Prospect Hill Community Center, an education-based after school center for children in the heart of Prospect Hill, the area with the largest immigrant population in Waltham. More often than not, English was the second language of many of the families at the center, and they struggled with the language barrier. Speaking little to no English, many of them faced significant difficulties navigating an unfamiliar education system. Not only was this challenging enough, these families often faced forms of discrimination and intimidation relating to their immigrant status. This intimidation and fear among members of the community was highlighted following the 2016 presidential election, when many children were absent from the center and school. We believed these absences were closely related to the fear surrounding their immigration status and Trump’s viewpoints on immigration.

At the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I am able to observe similar situations with our clients and the court systems. The majority of our clients are immigrants and English is their second language. In particular, there are many housing cases involving discrimination and unfair treatment of tenants who are immigrants. In many of these cases, landlords attempt to take advantage of the language barrier present and benefit from their tenants’ lack of understanding. There have been multiple cases where landlords have used their tenants’ immigration status to intimidate them, threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they are late paying rent. Other cases have involved landlords informing tenants that they will not be able to show up to court for their eviction hearing because if they do so, ICE will be waiting to detain them.

Consequently, this gives landlords a huge amount of leverage over their tenants who are immigrants and creates a significant power imbalance. Paired with the language barrier and intimidation, an immigrant trying to navigate an unfamiliar and complicated court system creates a very skewed justice system. Truly, it is not a justice system if the system is not working equally for all.  

If our office is ever split between electing cases, our organization will always attempt to represent the client with the lower proficiency in the English language, because we understand that they may be more susceptible to unfair processes and uncertainty.

Working at the Bureau, I am able to apply what I have learned during my time at Brandeis. I have the power to choose to not be complicit in the stigma society creates around immigrants, and when working with immigrants, to be aware of all subconscious biases society has instilled. As a member of the Brandeis community and a global citizen, I hope to use my awareness as a tool to educate, advocate for, and empower others. Fair doesn’t mean equal, and I am determined to use my awareness to work in opposition to some of the greatest social injustices of our time.

Lesson 3: Small Steps Matter

The North American Indian Center of Boston has had many names and many directives, but it has always kept its central mission of empowering the Native American community to achieve a higher quality of life for themselves and for Indian Country as a whole.

Forty-nine years ago, NAICOB strived for its socially just means under the name of the Boston Indian Council. For many years, it served as the headquarters for indigenous and civil rights activism. Now, it has morphed from social action to social service. Although social services do not have the bravado, the crowds, and the publicity that comes with marching-the-streets action, they still serve as an integral component of social justice. The advantage and most important quality NAICOB’s new strategy possesses is its ability to reach out to the community on an individual level and build it up incrementally, one person at a time.

Photo By: Joseph Norman at MFA Boston

Ironically, serving the individual rather than reaching for broad goals eventually brings the whole together stronger than before. Rather than asking the community to risk their already tenuous resources to support the outcome of a large goal (law amendments, major protests, etc.) NAICOB asks the community what they need during their day-to-day lives. Once those questions are answered, they amass resources to support those in need and eventually become a central component of empowering the indigenous community. For example, a common issue they found was that many native families were unable to afford backpacks and toys for their children for school and the holidays, so they partnered with Toys for Tots. After much success, toy and backpack drives became permanent parts of NAICOB operations.

However, this type of service only goes so far. In order to lift the Native American community out of the need for these immediate use programs, deeper issues must be faced. One such issue is the Native American unemployment crisis, wherein over 8.9% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives are jobless, compared to 4.9% rate for the rest of the country (Hagan, 2018). To combat this issue for the local natives, NAICOB has built a coalition with WIOA (Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act) where individuals can access a wealth of employment resources, training, and cultural support in gaining new employment that will fit their needs.

The social justice that NAICOB strives for goes for impacting lives on a more personal level by bringing people new opportunities and ways to educate themselves.  By employing and educating the community, they can stand together and empower themselves to make larger strides towards indigenous rights goals.

Post 3: The Mission of JVS

Jewish Vocational Services aims to help individuals and families who have recently immigrated to the United States (mainly refugees, asylees, and Haitian or Cuban entrants among others). Its mission is to assist these individuals in finding employment in the U.S. and begin to build their careers here. JVS aims to aide immigrants to the U.S. one person at a time to help them navigate the existing systems in this country. Due to this approach, progress can appear slow, yet is extremely impactful as JVS assists nearly 17,000 individuals per year.

At JVS, we help prepare clients to enter the U.S. workforce in many ways before their job search even begins. We offer thirty-five different employment-focused programs that are available at no cost to our clients. These include vocationally-based English classes as well as subject-specific classes to support our clients in completing either their high school or college degree. JVS also offers a myriad of vocational training programs for industries such as banking, nursing, hospitality, and pharmacy.

During my time at JVS, I have been assisting largely with job and child care-related tasks. These two aspects go hand in hand in the search for meaningful employment as having reliable child care is essential in order to secure a full-time job. Our career coaching services consist of one-on-one work with clients on resume and cover letter creation, job searches, job applications, and mock interview skills. In regards to child care, we assist our clients in finding reliable care that will allow them to retain their new job.

JVS aims to assist individuals immigrating to the U.S. to adjust as easily as possible to their new lives here. Instead of focusing on changing government policy or law, JVS focuses on helping the individuals being affected by those laws the best that we can, despite the ever-changing circumstances surrounding immigration into the U.S. We work to directly impact our clients in meaningful and tangible ways to quickly provide some stability in their lives. The goal at JVS is to help as many people as we can find meaningful employment, so progress is when we can better serve even more people than we could before.

The strategies employed at JVS have been extremely successful in helping to achieve JVS’ goals. We have been able to provide services covering all aspects of job-related life in the U.S., from child care to assistance completing higher education. We have assisted thousands of our clients secure stable jobs that will allow them to establish their new lives in the U.S.

Post 3: Measuring Progress

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has the mission to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations.” The work that I am doing this summer in the Office of Global Educational Programs helps achieve this goal. In this post I will focus on two of the branches within our office–the EducationUSA network and USA StudyAbroad–and explain how progress is measured for these groups.

EducationUSA, as you may recall from my first post, is an advising network that consists of more than four hundred advising centers around the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC and in close contact with Regional Educational Advising Coordinators (REACs) located around the world, this group facilitates events and provides resources for international students who wish to study in the U.S., whether it be at the high school, undergraduate, graduate, or PhD level.

One of the ways success is measured is through the Open Doors report, published by one of our cooperative partners, the Institute for International Education (IIE). This extensive report shows facts and figures regarding which countries international students are coming to the U.S. from, where their destination is in the U.S., which fields of study they choose, etc. Here is an image from the 2017 report that shows the five states that have the highest percentage of international students as a proportion of all higher education. Massachusetts is ranked at number two!

USA StudyAbroad helps provide resources for Americans wishing to go abroad. Progress is also measured for USA StudyAbroad through the Open Doors report. However, the data reported is on American citizens going abroad instead of international students coming to the U.S. This infographic shows that the vast majority of U.S. students who study abroad choose countries in Europe as their destination of choice:

In addition to reports, another way progress is measured is through stories. Hearing personal accounts about how programs influenced people show that they have been positively impactful. There are a wide variety of videos posted on the USA StudyAbroad website that showcase the positive impact study abroad programs have had. Although there are countless stories from alumni about their study abroad experiences, one that was exceptionally compelling is Ryan’s journey learning Chinese through the Critical Language Scholarship program by doing an immersive study abroad program in China. Watch the video here.

The data from the Open Doors report and alumni stories show that each individual experience contributes to achieving peace and mutual understanding through interactions with people from a different country and culture. The positive impact of student exchange proves to be farther reaching than the individual level, and the results are exceptional!

-Hannah Cook, ’20

Post 3: Progress on Social Justice


The goal of Community Psychiatry PRIDE is to increase the access to and quality of mental health care in community-based agencies across Massachusetts, by conducting research that explores the disproportionate mental health burden in underserved communities. Community Psychiatry PRIDE is located in Chelsea, MA. Chelsea is one of the most densely populated cities in Massachusetts, with nearly a quarter of its 39,000 residents living in poverty. According to the Boston Globe article “As Chelsea begins to blossom, struggles remain”, as of 2015, there were 138 drug-related arrests and 45 overdoses in Bellingham Square district alone. As Chelsea struggles with crime, violence, and poverty, mental health is subsequently a concerning problem. Due to the limited financial and human resources, adequate and effective health care is often not provided to these communities in need.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT) have been proven to be effective for a wide variety of psychiatric diagnoses, and have been used as a first-line treatment for a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. It is important to monitor treatment quality and make sure the treatment is delivered as intended. Some studies suggest that many providers do not implement CBT with fidelity. In fact, assessing fidelity on large scale has been a major challenge in implementation science. Through one project specifically–imAPP leveraging routine clinical materials and mobile technology to assess CBT quality–Community Psychiatry PRIDE aims to relieve the mental health burden in resource-constrained communities by developing a novel instrument to evaluate and improve the quality of CBT for anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As a research assistant, I have been working on processing, storing, and tracking data for this project. Following data from weekly therapy session over three months, I have noticed how providers are getting familiar with this evidence-based treatment. Providers are continuously getting better at sticking to the manual protocol and incorporating CBT worksheets into therapy. It is also noticeable how patients benefit in terms of symptom improvements from the process. This study uses the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist-Specific (PCL-5) to assess PTSD symptoms. With the total scores ranging from 0-80, the DSM-V defined cutoff score for PTSD is 33. As I processed data from  early therapy sessions (i.e., protocol sessions 1 and 2), many of the patients scored over 60. The noticeable high scores of the PCL-5 within this sample demonstrates the mental health burden caused by the high rates of trauma in community settings. Patients reported seeing loved die in tragic accidents, sexual abuse, seeing a loved one overdose, being bullied, and being victims of physical assault. Through the therapy sessions, these patients’ PCL-5 scores decreased. Some patients even reported to score less than 10 at the end of the treatment!

Besides working with hard copy data, I also processed, stored, and tracked data from Qualtrics, a secure App for data collection. Other than the exciting progress mentioned above, there were problems that drew our attention. Some providers randomized to App group were not using Qualtrics to input data at all, and when they were using Qualtrics, they sometimes did not use the App in the right way. This led to having some problematic data that needed additional steps to be fixed. This data included data that had incorrect patient ID and incomplete worksheets. This problem showed that there were multiple barriers to incorporate technology into treatment in community settings.

Another problem that we came across was the length of treatment. The treatment protocol was intended to be delivered in 12 therapy sessions, but many patients went  beyond 12 sessions. The repetition of session could mean that patients did not always show up in their session, or patients were not understanding the materials. This study is bringing attention to these situations that are specific to community settings.

As for my tasks for the imAPP study, properly organizing data avoided measurement errors and ensured future analyses to be accurate, thus correctly representing the community. Maintaining datasets helped continue the relationship between research based groups and community partners. When I tracked data, I monitored where each patient was at, thus helping the research team to keep their promise of payment for participants, prepare and deliver the next materials that providers needed, and schedule post-treatment interviews.

Another task I did earlier in this internship was printing and organizing Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) binders. In terms of organizing binders, useful information was extracted from the manual and I helped organize and print materials with different colors. This task facilitated providers to use CPT as we made it easier for providers to use CPT materials with their patients, and know what materials needed to be returned to the research staff. By providing materials to providers and strengthening the relationship between the research team and providers, I helped take steps towards decreasing the practice and research gap in the field of clinical psychology.

There are countless small steps building up to the high-end purpose of a study. Following along the process of one project has helped me to see how I had contributed to the whole process through small but meaningful efforts.

-Bingyu Xu ’19