Category Archives: Undergraduate Students Blog Posts

Law and Order: DCU

…also known to Microsoft employees as the Digital Crimes Unit, where I’ve been working the last few weeks!

The last few weeks I’ve been working on a project called Photo Missing Child, which is a facial recognition program designed to help find trafficked children. It’s live now, and you can check it out at this site: Photo Missing Child. Essentially, how it works is parents can upload photos of their missing children to a database, and the app searches for a match. Photos are also submitted by volunteers who snap pictures of children they suspect were trafficked and post the last known location along with their personal contact info in the app. That way, if two photos match, they can figure out how to bring the child home again.

The technology that goes into the app is really quite amazing, and it actually won two prizes at the Hackathon in Shanghai. Sadly, I have no more than an elementary understanding of how it works, so I’ll just get into the stuff that I actually know about. Justin, the other intern, and I have been working on a promotional video that will be shown to NGOs and possibly government authorities. Photo Missing Child is based in Shanghai, so I was there for about week working on the ground with the team there. The video raises awareness about human trafficking in general and also demonstrates how Microsoft’s app can help law enforcement and other organizations return children to their families and catch perpetrators. Tim, our boss, really liked it, so the video may even be used in Beijing.

Human trafficking, unfortunately, is one of those issues in China that is difficult to address because it come a little too close to criticizing the government. China’s one child policy is often blamed for causing the demand for trafficked women and children. As a result, the Chinese government can be very unfriendly towards NGOs or other organizations working on the issue. Another obstacle is the fact that people are highly reluctant to talk about sex trafficking, particularly when it involves children. The subject is virtually taboo. Of course, no one likes to admit that such horrific crimes actually occur in their country. Much of the silence around the subject also stems from the more conservative attitudes towards sex in Asia.

As a result, Justin and I had to fight pretty hard to make a video that we felt accurately reflected the depth of the problems that we were working on. It was definitely a learning experience; I felt like I walked away with a much better understanding of modern Chinese culture and what is required to work productively here. There is a real cultural gap. It isn’t insurmountable, but it exists and it goes deeper that I first imagined. It’s something that really affects the workplace, even though Microsoft is very much an American company.

It will be interesting to see what our guests next week think about it. Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit is hosting a congressional delegation, and I will be responsible for giving them a tour. I’m actually very interested in hearing their perspective on digital crimes and cybersecurity, especially since it’s become such a hot topic recently. With Presidents Obama and Xi meeting in September, I imagine that both governments will be gearing up for some heavy discussion. I’m curious to hear what both parties have to say come September.

I’m afraid I have no photos this time as my phone was stolen in Shanghai, but I’ll be sure to post some when I get the chance. Til next time!

Megan Ye is a double major in Public Policy Studies and Economics and will graduate with the class of 2017.

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Lessons from the Hill: An Intern’s perspective

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Having marched up the learning curve of being a Hill intern, I am now ready to reflect on my experience. I want to share with you some of the aspects of the Capitol that I have come to understand, appreciate, and even see as normal.

First, and probably most striking, is that members are rarely on the floor while the House is in session unless they are actually speaking, or if there is a vote. This means that all of those passionate floor speeches televised by CSPAN are not riling up a room full of representatives, but rather, are being delivered to a huge empty chamber. The next time you see a member on the floor with a big diagram board or spouting particularly fiery rhetoric, remember he or she is actually just speaking to one of their staffers and maybe the member who is due to speak next.

So if members aren’t on the floor, how do they know when to vote? This brings me to my second point, the whole Capitol complex (the Capitol itself and the surrounding congressional and Senate office buildings connected via underground tunnels) still communicates via a series of bells and lights fixed to analog clocks. Members of Congress are often taking meetings in their offices while the House is in session, so they rely on the bells to tell them when a vote is called. The number of rings or lights signify how much time is left to vote. At any point throughout the day, a series of bells could sound, causing members to flood out of their offices, through the tunnels, to the appropriate chamber of the Capitol to log their vote. Occasionally, one might be treated to, as I was, watching a senior representative (not my Congressman, who has excellent staff that keeps him on time) literally run through the tunnels to vote, having lost track of time in a particularly interesting hearing. Although newcomers to the Hill (as I was just 9 short weeks ago) might be startled by a loud signal they assume could only mean the building is being evacuated, the bell system lives on.

When not orating to an abyss or taking a casual jog through tunnels to vote, members might be attending one of a vast number of events happening on the Hill each day. Beyond the actual operation of government, there are briefings and guest speakers, receptions and events, constituent tours and movie screenings, that a member might be hosting or attending. Just for the summer interns alone, there was a speaker almost every single day (about which I will post at another time). In one day, a member of Congress’ schedule could include anything from an early morning Democrat/Republican congressional baseball team practice, to a classified foreign affairs hearing, to an evening event hosted by the Congressional Rock and Roll Caucus (google it, this really exists, again topic for the next post). This is all in a day’s work on the Hill for your elected representatives.

Jennifer Colton is a Public Policy major in the class of 2017. She is currently interning in the office of Congressman Israel (NY-03).

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Making History in Boston

Flying to Boston in early June all the way from Houston might not have been that big of a deal, unless you considered the 30°F drop in temperature, gusts of powerful wind, drizzling rain, and shorts I was wearing while walking out of Logan Airport. As my dislike for Houston’s as-per-usual muggy, oppressive heat and hairstyle-annihilating summer reaches beyond the level of normal, I have surprisingly come to equally love Boston’s refreshing little quirks while here for my internship at the Boston Medical Center (BMC).

Other than the weather shock, a lot has happened since I’ve began my internship – from participating in the celebration at the Gay Pride Parade (so much color everywhere) to enjoying the live orchestra rendition of Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel songs during the Independence Day “Boston Pops Firework Spectacular” concert and firework show (again, so much color and pyrotechnic explosions everywhere) on the Esplanade facing the Charles River and Cambridge city skyline. As for the food, Flour, a bakery 5 minutes away from BMC with the longest lines yet best sandwiches, apple spice snacking cakes and chocolate meringue clouds, is my go-to place during lunch on a weekly basis. Upon recommendation from my supervisor, I ventured out of my comfort zone and tried Ethiopian cuisine for the first time from Lucy Café while enjoying Lega Tibs (a spicy beef and vegetable dish) and peanut tea.

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Beautiful (and exotic) tea-making jars and decorations 

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June 13th: Gay Pride Parade 

During my first week interning at BMC, I met my supervisor, Courtney, got my intern badge, went to orientation, and received a tour of the Shapiro building (which has a beautiful landscape view of Boston’s South End) including the Adult Primary Care suites where I’ll be focusing much of my energy and time throughout the summer. The different suites serve a diverse socioeconomic and ethnic range of patients, from refugees to substance abuse high-risk patients, further validating BMC’s motto: “Exceptional Care without Exception.” During that same week, I was able to meet the other MDs, nurses, medical assistants and managers, despite their hectic day-to-day schedules, and gradually became a familiar (face) member of the practice.

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The scenery while walking to work on broken, sometimes wobbly and crooked cobblestone alleys and streets.

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“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act.”  ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

(Never have these words been any more relevant, literally)

My usual day consists of coming into my very own office-like area at 8am (with tons of coffee and apple snacking spice cake pumping through my body), running around and taking notes from one meeting to another, and working on the data analysis, design process, tracking sheets, literature review and current state assessment for various primary care transformation projects until 5pm (if not later). With the recent policy changes in the national healthcare system and BMC’s transition to EPIC (a widely used Electronic Health Record software), the two main projects I’ve been working on with Courtney and the other strategy and management team members includes nursing workflows and the VNA forms process redesign.

Furthermore, Courtney has been completely amazing and one of the best supervisors (and the nicest person) I’ve ever met. Just last Saturday, she invited Nadia, another Primary Care intern working with the population health team, and I, along with other fellow coworkers, over to her house for an outdoor dinner party and introduced us to her family (and newly completed, absolutely gorgeous, patio). During the first two weeks, she also took me to the monthly BMC Leadership for Change networking event and the annual Be Exceptional Awards, where I met other outstandingly bright associates from various departments and higher-up leadership and management (as well as a handful of intimidating yet passionate ex-McKinsey consultants). So far, my experience interning at BMC has been a never-ending progression of excitement along with the huge learning curve. While I continue to mature, expanding my knowledge about health policy and immersing myself in the current, vibrant healthcare landscape, I look forward to all the challenges and projects I’ll get to work on and add value to throughout the summer.

Also looking forward to my future adventures around Boston (so I can feel less like a hermit and finally have a catharsis from crossing another thing off my checklist)!

Sonya Ali is a Public Policy major graduating this fall in the class of 2016. This summer, she will be interning at Boston Medical Center, focusing on primary care clinical transformations, public health and hospital operations and strategy.

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Welcome to Beijing

Hi, everyone,

I’m currently writing to you from the Microsoft headquarters in Beijing, China. I’ve been in Asia for nearly three weeks now, and I’ll be here for at least another six. Until Saturday, though, I was in Hong Kong, working with the Microsoft office there. Today is my first day in the office, and I’m still getting set up. I’m getting a Microsoft phone and touchpad this week, and I’m actually pretty excited to test out the devices. The phone will be a Lumia 930, and the touchpad is a new product that my boss raves about. I’ve always used Apple or Android stuff, so this should be interesting.

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I should really explain what I’m doing here, shouldn’t I? I’m getting ahead of myself. This summer, I’m interning with Microsoft’s legal department in the Greater China Region. I’ve been working with many different policy issues like Chinese privacy law and US-China relations, particularly in the post-Snowden era. I’m here with good company; my fellow intern, Justin Bryant, and my boss, Tim Cranton, are both Blue Devils. Tim has been absolutely phenomenal. On Saturday, he had Justin and I over to his house for dinner and introduced us to David, his partner, and his two dogs Duncan and Harvey. David and Tim are very well traveled and have been living in Beijing for quite a while now, so they know about all the cool places. I live at the Ascott, a serviced apartment building, and it’s located on Dongzhimen Road, which is buzzing with nightlife and activity.IMAG1687

Recreation aside, Tim has been great about getting us into interesting projects and introducing us all around the office. While I was in Hong Kong, I finished a project on Chinese privacy law and another one on the Copyright Amendment 2014 in Hong Kong, which is a bill that the Hong Kong government wants to pass before election season in 2016. Hong Kong is very behind internationally in terms of copyright law, and this has been a priority for the government for a while now. The last attempt to pass a similar bill was derailed by dissent over the right to parody original works. Essentially, Hong Kong citizens were concerned over the bill because they feared it might suppress free speech. Since then, the government has amended the bill and is now trying to pass it into law again. As an internet service provider and copyright holder, Microsoft is a major stakeholder in the bill, so I was working for Amy, one of the legal team members, on the analysis of the bill.

IMAG1690The other project that I was talking about was a review of Chinese privacy laws, which are sector-specific and not very cohesive. My Chinese was very useful in the project; I’ve been reading a lot of laws in Mandarin. I’m trying to become more fluent. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to be able to read a newspaper in Mandarin Chinese without a dictionary to help me. It’s terribly embarrassing to have to ask Beijing citizens for clarification when I don’t catch a phrase at first, especially since I don’t have the luxury of looking foreign-born. Most of them seem to think I’m a bit slow when it happens.
1433270734568Anyways, those projects have since been completed, and I’m about to start some new ones. I’ve only been here a few days, but I’m already thrilled to be here. Justin and I are starting on a new joint project, and I have another one on cyber breaches to work on as well. I’m trying to be sort of vague here because I had to sign a frightening-looking nondisclosure agreement when I got my employee contract, and I would very much like to stay hired. Anyways, I’ll just say that I’ll be doing a lot of work with cyber-policy in the context of Asia and its growing place in the world.

IMAG1691#1I’m really excited to be working on these policy projects, especially because many of the people I’m working with come from a different culture than the one I’m accustomed to. As the child of former Chinese nationals, China’s culture and attitudes are at once familiar and strange to me. There are things that I understand well and things that are confusing. China has changed so much in the last decade that even people from my parents’ generation are sometimes just as lost as I am. It’s a fascinating place to be, from both a personal and professional perspective, I can’t emphasize that enough. It feels like I’ve come full circle; my parents left China over 25 years ago to raise me in the US, and now I’ve returned on my own to rediscover it for myself. It’s a whole new world and as I move forward, I hope to reacquaint myself with the place my parents left behind as well.

Megan Ye is a double major in Public Policy Studies and Economics and will graduate with the class of 2017. This summer, she will be working  for Microsoft in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, focusing on US-Chinese relations, cyber policy, and cybercrime.

 

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The Magnificence of the Capitol

I did not know what to expect on my first day as an intern on Capitol Hill. I was excited to be in the place where “I’m just a bill” became a law, and I was ready to learn as much as possible. Most of the transition into my internship was easy, but there were definitely a few lessons about working in the Capitol that I had to learn through trial and error.

First, there are “Members Only” elevators reserved for members of Congress. And sometimes, those elevators are only labeled as such on some of the floors. This is one of those “live and learn” moments, to the dismay of the innocent intern who self-consciously assumed the nasty looks in the elevator were correlated to how poorly she held up on her commute in 95 degree heat.

Second, some of the signs that say “authorized personnel only” include me…. and some do NOT.

Third, and most importantly, give in to the fact that you will be lost for at least the first few weeks. Even after tour-guide training, there will still be rooms in hallways in basements that you will need to search for. The place is a marble corn maze, except you definitely cannot set off a flare to get yourself rescued.

One morning, while wandering around the Capitol in a sleepy haze in an attempt to make an 8 am meeting, and found myself alone in the Capitol Rotunda. I realized that although I was hopelessly lost, the magnificence of the Capitol was not lost on me. I stood alone at the very center of the Capitol building, the very center of the entire capitol city, and could never imagine a time when this wouldn’t be truly amazing.

Other aspects of D.C. life are starting to lose their novelty. When I first got to D.C., I was so impressed by how the country’s most important buildings were around every corner. When I saw someone in a suit or pumps rushing down the street, I immediately assumed they are off to do something of great value to society. Now, I am one of those women who swapped her heels for sensible shoes and has an ID badge clipped to her belt loop. As I write this, I am sitting on a bench outside the Lincoln memorial, as if the National Mall is any other park. But the grandeur of the Capitol building has yet to fade.

After a month in Washington, D.C. as an intern on “the Hill”, I have hopes of being a permanent part of this governing machine. I have hopes of helping people and speaking for them and to them in an honest and open way. I have hopes that I can make a difference. And I hope I never become too jaded to appreciate the magnificence of the Capitol.

Jennifer Colton is a Public Policy major in the class of 2017. She is currently interning in the office of Congressman Israel (NY-03).

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A Real Life Museum

I don’t remember how old I was when I came to DC for the very first time. All I remember is sitting in the back seat of my parents’ rental car as we drove across the bridge from Virginia into DC, heart soaring as I saw the white marble columns of the Lincoln Memorial approaching. I remember gazing out the window in awe as the Washington Monument loomed overhead. I remember seeing the White House and wondering why it looked so small, walking across the National Mall and feeling overwhelmed by all the people. I remember taking my first tour of the Capitol Building, my eyes widening as I walked into the House chamber and recognized it as the room I always saw on TV, when my parents would change the channel to CSPAN if there was nothing else on. I would stare at the men and women strolling down the street in business suits, assuming they were all on their way to negotiate an important bill or meet with the leader of a foreign country, being more excited about the possibility of seeing a Senator or a Secretary than I was when I saw a celebrity back home in LA. I remember walking down Constitution Avenue feeling like I was on an episode of West Wing.

It has been at least ten years since my first trip to DC, and my feelings about the city haven’t changed much. I’m still in awe every time I see the monuments, I’m still amazed by all the people, and I still get excited when I walk into any of the buildings with high security. Even though I have become one of them, I continue to be slightly intimidated by all the men and women in business attire, and I still liken the experience of working in DC to being on a TV show – except now I would say House of Cards instead of West Wing.

For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that DC is the perfec10479077_10152517786541955_2079776271506361344_nt city for me. I’m not completely sure why – maybe it’s because I was raised in a household where the TVs were constantly turned on to CNN or MSNBC or the Daily Show, where the topic du jour at the dinner table was almost always related to the latest political scandal, where the car parked out front permanently had at least one political bumper sticker. Or maybe because the day I turned 18, instead of rushing to a convenience store to buy cigarettes or lottery tickets, I went to the closest voting precinct to get a voter registration form. I may not be the most politically informed individual, and I certainly would not be able to name all 100 U.S. Senators or 44 Presidents like some of my peers can, but I have always been fascinated by politics. According to my friends and family, DC is the perfect city for someone like me.

And they were right. Over the course of this summer, Washington DC has become my favorite city. It’s like a real life museum – the picturesque dome of the Jefferson Memorial, 10351581_10152590069206955_1519275341237118698_nthe huge statue of Martin Luther King Jr. looking out over the Tidal Basin, the contemplative face of Abraham Lincoln overlooking the Reflecting Pond. All the Smithsonian museums, the war memorials, the government agency buildings with their big signs and white facades. The entire city in itself is a national landmark. It is historical yet charming, intellectual yet vibrant and young. It is diverse and energetic, and the people here are motivated and enthusiastic. DC is a city of endless possibilities – it seems as if I’m learning about yet another exciting thing to do here every single day.

Perhaps my favorite part about being in DC is the constant reminder of how strong the Duke network truly is. Throughout the summer, it was impossible to walk down the streets of Foggy Bottom or Georgetown without running into at least a handful of Duke students or alumni. And every time I have a conversation with the other students here, I am more and more impressed by all the incredible things they are doing. Duke students are everywhere – they’re interning on Capitol Hill and in the White House, they’re working at nonprofits and think tanks, they’re volunteering for campaigns or even working for consulting firms. And Duke is great about encouraging students to take advantage of this network – hosting events and speakers, sending updates about job opportunities, disseminating contact information for notable alumni. Even just wearing a Duke t-shirt out in public, IMG_7681you are almost guaranteed to meet someone connected to the university. A few weeks ago, I went to the Sanford on the Hill reception at the Canon Caucus Room in the House office building, where I caught up with other Public Policy majors, mingled with Sanford alums, and even ran into some of my former professors and TAs. Events like Sanford on the Hill were just one of many ways that I felt the Duke presence all across DC.

10420204_10152517788446955_4199232205318550182_nIn addition to the events hosted by Duke, I tried to take advantage of opportunities to connect with the DC community both within and outside the State Department. In the beginning of the summer, I attended an event on the 8th floor of my building and listened to Secretary Kerry speak to a beautifully decorated room full of State Department employees about promoting gay rights around the world. A few weeks later, I found myself in the legislative office of Kay Hagan, the Democratic Senator from North Carolina, shaking the Senator’s hand and hearing about her son who went to Duke. Over the course of the summer, I have realized that this city affords opportunities unlike any other city, and I have tried to take advantage of those opportunities as best as I can.

In my last post, I wrote about my excitement after sitting in on a presentation given to visitors from French-speaking African countries. Little did I know that in less than a month, I would find myself walking around the halls of the State Department as a Volunteer for the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, wearing a badge around my neck that identified me as an official French interpreter. For two days in a row, six hours each day, I had the unique and exciting opportunity to volunteer at this historical event, greeting and escorting delegations from 52 African countries, answering questions in both English and French. I had photo 1conversations with delegates from Burkina Faso, Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, and Madagascar. I walked through the Ministers’ Lounge and even spotted a few of the African Presidents who came for the summit. Of all the opportunities offered by my internship this summer, being able to attend the Africa Summit was definitely one of the most exciting.

As my summer at the State Department and in DC winds down, I find myself grappling to decide how to move forward. As excited as I am to go back to Duke, I am already anxious to come back to this incredible city. This experience has taught me that there are so many decisions to make in the policy world, and in the health field in particular – public vs. private sector, domestic vs. international setting, research vs. policy focus. Thanks to my internship this summer, I am not only aware and knowledgeable about all of my options, but I also have met and spoken to people who can tell me what it’s like to work in all of these different fields. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work at the Office of Global Health Diplomacy, with a group of people who were so incredibly warm and welcoming, and who truly made me feel like an integral part of the office. Moreover, I am grateful to Sanford, DukeEngage, and the State Department for making this summer possible for me. Until next year, Washington!

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Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope…

The culmination of my summer internship with ABC11 was a trip to Washington DC, for a weekend of sightseeing but also a visit to the DC bureau. I had the incredible opportunity to watch the production of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. The production room is the definition of organized chaos, with so many different people working together as a team to produce a fantastic one hour show. The TV banners needed to be checked and double checked, the sound needed to be just at the right level and all the while making sure the show airs according to schedule. Everything comes down to the last second. The famous Nigerian rapper D’Banj was also in the studio for an interview for the Africa Summit that kicked off this past Monday in DC. With many ABC affiliates all over the country, I am in awe of how all of them work together to produce high quality broadcast journalism under the ABC name.

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ABC Washington Control Room                       Nigerian rapper, D’Banj

I also had the chance to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. Standing on the very same steps that King made his “I Have A Dream” speech almost five score years ago, I was struck by how that speech encapsulated the interconnectedness of policy and the media. It was broadcast media that allowed the nation to see millions gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington. It was broadcast media that allowed the nation to be enthralled by King’s powerful words. It was broadcast media that allowed the nation to begin to see a stone of hope being cut out of the mountain of despair. The theatre of the media was one of the most powerful tools used by civil rights activists during the 1960s. As I reflect on what my summer internship has meant, it is exactly this. Providing a stage on which the gruelling journey of policy can gain a foothold in the doorway of progress. The media can restore the hope of a nation as we gain a front row seat to justice.

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MLK Memorial, Washington DC

While I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in DC, Durham has still been home for the past two and a half months. From Dame’s Chicken and Waffles to the Farmer’s Market to swimming in the Eno River Quarry, it has been the perfect backdrop to a wonderful summer. Working with the I-Team at ABC11 News has also provided its fair share of thrills and spills. After working on a story about Ryan Buell, a local paranormal expert who was allegedly scamming fans out of money, we staked out his house and tailed his car in the hopes of a live confrontation. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Investigate journalism has the power to not only reveal the flaws of people and policy but also provides an opportunity for new policies to flourish. Investigative journalism and broadcast journalism are essentially the art of storytelling. It is a skill that Martin Luther King Jr. perfected and a skill that I hope to perfect in both journalism and policy making.

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Dame’s Chicken & Waffles                         Eno River Rock Quarry

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Thankful.

My last day interning at the Center for American Progress was Friday, Aug. 1. Now back at home for the first time in 10 weeks, I feel nothing but thankful for what has been a great summer.

Brown bags — when staff members speak to interns during lunch hours — stand as a highlight of CAP’s internship program. Throughout this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from CAP President Neera Tanden, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, CAP Executive Vice President for Policy Carmel Martin and Duke graduate Raj Goyle, a Senior Fellow at CAP, among others. I heard about accomplished policymakers’ life stories and asked several questions to them. I heard Carmel Martin talk about everything from her decision to live on the U.S./Mexico border after graduating from college to her views on Michelle Rhee’s stint as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools.

This last month of my internship also featured MakeProgress, a large event Generation Progress — a national organization based at CAP that focuses on Millennial issues — hosted. MakeProgress invited hundreds of young people to Washington, D.C. to hear people like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Additionally, MakeProgress included breakout sessions on various issue areas. Although I had to start working at 6:30 a.m. that day, it was a great event that featured compelling speeches and informative sessions.

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But I guess what I was most thankful for weren’t the two trips to the White House or MakeProgress. It was the fact that CAP brought together a diverse set of intelligent, passionate college students to learn from and work with each other. When a brown bag wasn’t scheduled, the interns on my floor — representing departments like immigration, health, race policy and faith — went out to eat lunch.

We spoke about the complex issues that the MakeProgress breakout sessions focused on. One session I attended there was titled, “More Than Marriage,” and it centered about LGBTQ issues beyond marriage equality. On my row at CAP, we spoke about those issues frequently. We talked about how although the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black should be commended for including diversity — in terms of racial and sexual identities and body types — in its show, it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have a white, young female as its protagonist. All the interns I had the chance to speak with were friendly. They challenged me and they each made a mark on me. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.

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A Perfect Intersection

I sat in the corner of a brightly lit conference room with a spiral bound notebook in my hand. In the center of the room was a large oval-shaped table, with nearly twenty people sitting in a semicircle facing three panelists. There were name tags on the table, each with a different African country listed on it – Togo, Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Mozambique, South Africa. This meeting was part of the IVLP, or the International Visitor Leadership Program, hosted by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. If the group of visitors is somehow relevant to global health, my office, the Office of Global Health Diplomacy, will often participate or even co-host these presentations. This week, the visitors were healthcare professionals from various countries around the world – community health workers, hospital managers, individuals working in their Ministry of Health – mostly from countries in Africa but with one woman from Haiti. Their two-week trip to the US included a visit to CDC in Atlanta, NIH in Bethesda, USAID, and finally the State Department. The three panelists from State were the policy consultant from my office, a woman from the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, and a man from the Policy and Economics office of the Africa bureau. The visitors were here to learn about global health diplomacy and about the PEPFAR programs in many of their countries.

For two hours, I sat in the conference room listening to conversations about the US government’s involvement in global health in each of the visitors’ countries. Various technical terms were thrown around related to biodefense, PEPFAR programming, health systems strengthening, the International Health Regulations, the Global Health Security Agenda, and so on. The representative from my office talked about his time as a PEPFAR coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya and emphasized the importance of diplomacy when it comes to making global health a priority in the agendas of foreign governments. He talked about engaging with Ministers of Health and heads of state and using health as a tool for international cooperation. Halfway through the meeting, the conversation suddenly switched into French. Half of the participants did not speak English and had been listening to a translator repeating the panelists’ words in French through little earpieces. One of the visitors, a young AIDS specialist from Mauritania, had asked a question in French, and the panelist from the Africa bureau, who had worked on the ground in Mali for three years, responded to his question in the same language. For the next fifteen minutes, the panelists, translator, and participants went back and forth in a mix of French and English.

As I sat in this room, listening to discussions about policy and diplomacy in the context of global health, while hearing French and not relying on the translator to understand what was being said, I realized that this is exactly the type of work I had in mind when I first came to Duke. I realized that all my afternoons in the Sanford commons and Trent Hall, all my hours sitting in class, all the time I spent studying and choosing my schedule and meeting with my advisor to pick my majors, had led up to this very moment – the perfect intersection of all my education. As a Public Policy and Global Health double major and a French minor, I knew that there would be some type of job that would allow me to draw upon my skills and interests in one setting, but that it would be hard to find. And yet there I was, on the first floor of the State Department building, surrounded by health and policy experts from Africa and Haiti, actually witnessing the intersection of my majors and minor. This moment was so exciting and rewarding to me. After the meeting, I spoke with some of the visitors in French, introducing myself to the woman from Haiti and explaining, in my extremely broken Haitian Creole, that I had traveled to Leogane to do mental health research last summer. She was delighted to hear that I had been to Haiti and that I enjoyed my time there, and encouraged me to come back as soon as I can.

These IVLP meetings are just one example of some of the exciting hands-on work I’ve been able to do at my internship this summer. I have attended many of the courses that my office teaches at the Foreign Service Institute, joining foreign service officers as they learn about global health diplomacy and US government involvement in health programs around the world before they are sent off to their posts. I’ve spent the past three days at the Institute, taking a course on Global Health Diplomacy organized my office and the Office of International Health and Biodefense. In this course, I’ve had the opportunity to listen and participate in talks with scientists, doctors, policymakers, and researchers in some of the highest offices at government agencies like USAID, HHS, and DoD; nonprofits like the UN Foundation and PATH; and other institutions such as the National Security Council and the Georgetown School of Public Health. In just three days, I feel like I’ve learned almost as much as I would learn in an entire semester of class!

Last week, I joined the Acting Special Representative of my office, along with representatives from HHS, CDC, USAID, PEPFAR, Peace Corps, and Department of Defense in a briefing for the Ambassador designate to Rwanda, the day before her testimony in front of Congress. The presenters updated the future Ambassador on existing health issues in the country, USG health programs that are in place there, and obstacles that may hinder her ability to negotiate with the leadership in the country. Later this week, I’ll be attending a briefing with the Ambassador to Jordan, as well as a briefing with the CDC Director in the Dominican Republic.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my job this summer is my ability to see how exactly all the research I have been doing is translated into real action – whether the powerpoint slides I created are being used in the FSI course, or the briefing I prepared is being given to an Ambassador who may someday use that information to engage in diplomatic relations with a Head of State or a Minister of Health. It’s very encouraging to know that all the time I spend doing research or preparing documents is actually valued and worthwhile. And it’s even more exciting to realize how much I am learning along the way!

It’s hard to believe my time at State is starting to come to a close. In less than two weeks I will be missing work to volunteer at the US-Africa Leaders Summit taking place at the State Department. After that, I’ll have only one week left! I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here!

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The End?

Daniel (back row, middle), Steven (back row, far right), and the rest of the Food Forward Team
Daniel (back row, middle), Steven (back row, far right), and the rest of the Food Forward Team

My last two months with Food Forward have been enlightening, invigorating, and most of all, greatly rewarding. Steven and I began planning our project early in the 2013-2014 school year, and we had high expectations for the summer. Looking back, I feel like we met every expectation set. Food Forward now has a strong foundation in the San Gabriel Valley, a new influx of passionate volunteers, and a host of new properties.

It is definitely tough to leave such an awesome organization doing great things. Of course, I am anxious to spend time with family and friends before starting my junior year at Duke. But our work is not finished. The problem of food insecurity is far from solved. There are massive amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables being wasted every day, from Los Angeles, CA to Durham, NC and everywhere in between.

Moving forward, I am exploring how to translate the lessons and models from this summer across the country. The backyard harvest program that we led the expansion of is likely only viable in California, Florida, and the few other states with citrus fruit production. However, farmer’s market recovery, in which we collect donations of excess produce at the end of market hours, can be implemented across the country. Wholesale produce recovery, in which we collect excess pallets of fruit and vegetables not purchased by supermarkets and retailers, is most viable in large cities but can be taken elsewhere.

My internship is over, but this is not the end. In the South, obesity rates are high yet food insecurity is rampant. We can take steps to change that. Steven and I are continuing our research and are already planning meetings with professors and leaders in the food community for when we get back on campus in August. We will post at dukeinlosangeles.wordpress.com with new developments as we continue our journey.

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