Cracking the Code

By Mim Williams

I have been at Deloitte for just over three weeks.  More specifically, I am a Summer Associate in Deloitte Consulting’s Federal Practice performing strategy and operations services for our government clients.  A mouthful, I know.  Basically, I am in a cohort of 16 graduate students, MPP and MBA from around the country, assigned to work with different government agencies on problems they can’t, or don’t want to, deal with in-house.  My first week at Deloitte was full of orientation classes, sessions, team building exercises, presentations, happy hours and dinners.  All in all, a great rundown of everything-Deloitte; well, everything except information on my summer project.

For the summer, I have been assigned to work on a Department of Defense/Aerospace project, analyzing solutions for a major aircraft program for the US Navy and US Air Force.  My first non-orientation day was spent meeting my manager, talking about the aircraft program (and its ills) and orienting myself to what our mission for the summer would be.  Oh, that, and learning that I would be part of a two-day strategy session with industry power players to discuss how Deloitte could capture this business development opportunity.

The next day, I arrived at the office (at 7:30am, mind you) to strategize with the big wigs.  I was excited and felt fortunate to be included in such an important meeting.  Having done preliminary research over the weekend and vigorously highlighted the read-ahead my program manager sent me, I was ready to soak up the knowledge of my more experienced counterparts.

Then it happened.  After all of the early morning, coffee-induced niceties ceased, the four-star General and other “emperors of aircraft” began speaking a foreign language.  Acronym.  I was surrounded by industry giants, including a former vice president of Lockheed Martin, and I had no idea what they were saying.  “The PMO at the JSFPO is not utilizing the PSAT.” And “ALGS, more specifically ALIS, is immature and threatens the health of the JPO.”  My head was spinning.  Not only was I supposed to be learning from these industry leaders, but I was also in charge of taking detailed notes to discuss after the summit with my supervisor.

At that moment, I had two options.  I could sit there in the conference room for the next two days like a deer in the headlights trying to learn Japanese (well, close enough!), or I could do something about it.  I chose the latter. I opened a new Word document and titled it “Acronym Decoder.” Every time a new acronym was thrown out, I added to the document.  During lulls in the conversation, I would feverishly look up the cryptic symbols and add their meanings to my precious DoD dictionary.  Slowly but surely, and with consistent referencing to my golden document, I was following the conversation.  By the second day, I could not only follow, but was also anticipating developments in the strategy and critically analyzing our potential courses of action.

The day after the two-day strategy session ended, my program supervisor asked me how I thought the meeting went.  I was proud of myself.  I was able to tell him that I thought Deloitte DoD & A&D had several potential opportunities to aid JSFPO over the life cycle of the aircraft.  He agreed.  Then he asked me to become the PSAT expert for our team.  I nodded, turned back to my laptop, and opened my precious acronym decoder.  Ah, the Product Support Assessment Team – I’m on it.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mexican Delight

By Mauricio Pantoja

Like a good tourist, I started my trip in Mexico City the right way: eating something familiar. I paid the price. The Subway sub I had tasted miserably. The next day, I ate street tacos al pastor to redeem myself. What redemption! I can still feel the spices dancing on the tip of my tongue.

I love Mexican food. I love its color, smell, and taste. UNESCO is right. Traditional Mexican cuisine is a cultural treasure worth preserving…as long as Montezuma forgives your delectable indulgence and you don’t mind gaining a few pounds. But you can always drink pink fluid to make your stomach feel better and walk down aesthetic Paseo de la Reforma to lose the extra weight.

On Reforma, next to the U.S. Embassy, the Greek goddess Nike holds a broken chain in her left hand. She has freed herself from the shackles of oppression, an event to celebrate with a grito every September 16. The newly elected Mexican president (Mexico has its national elections on July 1), will scream from the Palacio Nacional’s main balcony, “¡Viva México!” Unfortunately, I won’t be in Mexico for the spectacle since my internship ends in August.

I am interning for the U.S. Commercial Service. The agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, helps promote U.S. business interests in Mexico. Specifically, the agency provides trade counseling, market intelligence, access to trade promotion opportunities, and trade advocacy to U.S. firms seeking to export their goods and services to the Mexican market.

The Commercial Service is well-known for its industry and country-specific market reports. Note: I used some of them for my Spring Consulting Project at Sanford. Trade Specialists and Commercial Officers working overseas author these reports to help U.S. firms better understand the local business environment. We interns help. Our responsibilities range from collecting and analyzing data to performing relevant administrative tasks.

The Commercial Service also does an excellent job at organizing trade events. Recently, I participated in a SelectUSA seminar where I met Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne. SelectUSA is an Obama Administration initiative to spur economic growth and create jobs for American citizens through increasing foreign direct investment. The seminar consisted of guest speakers informing small and medium size Mexican firms on how to invest in the U.S.

If you are interested in obtaining a practical understanding of how public policy interacts with business and economics, this internship is great for you.

Check out the agency’s website: http://trade.gov/cs/.

You can access the market research reports at: http://export.gov/mrktresearch/.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Alpine Internship

By Jeff Bartelli

Bonjour my fellow interns.  I’m writing to you from Geneva, Switzerland.  As I write this I am looking out my window at beautiful Lake Geneva and the mountains of France.  The sun is shining and life is good.  Though it may be more interesting to tell you about the hikes I’ve taken in the Alps, or the nights I spent on farms in Tuscany, or the wandering teenage horn bands I mingled with in Chinon, France, I’ll tell you about my internship instead.  Before we start, I’ll recommend that you find the song (and entire album if you have the time) titled ‘Geneva’ by Russian Circles on your favorite music streaming website to accompany this blog.

I arrived in Geneva on May 21st to discover that the International Labor Organization only starts interns on the 1st and 15th of the month.  This gave me a considerable amount of time to lay in the grass next to the lake reading books.

Soon all the fun came to an end and I started my internship with the Cooperatives Branch of the ILO.  I immediately began working on creating a new database of cooperatives from around the world that either employ or serve people with disabilities.  This meant I would spend a lot of time on the internet.  In the first week I identified over 100 specific cooperatives that fit this bill while I discovered references to hundreds of other possible matches.

This may seem like a relatively easy task until you realize that the majority of the world doesn’t use the internet.

Consequently I began searching the internet for keywords like ‘cooperative’, ‘disabled’, ‘invalid’, ‘blind’, and ‘deaf’ in thirty different languages.  This netted a number of new leads but was still cumbersome and minimally effective.

My current efforts focus on utilizing the professional networks of various people I’m working with throughout the ILO.  This has produced some results but nothing truly significant yet.

With my database work winding down I am beginning to shift my focus to phase 2 of my internship: an ILO/COOP Information Brief.  This is a 1200-word report for global distribution in support of the International Year of Cooperatives.  For my Sanford friends, it is a long form policy memo.  Consequently, I don’t expect this task to be too difficult.  The publication credit this Information Brief will afford me is one of the main reasons I accepted this internship.  There is the potential for me to begin drafting a much longer report on the status of cooperatives and people with disabilities though this particular project has been called into question due to current funding issues.

I think it is worth noting that I receive a very minimal amount of supervision here.  My hours are flexible and there are days where I don’t even see another person from my department.  It was a little disconcerting at first but I think I’m adjusting just fine to the freedom.

So, that’s my story.

Posted in Duke Geneva Program, Sanford | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Aleph, Be, Pe…and knowing your alphabets from your abjads

By Greg McDonald

Unlike most of the rest of my MPP cohort, my summer thus far has not been spent doing an internship, per se.  Rather, in late March, I found out that Duke had selected me to receive a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) summer fellowship.  This fellowship, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is intended primarily to incentivize the learning of foreign languages by American college students. To a degree, the fellowship does so with an emphasis on languages considered to be vital to the strategic interests of the United States.

I decided to apply for this fellowship because I’m a national security concentration in the Sanford School, but I thought that my knowledge of certain key players in the Middle East – and the languages they speak – was somewhat lacking. Plus, quite frankly, I thought I’d enjoy this more than an actual summer “job” (Sorry Donna!).  To remedy this, since around mid-May, I’ve been taking Farsi classes five days a week at the Department of Defense-funded Critical Languages Institute at NC State University in Raleigh.

I should admit that prior to this year, I was a total stranger to summer classes. In fact, as best I can recall, I had never set foot in a classroom past June 1st in any school I had ever attended.  I had also never taken a class with anywhere near the intensity or contact hours of the class I am taking this summer.  I am in class for around 25 hours per week.  To give this number some context, I spend nearly as much time in my summer class in six days as we do in a regular class at Sanford in an entire semester. To say that I was uncertain of what the experience would actually be like would be an understatement.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the class can be a little overwhelming at times, with not much time to absorb material before having more thrown at you, and there is also a sense of being burnt out that creeps in now and then. However, thus far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent learning about Iran and its language, and I don’t regret not having done a more “traditional” internship.  After all, where else are you going to have the chance every day to ask Iranians ad nauseum about their country and what it’s really like – as opposed to how it is portrayed in the media – as one of only seven people in a class?

With time, I will be able to build on the foundation I’ve begun this summer with Farsi, and the knowledge I’ve gained about Iran itself will be important going forward both academically and (hopefully) professionally.  In terms of what my career goals are and addressing the substantive weaknesses I thought I had, I know that I’ve made the right decision with regards to what I am doing this summer. If anyone is interested in an area of public policy that is foreign language-related, by all means I recommend pursuing a FLAS summer – or academic year (AY) – fellowship.

PS: As you might have guessed, the conspicuous lack of pictures in my write-up is due to the fact that I’ve spent most of my summer thus far in a classroom…and I think we’ve all seen enough of those over the past year or so.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sex, Lies and Videotape

When I was thinking of a title for a blog post on my summer work in Washington, D.C., I could not think of anything more fitting to my short time as an intern than Sex, Lies and Videotape (although videotape may be a bit antiquated). The world of an aging intern can be pretty wild.

Does the title  actually bear any relationship to my internship?  No, it does not. Not even in some remote, metaphorical way.

Sex, Lies and Videotape is the title of a 1989 independent film by Steven Sodenberg. The Library of Congress considers the film to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” I’m not so sure about all of that (or why the LOC chose “or” instead of “and” for a coordinating conjunction) – I have yet to see the film, but thanks to Wikipedia I now know all that. Really, I liked the title because it’s got an evocative quality that sounds much more interesting than “my summer internship.”

Moving on from that aside (and what an aside it was), I would like to tell you about my internship. At the last moment, I got an internship with a nonprofit, Enterprise Community Partners, that helps develop affordable homes and sustainable communities throughout the country. I work in their policy department under the direction of the director of government affairs. In sum, the position is a good fit.

However, on my first day on the job, I was informed that I was there to leverage my “expertise” for their transportation portfolio. Specifically, the organization’s recent foray into the development of transit-oriented development (TOD) – the development of mixed-use development around transportation nodes. While I was apprised of this role when I was interviewing, I was also hoping to move more into housing policy and away from the ghetto of transportation policy. But it appears my accidental past in the world of transportation will continue to haunt. No need for alarm, however. I enjoy transit policy especially when coupled with development.

As most sentient beings in vibrant urban areas (like Durham but think a little bigger) can tell you, however, the cost of living in a city, especially one with good transportation (like Durham but real) is often quite expensive. With the rebirth of American cities has come the concomitant wave of gentrification and displacement, as areas become more attractive – especially around transit hubs – incumbent families, and even communities, are often unable to afford to remain. Accordingly, my goal – and that of my organization’s – is to ensure ample affordable housing near existing and future development of areas near transportation hubs.

Now, how does this all work in the practical world.  This is where I am somewhat familiar and what I am trying to work on. Putting aside the housing end of the spectrum, which I am learning, there has been a major move afoot to incorporate sustainable housing development in the authorizing legislation for national transportation. This major authorizing bill for transportation is immensely important for setting transportation policy and provides contractors and transportation agencies with the money to develop long-term transportation projects. As a result, the transportation bill has an immense impact on employment and is often rightfully considered a jobs bill. As America faces down a jobs crisis and operates on a decaying infrastructure system that delegitimizes its economic competitiveness it would seem only natural that this bill would pass, right? Well, that ain’t the case.

The previous bill, called Safetea-Lu – in part, named after the author’s late wife  – expired in 2009 and has been extended innumerable times on a short-term basis. For an industry predicated on long-term development and fiscal certainty, short-term extensions undermine the entire process and leave millions of workers idle. Not a good thing.

Currently, I am following the latest iteration of the transportation bill, MAP-21. The Senate passed a two-year authorizing bill, which would be considered pretty poor by normal standards. But in a world of stupidity and  diminishing expectations, the two year bill is actually pretty good for a variety of reasons. In contrast, the House has only passed another extension. When I first arrived in town I learned that the bills were being reconciled in the parlance of legislative argot. Although I had not followed this process during my time at school, I told a colleague that I gave the bill about a zero percent chance of passing. I have watched this boring psychodrama before – the Republican House cannot produce a bill, and it’s an election year, which means nothing of substance will happen. So I was pleased in my powers of self prediction when I read in this morning’s newspaper that John Boehner wants another extension –a pretty defeatist position to take while your comrades are supposedly in conference trying to produce a final bill. I should probably use my prescience in more useful ways, such as scratch off lotto tickets, but that might be an abuse of my powers.

More pointedly, I am actually working on a specific issue related to the transportation authorization. But, as I learned some time ago, keeping your mouth shut when trying to do something and not posting it on the internets is the way to go. So I will not be sharing with you what exactly I am doing.

But, more importantly, it is getting late and it’s Friday. I am drinking a beer on my amazing porch in the best neighborhood in Washington, D.C.,  – Mt. Pleasant – where I know live (lots of  people with tote bags; I call them tote-baggers. Kinda the polar opposite of their so-called tea party breathren). So I will bid you adieu as I enjoy the sunset in my first weekend at my new place. I have been living on couches for some time, so I intend to relax a bit. I might just rent Sex, Lies and Videotape at the local rental store, which has VHS tapes, mind you.

Classic Tote-bagger in all his ironic splendor- beware.

.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All is Right in Raleigh

The building on Six Forks Road

By Sharita Thomas

My internship selection has placed me in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services office building for Children and Youth in Raleigh. I am working with a legislative study commission, the Child Fatality Task Force, on a rather ambitious action agenda in light of recent General Assembly events.

My lovely cubicle. Someone stole my stapler. . .

The laid back appearance of the office initially caused me quite a bit of worry – Sanford life only enhanced my general avoidance of proper sleep, meals and social activities to where any empty space in my daily planner may provoke a small panic attack. It turns out the ‘Task Force’ has approximately 35 members but is a daily one-woman show being casted, performed and directed by Executive Director, Elizabeth Hudgins. Since beginning my internship on May the 14, ‘laid back’ does not seem to be a fitting description of my days thus far. I actually have had some misty-eyed moments reminiscent of my time on the Hill.

I arrived for my first day after only arriving to Durham at 4:00 a.m. by way of a lovely double-decker coach service leaving from D.C. the night before. Looking quite fresh and alert I am sure, I was given my essential orientation instruction. Once I reacquainted myself with Microsoft Office Suite 2003 I met with my boss to go over our summer plan. (I was really hoping to fill in my planner. . .)  We went over the agenda as well as discussion of a few projects involving data and surveillance and social determinants of health research. I could not help noticing that there was more excitement in the air than was during my last few visits to the office. It turned out that when the General Assembly convened for its regular “short session,” the Joint Regulatory Reform Committee recommended the elimination of a list of board and commissions. The Child Fatality Allowed Force along with a list of other groups that dealt with crime prevention, climate change, childhood obesity and dropout prevention were up to be cut. Likely because North Carolina has these issues mostly under control. . .wait. . .no, no actually we don’t. We spent a great deal of time fielding phone calls, speaking with members and collecting data to support our existence if need be.

The legislative office building in Raleigh

My time here so far feels much like it did to be a legislative intern in D.C.,
minus the frowning faces of the morning Metro Rail riders. I have already pulled data and summaries from close to a hundred sources (for three separate issues/fact sheets: tanning beds, skate boards on the road in Asheville and teen driver safety) only to whittle the information down to 5 overly simplified paragraphs. I have rubbed literal shoulders with lobbyists, state board executives and any other person in my vicinity that thought I was the assistant of someone that had the power to get their organization more money. I have attended advocate and committee meetings, rallies on the lawn of the legislative office buildings, appropriation hearings and meetings to the offices of Representatives and Senators.

The most recent meetings attended involved the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. On May the 24th I attended the Subcommittee’s budget release and special provisions meeting. Aspects of the budget that are important to the Task Force included: the reliance on the forecasted savings from the dependence of health care managed through Community Care North Carolina, the redirection of funds from private contracts (Planned Parenthood) to local health departments, and the missing funds for the “17P” program and certain Smart Start programs. Luckily, we were able to get crucial funds to be specifically allocated to these 17P and Smart Start by patiently waiting to talk to Representatives. And by talk I mean spew sound bites and statistics. We were assured that the oversight was merely an oversight and nothing more. While the Task Force is not specifically involved with the Planned Parenthood issue, it is a topic that I am quite interested in. Unfortunately, it seems that there was no oversight in the provision that redirects funds from Planned Parenthood.

House Republicans continuously rejected amendments to the budget in order to ensure that Planned Parenthood would no longer receive contracts for services from local health departments. The issue is particularly upsetting for me as I worked in a high-risk perinatal clinic before coming to Duke. The patients that delivered and had Medicaid or no insurance were referred to the local health department for contraceptive services and future family planning. Not surprisingly, we often saw these same patients returning to us, pregnant, in a matter of months. Local health departments are not equipped to provide efficient and effective family planning services. They lack the staff and resources to do so. Appointments for family planning services at a health department in Durham would have you wait at least 3 months for an appointment. It seems that the health and well-being of poor men and women in need of services that could be met by contracts with capable facilities is being sacrificed for a conservative agenda. House Representative Rick Glazier summed the sentiment up best when stating that, “[the budget provision removing health contracts from outside entities] is nothing more than a fig leaf trying to cover the majority’s open hostility to Planned Parenthood.” While I wanted to rally the troops on this issue, the Task Force had its own agenda.

I reconvened to the legislative offices on a rainy May 30th for a hearing on lithium batteries in smoke alarms for rental properties. Armed with fact sheets and costs figures for the rowdy crowd that we assumed we would encounter-apparently there was some battle over this issue when it first appeared. There was no resistance but quite a high demand for more information as most of the members of the General Assembly are landlords.

It seems that the atmosphere surrounding my very spacious cubicle will be anxious for now. I keep hearing how this session of the General Assembly is different- less transparent and unpredictable, and that we will need to be ready to appear at hearings at a moment’s notice.

Pretty predictable. . .

And how can I be tired of traipsing around legislative buildings (with a purpose of course), passing out fact sheets (and waiting with baited breath as they read, looking for the head nod of approval and fearing the head shake of shame) and being called ‘sweetie pie’ or ‘hun’ by old southern gentlemen in Seersucker suits (it beats being called ‘sugartits’ by drunken anti-Semites).

I appreciate this internship for illuminating my desire to be ‘on the ground’ with the community. I am benefited for my legislative experience and my unbelievable access to major players in local public health. I still have data projects to look forward to (yay! That is a serious and not a sarcastic ‘yay.’ Seriously.) and more conversations with the North Carolina public health community. Next on the list, an equities event featuring Dr. Camara Jones and Dr. Ronnie Bell.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Café, Frijoles, Memos, and Fun: Tales of a summer in Nicaragua

By Tameeka Norton

Hello everyone! It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been in Nicaragua for almost 3 weeks! My internship is with UNAG (Union Nacional de Agricultores y Ganadores), a non-profit organization that works with small and medium producers in various areas of the agricultural sector including land, credit, market products, and technical assistance. I am here through the Duke Microfinance Leadership Initiative- a student organization that promotes microfinance and sustainable development.

This is DMLI’s first time working in Nicaragua. As the only graduate student in the group, I serve as the quasi-leader of the group, helping facilitate and maintain a positive relationship between UNAG and our group.

Trouble a’ brewin?

A couple of weeks before the internship

began, I became concerned at the lack of communication between myself and DMLI. I had no idea where in Nicaragua I was going, where I would be staying or any other logistics typical of a formal program. Luckily I was able to bridge the gap with a lot of help from fellow MPPer Ivy Blackmore, who interned with UNAG the year before and initiated the connection between UNAG and DMLI. I decided to use the program as a learning experience in leadership and make adjustments later if necessary.

Time to start working…

It became fairly apparent that I was the only person in the group able to communicate in Spanish with relative ease.  As the de-facto translator of the group, I arrange transportation to the various communities, communicate with our host, and manage our work with UNAG.

View of the city during our daily walk home.

We are based in the lovely city of Matagalpa- an agricultural town located in the mountains of Nicaragua. We are working with cooperatives in 3 towns- Jucuapa, San Dionisio, and Dario- spending a couple of weeks with each location. Part of the time will be spent evaluating the cooperatives and providing technical assistance as needed.

It took a couple of days before we were able to have our first meetings with the cooperatives. When meetings were finally arranged, we quickly had to get used to “Nica time”: having a meeting scheduled for 9 not begin until 9:30 or 10am. In the case of Jucuapa, a lot of the tardiness was due to the fact that many of the cooperative members had to walk long distances to the meeting location. In some cases, attendance was determined on the amount of rain received the night before.

There are two UNAG-affiliated cooperatives in Jucuapa- one comprised of youth, and one of women. Rather than focus on the issue of credit, we are providing recommendations focused on local capacity-building; problems include decreased participation in cooperative projects, and communication gaps amongst the cooperatives’ Administration Boards and general body members. As some of you may have already guessed, we are presenting our suggestions in Sanford-style memos! I had a lot of fun leading a training session on the memo format for my non-public policy associates. The final products will be delivered to our clients on Friday.

Students hard at work after the memo writing workshop

Of course I’ve managed to find the time to have fun on this trip! In addition to exploring Matagalpa, I visited a coffee cooperative and learned about coffee cultivation, volunteered at a home for women with high-risk pregnancies, went to a chocolate factory and hiked around a cloud forest. I just came back from a long weekend in Bluefields, a city in an autonomous region on the Atlantic coast, to participate in Palo Mayo (May Pole) celebrations. This area is unique in that the majority of the inhabitants are descendants of emancipated slaves from British Caribbean islands. Next up are visits to the colonial city of Granada, an active volcano (volcano surfing anyone?), and to the Pacific-coast beach town of San Juan del Sur.

Attempting to grind cocoa at the chocolate factory

Cloud Forest (Selva Negra)

Children dancing in the Palo Mayo parade

I really enjoy the work I’ve done so far with the cooperatives and am excited to move on to our next location of Darío.

¡Hasta Pronto!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A little miscommunication…

By Darrow Vanderburgh-Wertz

The day after finals ended, I packed up all my stuff and, the next morning, hit the road for Charleston, SC.  Though at the moment I was regretting the decision to start my internship the Monday after finals ended, I was super excited about working on a food shed mapping project for GrowFood Carolina, a food hub that is a program of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (an environmental non-profit based in Charleston).

Classic Charleston: palmettos and a porch.

What is a food shed mapping project, you say? What is a food hub, you might ask? Broadly, a food shed mapping involves explaining where a certain city or region – in this case, Charleston – currently gets its food (usually, from very far away) and what the potential is of the surrounding region to feed the city.

A food hub is essentially a food distributor with a mission. A food hub aggregates produce or meat from farmers and markets and distributes the food to restaurants and grocery stores. Like other food distributors, food hubs strive to turn a profit. But, as opposed to most food distributors, food hubs explicitly seek to support small local farmers and/or distribute food to areas that lack access to fresh produce. Essentially, food hubs want to be a link in a local/regional food system the benefits producers and consumers.

Anyway, the point is that this internship was a perfect fit for my interests and I was pumped!

A door to a porch.

I show up to the first day of work. Upon meeting my very nice supervisor, she enthusiastically declares, “I am so excited to have you and your ArcGIS mapping skill set here! I’ve been talking forever about having a map of what is grown in the area and what the potential is for expanding production – I am so jazzed to have you make it this summer!”

What?! Wait, what?! She thinks I know ArcGIS? She thinks I am some sort of GIS mapping expert? I think back to my interview (which was with an employee who is no longer with the organization) and recall how when asked about whether I knew ArcGIS, I had distinctly said, “No.” I panic, say nothing, and respond with what was likely a very awkward smile.

It takes me a full day to work up the courage to so supremely disappoint my new supervisor. Finally, I tell her that there has been some sort of miscommunication. In fact, I’ve never touched ArcGIS and had understood the food shed mapping project in a much broader sense of the word “mapping.” She stares at me for a half-second and then asks, “Well, are you willing to learn?” I say yes.

Sunset and a porch.

So, here I am, three weeks in, I’ve read the entire ArcGIS manual, collected oodles of data, found and picked the brain of somebody who actually knows ArcGIS, and have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to make this map. And, though it’s not quite what I expected to be doing, it’s been fun, learning something completely new from scratch, essentially by myself.

What have I learned from this experience? That you should probably talk to the person that is your direct supervisor before you take a position AND that sometimes a little miscommunication is a good thing. Oh, and a lot of ArcGIS!

(An aside: I got the position through the Stanback Internship program, which, if you don’t know, is a one-of-a-kind program at Duke. Mr. Stanback, a very generous Duke Alum, chooses several dozen environmental organizations each summer to create internship positions for which only Duke students can apply. He then pays the Duke students that fill these positions.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2012 Interns Scatter

I’m looking forward to hearing about your summer experiences!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Drink Milk

Although my teeth have safely navigated metric tons of the small stones frequently stored in cooked rice here in Indonesia (i.e. they don’t wash their rice very thoroughly), a hidden bone in a piece of chicken thought to be boneless led to the splitting of a tooth presumed to be sound. I am annoyed to have no pictures of the dental facility I then visited — a small room built onto the side of a rather nice house, not tall enough for me to stand in, and a small plastic chair in the waiting room (with a magazine on it!).

One nice feature of Indonesian dentistry is that, maybe since most people are relative(to, say, a government bureaucrat or adult film magnate)ly quite poor, they have to work pretty much all the time. Apparently most dentists (of those that work at public hospitals/clinics during the day) work additional hours in the morning (from 6 – 8 AM) and evening (from 5-8 PM). Pretty packed workday! If you’ve got customers (judging by some teeth I’ve seen, many do not – poverty + dental care do not go hand in hand). But it also contributes to the the home facilities being less than modern — probably something picked up from their day-job when it acquired new equipment (which, based upon my experience, must have been around 1972). Anyway, F(supply, demand, PPP*) = cheap dental care.

Quality: Uncertain, seems OK though, and a definite improvement over a broken tooth. Low point: painful drilling against exposed nerve. Bright side: (besides it being the cheapest dental work I’ve ever had, or about 2 days wages for a day laborer[!]) a very friendly dentist who just chattered away at me the whole time, and the fact that she was working late.

* This reminds me: why haven’t any ambitious econ grad students developed an alternative PPP scale for grad researchers in foreign countries? It’s high time we really know what a Big Mac is costing us in Kuala Lumpur when we are buying it with nearly tapped-out government loan money.^

^Why are interest rates near historic lows, yet student loans are still pegged at 7%? Is the answer Obamacare?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment