An Environment Like No Other

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2019 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Ruth T. Lee, BSN ’20

Interning in DC at the Environmental Protection Agency has been an incredible experience for me, both due to the internship itself and its location. In the internship itself, I worked with others to develop educational outreach materials for Vietnamese, Burmese, Nepalese, Filipino, and the Mongolian immigrant communities in Lancaster, PA who have higher blood lead levels than those in Flint, MI during the water crisis. I feel honored to have worked on an initiative like this after learning about environmental justice at the beginning of the internship. I also had the opportunity to talk to Asian American Pacific Islander leaders in the government and universities and prepare briefing materials based on my research.

Through interning and attending events in DC, I have learned about government structure and processes to a depth that I could not have understood just from learning in a classroom. I attended the Asia Policy Assembly, Senate hearings on topics like transportation and religious freedom, congressional briefings on topics like the HPV vaccine, and events held by NGOs on topics like Supreme Court decisions, speechwriting, and Medicare. On the Fourth of July, I took the opportunity of being in DC to attend President Trump’s Salute to America speech and watch the fireworks over the National Mall. These events made me think more about topics that my classes at Penn discussed, including nationalism, preventive education, and foreign policy. I was struck by how divisive the atmosphere seemed at times between the people of this nation and those of others. It seemed like many forget that it is only by chance that we were born in one country, thus ‘belonging’ to it, and not another.

Through events of the International Leadership Foundation Civic Fellowship, I learned about the importance of civic engagement and different ways of effecting change as a non-politician. We went on a four-hour monuments tour, during which I presented about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and his incredible contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The tour covers controversies surrounding the monuments’ events and figures. As a result, I gained a deeper understanding of the messiness of history, especially that of the United States. Despite its messiness, I was encouraged by how what I believe are good American values have stayed over time, though they may be distorted by the reality of world politics and events at times. This was especially apparent when I visited the museums in DC, which are one of my favorite parts of being here for the summer.

While I gained much from the work and events themselves, I learned just as much from my colleagues, the other students in the Civic Fellowship, and others in DC. They have inspired me with their values, work ethic, and passion in what they are pursuing. Through my time in DC, I have developed a clearer understanding of how I can use my skills to contribute to global health equity, whether through the U.S. government or elsewhere. Knowing this and everything I have learned in the past few months, I deeply appreciate all that this invaluable summer has been for me.

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