Getting Started: Mongolian Health Initiative

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My summer research internship with the Mongolian Health Initiative officially started when I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia during the first week of July. However, as I had been in contact with my supervisor and the organization, I began some work and preparation remotely during the month of June. As such, I was able to feel adequately familiar with the organization and my research topic, and much of my work since I’ve arrived has been a continuation of the work I began in June. The internship site I am at is called the Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI), and it is located in Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital city of Mongolia. It was founded by my supervisor, Dr. Ganmaa Davasambuu, and consists of an association of physicians, scientists, epidemiologists, and policy experts. MHI’s purpose is the work towards advancing Mongolian public health through research and policy implementation. The organization has conducted the most extensive nutritional assessment on Mongolian adults to date and has ongoing training and research in micronutrients, nutritional intervention, and maternal health studies, including the ones of which I am a part.

My internship responsibilities require me  to be flexible to the needs of the study and my supervisor, which reflects the variable nature of fieldwork and research. As of now,, my responsibilities have included a) reviewing relevant literature and studies to familiarize myself with the research topic, b) reading and organizing data collected for the study a for publication, and c) writing the draft paper based on the data. As this is a fairly extensive study, I anticipate my responsibility to remain fairly focused in these three areas for the remainder of my internship.

As I was researching summer internship opportunities during the semester, I was introduced to this internship with MHI by an individual who had previously interned for Dr. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, my supervisor. I emailed Dr. Ganmaa, introduced myself, expressed interest in interning for her during the summer, and attached a resume. She responded positively, and after several emails back and forth, she accepted me as a research intern. As far as tips on securing an internship, I would emphasize how important it is to be genuinely passionate about the research being conducted! Enthusiasm and sincerity gives a great first impression, and is, of course, imperative during the internship itself.

While the first week has been largely a continuation the work I was doing remotely, it has also been growing and challenging in new ways. It has taught me to stay on my toes and be available to adapt to any situation, as projects and plans are always shifting. This has especially been true because I am a research intern at an organization where there is no official summer internship program for undergraduate students. This first week has taught me how to be both communicative and independent as a great deal of my assigned work has minimal instructions, which has allowed me to grow in my problem solving skills.  When communication has been unclear or delayed, I am learning to take the initiative more often.

This summer, I expect to learn a great deal about my study topics: a) breast cancer risk factors in urban and rural areas and b) tuberculosis and vitamin D supplementation. I also expect to learn and grow in my personal research skills, including the hands-on aspects as well as the logistics of working and collaborating in a research environment. I hope to gain exposure to research methods and take away personal applications. Already, I have found that I am learning more about data analysis, organization, and scientific publication. I’m excited for this coming month and all that this internship has to offer!

Feminist Camp: NYC

Meet Maria Gomez! She majors in cell and molecular biology and French, and wants to be an OB-GYN. She also just came back from Feminist Camp; read about her experience below:

Describe yourself and why you wanted to attend the Feminist Camp:

As a woman in STEM, I can often see the disparity that exists between men and women in these fields. When watching conferences or reading research papers, the pervasiveness of sexism in scientific academia is evident. When volunteering at the emergency department, I have seen patients refuse female doctors. However, despite being greatly affected, women in these fields often have neither the formal background nor the resources to combat this prejudice. I wanted to attend Feminist Camp in order to be better equipped to deal with these situations in my future career and to remove some of the obstacles that stand in the way of female scientists, primarily for women of color.

What were your favorite parts of the conference?

From the moment I arrived in NYC to the moment I left, I absolutely loved every part of Feminist Camp.  I was fortunate to visit Vice’s office, to watch a live taping of Democracy Now!, to view the Dinner Party exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum and to have a mini-internship at Planned Parenthood, among many other fantastic opportunities. However, the magic of the whole experience is probably best encapsulated by the afternoon spent in Gloria Steinem’s house listening to Chanel from Ancient Song Doulas. Hearing her speak about reproductive justice, how it encompasses a wide variety of choices, and how it is often not accessible to women of color or gender non-conforming individuals was truly inspiring. As an aspiring OB-GYN, I found her mission to be in direct agreement with what I want to do with my life. She showed me how to integrate my passions in a concrete manner as I seek to advocate for the dignity of women through their healthcare and personal choices.

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Maria with fellow Tulane student, Reva.

 

Highlight any information you learned about reproductive health and reproductive justice:

During the day dedicated to reproductive justice, I was able to truly experience the entire gamut of choices that women have. I visited an adoption agency and learned how they offer support and counseling to the pregnant person so that they can best choose what to do with their future. I learned how to perform an abortion on a papaya, a fruit often used during training due to its similarity in shape to the uterus.  We dispelled myths about abortion and were taught how important, yet rare abortion training is for physicians. We also heard from full spectrum doulas, who provide emotional support during adoption, abortion, birth, etc. All these experiences helped to strengthen the beautiful definition of reproductive justice, described by SisterSong as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

Detail what you learned that you hope to never forget:

This week was a transformative experience that helped me to learn about the strides we have made and the obstacles we still need to remove to influence philanthropy, the career world, reproductive justice, the media, and art as women. I met incredible individuals with powerful stories and missions. However, the most tangible lesson I learned was the strength and power that we have to create change and impact the world as women. With the current administration, it is easy to feel hopeless and defeated when seeing the advances made threatened by politicians. I hope I never forget to be inspired by our strength and the promises that our future has. This will only be possible if we fight together and advocate for our rights and those of other underprivileged communities.

Why should other students attend a Feminist Camp:

Feminist Camp is an invaluable opportunity for anyone interested in promoting women’s rights and serving as an ally for communities whose voices might often be ignored. I believe that spending this week with such a variety of hosts and fellow campers is an eye opening experience that brings a spotlight to our interests, privileges, and shortcomings. As a whole, Feminist Camp helps to narrow and specify our goals as activists while connecting us with organizations and individuals that can support and strengthen our missions.

How did this experience help with your future ambitions?

As I previously mentioned, Feminist Camp helped to motivate and guide me in navigating my future as both an aspiring medicine student and as an advocate for women’s rights. More importantly, it gave me the tools to integrate both of these aspects into a concise mission. After this week, I am more certain than ever of my future career path, and I have been connected with incredible individuals and organizations who can help me promote these goals. Personally, I’m looking forward to working with the local Planned Parenthood and the local chapter of the National Council for Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls to continue my activism. After all, it is important to take advantage of tools given throughout Feminist Camp and to actively seek the changes that we want to see in society.

 


Does this sound like something you might be interested in?  Tulane undergraduate students can apply to NCI for funding to attend Feminist Camp. Email Betsy Lopez at elopez@tulane.edu for more information.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

 

Feminist Camp: NYC

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Meet Reva Resstack! She’s majoring in economics and international development, and recently attended Feminist Camp in New York City, with help from a grant from NCI.

Describe yourself and why you wanted to attend Feminist Camp:

I’m studying economics and international development, and am soon entering the professional field! One of the themes of this year’s Feminist Camp was Feminist Philanthropy. After having worked for the Salvadoran NGO International Partners for some years, I was interested in learning more about my place as a white woman working for an international NGO that attempts to empower people to empower themselves. I wanted to learn how to introduce a feminist framework to this ideology of empowering development in my future line of work.

What were your favorite parts of the conference?

I loved going to visit Democracy Now, which was certainly an inspiring experience. We met with Amy Goodman, who is a wonderful role model to me. I also very much enjoyed getting to hear from Justine Moore on her experiences being incarcerated and how she introduced feminism in her work in all-women prison. The discussion with all the campers was fantastic, as well, as everyone was coming from a variety of backgrounds, geographic regions, and identities. I really loved listening to my fellow campers, too.

Highlight information you learned on reproductive health and reproductive justice:

I very much enjoyed getting to meet Merle Hoffman, who founded the Choices Medical Center. Choices Medical Center is a wonderful reproductive health clinic. They offer a wide range of services that allows many women to get prenatal care, abortions, postnatal care, and even therapy for the surrounding community.  We were shown a specimen in the clinic, as well, and that was fascinating. It’s smaller than an M&M!

Tell us what you learned that you hope to never forget:

I hope to never forget the passion that was in everyone both attending Feminist Camp and presenting to us as leaders of incredible feminist organizations. Everyone was determined to make sure they lived their lives as feminists, supporting one another to be the best they could be in a loving, understanding manner, and that I hope I carry with me for life.

Why should other students attend Feminist Camp?

Feminist Camp introduced me to people working at wonderful feminist organizations, including the Feminist Press, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Planned Parenthood, and the Women & Justice Project. Making those connections were invaluable. But I also got to meet a bunch of wonderful campers. Hearing both the women’s stories who started these powerful and feminist organizations and the people’s stories who came as campers was probably the most wonderful part of Feminist Camp. That was incredibly motivational.

How did this experience help with your future ambitions?

This experience helped shape how I want to implement sustainable development efforts. By taking in a feminist framework and supporting whoever I can with an emphasis on women’s capabilities in developing countries, my future ambitions will be served. While I still don’t know what I want to do, I now know that in whatever I may do, those acting with a feminist framework will be best uplifted, supported, and empowered in their efforts.

 


Does this sound like something you might be interested in? Tulane undergraduate students can apply to NCI for funding to attend Feminist Camp. Email Betsy Lopez at elopez@tulane.edu for more information.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

 

Weeks 1 and 2 in Sex Crimes!

I am interning at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Division, located in downtown LA. Even though it is fun to be in the center of the city, my hour and a half drive to and from work is never my favorite part of the day! I work in the Hall of Justice–the first few floors are for LA County Sheriffs and the top floors are for DAs, including the District Attorney of LA County Jackie Lacey (unfortunately I haven’t run into her in the elevator yet). Last year I actually worked in the same building in Major Crimes. I work in general sex crimes, but some of my intern friends in the same office work for human trafficking. Within the office there is a focus on all types of sex crimes. The office itself differs from other offices that I have interned in before, because this office has several rooms for interviewing adult victims, a room for interviewing child victims, and even a room for comfort dogs to be utilized during the interviews (the dogs have yet to be seen but they are coming!).

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As one of two undergrads who is interning, I am expected to be paired with an intern who is in law school while we both help DAs. Every 2 weeks we get assigned to a DA that we will help with whatever they need. We also get to accompany the DA to court pretty much every day. The court is conveniently across the street, which sometimes means that there is a lot of running back and forth when the DAs need something from their offices. In the past 2 weeks I have done a few different tasks for the DA I was assigned to. I organized a case file (DAs are given a lot of copies of various papers so removing repeats helps make things clearer for court), I transcribed an interview with a suspect, and I helped her with a presentation she gives to volunteers who help with victims.

In addition to helping the DA we are assigned to, the interns are expected to screen cases in our free time (we are also assigned a whole week where we only screen cases). The process of screening is when detectives write up reports that are submitted to the DA’s office where they are read and are either declined or moved forward to an interview. If we screen a case that moves forward to an interview we are expected to sit in on that interview, which I have already been able to do. It was very interesting to watch the preparation that goes into a victim interview, and how the DA has to be very careful to not ask leading questions, but also try to get as much information as possible so that they don’t have to bring the victim in for an interview more than necessary.

The Assistant Head Deputy of the office, Jodi Link, is the person who runs the law clerk program and she also runs many trainings with law clerks, DAs, and law enforcement. Last week I went to one of the trainings for law enforcement and it was quite a treat! She is very entertaining and I could tell everyone in the room left very informed. It was beneficial to go to the training before I sat in on an interview with the victim, because at the training she went into detail about questions to ask victims. I actually found this internship because last summer I went to a law clerk training for my position at Major Crimes and Ms. Link was running the training. I liked her leadership style and emailed her shortly after about possibly interning in her office. Interestingly enough, the only other undergrad working in the office with me (there are about 15 interns total) got the internship in the same way. So as a piece of advice for others, I would say that going out on a limb and showing interest in something definitely puts you ahead of other candidates.

This summer is already very hectic, every single day I come home with stories to tell my parents. Every case is fascinating in its own way and I consider myself lucky that in my internship when I have to read a bunch of files, it’s basically like reading a Law & Order: SVU storyline. That being said, the subject matter is very difficult. It’s plain to see that the DAs in the Sex Crimes Office have something in them that allows them to work these cases and still lead normal lives and have families. Because I have interned in DA’s offices before, I think the biggest thing I hope to learn by the end of this summer is if I can handle these types of cases, or if this type of work is not something I should pursue. In addition, I plan on going to law school and being surrounded by law students is the best thing I could have done right now they are full of advice and a few have even offered old LSAT prep books, so as another piece of advice if you’re planning on going to grad school befriend people in grad school!

From Coding to Dissecting: My First Two Weeks in the BG&R Lab

I have officially finished my first two weeks working with Dr. Kristin Miller and her team at the Biomechanics of Growth and Remodeling lab! The BG&R Lab dedicates its time to researching the tissue within woman’s reproductive system, specifically what mechanical properties factor into the deterioration of strength in the pelvic wall. There are multiple projects within this area of study, specifically two focusing on Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and Pre-term Birth. There are also projects that focus on tendons in the leg and aortic dissection, which is a tear in the inner lining of the heart that leads to blood leakage. Basically, what the BG&R lab all boils down to is the study of how the extra-cellular matrix (ECM) of tissue reacts to stress and strain.

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Walking into the lab on the first day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worked in the lab a bit this past semester, but I knew the direction of my responsibilities were more than likely to change come summer. I thought that I would probably be another lab hand, helping with some experiments, making solutions, and reading papers. I was more than surprised when I was told by my supervisor Cassie, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Tulane, that I would be working on my own project! I have now undertaken the task of writing the code for a new plug-in being used to model the tissue we use in our experiments.

That probably sounds like jibberish to most people, and it did to me too at first. I soon learned that the software we use to model our experimental data is called FEBio and is used for Finite Element Analysis. Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computerized method for predicting how a product reacts to real-world forces, vibration, heat, fluid flow, and other physical effects. (1) This type of analysis allows us to measure how the tissue we work with should react to different stress and strain values placed on it, and whether it will break, bend, stretch and hold its authenticity, or whether it will lose its strength. As a computer science major, I have experience with many different programming languages, including C++ which FEBio is programmed in. I was surprised to find out that I was the only one in the lab with exposure to this language, and that they needed me to decipher their problem of creating a “plug in.” What a plug in does is allow us to model our tissue in FEBio using the parameters that we know through our experimentation affect our material. This comes in the form of an 8-page constitutive model, which is basically just a long and complex equation that models how the tissue behaves. (It’s as scary as you’re thinking it is, don’t worry I’ve included a picture of the first page below). So I was given the project to take this model, take what we know about FEBio, and figure out a way to write this plug in. Once we have a running plug in, we can then use this in our models by selecting on this plug in as our “Material” in the list of parameters, that way when we apply the different values of stress and strain we will be able to see what should happen to the tissue.

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I was extremely excited to learn that I would be undertaking this project, and that everyone was looking forward to seeing what I could come up with. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on me, but it also makes me feel like I am an integral part of the lab, and a true member of the team. To me, this all seems like a big puzzle, but much more complicated because I don’t have all the pieces, so I have to find them. It’s also nice to be able to help others in the lab understand coding and C++, and makes me feel my studying and skills are really paying off. Now I know this may sound extremely boring to some people, and trust me at times it is. I have also had the chance to see other aspects of the lab, such as touring the surgery rooms and observing how the rats are dissected and their tissue is prepared for loading in our biaxial testing machine (Pictured below). I am very excited for the rest of the summer, and to see what I am capable of accomplishing in terms of determining how to write this plug in. I am also anticipating getting to do some hands on work, such as dissections and tissue testing.

I love the possibilities this internship provides, and am glad that I will get to continue this into the school year. In the Biomedical Engineering curriculum, there is a required course called “Research and Professional Practice,” which basically just means working in a lab underneath a professor and taking on your own project within their lab. It is incredible that I have gotten the opportunity to start building a relationship with the members of this lab, and that I will get to continue my project through my junior and senior year in the same lab. I was fortunate that all of the professors in the BME department are very receptive to undergraduate students joining their labs, so this internship opportunity was not too difficult to find. If you are looking for an internship in research, there are so many opportunities at Tulane that you can take advantage of. Just reaching out to a professor you may enjoy learning from, and doing your own investigating into what they study is the first step in this process. I can promise from experience that it pays off, and hopefully it will lead to an incredible opportunity to grow both academically and professionally.

(1) https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/finite-element-analysis

My First Month with NOAF!

Since starting my internship with NOAF, I’ve been most surprised to learn about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. I spent a good amount of time during first two weeks of my internship conducting research about the history of abortion in this country, and I’ve learned that the abortion narratives I grew up hearing are simply unfactual. For instance, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 59% of women receiving an abortion have already had at least one child and 62% are spiritual. Raised in suburban Ohio at an all-girls Catholic high school, I never heard these stories. As it turns out, neither did most of my friends and family. So it’s been fascinating to have these conversations with people I love. Though sorting through decades of misinformation can often be difficult, I’ve found that people are usually willing to talk to me, if only because the information is coming directly from someone they know.

As the weeks have progressed, I’ve moved toward working on NOAF’s first community canvassing project. During the last week in July, we’ll be canvassing the neighborhood surrounding the Women’s Health Care Center – New Orleans’ only abortion clinic. A large chunk of my work for the past two weeks has consisted of meeting with other organizers in Louisiana to explore options and goals for the canvas, setting up organizational details, and publicizing among NOAF members. I’ve also been working as a clinic escort one morning per week in front of the Women’s Health Care Center, ensuring that the space is safe and as comfortable as possible for patients amidst the protesters. On those mornings, I’ve really enjoyed meeting other clinic escorts and hearing their stories.

One piece of advice I’ve received this summer is that, as a mission-driven young person, the best place for me to make an impact on health injustices will change throughout my career. One year I might be working with a non-profit, the next in an elected official’s office, the next with a consulting firm. Therefore, it’s important to me that I gain experiences in multiple professional spaces. My internship with NOAF has allowed me to learn how a local non-profit works, but has also given me the opportunity to meet with and learn from folks working with diverse types of organizations. I’ve met with an organizer from a brand new New Orleans non-profit, talked with a clinic administrator in a more conservative area of the state, and heard from a regional administrator of a large national organization. It’s becoming clear to me that there are thousands of ways to be involved in this work and that the work couldn’t be accomplished without all of them. One thing everyone can do, though, is inform themselves about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. The Guttmacher Institute is a wonderful resource for this. Once you have some facts, you can start conversations. And conversations are a powerful tool for culture change.

Great Start to Internship in Paris

Hello everyone! I’m Angelica Nahalka, and I’m a rising senior double majoring in Political Science and French, with a minor in Public Health. After a slow start due to some organizational complications, I have finally started my internship at L’Alternative Urbaine in Paris. I’ve spent the past year studying abroad at Sciences Po, through the EDUCO program and have been thrilled to be able to spend the summer in Paris as an intern. L’Alternative Urbaine is a small non-governmental organization that works with people who have been unemployed, often due to homelessness, and gives them the opportunity to lead walking tours of Paris’s neighborhoods. This gives them the opportunity to reintegrate into the workforce and build up their CVs. Additionally, L’Alternative Urbaine helps these individuals navigate the social provisions available to them under the French government. In this way, L’alternative Urbaine also promotes responsible tourism, where those in need are being benefitted and where tourists get an especially intimate and authentic view of the city. L’Alternative Urbaine’s headquarters are also just a couple minutes’ walk away from the Catacombs and the historic Place Denfert-Rochereau, and are located in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, the same neighborhood where I lived with my French host mother during the school year! 

During my internship, I will be helping with the development of a new walking tour of the La Défense area, Paris’s central business district, located on the city’s western edge by the Bois du Boulogne, a large swath of forest preserve. Additionally, I’ll be helping manage the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages, so like or follow L’Alternative Urbaine! After my first meeting with my internship supervisor, co-founder of L’Alternative Urbaine, Esperanza Falero, I attended a volunteer and tour guide event focused around team building and getting to know each other. These events happen periodically throughout the month so reinforce the sense of community within L’Alternative Urbaine. We were asked to construct well-known Parisian landmarks featured in L’Alternative Urbaines tours out of Legos and discuss how to most effectively work in a team. I met fellow volunteers and was able to discuss other project the organization was working on, like expanding its volunteer base.

This internship will also provide many opportunities to improve my French and help me learn about the struggles homeless people face in France, and how they compare to those faced by homeless people in the United States. In France, the homeless are referred to as personnes sans domicile fixe, or people without a fixed place to live. Homelessness can be seen throughout Paris, and in all neighborhoods, regardless of the area’s wealth. The social dynamics surrounding homelessness in France differ from those in the United States, where a lesser degree of basic government aid is available to those who are unemployed. These are issues and differences I am still working to understand. Regardless of the country, however, a person living on the street has been failed by the governmental provisions in place in one way or another, and I hope to use my internship to better understand these failings and how they can be fixed, especially through small but mighty organizations such as L’Alternative Urbaine!

Research and writing about STI knowledge

Working with Dr. Alyssa Lederer over the past several weeks has been an incredible opportunity to expand my research skills and explore sexuality health education issues. Our primary project is conducting qualitative research on STI knowledge of college students. Alyssa previously designed an instrument to assess students’ understanding of critical sexuality health information before and after viewing an educational program. A central question of the post evaluation asked about new information students learned from the intervention. The uniqueness of our research stems from the qualitative research design. While the pre and post-test format provides quantitative data about particular items, the open-ended question allows students to delineate information they explicitly learned as a result of the program. I have spent the past few weeks categorizing the data to essentially quantify a qualitative measure.

I am amazed at how much I have learned so far this summer! In addition to learning a new data assessment technique, I have further developed my research presentation skills by refining literature review searches and understanding the somewhat formulaic nature of manuscript writing. I have identified partner sex communication scales that will contribute to the National College Health Assessment survey. While I enjoy the autonomy of the position, I appreciate my weekly meetings with Alyssa to deliberate over details of the research process and discuss interesting findings.

As a rising senior, the end of college is bittersweetly approaching. While my desire to become a physician has not wavered, I hope to explore the health field in the areas of health education and advocacy prior to diving into the medical area. Conducting research on gaps in sexuality health education and possible adverse implications has solidified my resolution to alleviate structural inadequacies in the health field. I was shocked at how deficient my sexual health knowledge (as well as many of the participants) was prior to working on this project. I hope to work with other reproductive health and rights interns to expose the Tulane community to the key issues we are working on.

Speeding through Summer

I am just about a little over the half-way point of my internship with Senator Gillibrand. I have learned more than I could ever imagine and have gained insight that I would not be able to receive in a classroom setting. The constituents that contact the casework department come from a variety of background, with differing amounts of knowledge of the powers of the government, and with a spectrum of needs they want the Senator to assist them with.

Working with constituents on their cases that usually impact their daily lives has challenged me to figure out how to best handle each situation in the moment. I have enjoyed collaborating with my team of co-interns who help me to determine what the best course of action is for dealing with difficult cases. When I receive difficult callers, I am forced to remain calm and ascertain the best way to diffuse the situation. After taking many of these calls, I am now much more confident in talking to all types of people that range in their emotional response.

My co-interns at the office are likeminded and passionate about public service. Sharing common interests has brought us close and I feel that I have established strong connections with my peers that I can rely on to help me in the future. My supervisor has also been a great resource. Her perspective has allowed me to see things from a different point of view and taught me how to process cases in the most efficient manner.

My supervisor has also assigned my intern team policy memos and briefs to give to her on issues in our portfolio. I learned more about how New Yorkers are impacted by housing regulations and human trafficking laws and how the laws vary from state to federal level. These issues are of particular interest to me and I’m glad I have had the opportunity to learn more about them.

This internship has allowed me to hone skills that can apply to any career I may have in the future. We recently had Senator Gillibrand’s Senior Advisor, Geri Shaprio, come share her experience with us. Mrs. Shapiro changed her career path at 59 and has worked for Hillary Clinton and Senator Gillibrand, committing the past 17 year to public service. One piece of advice she gave us was be able to speak truth to power. From a young age, girls are taught to be quiet and respect higher powers, especially powerful men. Mrs. Shapiro’s advice is something that will stick with me wherever I go because I know that if I want to be taken seriously, I have to give honest feedback to my superiors.

I look forward to the rest of the internship and hopefully meeting the Senator as she begins to attend several events in the New York area.

Feminist Camp: Seattle

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Meet Tina Nguyen! She’s a gender and sexuality studies major with an interest in developing a career in the OBGYN field. She also just got back from Feminist Camp in Seattle, thanks to a grant from NCI.

Describe yourself and why you wanted to attend Feminist Camp:

I have considered myself to be a feminist from a young age, and yet, in college, I found myself still struggling to define feminism. I knew that there was no hard and fast definition, but I wanted to develop my own sense of feminism and understand how it could inform my life.  I wanted to go to Feminist Camp because I believed that it would allow me to learn from other like-minded individuals about their feminism and how they use their feminism in their everyday lives. I was also intrigued that Feminist Camp placed a lot of emphasis on feminist career and professional development. I didn’t quite understand what that meant as it was advertised to me, but it sounded like the opportunity that I was searching for. I major in gender and sexuality studies here at Tulane, but my goal is to go to medical school to become a gynecologist and obstetrician. As someone heading into the medical field, I am always anxious that I won’t be able to engage in feminism in the same way as I have done in college, and I was hoping that this program would give me the proper skills necessary to carry my feminist ideals with me in my many endeavors to come.

What were your favorite parts of the conference?

There was so much that I loved about this conference, but first and foremost, my favorite part about Feminist Camp is the community that I was able to be a part of. From the program director, to the site coordinators, to the campers themselves, I felt that over the course of five short days, we were able to build and sustain a close-knit community that felt comfortable. This type of instant friendship and community is rare, and I feel fortunate to have been able to contribute and learn. This small group of women were supportive and respectful, enabling every member of the group to show their vulnerability and express their strengths. I learned so much simply through the exchange of stories and life experiences with these incredible women.

Feminist Camp cannot be classified as a conference or a program, because its non-traditional approach is what makes this experience special. The speakers who shared their experiences were able to speak from a deeply personal place, and part of that is due to the small size of the group. Each talk was very tailored to the needs of the group and every speaker worked to tackle some of the biggest questions that we had. One of the most unexpected portions of this week was getting to spend a day at a major video game studio called Bungie. We started the day at the studio with a panel speaking to the women who worked there, and it was fascinating to learn about their struggles in a field where I did not even expect to find feminism at all. The work that they do to change the status quo in the gaming industry is inspiring, and it’s encouraging to know that progress is being made.

Lastly, I loved getting to know Seattle over the course of my week at Feminist Camp. Surprisingly, the weather was more than beautiful, and the group was able to bond outside of camp hours by exploring Seattle’s various neighborhoods and soaking in everything the city had to offer. We were able to fall in love with the city, while at the same time learning about the problems that Seattle faces. It seemed that Seattle was in on our Feminist Camp program, and I found that everything from restaurants to bauble shops embodied the feminist values that we spent all week speaking about. Seattle’s Town Hall hosts many talks, and we were lucky enough to attend a talk by Ijeoma Oluo, who wrote a viral article on Rachel Dolezal, and her brother, Ahamefule Oluo, renowned musician and comedian. This talk was completely unplanned on our part, but the themes spoken about addressed the issues that we had been discussing in our camp sessions. Later that same night, we met Lindy West, notable for her writing in Jezebel and The Guardian, and fellow feminist. It was these unplanned happenings that proved that Seattle was the perfect location for Feminist Camp.

Tell us something you learned on reproductive health and reproductive justice:

This program was not particularly centered on reproductive health and reproductive justice; however our first day of sessions was geared towards reproductive justice. One of the first speakers that we heard from was from NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and she told us a story that spoke volumes about the stigma that surrounds abortion. As a young woman, this speaker was asked to be on an MTV special that featured women who had gone through an abortion, but since she was not showing enough remorse, the show host harassed her on television in the effort to make her cry for ratings. This horrible experience enabled her to jumpstart a career in the fight for reproductive justice, and her main mode for doing so is through storytelling. What I took away from this experience was that the fight for reproductive justice is deeply personal. Women’s health and reproductive justice issues are often framed as these overly political problems, and the truth of the matter is, these issues affect people on an individual level and their voices are the most important.     

Detail what you learned that you hope to never forget:

While the speakers that we heard from were from all different professional backgrounds, they all touched on a couple of themes that threaded their sessions together. One piece of advice was to learn how to recognize your own self-worth. Even incredible women who are experts in their field have a hard time believing in their own worth. Many of these leaders asked us to believe in ourselves and our own abilities because that will enable us to demand what is rightfully ours. One speaker particularly told us to value our time. I find myself giving away my time very willingly in an effort to feel useful, but she asked us to value the time and energy that we put into projects. Sharing your expertise, energy, or time should not be for free. This same speaker asked us to view ourselves as resources. It is so easy to look at another person and see what they can offer you, but very hard to figure out what you have to offer.

Another piece of advice that stuck with me was the concept that your input should equal the output. For every project, personal or professional, if you put in time and energy, the output should be equal to that.  So often, women will put in so much emotional and physical work and the payoff does not adequately compensate for that work. Establishing this output/input equilibrium has allowed many successful women to find a career path that is fulfilling and which enables them to do meaningful work.

After this week, I have so much more confidence in how feminism is going to play a role in my future career. One of the easiest ways to incorporate feminism into everyday life is to support other women. Women supporting women and building that network was another common thread among the many speakers that we heard from. Giving everyone the space that they need to grow and succeed is very important feminist work, and I hope that I can bring that philosophy with me to Tulane and beyond. The reason that we were able to speak to so many wise and successful women on this trip was because they have built a feminist network with each other. Many of them had come into contact with each other before regardless of the fact that their careers were drastically different due to the fact that each person we spoke to goes out of their way to support women doing good work in their city.

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Why should other students attend Feminist Camp?

I might still be in the conference afterglow, but I think that anyone who is interested even remotely should try to attend Feminist Camp because it was an impactful experience. The past year has been very rough with the recent presidential election and a news cycle that always seems to be full of negatives. Feminist Camp reminded me that there are people who think just like me and who are actively working to change the status quo. Also, at the point in my life where my future feels very up in the air, it was reassuring to hear from successful women that life is not linear, and that it’s fine to make mistakes and take unexpected turns. It might sound cheesy, but students should go to Feminist Camp to be inspired. If anything, you’ll leave camp with a brand new network and reliable friends. I feel grateful that I have a community like NCI at Tulane, but many of the other campers felt like outsiders on their campuses and in their lives. Feminist Camp gave us a chance to dig deep into feminism and learn how to embody it in our work.

How did this experience help with your future ambitions?

I’ve already hit on most of the professional advice that I received above, but this week has really solidified my desire to become a doctor. I believe that I can make a change in the medical field where so often women, non-binary folks, people of color, among so many others are not taken seriously. People ask me all of the time why I want to be a doctor, and my answer to that is that I want to support women. As someone who wants to be an OBGYN, I see this field as my space to embody the idea of women supporting women. Camp has made me more passionate and excited as ever to move forward in my career.

 


Does this sound like something you might be interested in?  Tulane undergraduate students can apply to NCI for funding to attend Feminist Camp. Email Betsy Lopez at elopez@tulane.edu for more information.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.