Intern Perspective: High school student impacted by local environmental justice issues

This summer the Community Outreach and Engagement team had the pleasure of hosting interns ranging from high school to masters level students. Maggie Shi, a high school senior from Yorba Linda, CA spend two months with us doing a variety of projects. A quick learner with a skill set that enabled her to tackle any assignment given to her, Maggie contributed in a variety of ways to the work that the Community Outreach staff and college interns did over the summer. At the end of her time with us, Maggie provided the following reflections on her experience.

I remember sitting at my desk on the first day of my internship, feeling excited, nervous, and a little out of place. As I looked around at all these unfamiliar faces around me, it dawned upon me that USC’s Division of Environmental Health probably didn’t take in many high school interns, and all the other college interns seemed much more knowledgeable and experienced than I was. Nevertheless, I knew how fortunate I was to be here, and I was still extremely excited. Thankfully, throughout the first few weeks, I was met with an incredible amount of support and enthusiasm from both my fellow interns and other employees in the office, and I quickly settled in.

About halfway through my internship, I attended a conference where a resident of Boyle Heights told her story of how her health has been negatively impacted from living in a home and community where exposure to lead is prevalent. To this day, I still remember her dry, scratchy voice, trembling as if she were calling for attention, pleading for life. As I listened to this woman fight– beg, even– for her life, I suddenly realized that I was fighting for something tangible, not some statistic in a textbook. I was fighting for people like her.

From that day on, every flyer I developed, every social media platform I worked on, even every data entry or workroom cleaning I finished, was filled with purpose. No matter how seemingly simple a duty I was given, I knew I was ultimately working to better lives, and if I had to input data the whole day (which, admittedly, only happened once), then so be it. This internship has given me so much knowledge and experience of environmental issues and science, and the affirmation and inspiration to continue this work in the future have been just as valuable.

Throughout my two months here, I’ve been involved in various projects ranging from a Toxic Household Cleaning Products workshop to social media research and development, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced things from testing soil for lead levels to researching common toxic chemicals in the household. Though my work in the office has surely proven valuable, seeing my work and the works of those around me out in communities has been invaluable. Developing posters then seeing them in full size at workshops gave me an inexplicable sense of pride and purpose that I continually used to better my work.

However, the work that I’ve done here, though clearly worthwhile, has only constituted part of my internship experience here at USC. The people I’ve worked with have been every bit influential as the projects I’ve worked on. Working alongside so many people who are dedicated to not only their jobs, but also their coworkers, inspired me to work harder and do my very best. Needless to say, this kind of inspiration will stay with me long after my work in this office is done, and I could not be more grateful for these experiences.

I am so extremely thankful and proud to have interned here at USC’s Division of Environmental Health. I came into the office in the beginning of summer, unsure of my interests and my capabilities; now, I’m leaving with so much more knowledge, passion, and inspiration to continue pursuing these interests in the future.

Thank you to everyone in the office for being so extremely passionate about your jobs and helping me become more comfortable here. Thank you to the interns who have selflessly dedicated their time to continue bettering the lives of so many. You all work so hard, so know that your work has helped and inspired so many people, me included. Thank you to my supervisors, the staff and faculty of the Division of Environmental Health. I truly hope that the work I have done here has bettered lives. I know it has bettered mine.

The posters that Maggie designed for workshops that were implemented this summer.