Thursday, April 22, 2010

summer plans!

What a whirlwind of a semester! For a while there, I was worried I might not be able to handle all that I set out to do... I enrolled in one-too-many classes, I started the CHL fellows program which had associated assignments and seminar times, and on top of that I had volunteering duties and interviews/applications for summer internships to think about!

Now, I am gradually checking my school assignments off my list, my CHL Fellows project group is zooming through our projects, and I am feeling like I may have finally gotten the hang of this grad school thing. The end of the semester is in sight, leaving me to think about my exciting summer internship, in which I will be.... (drumroll please)
... working on Health Impact Assessment (HIA) projects at Human Impact Partners in Oakland, CA! I am truly excited by this opportunity to join HIP, a firm that is working with groups around the country to evaluate local and state policies from a public health perspective.

I feel fortunate to have landed this opportunity, as I feel like the HIA method is a great application of the combined fields of public health and city planning. I think it will be a chance for me to gain new skills and an increased awareness of policy-making processes. Yay!

Other than that, it is also nice to daydream about having a better work-life balance during the summer. Already, even as I work on my final projects I find my mind wandering, thinking about all the books I want to read, meals I want to cook, and outings that I want to take now that I will have evenings and weekends free... at least for the next three months!

Thanks to the CHL fellows for being such a great sounding board during these past few months. I'm excited to hear about how everyone's summer jobs turn out!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

using food to make friends and influence people!

I must start this entry with an apology -- I have been lagging on my blog responses! I have been far busier and stressed these couple weeks than I would have liked, but I am just starting to see a light (and a spring break in Boston) at the end of the tunnel.

This week, we have a blog prompt contributed by a group of my fellow fellows, and it reads: "Have you used food in a professional or personal situation to get something done ar achieve a goal? THEN, share with us with a recipe or dish!

Well here's a blog prompt I can speak to quite easily! For me, my entree into the foodie world really began when I graduated college and began working and living on an educational farm and open space preserve called Hidden Villa. I was charged with developing, publicizing, and implementing educational programs, all while living amidst an idyllic farm nestled in the California foothills which produced livestock and vegetables. During that period, we didn't just use food to achieve a goal: food WAS our goal. I taught youth and family about the ecology and farming principles that went into our Community Supported Agriculture system, and at the end of the day went home to eat delicious meals lovingly grown and prepared by friends. Food became a means of connection to our place, the changing of the seasons, and to our community.

After that lucky stint, I then went off to Costa Rica and Ecuador, where I volunteered for several sustainable agriculture and environmental education organizations, most notable of which was a participatory research organization called MACRENA (you can read about the organization here). Through "Escuelas de Campo", the organization works with community leaders in rural and indigenous farming communities, developing successful practices for pesticide reduction and soil & water conservation in a way that respects the inherent knowledge of the residents. Again, here the process of growing, preparing, and sharing food was imbued with incredible meaning and power. Over seemingly mundane and repetitive tasks, such as cleaning garlic or sowing seeds, we laughed, shared farming knowledge, and reveled in our common goals.

Finally, my time with Urban Sprouts, first as a garden & nutrition educator and now as an advisory board member, tested the limits of my beliefs in gardening and food as a means to build community. It was one thing to work with self-selecting 'hobby farmers' in California or rural communities that had been farming for centuries. But would skeptical city kids take to dirt, worms, and hard work?

Luckily they did, although the task of gaining their trust and interest was much harder than I could have ever imagined. The schools we worked in were overwhelming and sometimes dysfunctional. Although I certainly can't claim that our little gardens solved all of their problems, I did see that we provided a nurturing environment amidst the chaos, for which students and staff were grateful.

I hope to continue using food in various ways, in the future - I'm still trying to figure out how. But first -- a recipe!

These are definitely the lemon bars that made me a fan of lemon bars. A silky, super lemony sweet-n-tart curd, paired with a crispy buttery shortbread. (It's not for the faint of heart!) I won't reprint the recipe here, but you can find it on this site.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

reflecting on leadership skills... is making my head spin!

So the prompt of the week is as follows: "What do you think are the key skills leaders in public health need in order to be successful, and why? What skills are you most interested in developing over the course of the fellows program?"

I have to admit, maybe it's the fact that I have been staring at spreadsheets and data all day, but this question immediately made my brow furrow. What specific skills, out of all the leadership 'competencies' to choose from, do I think are the MOST relevant to my future career? Aren't they all important? I think this 'fog of confusion' may also stem from my confusion about what types of jobs I want to have, in what types of institutions... if I can't figure that out, how can I figure out what skills I will need?

Okay, enough of my bourgeoisie suffering. Leadership skills are inherently transferrable, so for me the question becomes: What leadership skills am I good at? Where do I need some improvement, and where am I lousy? Is it better to be pretty good at all the 'leadership competencies', or excellent at a few? What is my leadership 'style'?

For reference, here are the leadership competencies given to us, at the start of the program:
  • communication
  • initiative
  • interpersonal skills
  • meeting facilitation
  • organizational awareness
  • professional integrity
  • project management
  • relationship-building
  • self-confidence
  • self-development & awareness
  • strategic thinking & problem-solving
  • team work

Luckily, I have leadership experiences to draw from when pondering these questions - both examples of when I rose to the occasion, and times when I flopped spectacularly. The times when I excelled were invigorating, especially when I felt like I was part of a well-functioning team, with shared values and similar work styles. The best teams I have been a part of were empowering, and all of us felt like leaders even if we had one "team leader".

But the flops were perhaps much more instructive for me -- I think what I have really learned from the more tense work experiences I have had is that I do not handle conflict very well! I definitely have a high standard for values and professional integrity, so when these are somehow lacking, I have trouble functioning. In that respect, I think that problem-solving and interpersonal skills will be really important for me to develop, especially as I am moving into a new and unfamiliar field. Relationship-building is another... I definitely prefer getting to know people one-on-one and in small groups, so "networking" events just tire me out.

On that note, back to data!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Center for Digital Storytelling... they are awesome!

A few weeks into the CHL Fellows program, I'm feeling grateful for all the new experiences we are already having, in addition to those yet to come.

Last week we had a workshop with the Center for Digital Storytelling, and it was a surprising and powerful experience, Their devoted and charismatic staff compressed what could have taken days into a 10-hour, intensive primer on the process of video storytelling. Our task was to create a video using no more than 250 words and 15 images, which explained why we want to be leaders in the field of public health. We spent a few hours writing and honing our narratives, and then got a fast lesson in video and sound editing to polish it all off. The day just flew by, and when we finally had our debut party at 5 pm it was really amazing to see all the stories come together!

It definitely felt empowering to learn how to craft a message using media I wasn't familiar with. Although I gained a lot from the process of trying to distill my goals in this compelling format, my favorite part of the workshop was learning about the breadth of life experiences amongst our cohort of 12. The stories ran the gamut, and made me appreciate how diverse our goals, talents, and perspectives are. (Well, maybe as diverse as perspectives can be within the liberal bubble of Berkeley.)

I know I definitely struggled to say something meaningful within the 250 word limit, and though I think I could have gone a number of directions with my narrative, I ultimately decided to pay tribute people and places that have inspired me in the last few years. Without much further ado, here it is!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a quick post to share some photos from winter break!

top: me at the 360-degree monet waterlily room at the musee orangerie, paris!

I just wanted to post a few links to photos from my winter break. I feel so lucky to have had a true break, filled with exciting travels, lots of "firsts", and only a little bit of work.

From Dec 18-31st, my partner Jordan and I took our first long-distance train trip, starting in Phoenix, AZ and ending in New Orleans. It was my first experience with Amtrak, and I sincerely hope it won't be the last! After a lovely couple of days hiking in the Phoenix and Tucson deserts, we hopped on the train for the first leg of our trip, from Tucson to San Antonio, TX. I loved staying in our little "roomette" in the sleeper car (dimensions: approximately 6 feet by 3.5 feet) and it was a great experience going to the dining car for all our meals. After a couple days in San Antonio (which coincided with Christmas day, which meant most places were closed), we hopped back on the train for the culmination of our trip: four days in New Orleans, where neither of us had ever been. Some photos below...

photos from NOLA: "Katrina graffiti" still visible on houses from the post-storm rescue efforts; Jordan admiring a plate of PRALINE BACON (yes, that's right) from Elizabeth's cafe; a new recycling center that has opened up in the Garden District

The whole trip was fun, but for us urban-planning geeks the true highlight was exploring the diverse neighborhoods of New Orleans. Though evidence of destruction was still plainly visible in some areas, we were wowed by the vibrancy of the city and were happy to see evidence of so many community development, environmental, and health projects that have sprung up in the recent years.

After returning to California for a few days, I went on another trip to Paris with my mom! Another first for me. Although we got caught in a wintry storm, we had fun exploring the art museums, taking advantage of the fabulous metro system, and sampling from the numerous neighborhood bakeries we had near our hotel. Although no city is without problems, Paris definitely has a lot going for it and I hope I can visit again and again in my life. Here's a gratuitous shot of the Tour Eiffel on a foggy night:

That's all for now!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Welcome to my newest adventure: becoming a "public health leader"!

Hello out there, whoever may be reading this!

After a winding career path thus far, filled with twist, turns, and mostly pleasant surprises, I am happy to report that I find myself at an exciting point in my schooling. I've completed three semesters of a dual Master's program in City & Regional Planning and Public Health at UC Berkeley, with another three to go.

Because the MCP/MPH is a rather small and undefined program, I have fumbled a bit, trying to figure out where I fit into BOTH programs and sometimes feeling like I fit in neither. But all of a sudden, as I am starting Spring classes this week, I feel like something has finally "clicked" - I am truly excited about my classes, and I finally feel like I have a grasp of what is possible for me to achieve in the next few semesters, as I build my professional network and make decisions about what I want to do after this whole experience is over. (Admittedly, everything is rosier at the start of a semester -- ask me how I'm feeling again when I'm swamped and cranking out biostatistics problem sets!)

Another big component of why I am so optimistic is that I am about to embark on an exciting adventure: I have been selected to participate in the Center for Health Leadership Fellowship, part of Berkeley's School of Public Health! Together with nine other public health students, spanning wide-ranging disciplines, I will be a "guinea pig" in this newly-minted, three-semester "boot camp" in leadership development. This intensive and personalized program will include, among other things: workshops, case studies, reading groups, service learning projects, individual evaluations... and ultimately, personal reflection and growth. I am truly grateful for this opportunity. I don't pretend that it will always be fun or easy. Still, I do know that I will only get as much out of the experience as I invest in it, and I'm hopeful that I'll emerge with a better sense of self and of my goals. (As well as a "30-second elevator speech" that is a lot less rambly than the one I currently use.)

Which brings me to the ultimate purpose of this blog: to document my thoughts, questions, worries, joys, and so on as I work through this process. Yes, this blog is technically "required" as part of our program - but I will do my best to be honest about my thoughts and I'll try to make it fun. I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to talk later about what I'm discovering in both public health and urban planning, at which point I'll trouble you with my internal debates (What does city planning have to do with health, and vice versa? Why study these topics together, when in most cities these departments barely talk to each other?!).

For our introductory post, however, we have been encouraged to share an example of leadership that we have found, and talk about why it moves us. In remembrance of MLK Jr. Day, there are a wealth of inspiring examples I could talk about, but I'll share one that's especially relevant to public health. A few days ago, my friend sent me a video of a talk by Hans Rosling, a Professor of International Health at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet. In his quest to make vital social, economic, and health data accessible to people and organizations the world over, he founded the Gapminder Foundation, a clearinghouse for information presented in easy-to-understand formats. (Check out the video below - he makes great "data cartoons"!)

Watch Hans Rosling's talk at TED here.

Now, he makes analyses that not everyone will agree on (as evidenced by the vigorous debate in the video's comment section), but I think that is the point. His intention is to provoke us with data, start conversations, challenge our assumptions, and make us want to dig deeper and get to the roots of social inequities. All of which require tremendous leadership skills: the ability to communicate your points, understanding where people are coming from, and being strongly committed to your values.

His work also recalls that of Edward Tufte, another "data artist" who I just <3. Here's his website... though oddly, for someone who creates such stunning books and graphics, this site is a jumbled mess. Check out his book, Envisioning Information, for a better introduction. I've heard that Beautiful Evidence is similarly mind-blowing.

That's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to taking you on this adventure with me!