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!