Highlighting his experiences as an intern, D.J. Brooks offers some great advice on the best practices of being an intern. D.J. is a student at Harvard University and did an internship at Barka Foundation, a nonprofit focused on providing access to safe drinking water in Burkina Faso, West Africa. D.J. shared his story in this interview conducted by Jane Horowitz, More Than A Resumé.
Did you have specific career plans when you started college?
For me there was no doubt about pursuing a career in the medical field. I’ve always had a natural curiosity about how things work and biology was a strong fit for me. Attending Harvard University I had the opportunity to explore a number of concentrations in biology. With the help of my course work, a fellowship in a lab, the strength of global health initiatives at Harvard, and my experience working for the Barka Foundation my career plans had taken shape.
My focus is global health specifically infectious diseases. For me, this intersection of social and hard sciences allows me to work in both a clinical and lab setting. My plans include taking a two-year gap after graduation to do field work, and then work towards a medical and PhD degree.
What led you to your internship with the Barka Foundation?
You could say I’ve been working towards this internship since high school when I was first introduced to the Barka Foundation. In high school I organized 5K races to raise funds for Barka, and through my volunteering efforts I was able to develop a personal relationship with the two founders. The Barka Foundation’s work and approach is so inspiring to me that I started Initiative: Eau and after six years, I had the opportunity to intern with Barka.
The Barka Foundation focus is more on access to water while currently Initiative: Eau’s (Eau means water in French) is more on water quality, which aligns with my concentration and course work.
Tell me about your internship experience.
Most internships are about developing workplace skills. For me, this nonprofit internship provided an opportunity to experience how a more established NGO operates on the ground, in villages, and communities. For the Barka Foundation I organized years of video and other media to create marketing materials to attract potential donors as well as inform current donors and members of the board of directors. At the same time, for Initiative: Eau I was working to field test a program I developed in a mid-size city to develop the quality of the water system. Due to limited access to piped-in water, women must walk to water sources that are often contaminated by water-borne illnesses.
That’s what I did during the internship but it’s hard to describe the actual experience. The best I’ve been able to do is to say that life in Burkina Faso is visceral and real. For example, it’s very real that if the rainy season doesn’t start, people will starve– it’s a harsh reality. I gained perspective and my experience changed how I want to live my life.
This past summer I have set up a sustainable future for the work I want to do and for Initiative: Eau. Returning from Burkina Faso, I stopped in Washington D.C. and met with the World Bank and Peace Corp. to secure grant funding, scalability through the Peace Corp, and even a new board member.
What advice do you have for college students who are interning this summer?
Learn the value of connecting with people– they make your experience more meaningful. The people I met are the fuel that will allow me to continue to do the work that is important to me. Connecting has also helped me establish a solid network that I can rely on in the future. For example, in my first semester of my freshman year, I took a research position at the Harvard Law School with the Center on the Legal Profession. During that time I was working on the 501(c)3 filing for Initiative: Eau. With what started as a conversation on paperwork with the director of the center became Initiative: Eau’s pro bono legal counsel and is a non-voting affiliate of our board of directors.
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