Social Impact Internships: Susanna Chen (’23)

Making Change from Home: The Power of Small, Meaningful Action
Susanna Chen (’23, Course 6 EECS)

Nearing the end of the spring semester, I began to worry what I would do with three months of predicted listlessness. My summer plans had become defunct by the onset of the pandemic, triggering a fear of being left with no preoccupation until the fall. When I read the email advertising PKG Social Impact Internships, I knew that I would have to apply.

I had always wanted to do good in the world, which is why the words “Social Impact” sounded particularly enticing to me when I read the email. Hearing about the treacheries of climate change in elementary school, I had my heart set on becoming an environmentalist. However, life had a different plan. I was instead drawn to the analytical elegance of computer science.

I was convinced that I would be able to enact great positive change with my desire to create social good and interest in the lucrative field of software engineering. Sweeping reforms could be made if only people shirked the bourgeois values preached by morally ambiguous tech companies and rejected the ignorant thinking of blind politicians. Looking back, I don’t think I understood the magnitude of conflict that arises when attempting to simultaneously work within and against a system. Working for the Massachusetts Trial Court as a Recidivism Data Analyst clarified the future trajectory of my career.

Although I knew logically that my work would be helpful towards improving the MA probation system, it often didn’t feel as if I was making any significant positive impact on the community. Due to the constraints of the pandemic, I experienced very little face-to-face interaction this summer. The lack of human connection was especially emphasized as I worked in data analysis, where the nuances and backstory of every person are frequently reduced into a collection of numbers and labels. Granted, I’m fully aware there are humanizing aspects to the justice system and the use of this data; however, I have realized through this experience that my skills in computational work sustain a barrier between myself and the less privileged.

Trapped at home, I often feel helpless when faced with the overwhelming flaws which have been recently exposed in our community. It often seems that I’m not doing enough. That justice can only be achieved with sacrifice from people, such as myself, who laze away their days in the comfort of  safe and reliable homes. But, as I’m learning again and again throughout my life, balance is always the solution to the black and white areas we come across. More suffering is not the answer to equality. Rather, it’s the small thoughtful steps towards a clear direction which leads to permanent change. Although it may feel like the work I do is miniscule in comparison to the immense problems we face, my small actions will add up to greater impact.

Looking to fulfill your fall Experiential Learning Opportunity (ELO)? Check out PKG Social Impact Internships page to learn more about where to find opportunities and how to apply! 

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Tags: Criminal Justice, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Summer 2020, Tech for Good

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