PKG Social Impact Internships: Vivian Cheng (’23)
My name is Vivian Cheng, and I’m a rising junior studying civil engineering (Course 1) with a minor in computer science (Course 6). I’ve spent my summer interning at Urban Impact Lab (UIL), an urban research and design firm based in Miami, FL. At the onset of the pandemic, UIL created a website called Axis Helps to help individuals, families, and small business owners navigate the economic recovery and growth resources and programs available to them. As a social impact intern, I’ve been working on developing new features for Axis Helps as well as cleaning and analyzing Miami-Dade county small business data to potentially draw some insights on demographic and industrial trends.
I was originally drawn to UIL because the projects showcased on their website were fascinating to me, and their description of themselves as “urban anthropologists” resonated with me, after having enjoyed my first anthropology class (21A.00 Introduction to Anthropology: Comparing Human Cultures). As an aspiring civil engineer, I was interested in learning more about user-centered design so that I can better design for communities in the future.
During my first week with UIL, I heard about the way the team, along with their local Allapattah community fellows, were able to save their public library from being closed as the surrounding areas are developed for affordable housing. It was inspiring to see the immediate tangible effects of community organizing, and although my work hasn’t required much interaction with community members themselves, it has been enlightening to work with a wonderful team of passionate individuals, who constantly remind me of the impact and importance of our work. Often, when I get too caught up in the minutiae of the webpages I’m developing, they have been able to take a fresh look and provide feedback about the user experience, reminding me of my work’s audience and purpose.
I don’t have much of a background in economics or businesses, but learning about community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and other lending options for small businesses as well as the knowledge gap preventing many small business owners from taking full advantage of the available resources has given me an incentive to become more educated on the matter in the future. Chats with my supervisor and Axis Helps program manager have also stirred my curiosity on topics such as why so many businesses fail at the 5- and 10-year marks. Throughout my coursework and research experience at school, I’ve explored sustainability in the built environment, but it’s been intriguing to learn about another aspect of urban sustainability.
It has been an absolute pleasure to work at UIL this summer, and I hope to bring some of the enthusiasm and passion that the UIL team radiates as I approach other urban challenges in the future.