PKG Social Impact Internships: James Nguyen (’23)

EECS and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response

Hey all! I’m James Nguyen, a rising junior studying 6-2 Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. This summer, I interned with the U.S. Naval War College. Located at Newport, Rhode Island, the War College is the think tank of the U.S. Navy, with the purpose of developing individuals who are able to lead strategically, culturally, and resourcefully in order to make good decisions and affect policies around the world. One of the War College’s biggest objectives is Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HA/DR), which makes sense, since U.S. military units conducted over 300 HA/DR operations since 1970, including events in Haiti, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines, and Africa, a much larger number than combat operations. This focus of saving lives in manmade and natural disasters around the globe was what drew me into the internship, that I could apply my EECS knowledge towards helping others.

Last year, War College interns developed a simulation outbreak game where players can learn about the intricate facets of decision-making in a pandemic disaster through a virtual fictional nation called Olympia (depicted below). For my first project with the War College, I was tasked with modifying and optimizing this simulation for mobile devices. I quickly learned/refreshed JavaScript, HTML, and BootstrapVue, and worked on making it prettier and more user-friendly. Through the game alone, I learned so much about the roles stakeholder companies play in a pandemic event, how resources must be balanced with the infection rate and death toll, and how the media and government satisfaction plays a role as well.

My second (and final) project with the War College continued the focus on humanitarian issues. Partnering with the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), the War College is planning a live, conference-style scenario game in the upcoming months for high-ranking military officials, policy-makers, and members from other human rights organizations. Attendees will get to practice and learn the ins and outs of making decisions in a simulated international conflict and especially how their choices affect civilian lives. As any wargame needs visualization, I assisted in the creation of maps, graphs, and other geographic information system data on how infrastructure, populations, cyber assets, and resources relate to the conflict.

Overall, this internship with the War College was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had so far as an MIT student. It helped me see that serving the human community through a pandemic is a brainteaser of a puzzle, and while simulations and fictional scenarios help immensely with understanding them, they don’t fully display the gravity and disorder of actual disasters. It gave me a renewed sense of respect for the leaders and decision makers within our government, private sector, and the military who have tackled huge challenges such as COVID-19. More personally, it showed me that HA/DR is possibly one of the most worthwhile and fulfilling applications of EECS.

Through helping modify and optimize a pandemic outbreak game created by the Naval War College, I not only improved on my coding skills but also left with a new appreciation for the many (and very worthwhile) applications of EECS in public health, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

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Tags: COVID Relief, Health, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Summer 2021

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