PKG Social Impact Internships: Elie Cuevas (’24)
Who I am, and How I Got Here
My name is Elie Cuevas, and I’m a rising sophomore at MIT originally from Kokomo, IN. On paper, I am currently pursuing a major in Computer Science (MIT’s all-too-popular course 6), but the truth is I’m really interested in public policy, and specifically, technology’s ever-increasing role in it – whether it’s optimizing public transport or navigating a global pandemic. These past 7 weeks, I’ve been fortunate to be able to intern at the CDC Foundation, diving deep into this specific interest. It was a productive, eye-opening, often chaotic experience that connected me to the top of American public health and introduced me to the real-world applications of technical skills I’ve learned during my short time as an undergraduate so far. I’m excited to write about what I did, and I hope whoever is reading this can find some inspiration to apply their unique skills in the pursuit of real, meaningful, social impact.
Making an Impact
The coronavirus pandemic, at the time of writing, has persisted for well over a year, and while there exists a multitude of positive notes in the United States’s response, there unfortunately exists a similar set of less-than-ideal circumstances that have led to a revitalized viral spread and a reintroduction of restrictions (see: a new, more transmissible and dangerous variant, and slower-than-anticipated immunization rates nationwide). Federal public health organizations like CDC (unrelated: I learned that in public health, no professional ever refers to CDC as the CDC. It’s always just “CDC”) and the CDC Foundation (CDCF) are at the front-lines of coordinating a national response, and that’s what my work entailed: figuring out how to ‘flatten the curve’ using public policy and federal resource allocation. Specifically, my team (the incredible Systems Integration team at CDCF) focused on improving health infrastructure nationwide, both to combat the current pandemic as well as to be better prepared in the future for any similar occurrences. My projects focused on hiring surge staff for understaffed state and local health departments. As an intern, I was corresponding with top health officials across the US and its territories, giving proposals to senior CDC and CDCF leadership on resource allocation, and creating data structures/communication networks for use by many departments, internal and otherwise. It’s work I would’ve never expected doing after only one year in college, work that actively improves health departments’ abilities to help their communities, and work that, even 500 rows deep in a .xlsx, is truly rewarding.
Unfortunately, understaffed health departments are nothing new in the United States, and the results of that fact became very apparent during this pandemic. With the hiring of new staff (thousands of them), state and local health departments across the US and its territories had the chance to a) methodically evaluate their needs and b) have those needs acknowledged and acted upon. This really is a major endeavor, and if progress continues as it has been, a better system for so many people in need of crucial health services is on the horizon. I have seen these problems as well as this progress first-hand, and learned about the real disparities that exist in this country relating to health infrastructure. I was able to help my team find and interpret relevant data, leading to prioritizing less-equipped jurisdiction health departments, and expediting processes so as to get the most important work done as fast as possible. Substantial, important change is happening, and I’m so proud to have been a part. The future is all too bright!
First of all, I’m so grateful to the PKG Center for giving students like me the opportunity to take what they learn on paper and use it to make the world a genuinely better place. Second, I couldn’t forget the amazing team I worked with at CDCF. I learned so much more than I bargained for, in so many different fields and contexts. My work with them taught me, among other things, how to get people on entirely different teams collaborating towards a common goal: which is undoubtedly useful in whatever context one’s career places them in. The PKG program emphasizes working towards positive social change, and I can a) confidently say I achieved that, and b) highly recommend any MIT students to see what opportunities might be waiting for them there. I can’t wait to see what other amazing things my peers can do!
Interested in a Social Impact Internship? Learn more about our IAP opportunities by clicking here!