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The second time you see something, the sense of novelty has worn off. It can be easy to accept your surrounding once you’ve gotten used to it and not question or ask yourself why things are they way they are.

Not in DC, and not with DukeEngage.

Last summer, I interned at a trade association. I arrived at Ronald Reagan airport alone, knew few other Dukies in the area and was a little intimidated by the fact that I was actually on my own (no food points or best friends right across the hall included). My experience leaving the world of letter grades and participation points in college to team calls and time tables in the ‘real world’ was incredibly refreshing and informative. Back at Duke in the fall, I yearned of returning to DC to continue experiencing the city’s rich culture and history while exploring my interests in public health and policy-making.

Come DukeEngage, the prospect of being in DC for the second summer, but this time with a group of incredibly dedicated, inspiring and hard-working Dukies was sort of a dream. For my internship, I was placed at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine under the Health and Medicine Division working at the Roundtable on Genomics and Precision Health (it’s a mouthful for everyone). DC + Duke + The National Academies … I didn’t see how it could get any better.

I can’t quite find the words to express how much of a difference the DukeEngage group has had on my experiences in DC. For starters, the program is led by one of the most caring, passionate and genuine professors I know. Dr. Bob Cook-Deegan has welcomed us with open arms this summer. He has ensured that each of us is placed at an organization that fits, but also challenges our interests and opens multiple windows for us to explore different fields, types of organizations, and fulfilling careers. Mark and Bailey, our site coordinators, bring us all together throughout the week, making our NYU dorm feel like home (especially on birthdays) and our weekends worth looking forward to.

And my fellow Dukies … they have pushed me this summer to get out of my comfort zone—to question, to think critically, to engage, to reflect. When we visited Mount Vernon, why did we only learn about the history of the area starting in 1732 when George Washington was born? When we spent the day at the Piscataway Park and visited Turkey Tayac’s grave, how could we pay our respects and recognize past and current injustices?

No matter what country or city you’re in, there is always going to be a certain level of dysfunction and some segment or aspect of society to improve. Being in the United States’ capital does not mean that there are no disparities, inequities or injustices (look closely the next time you’re on your morning commute on the metro and you’ll notice that a large proportion of DC’s homeless population are veterans). And while I ‘knew’ this, it was through the group experience this summer that I have been able to begin understanding how we can engage with the world beyond our classrooms at Duke in order to work towards better environmental policy, health outcomes, educational opportunities, or whatever topic moves us. Ask questions, don’t be afraid to dive into something you don’t know, be open to learn from those around you, and most importantly, be humble and accept when you have failed or don’t know something. These are opportunities for change and growth so run after them when you see them.

Going into the last week of our program, I am incredibly thankful to have spent another summer in DC learning, growing and pursuing my interests in health and science policy.