2010 PFIG Recipient Michelle Martin

Career Administrator

Michelle Martin
College of Arts & Sciences
Anthropology Major
2011 Graduation Year

Internship: LA Department of Public Health

Notes on the first week

I’m finishing up my first week of work here in LA. It’s been pretty busy so far. Exploring LA has proven to be quite the adventure so far; it’s kind of like sailing with Semester at Sea all over again. You turn a corner, and it looks and feels like you’re in a completely different country. I’ve ventured to a few of the really touristy spots like Santa Monica and Hollywood, but I’m making sure to leave time for those undiscovered wonders of the area, including this little Lutheran church that claims they hold services in English. They most definitely do not, but I think I’m going to keep going anyway. And I know a little Spanish, so that helps.

I’ve been going to a lot of movies (LA Film Festival starts tonight!). One thing that’s kind of eerie is seeing all of your places and streets in films and on TV. It kind of takes you out of the place that’s supposed to be your home and disconnects you in a kind of way. Like I said, weird feeling, especially coming from a small town in Virginia.

I’m still adjusting to the early bedtime schedule that accommodates my bike/bus ride to work every morning. The morning bike ride isn’t bad (you can beat the heat and smog if you leave early enough); it’s the afternoon ride that gets you, especially after spending the day in an air-conditioned office.

I’m interning at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy. It’s kind of a mouthful, I know---try answering the phone with that introduction. I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing so far. I’ve got my own cubicle and a computer with access to all of the Los Angeles HIV reports and evaluations I want. On my first day, IT set up my email and internet accounts, and I was handed a project before I even had a formal tour of the office. I’ll admit, I was a little worried about what to do, but I kind of just went with it. Apparently it worked, because my supervisor said it looked great.

I’m working in the Research and Evaluation division, so we’ve been busy getting ready for HIV Counseling and Testing Week next week (it coincides with National HIV Testing Day). I’m working on a few projects right now. We just finished up developing an interview script for will be used to collect qualitative data during test week. I’m all about the qualitative stuff. My supervisor said that my background in Anthropology will probably provide a more holistic perspective on the whole project, so I hope I can deliver. I don’t mind the paperwork and research, because I’ve already learned so much, but I’m definitely looking forward to heading out and doing some work in the field next week. I have the feeling that it’s going to be one of those baptism by fire experiences, but I couldn’t be more excited

Midway

Although we finished up HIV Counseling and Testing Week last Saturday, it feels like the program is just beginning. Being in the field required different work hours and the ability to adapt to unfamiliar work environments, but life back in the office has been taken to a whole new level; it's almost unfamiliar territory (and not just because I've been relocated to a different cubicle with a better view of the downtown skyline).

We've started the process of recording and evaluating what we learned in the field. It's nothing like the research work that I've been doing where I'm looking for information on a specific idea. Now, we're dealing with raw data, and we have to come up with a frame for all of it. Pamela, my supervisor, is very patient and trusting. She's giving me the opportunity to direct the evaluation as I see appropriate. She checks in just to see if I've found "anything interesting" in the data, and tell her about the people that I've met through the interviews that I've transcribed.

Because I work in the office of Research and Evaluation, a lot of the work we do includes assessing the outcomes of a project. Since my first week at the office, I've been working on the provider satisfaction survey that will be sent to those agencies that hosted testing services during HIV Counseling and Testing Week. I can honestly say that I have never considered how hard it is to create a survey from scratch. I think we've gone through something like five drafts of the provider satisfaction survey already, and we're finally submitting it for review. After we get feedback, we'll revise again and then send it out to program coordinators. And then we'll evaluate their responses. Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation---Pamela tells me it's the most important part of a project; you need to know if anything actually worked! I look forward to seeing the qualitative evaluation in it's final form, especially because I now have an idea of just how much work goes into making those nice little hard copy reports that are handed over to program directors.

Final Reflections

There's so much left undone! I can't stop thinking about how much more work I could still do here at the Office of AIDS. Even as the summer comes to an end, and the evaluation reports of our summer projects begin to take their final forms, I know that there is still plenty of work to be done. I'll be leaving Pamela with my qualitative report on HIV Counseling and Testing Week, but I feel like I could add to it through December. I plan on continuing to collaborate with my co-workers once I return to school so that we're able to finish up the evaluation together. Speaking of my co-workers, I want it to go on record that my research team comprises the best colleagues a person could ask for; their input, critiques, and advice have guided me both personally and professionally and I sincerely value the lessons I have learned from them.

There's so much I've learned during my time here in Los Angeles. I remember the first night I spent in my downtown apartment, being anxious at the size of the city and the unfamiliarity of the streets. But, I also remember my satisfaction in showing my friends places in their own city that they had never seen; places that I found with a curiosity for adventure and poor sense of direction. I remember the day that I looked at Los Angeles population statistics and realized that I was working for an agency that was responsible for a county population that exceeds that of the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. And, I also remember when Pamela congratulated me on my first task well done; I was capable of producing work worthy of an office of this importance. I remember being overwhelmed during my fieldwork, walking into testing sites and feeling incompetent or naive. But I also remember leaving those testing sites knowing that I could not have learned what I did that day in any classroom at any university.

Just as the wildfires burn in Malibu, so does my heart with passion for HIV/AIDS-related work. Public health is exactly where I want to be, and my desire to attend graduate school and strengthen my knowledge in the field (before ultimately returning to East Africa) has been confirmed. UVA, UCLA, Columbia, or George Washington---I don't know where I'm headed, but I know that I will be able to do good work no matter where I end up.

I want to take the chance to say thank you to a few people: Pamela, my supervisor, for her never-ending support; my team members, Niki and Rangell, for their office guidance and LA secrets; Ethan, my best friend and adventure partner in California, perhaps even the world; the morning Metro driver who turns a blind eye when I don't have exact change; the sweet lady at the bus stop who offered to make change for me when I only had dollar bills; the security guard at the office who greets me with a smile every morning; the two guys at Ralph's who pack my groceries so they fit on a bike; and the guys who run the Kogi truck. My summer and Los Angeles wouldn't be the same without any of you.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I'd like to thank the Parent's Fund. There is no way that I could have done this without their help. Thank you so much for such an incredible opportunity, it has truly been a blessing.