Get to know our Director's Interns taking on the world of politics and public service through internships this summer.
2017 Director's Intern Jessica Bishai, '20, works at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, a placement co-sponsored with the Harvard Global Health Institute. Jessica hails from Baltimore, Maryland and intends to declare her concentration in Statistics. When she's not catching up with friends this summer, she is putting her quantitative skills to work at NASTAD. Learn more below about her experience and what lessons politicians can learn from public health experts.
What is your favorite part of your internship?
I'm learning so much about HIV in the U.S. I didn't realize it was a problem to the degree that it is or how inequitably it affects the population. One of my passions is reducing inequity in healthcare, and I love NASTAD's commitment to that cause.
What would surprise people about your experience in your city or internship?
I definitely get to take advantage of what D.C. has to offer! A week and a half into my internship, I was sent to Capitol Hill for an amfAR symposium. I got to hear speakers including designer Kenneth Cole, my own Senator, Ben Cardin, PBS Anchor Judy Woodruff, and Nancy Pelosi all within five hours. Even though my work at NASTAD is data-driven, I still get to see the political side of HIV work by virtue of being in DC!
The mission of the Institute of Politics is to inspire young people to enter careers in politics and public service, what made you want to spend a summer working in that field?
I've always been determined to be a public servant; I can't morally justify doing much besides helping other people. I had settled on global health pretty early as my mode of public service, because health is a fundamental human right and there is tremendous unmet need. I never really considered politics, but after getting further into the world of global health at Harvard and interning at NASTAD, I've realized how closely global health and politics are intertwined. I'm definitely going to look further into politics now, both to better understand global health and to equip me to be the best public servant I can be.
What do you think the 3-5 most important things (skills, attitude, experiences, etc) young adults need to succeed in politics and public service today? Why?
I think compassion, passion, an open mind, and humility are crucial for anyone who hopes to represent and serve others. Compassion allows us to empathize and feel for those we serve; this in turn ignites our need to serve and allows us to focus on what matters. A passion for what we do fuels that need and prevents us from giving up, no matter how slow and arduous change-making sometimes is. We must be open-minded to be effective servant leaders, as it is too often too hard for us to admit we might be wrong and listen to other opinions. Open-mindedness will also help us break down the partisan barriers that have created the sharp and toxic chasm in the U.S. today. Humility is another key factor that helps us grapple with our flaws and truly learn to listen to those we serve, no matter what their opinions may be. I'd also recommend that politicians and public servants, especially those concerned with global health have experience on the ground, so that they really understand the issues, know their constituents, and encourage true passion.
What do you think is the future of politics?
I'm optimistic! I think a lot of our troubles stem from party differences; that's especially evident right now. I think that ultimately, we'll be able to come together. My optimism stems partially from my own field. Support for global health is typically bipartisan; my work at NASTAD has confirmed this. If we can work together on big issues like global health, I'm sure we'll be able to compromise on some more fields as well.