What was the moment in your life when you realized you wanted to explore public service?
I don’t think it was an exact moment, but more of a growing realization. Growing up so close to DC and having neighbors who worked in public service, I don’t think I ever underestimated my (or anyone’s) ability to achieve a career that was devoted to helping the public. However, I really started to imagine myself in a public service position once I got to college. I became part of organizations that worked with administrators and staff in an effort to make my school a more welcoming and overall positive environment – these experiences opened my eyes in terms of seeing how important and rewarding it is to devote your efforts to improving a community that you live in yourself.
What are your main responsibilities at your position? What are you looking forward to the most in your position?
My main duties as an intern at the USDA’s Rural Development office include creating congressional district profiles and writing success stories. These congressional district profiles will allow both USDA staff and members of Congress to see the assistance provided by USDA RD within each congressional district in California. The success stories I am writing are another way to display the impact that USDA RD grants and loans make, but through the medium of storytelling, allowing us to show the significance of these numbers at the community- and family-level. I look forward to the phone interviews that I get to conduct with the recipients of the funding from USDA RD and hearing their stories of how they benefitted – whether that is through how they were able to start their own micro-enterprise or the impacts of a necessary renovation at a community center.
Did you find anything surprising about your internship or doing public service work?
I honestly feel like I learn something new every day during my internship, so each new piece of information is the equivalent of a pleasant, educational surprise! I would say the most surprising thing is just making the connections between my passions and the work that I am currently doing – I hope to pursue a career in public health and at first glance, it doesn’t seem like work in rural development would be related. But upon closer inspection, I truly am seeing the connections. It’s like I can advocate all I want for healthy lifestyles and a holistic approach to wellness, but how can that be fulfilled without the presence of a clinic or when food isn’t even affordable in the first place? Moreover, how can these clinics and food distribution sites exist without adequate funding for the services they offer? How can families pay for basic health services when there are only limited or seasonal jobs available? Overall, the biggest surprise has been developing a greater awareness of how there are so many additional questions that need be answered when addressing health and community needs.
What motivates you?
My mom once told me that if she could have one wish in the world, it would be to have good health. I remember just sitting there so surprised the first time she told me this and asked her to explain further. Simply put, she said that your health plays an influential role in your life experiences; for example, you could have all of the money in the world, but without good health you would not be able to truly enjoy the benefits that come from that. After she told me that, I was so inspired because I think it’s so true – oftentimes I believe that we forget just how important our health is. My mom has taken care of the old, the sick, and the young and just seeing what a difference she has made truly motivates me to follow her footsteps. I hope to use my education and experiences to become part of the effort to make health and wellness not simply exclusive to the privileged, but a right for everyone.
What is something that most people would not know about you?
I don’t think that most people know that I am so touched and inspired by people. I can be really quiet and then super goofy at times, but I don’t think that people see the side of me that is genuinely inspired by people. For example, I was talking to one of my coworkers at the office and telling him about the transition moving to CA from VA and he was so sympathetic because he had gone through a similar experience when he was younger. About fifteen minutes later, he stopped by my cubicle and gave me his business card with his cell number and told me that I could always contact him if I needed any help. He has a family of his own, so I think it was totally a dad thing to do, as I imagine he was thinking of his kids being in my position. But that “small” act of kindness really meant so much and has inspired me to want to do the same whenever my future workplace receives an intern.
When you get off work, what do you do? What are your weekend activities?
Even in the California heat, it feels amazing to walk back home after work and enjoy the (very intense) sunshine after sitting in a cubicle for hours. I usually try to call my parents or friends back on the East Coast during my walk since they’re still awake when I get off of work. I have found comfort in listening to my cooking playlist while experimenting with (and testing) my very minimal culinary knowledge every night for dinner. On the weekends, I go to the Farmers Market and schedule Skype calls with friends back home. I also always say yes to any spontaneous adventure that my housemates (all of whom are UC Davis students) invite me to!
Marisa Paipongna is a senior at the College of William & Mary majoring in Kinesiology with a concentration in Public Health (and intends to pick up a Sociology minor during her last year)! On campus she is actively involved in her school’s organization, Health Outreach Peer Educators (HOPE). As a member of HOPE’s Mental Health branch, she is involved in mental health advocacy and has helped create programs on topics such as de-stigmatizing the counseling center, body positivity, and a program centered on self-compassion called ‘Be Your Own Bae’. Although promoting wellness is one of her biggest passions, you can also find her playing music with friends, practicing hand lettering, and trying new foods. This summer Marisa is incredibly excited to intern with the USDA Rural Development office in Davis, CA!
Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.
Posted by Felicia Wong
Felicia Wong is currently a senior at the College of William and Mary, double majoring in Neuroscience and Asian American Studies, and minoring in Biochemistry. She is president of the Filipino American Student Association, and current non-academic projects include creating films calling for diversity curriculums/requirements and establishing an official APIA Studies program. Felicia was also elected president of Global Medical Brigades to lead a sustainable healthcare program in rural communities in Nicaragua. She hopes to connect her interests in healthcare with the community she has found in her cultural background. Having lived in Germany for most of her childhood, Felicia makes yearly trips back to visit her family, providing opportunities for her to indulge in her greatest joys: touring castles, eating at cafés, taking fashion cues from strangers, cooking with her family. Non-country specific pleasures include: biking, watching live music performances, screaming because Game of Thrones.