CAPAL Scholar Spotlight Kristina Smelser ’19



Kristina Smelser is a rising junior at the University of California Berkeley studying Public Health and pursuing a minor in Geospatial Information Systems Technology. During the school year, she teaches health education to students of low-income high schools through the organization Peer Health Exchange and serves as a member of Berkeley’s Anti-Trafficking Coalition. This summer, she is interning in the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, where she will work policy and grassroots advocacy.

What are you excited to learn about during your internship this summer?

I am really looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of not only the process of enacting federal policy, but also of what a career in health policy actually entails. This summer I have the opportunity to engage firsthand in this political process by advocating policy to Congress under the guidance of my supervisor at ACU (Association of Clinicians for the Underserved). The fact that the organization is located in DC makes it ideal for these goals; in addition to my normal internship duties, I’ll be able to attend Congressional briefings, hearings, and conferences.

Why is public service important to you?

Public service allows me to give back to my community and country for all that it has given me throughout my life. But perhaps more importantly, I have come to recognize some of the many ways in which we fall short providing equitable access to public services and opportunities in the U.S. Even when the government provides resources that can truly benefit those of disadvantaged communities, these resources are often difficult for them to access. Such realizations have fueled my desire to work in public service in order to improve the life chances and health outcomes of individuals from marginalized backgrounds. I hope to contribute by perhaps helping enact laws or making other structural improvements that have far-reaching impacts.

What are the projects that you’re working on this summer?

I will primarily be working on the campaign to reauthorize and expand the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which provides financial support to clinicians who want to work in underserved areas throughout the U.S. The program’s funding is set to expire this September, so my work is twofold: grassroots advocacy and Congressional advocacy. I am encouraging constituents across the country to express their support for the NHSC to their Congressional representatives by developing an online platform, through which they can easily email their representatives. I will more directly engage with Senators and Representatives by preparing for and attending meetings with members of Congress. I am also coordinating a briefing for this July in order to convince Congress members to support a bill that provides more funding for the NHSC. Aside from this campaign, I will help produce the ACU’s weekly newsletters and news updates, as well as help plan the organization’s annual conference.

What do you think you can bring back to your community from your internship and being a part of CAPAL?

I think my experience with CAPAL will be very valuable because unlike my internship work, which is focused on national-level issues and legislation, CAPAL places greater emphasis on building relationships and partnerships within communities. While knowledge about federal legislation is important, I believe that it is just as, if not more, important to directly engage with one’s own community.
One tangible example of this community-centered engagement within CAPAL is our Community Action Project this summer. My group and I will be working with the Domestic Violence Resource Program to write informational articles about different issues that affect the AANHPI communities. I hope to bring back a much deeper understanding of how these issues, such as undocumented immigration status, the model minority myth, and intimate partner violence, affect AANHPI communities both within the U.S. and internationally. Not only can I spread awareness about these issues by sharing our articles and speaking with others, I can also work more intentionally on alleviating them by participating in different community-level projects and organizations back in Berkeley

What is your definition of leadership?

I believe leadership is the ability to advocate for others who may not be able to speak up for themselves. I have come to realize that I can and must use my position of privilege to help improve the lives of others by ensuring that their rights and opportunities are acknowledged and respected. This can take on many different forms from what initially comes to mind. For example, I have served as a health educator for students of underrepresented minorities during the past two years. As I continue to visit these classrooms, I try to instill in my students the confidence and efficacy to make informed decisions about their health throughout their lives. I always express to them that they deserve not only comprehensive and culturally-sensitive education about their physical, mental, and sexual health, but also all the opportunities afforded to students of more advantaged backgrounds.

Meet all of our CAPAL Scholars & Interns here.

 Sukhanjot (Sukhi) Kaur is a rising senior at the University of Nevada, Reno majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Accounting. She is currently deciding between a master’s in higher education and political science, but hopes to go on to work for a nonprofit focusing on women and education after graduation. Sukhi served as the Service Officer for Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Inc. the past year. She was greatly exposed to Sikh American representation through her involvement in with the Sikh community in Nevada and having grown up in Punjab until early childhood. Sukhi hopes to promote Sikh American leadership with her commitments and organize more involvement in the Sikh American youth especially young Sikh American women in her community.