CDC Foundation’s 2020 Interns: Making an Impact on COVID

Each year, the CDC Foundation’s internship program offers undergraduate and graduate students real-world experience at a prominent public-health organization. But the 2020 class was the first to face an unparalleled global crisis, giving these students the chance to make an immediate and lasting impact as part of the Foundation’s COVID-19 response.

What resulted was a summer experience summed up as “compelling, constructive, impactful” and “fulfilling” by the group of 11 interns. “The opportunity to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds to help fight against COVID-19 was an invaluable experience that I would not have been able to achieve in a classroom setting,” said Max Pakula of the University of Georgia.

The students served across the Foundation in departments as varied as emergency response activities, advancement and fundraising, as well as internal operations. “The internship promised the opportunity to not only see the public health field’s response to COVID-19, but to engage and support the efforts going on at the community level as well,” wrote Melanie Wu, a student at MIT, in a blog post about her experience. “What has been particularly insightful and meaningful to me is how much perspective we can bring as young adults and college students during this time.” That includes insights on technology use, post-pandemic planning, social inequities and more.

Her fellow MIT intern and biological-engineering major Julian Zulueta also appreciates the on-the-ground aid the Foundation offers. “As an intern, I am part of a benevolent team that ensures that states, territories and tribal nations are receiving access to resources and individuals, such as epidemiologists or contact tracers, to address COVID-19.”

In addition to surge staffing, the Foundation response includes identifying and helping vulnerable communities to meet their challenges, while addressing a variety of diverse communications needs. As Zulueta noted in his wrap-up article, “One of the most interesting parts of these discussions is understanding how each region takes into account their society’s culture (i.e. understanding the elderly, possible language barriers for immigrants and traditional festivities) to form government responses that will best accommodate people’s lifestyles.”

Zulueta also applied the scientific data techniques he’s learned at MIT to create graphs and other visuals to gauge the Foundation’s impact on the workforce. “These skills have been essential when considering the nation’s diverse populations and its discovery of elements that unite them.”

Each of the students found a way to make an impact:

Carolina Benoit (University of Georgia) simplified and streamlined a complicated data process through automation.

Julian Zulueta and Francisco Zepeda (MIT) worked with the Workforce Strike team to analyze data and conducted surveys to track behavioral patterns related to COVID-19.

Hailey Bednar (Emory University) created an emergency response guide for the Advancement team.

Jude Holmes (Georgia State University) explored process improvements and recommendations for the Foundation’s onboarding and off-boarding processes and used Tableau to help other teams visualize their data.

Anna Kathrine Cates (Georgia Tech) helped the internal operations team address return-to-work issues, including aligning workforce data and researching the latest safety recommendations.

Ayesha Ng (MIT) analyzed regional dashboards of state and local health departments to explore what data is publicly available about COVID-19, what is being done to address disparities, and how the narrative tied to health equity can be modified in public health messages.

Max Pakula (University of Georgia) joined the federal CoAg task force, helping with surge staffing for positions across the country.

Helen Chalhoub (Emory University) worked with internal operations to track the COVID surge hiring process.

Sydney Waiters (Cornell University) analyzed the recruiting cycle from initial contact through the hiring process.

Melody Wu (MIT) worked on a project to help states share contact-tracing information with the public, and explored building an online platform to collect practices the states are using for a variety of COVID-related issues.

As this year’s program wrapped up, COO Monique Patrick extended her best wishes to the 2020 intern class. “Thank you for the great work that each of you has done for the Foundation in supporting our work during this pandemic. I look to hear great things from you as you continue your careers.”


Davida Collins is the human resources generalist for the CDC Foundation.