Welcoming Interns to the CDC Foundation

This summer, the CDC Foundation decided to move in a new, exciting direction by creating an internship program for undergraduate and graduate students interested in the various realms of work that come with nonprofit organizations. Along with six other interns spanning across multiple departments, I have enjoyed the privilege of not only working with, but also learning from, experts within the fields of communications, information technology (IT), innovation and strategy, programs and legal affairs. Because of the diversity of roles we represent within the CDC Foundation team, it is easy for each of us to understand how much effort is necessary to create an effective nonprofit environment and to see the truth of the Foundation’s tagline, "Together our impact is greater."   

With projects ranging from blogs and design initiatives to technology proficiency to quarterly programs reports, there is never a dull moment at the CDC Foundation. For example, Margaret Wilson, an intern and undergraduate student at Harvard University, works not only with programs but also in the office of the Chief Executive Officer and President, Dr. Judy Monroe. “So far I have focused primarily on Tobacco Control. Right now, I am doing general research for a grant proposal by understanding background policies for various countries,” explained Margaret. While public health programs are the main focus of our efforts at the CDC Foundation, we would not be able to do our work without the support of people like Maia Haile, our information technology intern and an undergraduate student at Kennesaw State University. “I play a role in several aspects of the Foundation’s use of information technology. One of the most important parts of my job is assisting with software implementation and different cloud-based platforms to make sure the Foundation is up to date on all the technology that we use," she explained.

A common stigma associated with internships is that the work is not valuable or important, but just busy work. This is not the case at the Foundation as each of us have worked on real, tangible activities where our efforts have directly impacted the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), donors and partners. Nirmali Shah, programs intern and graduate student at Emory University, works primarily on Data for Health, an initiative to improve countries’ birth and death data. Her work entails many different duties, but one aspect she particularly enjoys are the donor reports she creates. “Through my responsibilities of monthly reporting on the Data for Health project, it has been really interesting and rewarding to see where the work is going and how the work is changing. It has given me a behind-the-scenes look into the global projects and efforts of the CDC and CDC Foundation,” stated Nirmali.   

While each of us individually bring specific skills and knowledge to the table as well as new ideas and support to the CDC Foundation, what has struck me most are the incredible takeaways we have each gained through our time here. Personally, coming from a CDC family I was always aware of public health but never truly grasped its importance. Now, I have come to gain my own appreciation for public health through the lens of communications and a greater understanding of the importance of effective communications in improving health.  

When asked, the other interns had many thoughtful takeaways as well. Amira Daugherty, business and innovations intern and undergraduate student at Agnes Scott College, analyzed her takeaways by explaining, “I have wanted to be an attorney since I was about eight years old, but I never was sure exactly what I wanted to use my degree for. This internship is really pushing me more in the direction of nonprofit work. In my role we work a lot with getting support from partners,” she continued, ”but it is not about getting funding for funding’s sake. It is actually about trying to enhance health education and programs that are going to shape public health for years to come. I feel like I could do that my whole life.”   

As our class of interns is hopefully going to be the first of many classes to come for the CDC Foundation, I asked myself and the rest of the group to reflect on any advice they would have for incoming interns at the CDC Foundation. “A lot of people here have a true passion for the projects they are working on. They really want to see them succeed, and so they put a lot of hard work into them. As a byproduct of that, the people here create an inspirational work environment,” commented Nirmali. 

“I definitely agree,” added Maia, “the support system here is unique. Everyone is willing to take time to talk to you one-on-one about your goals and the future.”

One resounding note that we all agreed on is the importance of not limiting yourself. "There is such a varied and wide breadth of internship positions available here, including legal, business, and communications aspects related to global health. I would encourage potential interns to take a larger look at the varying efforts that contribute to public health work,” advised Margaret. 

So our guidance for the next set of interns is this: When given the opportunity to expand and learn about a department or field of work you are unfamiliar with, take it, learn from it and apply what you learned in a way that makes sense for you and your endeavors—you never know how this new knowledge and skill will ultimately help you out in the long run.


Anna Folger is a communications intern for the CDC Foundation and an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech.