July 15, 2015
By Jake Schultz '16
Last summer, Allison Steen went to Washington, D.C., for an internship with Global Communities. The plan was for her to work on a case study about the non-profit's water sanitation and health (WASH) program in Liberia. It was interesting, but then something happened that nobody expected, changing her experience entirely.
The summer of 2014 saw the beginning of the spread of Ebola in Liberia and western Africa.
"We were working on the case study as Ebola was breaking and they actually used my case study among other things to send to the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) so our organization could help educate people about the disease," said Steen, a senior from the College of Saint Benedict.
When the disease first hit, many of those being affected weren't aware of how to contain something so contagious. People would hug the dead out of respect, not knowing that gesture likely contaminated them.
"Basically, we knew how to educate people on sanitation, so now we could help teach them about Ebola, too," said Steen, a global business leadership and economics double-major from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
The goal of the case study that Steen worked on was, at least initially, to promote and educate the organization's WASH program. She worked jointly with a staff member in Washington, D.C., and also with an off-site director who was stationed in Liberia, relaying information back to the office.
Basic sanitation was almost unheard of, making her work that much more important.
"The focus of the program was to promote the importance of basic sanitation like washing hands and the health necessity of using latrines," Steen said. The Liberian counties that partnered with Global Communities' WASH program showed positive, atypical responses in combating Ebola.
The case study was published online in May at the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA).
Steen's time with Global Communities, an international non-governmental organization that works on aid and community development, was part of the 35th Washington, D.C., Summer Study Program with the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University political science department. She was part of a group of 16 students that worked in various political settings. Steen credits John Chromy '64 past vice president for Cooperative Housing Foundation International (now Global Communities) for his influence in helping her secure an internship.
"The whole D.C. program was incredible," Steen said. "I'd be on the Metro just scrolling through the news on my phone and then see reports on what I was currently working on. "
After her case study helped convince the USAID to select Global Communities as grant recipients, her boss, Brett Sedgewick, was in the news almost daily, including a moment where President Barack Obama recognized Sedgewick for his support.
While in the nation's capital, Steen and the other CSB/SJU students participated in over two dozen seminars with alumnae/i and others throughout the city. The group was able to meet with SJU alumnus and current White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough '92 who provided some valuable advice: "Don't ever forget your hardworking Minnesota roots."
Steen kept that in mind throughout her internship and it kept her motivated. "Even if you're given a small task, do it well and be humble," Steen said.
This humble, hardworking attitude is something that she hopes will continue to propel her towards a career working with health services or international development. This summer she's a marketing intern with Optum Health, a part of United Healthcare. She's in Minnesota this summer but after studying abroad in London last year and traveling to Washington, D.C., and Scandinavia as well, Steen sees herself working abroad.
Wherever she ends up, though, she won't forget her hardworking Minnesota roots.