Edith Lorna Jepkirui ’21: To Our Children’s Future With Health and Together for West Philadelphia

Name: Edith Lorna Jepkirui
Class Year: 2021
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Eldoret, Kenya

Internship Organization: To Our Children’s Future With Health (TOCFWH) and Together for West Philadelphia
Job Title: Student intern
Location: Saint Joseph’s University and Overbrook High School (West Philadelphia)

Going into the summer, I knew that I wanted to do an internship related to social justice. More specifically, I wanted to work with African and Caribbean immigrant populations. I had been involved in a lot of social justice-related activities on campus and I was looking to get a feel of social justice work outside campus, with a population that I cared about. Midway through contacting the organizations that I was interested in working with, I was introduced to Dr. Robin Foster-Drain. Dr. Foster-Drain was putting together a research project on West Philadelphia involving students from colleges in the area including the University of Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Cheyney. The students would conduct a literature review on West Philadelphia. Despite the project being heavily related to public health, I became interested in it.

Together with Nisha, a second-year student at PCOM, I spent every Monday and Wednesday at Saint Joseph’s University researching the 19131 zip code of West Philadelphia. We collected census data, tracked changes in demographics, looked at social determinants of health, and studied the history of the community. We wrote about our findings in a 2-to-3-page writeup that we submitted every Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we reported to our community immersion sites, where we were supposed to interact with the community and get a firsthand impression of our zip codes. I was placed at Overbrook High School, where I was a math tutor for the To Our Children’s Future With Health’s Workforce Readiness program for high school students. The Workforce Readiness Program is an after-school initiative by Dr. Foster-Drain’s community-based organization (TOCFWH), which focuses on teaching career and workforce development, customer service and sales, electrical, IT and math and literacy. On Fridays, we went to Lankenau Hospital for our reflection sessions. Dr.  Foster-Drain brought in different speakers working in public health-related fields every Friday. Overall, Together for West Philadelphia had about 15 students in different zip codes in West Philadelphia conducting research and interacting with the community. The result of the project would be a document that the community would be proud to read.

There are several things that I enjoyed about this internship. First, my research partner and I were at different educational levels, yet we worked together and complemented each other’s strengths perfectly. Nisha was a medical student and she was very comfortable with anything public health related, while I am a math major who was comfortable around demographic statistics and census data. I also enjoyed working with the Workforce Readiness Program at Overbrook High School as a math tutor. My math sessions were meant to supplement the electrical class lessons as well as to make math more practical and real-life. I worked with two students at a time for 30-to-45 minutes. During my first week at the program, I handed out diagnostic tests that I had tailored to different ability levels. I then intentionally designed unconventional math sessions where we did math readings, a math budget project, and interactive math games. I wanted the math classes to be a welcome break from the electrical class. The students in my class would make very random comments about their experience, or lack thereof, with money. We talked about taxes, credit card debt, student loans, choosing a living space, and the gender wage gap, among other money-related topics. The resources that I put together for the mathematics sessions this summer will be used during TOCFWH’s after-school program during the school year.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I went to talks by guest speakers, invited to Overbrook High School by Ms. Intisar, who was one of the camp counselors. The speakers were self-made entrepreneurs and business owners from 19131. My greatest take away from those afternoon sessions was that despite the cards that the speakers had been dealt with in life, they still worked hard to make something of themselves. It did not matter whether someone they loved was killed or whether their parents were on drugs. The afternoon talks felt like conversations with an older brother or sister who understood the enormous potential that all the high school kids had. I appreciated how invested the staff at Overbrook High School was in the students’ success in life.