Cam Duran (C’ 21) has had a busy start to his time at Penn. He’s a Civic Scholar and Public Policy Research Scholar, was elected to the Undergraduate Assembly, and is starting an internship at Philadelphia City Hall in the new year. Cam explains that “Coming from a rural, underserved public high school in North Carolina, I didn’t have access to many courses, programs, or educational opportunities during my K-12 education. Now that I’m at Penn, I strive to take advantage of each opportunity available to me.”
The first opportunity he earned with his admission to Penn was to join Civic Scholars, the academic certificate program centering on community service and social justice education. He is pursuing Civic Scholars alongside a major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, with a concentration in Public Policy and Governance. Cam explains: “My main policy interests revolve around areas of social justice and civil rights. In particular, two close issues for me are policies surrounding criminal justice and immigration. I’m most interested in becoming involved with some form of legal advocacy for underrepresented communities after completing my education.” As a first step toward that, Cam volunteered last year through Civic House with Books Through Bars, a local nonprofit that helps incarcerated individuals get access to reading materials and to better educate themselves. Civic House gave Cam a sense of community and acceptance and built his confidence to begin exploring the rest that Penn’s campus has to offer. “As a first-generation, low-income student at Penn, my college journey has been filled with many surprises, but a bit of doubt too,” Cam acknowledges. “The reality is that it can be difficult to navigate such programs and organizations at an elite institution, and sometimes even more difficult to see your capability in navigating these entities.” As Cam has succeeded with each new responsibility he has added, his confidence has grown.
Having experienced the difficulties of applying to college without an experienced support network, Cam is trying to help others that face similar challenges. Cam is working with Young People For (YP4) on Project THIS: Turning Hardship Into Success, which he explains, “provides hands-on support and guidance for the college application process, addressing steps to be taken for the Common Application, essay-writing, financial aid, scholarships, and so forth.” Cam enjoys the opportunity to use his own experience applying for college to help others do the same.
At the same time, Cam has taken opportunities to branch out and explore the analytical side of policy. This summer, Cam was a research assistant for Dr. Norma Coe at Penn Med, on projects about Medicaid coverage, its accessibility, and expansion in treatments for at-risk populations, specifically for Hepatitis C and medication-assisted opioid abuse disorder. In addition, he worked as an intern at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, which helped open his eyes to the disconnect between research and the implementation of policy, and how to bridge that gap. While Cam enjoyed learning about policy research, he missed “the connection and hands-on work with the actual people who have been impacted by various policies.”
As Cam begins the New Year though, he will have new opportunities to engage with those he wants to help through policy work both on and off campus. On the Undergraduate Assembly, Cam will be looking for ways to help low-income students who need help affording the co-payment costs of prescription medications. In addition, Cam will begin his internship at Philadelphia City Hall: “My role will primarily be attending council meetings, joining meetings with constituents, speaking with constituents or taking constituent requests by phone, researching policy implications, and drafting potential resolutions.”
In looking toward the future, Cam aspires to find more ways to make a difference: “I hope to become more involved with the UA and within the Philadelphia community to help fight for social justice and for policies that uplift communities.” But Cam is also thinking longer term, and states: “For me, graduation means something completely different than it does for many of my peers. Graduation is hope not only for myself, but for my family. I have hope one day that I will be the one to see my family out of poverty, and also be a role model for my siblings and hometown friends to pursue post-secondary education. Beyond all, I hope to continue to serve as inspiration and reassurance for those that have been historically overlooked in the leadership and talent pipelines – Si, se puede!”