Carmen Duran (C’ 21) has had a busy start to her time at Penn. She’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. Carmen 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 she earned with her admission to Penn was to join Civic Scholars, the academic certificate program centering on community service and social justice education. She is pursuing Civic Scholars alongside a major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, with a concentration in Public Policy and Governance. Carmen 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, Carmen 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 Carmen a sense of community and acceptance, and built her 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,” Carmen 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 Carmen has succeeded with each new responsibility she has added, her confidence has grown.
Having experienced the difficulties of applying to college without an experienced support network, Carmen is trying to help others that face similar challenges. Carmen is working with Young People For (YP4) on Project THIS: Turning Hardship Into Success, which she 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.” Carmen enjoys the opportunity to use her own experience applying for college to help others do the same.
At the same time, Carmen has taken opportunities to branch out and explore the analytical side of policy. This summer, Carmen 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, she worked as an intern at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, which helped open her eyes to the disconnect between research and the implementation of policy, and how to bridge that gap. While Carmen enjoyed learning about policy research, she missed “the connection and hands-on work with the actual people who have been impacted by various policies.”
As Carmen begins the New Year though, she will have new opportunities to engage with those she wants to help through policy work both on and off campus. On the Undergraduate Assembly, Carmen will be looking for ways to help low-income students who need help affording the co-payment costs of prescription medications. In addition, Carmen will begin her 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, Carmen 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 Carmen 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!”