Louis Lin’s dedication to his community and combating the structural issues that entrench poverty earned him the Truman Scholarship. As a first-generation low-income student, Louis came to Penn with the desire to help children lead healthier lives. Louis entered Penn as a pre-med student, hoping to become a pediatrician, but realized the issues he wanted to combat went deeper. “The way that a doctor thinks is ‘diagnosis, and then treatment,’ but what Penn has taught me is to think through problems with a more sociological perspective rather than looking at the surface fact of ‘this person got sick.’ I started thinking more about the causes of illness: where are people living, what is their insurance eligibility and how has that effected their life? How do we solve more structural issues so that the person doesn’t get sick in the first place or can see a doctor less frequently? What are the social determinants of health? I wanted to be more proactive.”
Louis’ determination to be proactive and understand the deeper causes behind social issues has made him into a leader in his community. After the 2016 election cycle, Louis was concerned about the discussion of voter fraud. He wanted to both ensure the validity of elections and make certain voters’ rights aren’t infringed. In order to get more involved on a grassroots level, he ran to be Judge of Elections for his district of West Philadelphia—and won! Now, Louis continues to combat the narrative of voter fraud in his district and to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. This exemplifies how Louis operates: he identifies an issue and finds a way to get personally involved to help solve it.
In addition to being Judge of Elections, Louis is a Committeeperson for Philadelphia’s 27th ward. As Louis explains, he was inspired by two connected issues: “Penn students are a big part, maybe 30-40%, of the 27th ward but are rarely involved in politics at that level, and young people, in particular, have difficulty seeing the impact they can have in politics.” Instead of being content with a distant, theoretical understanding of the problems he sees in West Philadelphia, Louis made it a personal responsibility improve the relationship between Penn and its surrounding community.
Louis’ dedication to Philadelphia is particularly strong because he realized soon after arriving on campus that he wanted to stay on the East Coast after graduation. From a class freshmen year where he helped mentor local students, Louis made a connection to the public schools he hopes to help through his work as a student in Penn’s Master’s in Public Health program. Louis has deepened this connection with the public school community through the big brothers big sisters program. Though Louis’s ultimate goal is to change the structures of inequality and alleviate poverty, he understands that to do so, he must first build connections with the community he hopes to help. “Being a leader to me means learning how people experience the issues we face and bringing the perspectives and goals of people to a higher level rather than being prescriptive or taking a top-down approach.”
It is this same outlook that has made Louis a key presence within the first generation low-income student community at Penn. As a leader in both the Penn First and 1vyG organizations, Louis has diligently worked to bring the perspective of low-income students to school administrators both at Penn and across the country, including organizing conferences to build dialogue on how to help address the specific academic and social concerns of these students.
Louis sense of public service was invigorated by his experience last summer working at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington. Louis appreciated the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the people that he worked with and their willingness to mentor him. Also invaluable was how the employees who worked at the FAA helped Louis see a path for himself. Louis initially feared his background as a low-income student would be a barrier to public service—DC is an expensive city, and one which relies on unpaid internships, but at the FAA he met a number of successful individuals who’d come from a background similar to his, thus building his confidence that he can make it work.
Before he relocates to DC, Louis will finish his undergraduate studies and his Master’s in Public Health at Penn. Louis is careful not to take his success for granted, as he explains, “the Truman does not make me a leader; leaders are people who work with their communities, whether or not they win a scholarship or some award for their work.” For Louis, the next step in his journey of community leadership is getting involved with state and local plans to improve school health in Philadelphia. Wherever Louis ends up, it is clear he will continue to have a positive impact on the community around him.