Metcalf Memoirs: Katherine Quintero

Seeing how social issues play out within a global context.
Metcalf Collage
Photo by: 
Gordon Lew, College Visual Media Editor, Class of 2015
Being able to witness the behind-the-scenes brainstorming that goes into these global-scale projects taught me about the kinds of challenges international organizations must overcome on a day-to-day basis.

As the summer internship season kicks off, the College media team has gathered reflections from a few students in each UChicago Careers In... (UCI) program who held Jeff Metcalf internships this past summer. Here is what they had to say about their experiences.


Katherine Quintero, Class of 2013
Major: International Studies
Primary UCI program: Public and Social Service
Name of internship: Legal Intern, Global Drug Facility
Internship location: World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

Q: What attracted you to the Metcalf internship that you have been doing this summer?

A: This past summer I had the opportunity to intern at the World Health Organization in Geneva. I was the Legal Intern for the Global Drug Facility (GDF), a branch of the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership (STBP) that assists countries in the procurement of anti-tuberculosis medicine. Having pursued a degree in International Studies, I felt that my academic interests were not aligned with my other professional experiences. The past couple of summers, I've worked at direct service organizations in Chicago and New York where I worked with low-income populations to help them access services like affordable health, legal aid, and employment training. Having the chance to build relationships with individuals and getting to see the challenges people face on a daily basis helped me solidify my interest in public service. However, I was also interested in how these social issues played out within a global context. I was eager to learn how actions at an international level could be carried out to improve the quality of life of people.

Q: How does your major or other coursework at UChicago relate to the kind of work that you are doing for your Metcalf?

A: As an International Studies major and Human Rights minor, I took many classes that discussed the history and operation of international organizations like the UN and its special agencies. I learned how large-scale international cooperation became possible in the first place, and the challenges involved with sustaining these relationships. In my classes we read and discussed a variety of viewpoints and critiques of the international system. I was able to use these, in combination with my experiences this summer, to create and solidify my own opinions and approaches to the field. Personally, it was incredibly thrilling to be working with these organizations that I had spent so much time studying and researching.

Q: What was going through your mind as you prepared and showed up for your first day on the job?

A: My first day on the job was also my very first day in Geneva. I was getting used to a new city, and for large part, to a new language. Luckily for me, a strange combination of jet lag and adrenaline pushed aside any nervous thoughts I might have had that day. I think the moment I will remember most clearly that morning was taking the tram to [my internship] and seeing the Palace of the United Nations with all its flags in full sway. Once I arrived at the very last stop, WHO, I was in disbelief at the fact that I was finally there.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Quintero, Class of 2013

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your Metcalf, and how have you dealt with or overcome that challenge?

A: Coming into this internship, my experience in the area of health involved mainly helping people find out about resources that could help them. At the Global Drug Facility, I had to quickly learn not only about the specifics of tuberculosis, but also about the supply chain management of TB medicines and diagnostics equipment. At first this made it difficult to understand the legal documents involved in the process, because I was unfamiliar with both the medical and operational sides of the organization. My supervisor and I found it would be helpful to spend the first couple of days reading reports and summaries that would give me a better idea of the way the organization ran. I also tried to talk to my coworkers about what their positions involved, which also helped me gain a better understanding of the different components of the GDF.

Q: What is the most interesting, memorable, or unique experience/assignment you have had while working in the capacity of your Metcalf?

A: Having the chance to live in Geneva was a defining part of my Metcalf experience. It is a city with a strong intern and student network drawing students from all over the world. There I got to meet some incredibly passionate people who are committed to their causes. From doctors advocating for the improved treatment of babies with HIV, to anthropologists researching the evolution of structural violence in war-torn communities, I can truly say I was inspired by the people I met in Geneva.

Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned or the most rewarding experience you have had?

A: In addition to the work that I was involved in, I had the chance to sit in on GDF and STBP meetings. This was my favorite part of my internship experience. Being able to witness the behind-the-scenes brainstorming that goes into these global-scale projects taught me about the kinds of challenges international organizations must overcome on a day-to-day basis. One of the things I've noticed, at this internship and others, is that daily tasks can often feel meaningless unless you understand how your work fits into the larger plan of the organization you are working for. I felt like these meetings were crucial to keep everyone focused on the "big picture."

For more Metcalf reflections, check out the overview articleTo read the profiles that Career Advancement collects, click here.

UChicago Careers in Public and Social Service (UCIPSS), a program of Career Advancement, aims "to help students find purposeful and rewarding careers in the non-profit, policy, government, and related public service sectors." To that end, UCIPSS offers Jeff Metcalf internships, which are paid, substantive internships exclusively for UChicago undergraduates. For more information, visit the Metcalf Internship Program website.

Metcalf Internships are available to College students throughout the academic year, and especially during the summer internship season. To learn more about currently posted Metcalf Internships, log into your Chicago Career Connection account to search for opportunities, and to make an appointment with a Career Advancement adviser.

Tagged: policy, health, international relations, Metcalf Internship, Metcalf Memoirs