Senior Contributes to City Planning on Food Security Through Internship

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March 5, 2021 – In the fall semester, senior De’Ara Graves (NHS’21), who majors in health care management & policy, had the chance to intern with the District of Columbia Office of Planning through a policy course taught by Dr. Patricia Cloonan.

Health care management & policy major De’Ara Graves (NHS’21) completed her policy internship with the District of Columbia’s Food Policy Council. The senior plans to continue working to advance food equity.

During the virtual experiential learning opportunity, Graves worked with Ona Balkus, a lawyer who serves as the office’s food policy director.

“For my senior project, I worked with the District of Columbia’s Food Policy Council to learn more about senior food insecurity and what it looked like in DC,” Graves said. “Over the summer, I worked with seniors in assisted living, so doing this research strengthened my base knowledge of issues impacting our aging population.” 

Making an Impact

Balkus has praised Graves’ multifaceted research, indicating that it has contributed to the formation of a task force focused on food insecurity among older adults, as well as new policy proposals to help grocery stores open and be successful in communities with low food access. 

Graves, who grew up in Maryland, developed her interest in food equity by volunteering with the student organization on campus called Students Advancing Food Equity (SAFE).

“Working closely with that organization encouraged me to do my part in learning about food insecurity and spreading awareness,” she said. “When we think of health care, there tends to be a focus on interventional medicine and how we finance it, but I think a lot about prevention.” 

She added, “Examining access to adequate and balanced nutrition through, for example, corner store initiatives, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) awareness campaigns is an important part of the conversation on health too.”

Engaging with Scholars

Graves said she discovered Georgetown in sixth grade while taking part in an after-school program that included a trip to campus. 

“My top memory would be meeting a student rep from Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic for Service (GIVES) and learning about the random acts of kindness they did on campus,” she said.

She said her major and NHS have presented her with the opportunity to interact with “architects of health care policy,” such as Dr. Mary Wakefield, visiting distinguished professor at NHS and acting deputy HHS secretary in the Obama administration, and Georgetown alumni.

“My experience of Georgetown thus far has been marked by meeting talented and passionate scholars and faculty,” Graves highlighted.

Campus Engagement

In addition to SAFE, Graves has worked in the Student Employment Office, as well as assisted in administering Common $ense, a university program that seeks to improve financial literacy for students.

She has also participated in the Center for Social Justice’s Alternative Break Programs and DC Reads tutoring sessions.

As for the future, Graves said, “I am looking forward to pursuing an advanced degree, but would like to gain some valuable work experience first. I plan to continue tackling issues around food insecurity, whether in a professional or communal space.” 

By Bill Cessato