By Connor Adams Sheets
Michelle Chan started Queens College two years ago with plans to major in English and maybe one day become an English professor.
Now the 19-year-old College Point student is working for the summer at the Gotham Gazette, where she is writing about hunger and spreading the word on the paper’s commitment to good government under a 2011 Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, through which she will attend leadership seminars and participate in three summers of internship placements.
The path to her current post was not a direct one. The rising junior’s life trajectory may have changed forever when she took a freshman-year course called “The Peopling of New York,” which focused on new immigrants’ struggles as they adjusted to life in their new country.
Chan says she saw in the new immigrant experience a little bit of her grandmother, a Chinatown resident, who Chan spent many days visiting as a child. Motivated by the education she got that semester, she decided to participate in a summer internship working on osteoporosis issues last year with Project Asian Health Education and Development at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Chinatown, and she says she may have found her calling during that pivotal time.
In the intervening year she was one of 15 students at 12 member colleges in New York City accepted for the Watson fellowship, which requires that recipients be liberal arts majors with good academic histories, under 25 years old and U.S. citizens. It provides three paid summer internships as well as leadership seminars and more.
Earlier this month, Chan started a new internship at the Gotham Gazette that allows her to continue to follow the new path she has blazed for herself, which she said may one day take her to law school and to a career in civil rights, human rights or women’s rights law.
“It was something I was always interested in, but I didn’t really have a chance to work on or develop until I started to work on the Project AHEAD internship last summer,” Chan said during her lunch break from the Gazette Monday afternoon. “That really allowed me to be more involved in a community setting and allowed me to help people get the tools and the services they need, and that helped me get involved.”
Now she spends her days at her paid internship at the Gazette in downtown Manhattan, where she splits her days between raising awareness about the paper and its good-government Councilpedia initiative, and writing for publication on its pages.
“I’m working on an article at my own pace right now on hunger in New York City and food insecurity, and I’m hoping to write an article about how community members who are facing food insecurity are working to remedy the situation they’re in,” she said.
Phyllis Stevens, a spokeswoman for Queens College, said the school is proud of Chan and her accomplishments, and that the young woman has a bright future ahead of her.
“We’re very proud of her and we think it will ultimately help in her goals as far as her career,” Stevens said.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.