Julia Kurnik '06: Life in the Public Service Sector

The MIT Public Service Center was a huge part of my life at MIT and one, I believe, that has continued to influence my life since graduating. I spent two years working at the PSC in a couple of different capacities. The work varied, and different people moved in and out of the Center, but the spirit and purpose remained steadfast even as day-to-day responsibilities and faces changed. I had the chance to work on connecting students with service opportunities and to see the results firsthand.

Since leaving MIT, my work in the public service sector has continued. I spent nearly two years on President (then-Senator) Obama's campaign in 2007 and 2008 and followed him to DC where I had the exhilarating chance to serve during much of his first term. As a graduate student, I am now studying social enterprise at Wharton and policy at Harvard Kennedy School in the hopes of starting my own social enterprise upon graduation. I continue to serve as an online crisis hotline volunteer for RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). As an online crisis hotline volunteer, I am often the first, and only, contact for victims of unspeakable crimes. It is fraught with emotion and often extremely difficult, but knowing that my words might help someone who has suffered so much makes it worth it.

I can easily say that my work in public service has irrevocably changed my life for the better. It has opened my eyes and fulfilled me in a way that is profound. I grew up in a safe, upper-middle class suburban community where I went to one of the best public schools in the country and saw opportunity all around me. I knew that poverty existed, that racism existed, that many people didn't have the same opportunities so abundant in my world, but I didn't truly understand that. It was easy to think of it only in a theoretical sense.

During the Obama campaign I traveled to some of the most poverty-stricken cities and towns in the country. I didn't just visit; I lived in them. I worked with the locals and spent my days, weeks, and months listening to them. I began to understand what it means to live there. I saw people who only wanted to be able to support their families but were unable to do so no matter how hard they tried. I saw parents make the choice between driving their child to school and going to work – because they could only afford enough gas for one. I saw young children who, even as they attended elementary school, realized that they were stuck in a vicious cycle and that no one expected anything of them.

The campaign ended several years ago, but these experiences continue to influence me every day. All of my work since then, and the future work I hope to accomplish, has been on behalf of the incredible people I met. Their words, their lives, their thoughts are what make me invest myself fully in making this country a better place.

Julia Kurnik '06