Alumni highlight: Julien Rashid

 Julien Rashid was in the Wisconsin in Washington 2016 fall cohort. He graduated in 2017 with a B.S. in molecular biology and community and environmental sociology with a certificate in global health. Today he works at the Global Health Technologies Coalition (PATH) as the U.S. policy and advocacy associate.

I couldn’t look away the first time I saw the monuments. From the beltway between National airport and the District, they look small but unmistakable, like distant mountains that refuse to move no matter how fast you drive.

I grew up in a small town in Iowa near no mountains, but bounded by infinite cornfields to the West and the Mississippi to the east. During the summer, I filled scripts at my dad’s pharmacy, and in the fall, I listened to my teachers eulogizing Norman Borlaug, a Nobel-winning Iowan who revolutionized agriculture and allowed humanity to dream a less bounded future. Given these influences, in reflection it seems less surprising that by the time I enrolled at UW-Madison, I was telling aunts, uncles, and family friends that I wanted to work in global health policy, an unusual aspiration where more usual aspirations might have been choosing medical school, working in a bank, or harvesting success in the fields. When I was asked well-intentioned questions, I sidestepped with vague answers, realizing I had the same questions.

By my third year in Madison I still hadn’t found any answers and the dream had faded. I was working in research labs and considering a future looking through microscopes. “Global health policy” still seemed an impressionist landscape that I couldn’t describe or imagine how to locate. It wasn’t until a friend told me about the Wisconsin in Washington (WIW) program that I saw an opportunity.

With a background in biology, sociology, and global health, I was worried I might not be accepted into a program that had most students studying international relations and political science. My heart jumped when I was accepted—and nearly left my chest when a few months later I was accepted for an internship at a global health research organization. Before leaving the isthmus, I already saw that one advantage of the WIW program is that it gives students the personal connections needed to compete for internships in a city fueled on social capital. Without WIW’s support I doubt my resume would’ve had a second look.

But the WIW program is more than just a foothold for UW students looking to work in DC. On the first day of my internship I was wide-eyed and grateful but placed in the fundraising department. Through the WIW night classes I worked hard on my professional writing and networking. I used those new skills to maneuver my way into the policy department, where for the first time I was able to see the policy process in vivo—I was enamored.

Today, four years later, I work at the Global Health Technologies Coalition, an organization whose mission is to advance federal and international policies that make it easier to create new tools, such as drugs and vaccines, to improve lives everywhere. I was hired because of the skills I learned from WIW and because of a connection I made during my internship. Every day I am grateful that I get to apply my passion to my work, and in our current global situation that work feels even more pressing and important. It’s a dream I could not have realized without help—especially from the WIW program.

I don’t need to point out that times are tough. This fall the pandemic is likely to leaden a city famous for its yearly inflow of vibrant young faces. I hope, however, that weathering this moment will only make the program stronger so that it can continue to shape the ambitions of future cohorts of UW students and enable many of them to see the monuments for the first time.