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Koret Fellowship Program

Paloma Contreras 1
Paloma Contreras

Psychology major, Class of 2019

Over the summer, I worked at three different places: Grail Family Services, The American Red Cross, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. Working with GFS helped me develop an even closer relationship with the San Antonio community as it was my second summer volunteering there, and it solidified the idea that I like working in an environment that helps children. As for the Red Cross, I learned about and volunteered in different parts of the organization, most notably the Disaster Action Team--the first people at a disaster scene who provide comfort and direct assistance to help those who have been affected as they begin the recovery process--Services to the Armed Forces, and the Community Partnerships Team. But my internship at the Crime Strategies Unit at DA’s Office provided me with the most impactful experience for a variety of reasons.

My boss, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Marisa McKeown, assigned my colleagues and I with many Excel-driven projects. These projects made me realize how useful Excel is, and I eventually started applying my new spreadsheet skills to my current job as a Research Team Lead for the Psychology Department. One of my most notable projects included reporting on the Master Trial Calendar (MTC) as a response to the 2016-2017 SCC Civil Grand Jury Report on the amount of time it takes to resolve felonies; this was one of the most time-consuming projects I worked on as it involved a lot of data entry and learning of legal codes, but I am proud to say that my report is being used by SCC judges and attorneys to help set future policies. One of my other most notable projects included updating and adding to the SCC District Attorney's Race and Prosecutions Report. Because Marisa was open to suggestions, I raised the idea of using SCC’s public health data in the report as it had provided rich and detailed information about various zip codes in the county. Thus, we decided to write a new section on the relationship between zip codes with the highest crime rates, race, and economic and educational opportunities.

Not only did I like the fact that I was making a wide impact on the community through the use of data, but I also learned a lot about the SCC community by in the process of working at the DA’s office. More specifically, I encountered startling information and statistics, which included that Santa Clara County is the slowest county in California to resolve felonies, and my and many of my friends’ neighborhood have the highest rates of crime in the county. I've lived in the San Jose Alum Rock area my whole life and there were many things that I was completely unaware of. Because of this realization, I am further convinced that I want to pursue a job in the community I grew up in, and I intend to find some way of giving back by either working in a local school district or a community organization to help implement community interventions.

While I did enjoy working at the DA’s office, I do not see myself working there in the future; I am not interested in pursuing a career in law and the only other position in the office that does not require a law degree is the clerical jobs, which I am not interested in, and the Victim Services Unit, which can be emotionally draining. Even though I don’t want to work in the DA’s office, I found out that I liked the office work environment in a government facility and the hours and scheduling it provided. Despite the fact that I liked working with the Red Cross, the hours were often inconsistent, and I was typically scheduled at late times of the day; in contrast, the DA’s office provided me with a consistent set of hours in the morning. Furthermore, while I do enjoy directly helping individual people, I would prefer a job that allows me to work with data and implement community-wide interventions on children and families.

Not only did the Koret Fellowship allow me to strengthen my work experience with a diverse set of jobs and volunteer opportunities, but it also gave me the opportunity to experiment with different types of work environments and find out in what way I would like to serve the community. While doing all of this, I also fortify relationships with communities that I may be working with in the future, such as Grail Family Services and its San Antonio community.