It’s hard to believe, but somehow I’ve been in Seattle for a week already!

Let me introduce myself! My name’s Kevin Ma, I am a rising junior at Duke University, majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and intending to minor in Energy Engineering (fingers crossed). I enjoy cooking, eating, sleeping, and taking walks in good weather. I dislike cats, making decisions, and hearing things twice.

Oh, and people tend to say I am tactless.


Here in Seattle, I am partnered with the YMCA organization at both Bellevue and East Madison with Daniel Li (cool dude, funny guy, fellow LoL-er), and we are focusing on how to better make the YMCA a community-based health provider. We will do this by talking to local hospitals and healthcare providers in one-on-one interviews as well as focus groups. It’s pretty much the bees knees.

I have two community partners, one based at MMEM YMCA, and the other at Bellevue YMCA:

Chip Byrne is based in MMEM, and is incredibly intelligent, yet impressively laid back. Also, he took us to Barrios, which is a delicious Mexican restaurant. Thus, he is metagod status.

Tana Graedel is based in Bellevue, and she is a force-of-nature. She’s already got us working hard, and I know in my eight weeks here, I can always look to her for a good pep-talk or necessary butt-whuppin (FEEDBACK LOOPS).

I can’t say much because I’ve only been here a week, but I can say that I have changed the way I view “service”, and that it has made an indelible impression on me.

Firstly, I think this country is damn great because of its community service culture. I believe that the inherent impulse to give that has been fostered by my upbringing is one of my greatest assets. It makes me a better person and adds fulfillment to my life.

However, I originally viewed service and giving to be an aspect of one’s personally, a supplement to a complete individual, but by entering the nonprofit world, I have met numerous individuals who make service a central trait. To put it succinctly, it is not something they do, it is who they are. Service defines them, and all their actions follow as a consequence.

Why is this important to me? Though I love service, my career path will most likely take me into the private sector. But I can still give by adopting a service mindset. I can promote awareness and giving in my work environment, and also allow my morals to influence the business and finance decisions I will make. This is really comforting to me, because I reallyyyyyy want to just get a job at BMW and make cars or at Boeing and make jets.


BUT BACK TO SEATTLE. This place is one word: DOPE! Seriously, it’s a fascinating place and I have to admit that though the urban hipster culture is foreign to me, it’s a nice contrast to my home state of NJ. I also love the geography of this place. So many bodies of water to look at, Mt. Rainier in the distance, and trees everywhere! Plus the weather is moderate, which makes a day trip downtown be a nice walk rather than a heat wave death trap. I’m excited to go to all the festivals and concerts here, as well as go hiking and other outings where I’ll get to enjoy Mother Nature. Here’s to a great eight weeks!

Kevin Ma
Duke Student '15

This week was filled to the max. 6:30 AM alarms, meeting tons of Northwest Harvest staff and Dukies, rain, handing out lunches, a frost nip scare after packaging frozen peas for 2.5 hours, rain, naked bikers, rain, and trekking up hills don’t even begin to describe how much I’ve experienced already. Despite being busy each day and dealing with crazy weather, I couldn’t be happier in Seattle!

I’ve decided that Seattle is a city for people people (as in, plural of “people person”). Every time you walk down the street, there’s always someone willing to give you a nod or a quick hello. I’m definitely not in New York anymore.

The Northwest Harvest staff is no exception. They have been nothing but warm and welcoming since our arrival on Monday. Kevin and I were given complete, detailed tours of the Cherry Street campus and the Kent warehouse, in addition to great meals with some staff members the first few days. It’s great to see that everyone has fun together while on the job, yet they still get their work done. This balance was especially prevalent as the fiscal year came to a close. People were rushing around to get documents and numbers in before deadlines, but a few still came into my office when they had some time to spare to introduce themselves once more and to talk about Duke or cool things to do in Seattle. Whenever I have a free minute, I’m always able to help out in the food bank, too. The work there is so meaningful; we’re able to feed a family of three for just 67 cents! And with 1 in 6 people in Washington suffering from hunger, there’s always more work to do. I have already gained such a greater perspective on hunger in the US that I hope to add onto and bring back with me. Thank you, NWH, for teaching me so much already!

Dani Leftland
Duke Student '16
The overwhelming friendliness and positivity within the Northwest Harvest organization is unlike any I’ve encountered in all my employments. To me, this says two things: Not only is Northwest Harvesteffectively supplying food to people who actually need it, but every employee here knows this and takes great pleasure in their work because of it. The amicable workplace environment is coupled with an underlying desire to see the organization succeed. Consequently, I’m not surprised that my first week has consisted of bouncing from meeting to meeting, with a daily hour or so of volunteer work. 

My first day I worked the sandwich line, essentially the spearhead at Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street foodbank. In addition to general positivity among Northwest’s employees, the clients were respectfully appreciative of our work as well. About half the clients thanked us personally, specifically commending us for our patience or simply acknowledging my ‘sexy apron’. In my experience, a 50% thank-you rate is incredible: I was never once thanked as a volunteer EMT, and only very rarely as a paid EMT. It really says something when the foodbank clients, many of whom are homeless or with some kind of mental illness, think to acknowledge our work, while in both emergency and non-emergency medical situations, very few people express gratitude.

Nevertheless, I can comfortably say that the overall good-feeling at Northwest Harvest is infectious; never before has it been so easy to wake up at 6am on a daily basis.

Kevin Mauro
Duke Student '15
The first week in Seattle has been very exciting! Although it's only been a week, I have already fallen in love with this place!

Let's talk about work first. I am working at Washington Environmental Council (WEC), specifically, with the People for Puget Sound (P4PS) team. We are going to plan and develop a series of training sessions for the community members living in the affinity of 5 different aquatic reserves in the Puget Sound area. 

First day of work was a lot of fun! I arrived a little bit earlier than expected, and Rebecca, one of the Puget Sound team members, gave me a warm welcome by showing me around the office and introducing me to everybody. Everyone was so nice and friendly that my slight nervousness had completely disappeared by the time I met my supervisor, Maddie. After a short introduction, I was invited to their weekly meeting, where everybody shared the progress of their projects. Something intriguing drew my attention while Shannon, the  Voter Education Program Manager, was presenting some statistics about the composition of members affiliated with a community of environmental groups in Washington. She pointed out that Asian and Hispanic representation in the member base is unproportionally low as compared to that in the general population in the state. This led me to think about whether environmental awareness is ever related to races. If it is, why? While I was thinking about this, Shannon went on talking about how agencies now can calculate the probability of people voting in a particular year based on their voting histories and other information. With that, organizations like WEC are able to reach out to potential voters more efficiently and make a bigger impact. As a statistics major, I felt super excited about what she said, because I had never really seen that my major can be linked to the non-profit field in this way before. And it opens up my mind to some really exciting ideas about applying my knowledge to areas that seem not conventionally related to statistics.

In the afternoon, Maddie and I talked more about my work plan over the summer. We connected really well, probably because we are about the same age and are both very passionate about environmental conservation. Later, I met Rein, my other supervisor, who went to an ice cream factory and a brewery in the morning. The special thing about these two places is that they are all built based on the idea of "low impact development (LID)". For example, the ice cream factory was built on pervious concrete which allow water to seep through and effectively prevent surface run-offs that bring harmful dirt and trash into the Puget Sound. And of course, Rein brought ice creams back to the office and they literally sweetened my day by a lot. :)

The rest of the week went on pretty smoothly. I learnt so much about the Puget Sound and the aquatic reserves by reading the management plans and digging into some very informative websites. My understanding about how an environmental organization operates and cooperates with other groups to make a difference has also deepened from observing the people around me making phone calls and discussing with their colleagues. The whole experience has been very different from what I have had in the past, especially in terms of coming out of the school environment and stepping into the professional world. And so far, I have really enjoyed it!

We are going to have a training session for all the summer interns in WEC next week. Super excited about meeting more new people!

Now, the non-work stuff...

Seattle is amazing in a lot of ways, but I think the best thing about it is that it reminds me of my hometown in China --- Qingdao. Both of them are right besides the water, both have cool summers, and both have numerous people on the street... I used to mourn about not being able to go back home this summer; but now, I feel like back home already. :)

Duke has a group of super awesome alums in Seattle! It was really nice to meet some of themon Thursday . They introduced to us a lot of fun stuff that we are definitely going to try out in the next couple of weeks. :P

I love Chinatown, not only because of the great food, but also because of the rich history it carries. It is located very close to my office and I can just walk there after work. As expected, there is a big Asian market where I got literally everything I need (or don't need)!

The farmer's market is also a fun place to go. But things there are quite expensive...... Nowadays, it takes money to be organic.

We are going to volunteer as a group for Northwest Harvest tomorrow morning. AndSunday......The Pride Parade!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Qi Dong (Tracy)
Duke Student '15
As part of our orientation to Seattle, the DukeEngage Seattle group participated in a walking tour of the International District. As a reflection upon the day, the students' each wrote a ten word story: 

Life is one continuous meal with many long breaks. 

Fortune Cookies, Japanese or Chinese? Who knows. 

Looking for clues on unremarkable buildings. A community's history revealed. 

They come to America, and now I'm here. 

"Good night Grandma! See you tomorrow at Dimsum!" "Wan An!" 

Dim Sum is good. Many courses. Not enough vegetables. 

"Please let this dream come true." - Let me help the world. 

"What are you?"  "I am human."

Americans eat Dim Sum. Tried chicken feet. Yum?

World War II. Japanese man returns from work. Kids missing. 

Wing Luke. Local politician. Plane crash. Forever remembered. 

Melting pot of international cultures. Had a taste of Chinese. 

Alleyway adventures, cramped kitchens, ducks in windows, never-ending mahjong. Childhood. 

Do not dare call me a "sexually pliant Asian woman." 

I learned a lot and ate a chicken foot. 

Terminus junction. Faded glory. Remnants of displaced lives. Unlikely romance.