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Featured Changemaker: TEAL WITTER on playing with data to increase impact

Teal Witter interned at YGL in summer 2017 after he graduated from YGL and Fairview the year before. Teal currently attends Middlebury College as a Math and Computer Science double major. Serena Rusk conducted this Featured Changemaker interview with Teal.

What are you up to outside of YGL and Philanthropiece?

I recently finished another summer internship at KUNC radio station. (Tune in at 91.5 FM.) While I created a variety of products such as local news stories and articles, I especially loved one of the data analytics project. I took school district numbers from the Colorado Department of Education and combined them into several graphics. Check out the interactive map, graph, and histogram I created!

What has been the main focus of your internship?

I’d say the largest project I’ve worked on for YGL is the alumni impact assessment survey. I took questions from Aleiya’ Evison’s 2014 survey so that we could compare alum impact over time. Take a look at the report I compiled about it! While I was in the barn, Jake and I met about the Philanthropiece Scholars program. I took a peek at the database they use to keep track of each scholar and ended up building a more time-efficient version. I had a lot of fun on this project, learning SQL and spending nearly countless hours on web forums.

What drew you to YGL in the beginning? What drew you back as an intern?

Serena, my fellow summer 2017 intern, gave a presentation on YGL my sophomore year of high school. I thought it sounded cool so I applied! While I never participated in as many service activities as I wanted, the strong community kept me coming back. Last summer, Sierra and Annie co-facilitated the summer retreat. I remember thinking they had the coolest internship ever so, of course, I applied for the next summer. I was so excited that I submitted my cover letter and resume within minutes of the invitation! I don’t think I did as great a job as Sierra and Annie but I tried.

How do you see yourself as a changemaker?

In my mind, a changemaker is someone who does something innovative and impactful. I don’t see myself as a changemaker. Even the more social impact-y things I love to do–data visualization, robotics work with middle schoolers, putting myself in different social groups–are not creating change, per se. People have already done these activities; I’m simply following in their footsteps.

Where do you find inspiration and motivation?

I find inspiration and motivation from my close friends. One of my friends in particular–Melanie–inspires me in a variety of ways. I greatly admire the way she walks the line having fun and making an impact. Even though she has created so many fascinating tech tools and knows a ridiculous amount about computer science, Melanie still manages to encourage the people around her to do great things, too.

What experiences have shaped your values?

Conversations with my dad greatly impact my value system. We disagree on a lot of political issues so our debates are certainly on the “lively” side. He’s helped me develop the critical thinking skills that help me navigate everything from academic coursework to political discussions. I’ve also learned a healthy amount of detachment. He believes that climate change is not anthropogenically caused yet he does more for the environment–hybrid cars, solar panels, efficient heating systems–than many people who do.

How do you make space for yourself? When are you happiest?

I wouldn’t say that I make space for myself, instead I find it. I develop friendships with people who I can authentically engage with whether that be through playing cards, exploring nature or goofing around. I’m happiest with my friends in these spaces.

What is the biggest thing you’ll take away from this internship?

There’s a significant disparity between the efficiency–impact per resource–between Philanthropiece’s three programs. YGL provides an extracurricular activity for 15 high school students, Philanthropiece Scholars empowers 30 young adults to attend college, Community Banks provides a banking alternative for more than 100 communities. A lot of the disparity has to do with the ‘scalability’ of each model. YGL requires at least one full time employee per 15 students whereas the Community Banks only needs one-time training and a regional coordinator. I’ll utilize this knowledge in the future when I decide which social programs to support. How scalable is the model? What impact does my hour (or dollar) have?

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