During the fall semester of his junior year at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in California, James Wang had a choice: an internship at an engineering firm or a fellowship that’s not specifically in his field but where he felt he could make a big difference.
“There are so many different opportunities in the world,” Wang said. “If you limit yourself to what you have within college or what you can see in front of you, you really don’t have many options to look forward and to create the change you want to see in the world.”
He chose the fellowship, working for Vitalite Zambia through The Global Social Benefit Fellowship at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
The fellowship allows 18 juniors from the university to take part in a nine-month research project, including an eight-week field component in the developing world. Fellows are grouped into teams and paired with social enterprise partners of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute. These partners have already identified a problem they need help overcoming.
For Wang, his challenge was to help Vitalite Zambia identify why so many customers were defaulting on their payments and devise solutions to help improve its scalability.
Some of his professors initially questioned his decision, asking him if he was still an engineer. He had always seen himself as an engineer and those questions made him a little nervous. But, he said, he got into engineering to create change in the environment, with the goal of one day helping developing countries have clean and accessible electricity and water.
“I did research. I did internships. But at the end of the day I was like, am I going in the right directions? Am I making a difference?” he said. “I had to tell myself no.”
He knew the fellowship was the right way to go.