May 4, 2018

Houa Lee (MSW ‘19) is the inaugural School of Social Work intern at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where she will be assigned to the Community and Civic Engagement team for the summer of 2018.

“We are thrilled to be an institutional partner to the Gates Foundation,” said Eddie Uehara, dean, UW School of Social Work. "This partnership creates an immensely important avenue for students to learn and grow at one of the top philanthropic and global health organizations in the world.”

The foundation has partnered with other universities and with other UW schools, such as the Foster School of Business, in offering these highly sought-after summer internships. However, this is its first internship partnership with a school of social work.

"We are excited about this new partnership with the School of Social Work,” said David Wertheimer, director of the Community and Civic Engagement team and proud MSW. “The foundation focuses on building relationships that bring together resources, expertise and vision to empower communities to support those who are the furthest from opportunity. This inaugural internship with the School of Social Work is sure to benefit both our institutions, and is a fantastic example of how we have shared impact here in our own backyard.”

Houa Lee (pictured, right) is the daughter of Hmong refugees. Her family spent 20 years surviving a war and the following 13 years in refugee camps. “My interest in social work goes beyond what is written in text,” she said. “I chose social work specifically as a gateway to properly honor my ancestors, reclaim my people’s narratives and offer conscious healing for future generations.”

Lee's MSW degree concentration is administration and policy practice, with a minor in global health of women, adolescents and children. In 2017, she received a BS in rehabilitation psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lee was attracted to the School’s faculty and research capabilities as well as its range of courses and student opportunities. Before starting the MSW program, she served with AmeriCorps in Madison, Wisc., where she developed and delivered after-school programming for youth aged 14–18. 

In the future, she hopes to pursue a joint doctoral program in social work and anthropology, researching the effects of being stateless and how that has affected the health of Southeast Asian hill tribes. “This opportunity at the Gates Foundation will build my capacity to work effectively with communities and advance my ability to critically analyze public health issues,” Lee said. 

May 17 update to this story: MSW student Travis Voboril will join Houa Lee as the School’s second summer intern with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the its Seattle Youth Employment Program. Voboril was selected for his AmeriCorps experience, working with youth in school and foster care who have experienced homelessness, as well as his background as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji where he managed grants for environmental projects.