Econ student combines interest in philanthropy and law during Kenyan internship

Johnstuart Winchell spent his summer interning at the he Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre in Kianyaga, Kenya where, among other responsibilities, he helped tutor children.
Johnstuart Winchell helps tutor his young charge, Viktor, as part of his internship in Kenya this past summer. / Photo courtesy of Johnstuart Winchell
Johnstuart Winchell helps tutor his young charge, Viktor, as part of his internship in Kenya this past summer. / Photo courtesy of Johnstuart Winchell

This past summer, over 200 Faculty of Arts students interned in Canada and around the globe, from Chennai to Cape Town, and from Paris to Panama City. Since 2002, the Faculty of Arts Internship Program has helped undergraduate students offset internship-related costs such as travel, accommodations, visas and other expenses thanks to the generous support of alumni and friends of the McGill.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, the most recent recipients of the Arts Internships will share the highlights and challenges of their internship experiences this summer, what they learned and how they plan to apply it to their field of study.

This is the story of one such student, Johnstuart Winchell, and his internship with the Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre in Kianyaga, Kenya.

Name and program of study

Johnstuart Winchell, U3, Economics

Where did you intern this summer?

I spent May, June, and July of 2015 as an intern with the Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre in Kianyaga, Kenya.

What is the Evaluation Centre’s mandate?

The Center, founded by McGill professor Matthieu Chemin in 2006, exists in order to rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of specific development projects.

What motivated you to apply for this internship?

I was interested in interning with Elimu for a number of reasons, the first of which being the many ways in which it overlapped with my interests. Ever since reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality in an introductory philosophy course, I have made effective philanthropy a cornerstone of my life. Needless to say, effective philanthropy relies on research to identify the most effective causes, and in this way contributing to Professor Chemin’s research aligned nicely with my interest in the subject.

The internship also overlapped nicely with my burgeoning interest in law. One of Elimu’s current research projects is to test for the effect of legal aid on economic and social outcomes. Given this, I was excited to be working in an office that was involved in administering legal counsel. By working side by side with a lawyer, I hoped to get a better idea of whether law would be a suitable career for me to pursue.

My interest in the internship with Elimu came from more than just my interests in these subjects, however. Up until this summer, I had never visited a developing country and I was well aware of the limitations this put on my perspective. By seeing how different life can be in far away places, I hoped not only to reinforce my gratitude for those things that I am lucky to have, but also to find new and potentially advantageous ways of viewing the world around me.

What were your responsibilities there?

For the most part, my responsibilities with Elimu involved a pilot study designed to test the effectiveness of online tutoring. Our hope was that interested parties could use our research to compare the costs and benefits of such a project in order to better decide on educational policy. In particular, I was responsible for tutoring the students whose online tutors were not available and managing relations with the hosting primary school.

Other than my involvement with the online tutoring program, I also spent some time trying to reinstate a study on the effects of access to electricity that had been put on hold some nine years earlier. Professor Chemin had been hoping to test the economic and social effects of the provision of electricity, but the turbine responsible for producing the electricity had broken down and was beyond repair. I did my best to find an engineer that could help us to replace the turbine, which would allow Professor Chemin to continue with the study. I am happy to say that I was successful and, by the time I had left, the new engineer had already started his work.

What did you get out of this experience?

I enjoyed many things about my time in Kianyaga. Of special significance to me were the times that I spent singing with the children or watching how quickly they were capable of learning. I suspect, however, that I will become increasingly aware of the full value of my internship was as time goes by. I think it is very likely that much of the internship’s effects on me are yet to be realized.

I am not entirely sure how my internship with Elimu will affect my future career choices, except for making me more aware of the challenges of working in different cultures and just how difficult it can be to perform economic development research. I will continue to look for opportunities to better understand how I might best contribute to the problem of extreme poverty.

I would like to extend my thanks to Mr. Allan Hodgson for his generous support [which has made it possible] that I will be able to receive credit for my internship through a research paper that I plan to write on the online tutoring pilot study that I participated in, to be overseen by Professor Chemin. However, above and beyond these academic and professional benefits, I am most grateful to Mr. Hodgson for the memories of Kianyaga that I will carry with me on my future endeavors.

The Arts Internship Office needs people’s support to ensure the survival of the Arts Internship Program. If you’d like to help, see their Seeds of Change page.

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Rev. Martha McDowell
8 years ago

While reading Mr. Winchell’s reflections about his time in Kianyaga, Kenya, I am impressed with the opportunities that McGill students are afforded in extraordinary ways.
To have the ability to see a problem, and then search out ways to solve that nine year problem seems to be a win-win situation for the student, the community, the professor and McGill.
Congratulations to Professor Chemin, Mr. Hodgson, and Mr. Winchell for reaching out and striving to change difficult community problems and hopefully find ways to made greater positive changes in our world.