Pilot Light Programming Intern
As a Programming Intern since January 2023, Malena assists staff in implementing projects and programming in schools, conducting research and research reviews to inform project design and deliverables, and organizing and supporting curricula development, adaptation, and editing of the Pilot Light lesson library. She is passionate about working toward a more equitable future of health and health education access on both a local and nationwide level.
Malena is currently a rising third-year at the University of Chicago majoring in Global Studies with a specialization in Health, Environment, and Urban Studies; she is also minoring in Statistics. In college and in high school, she has been involved with the enactment of school- and community-based Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. In addition, Malena holds leadership positions in a variety of service clubs on her school’s campus; through those organizations, she has seen the tangible impact of serving local communities. She hopes to continue this endeavor of giving back to educators and other often-neglected members of society through her internship with Pilot Light.
Favorite Food Education Standard: FES #1- Food connects us to each other.
My favorite FES is Standard 1, “Food connects us to each other” because of its underlying importance to each of the successive standards: without an understanding of how each culture and demographic appreciates and relates to food in similar and different ways, it is impossible to understand the togetherness food brings.
Beyond the conceptual value of FES #1, I also have tangible experience working through ideas of connection across cultures in my own life that make me relate to this standard. I am both a mentor and the School Site Director of my college’s chapter of Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (W.Y.S.E.), a national, university-based organization where college women go into local, low-income middle schools to mentor female students about topics like body image, confidence, health, and more. Something we focus heavily on in our mentoring sessions is the connections we have with one another despite differences in our lives. For example, all of our mentors come from different backgrounds so when we conduct lessons with the students, we focus our discussions on the parts of ourselves that we all have in common like our emotions, possible family dynamics, experiences with nutrition, or other topics. Finding connection in that context is critical to our sessions just as the understanding of food’s ability to span across all global divides is to Pilot Light’s mission.
A favorite food memory or recipe: My favorite food memory is a collection of multiple memories–the massive dinners my mom and grandmother prepare every time my family travels to my grandmother’s house a few states away each summer. Food is an important part of all cultures, especially in Filipino households. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother and mom would cook close to ten dishes including adobo, pancit, lumpia, turon, bibingka, and more. I have never been a great chef by any means, but they would always put me to work cutting vegetables and doing other easier tasks while they did the more important jobs: three generations all working at once in no more than 12×12 feet. Once the hours of simmering and roasting were complete, my more than fifteen relatives, whom I only ever saw once a year, and I would share all of the plates while we sat cross-legged on the floor because there wasn’t enough furniture for everyone.
At the beginning of my involvement in this tradition, while the cooking marathon was occurring, I used to think that there was no way one dinner could be worth all of the stress, labor, and pressure my grandmother and mom would put themselves under. But then, observing and participating in the laughter and joyous conversation that seemingly only a meal can inspire initiated an epiphany: food connects us all.