As our five-person Harvard student team left a federal government building and stepped onto Jackson Place, a small street adjacent the White House, we remained silent. This was uncharacteristic. Throughout our weekly meetings at the Harvard Innovation Lab, we often struggled to get one person to speak at a time. Whenever guests visited class, we would interrupt their lectures with questions.
Exhaustion may be one reason we fell silent. We had started off the day briefing the Board of Veterans Appeals before a quick lunch and a 90-minute meeting with the VA Deputy Secretary, Sloan Gibson. We then toured the White House East Wing and the headquarters of the US Digital Service. Including a five-minute talk at the beginning of the US Digital Service’s weekly staff meeting, we presented our project three times—all at different locations in town.
But exhaustion only explains a small part of the silence. We kept quiet out of a deep feeling of content. Having left our protected bubble in Cambridge, we all finally had a chance to see the heart of the action. In fact, we were a part of it. We met the public servants who dedicated their lives to working on the same problems we sought to address. We felt honored to contribute to their mission and inspired to see how our work would live past the semester.
We would like to thank the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for their incredible support. In particular, we are thankful to Giuseppe Morgana and Mary Ann Brody at the VA for the time they took each week to help us. We would also like to thank Professor Nick Sinai for dreaming up this collaboration and our Teaching Fellow Angel Quicksey for providing her wisdom along the way.
Working on disability appeals at the VA has been the professional highlight of our time at Harvard. We cannot wait until the next time we get back to the action.
Paris Martin, Jane Labanowski, Chetan Jhavervi, Rohan Pavuluri, and Josh Welle