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Jacob Burnett ’15 – The Vantage Point of Gideon’s Army

Jacob Burnett ’15 – “From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote these words into law when authoring the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. In essence, the Supreme Court dictated that every individual charged with a crime has a fundamental right in our justice system to an attorney. It gave color to the spirit of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution – rights enjoyed by all citizens.

This summer, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Criminal Law Internship Program (CLIP) through the Public Defender Service (PDS) in Washington D.C. PDS embodies these fundamental tenets of our justice system. I am an investigative intern that, as my title implies, investigates crimes on behalf of an attorney that represents indignant clients. Due to closed discovery, PDS receives very limited information involved in a case. To fill that void, Staff Investigators, other interns, and I perform crime scene investigations, canvass for evidence, serve subpoenas, take statements, find witnesses, attend court hearings, develop defense theories, and perform any other task that arises during an investigation. I’ve also had the opportunity to sit in on seminars regarding forensic evidence, flaws in eyewitness identification, legal writing, and many more. Therefore, my internship has provided me with a two-pronged wonder world: hands-on investigation and education on the inner workings of the criminal justice system.

At PDS, we are assigned an intern partner. I had the pleasure of working with Caitlin Rams, a rising junior at the University of Wyoming.

At PDS, we are assigned an intern partner. I had the pleasure of working with Caitlin Rams, a rising junior at the University of Wyoming.

I was assigned to a trial division attorney to investigate Felony 1 cases. It has given me a brand new appreciation for all the work that goes into trial preparation. It also taught me more about myself, humanity, social justice, and passion than any textbook or class could attempt to address. Honestly, if you were interested in a typical office or corporate law job with a regular 9-5 schedule, this internship was not for you. I accomplished all my work first hand. It wasn’t from a distance. I canvassed crime scenes more than I completed office work.

Along with this assignment, I had the opportunity to work in the Special Litigation Department at PDS. This department works on numerous projects that are not necessarily tied to trial. The attorneys work on impacting policy, writing amicus briefs, and many other projects. I had the opportunity to work on a Car Forfeiture program. In essence, I helped identify owners of formally repossessed vehicles and work on reuniting these people with their vehicles. Unlike other interns, I also had the opportunity to work in the appellate division as well. My intern partner and I searched for newly discovered witnesses and evidence to help an appellate attorney win a new trial for our client.

All of us have sat through a “Law and Order” episode or one of its sister shows. We root for the good guy prosecutor who has overwhelming evidence against the defendant. We shake our head at the slimy defense attorney who represents the obviously guilty individual. Sometimes I receive unenthusiastic responses, morose facial expressions, or snide remarks about my work when I inform people where I am interning. However, through my work at PDS, I have learned that the world of criminal law presents a mosaic of mess – often times substantially, racially, and economically poisoned. More often than not, the evidence is not clear and convincing. If it is, many people decide to plea and not go to trial. It is my job to work to ensure that the government does their job and does not send an innocent person to jail or violate their fundamental liberties.

I work for convicted felons, accused felons, and prisoners. However, they are more than these labels; they are people. I spend my time in poor communities and jails. And I couldn’t be more honored. These individuals have trusted me with their liberty. I would want nothing else to ensure that justice is attainable and contingent upon culpability and not wealth. It further demonstrates my belief that basic humanity demands dignity. This experience has strengthened my belief that we all are more than the worst thing we have ever done. I have met some of the most selfless people behind jail bars.

We live in a country where an individual is twenty-two times more likely to receive the death penalty if they are black. We live in a country where an individual is eight times more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white. We live in a country where one in eight individuals on death row have been exonerated. We live in a country where the justice system treats you more fairly if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent. My job at PDS has given me the tools to ensure that the words written on the façade of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law,” represent more than mere letters inscribed in concrete. The safeguards in place under our constitution protect the rights experienced by the guilty and innocent alike – people like you and me.

It will be difficult when I return to Wabash for the fall semester and people ask me how my summer was because it is indescribable. I will not be at a loss for words to paint a picture for those who are interested, but describing my experience robs it of the veracity embodied through living it. Words cannot capture the work I have accomplished, people I have met, and the life I have lead these past twelve weeks.

Last summer, I started a journey working for the disenfranchised as an intern at the Legal Aid Society of Louisville. Overall, I have had another opportunity to explore the practice of ruthless empathy. I would not have had this experience without the generous funding of the Harold M. and Margaret R. Coons Public Service Internship grant, the F. Michael Cassel award, and the funding I’ve earned as a summer Research Assistant for Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Burch. Without this funding, I would not have had the chance to work at PDS or live and work in a city I haven’t been to before now. I am forever indebted to these funders for their generosity.

Doug Baker ’15 – San Francisco Operations

In my last summer before I join the real world, I have been interning at PROFUSA in San Francisco, California thanks to the Small Business Internship Fund. Before I got to Wabash I had worked for a small business, but this is my first experience with a startup. I was initially interested in PROFUSA out of a desire to expand knowledge I had gained while working for IT Services at Wabash. After talking to a fraternity brother who had interned at the company the year before (Taylor Neal), I was all-in.

Natalie's House

From left to right: Doug Baker ’15, Michael Miller ’16, Khurram Tahir ’01, Terrence Zhou ’17, and Adam Boehm ’15

I primarily work with the Director of Operations, and have spent a lot of my time developing tools to increase efficiency and collaboration at the company. The primary component of this has been my involvement with SharePoint. This is a service and program offered by Microsoft that can be used to build intranet structures for companies. Initially, I was tasked with developing protocols and understanding the programs that are used to shape the SharePoint environment. These include InfoPath and SharePoint Designer, which allow for more customization than the web-only SharePoint options. Since the company had no experience with the platform, I was on my own in week one.

Since then, I have been able to develop new ways to host and work with data and documents the company generates. Since most of the things are confidential, I also have to ensure that only the required people can access the information. Learning how to create and assign permissions, as well as building workflows to manage the contents of our SharePoint, has been a huge challenge. Once I became more comfortable with the processes involved, groups have started to ask about using the platform for more applications. InfoPath allows for the creation of forms with data fields that link to databases, which makes it very useful for managing our data. Because this allows for so many possibilities, educating people at PROFUSA about all of the potential is now my biggest challenge.

Another large project I have undertaken has been evaluating our options for document control. Since PROFUSA is a medical device company, they have to follow strict guidelines in their operations. One of these is ensuring they are Title 21 CFR Part 11 compliant. Before my time here I thought document control simply meant making sure things are saved but not available to the public, but I’ve since gained an appreciation for the requirements that help prevent mistakes in our nation’s healthcare products.

Without an internship or job, I certainly would not have been able to spend my summer in California in the first place. While here, I am trying to experience as much of the area as I can, taking numerous trips around the city or to the surrounding area. Despite only taking around 40 hours to make it to the west coast (my fiancée helped drive), I had time to stop at Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park, and Devil’s Tower. We took a short break in Eugene, Oregon to watch the Pre Classic, the fastest track meet on American soil (we saw 2 American records and 11 world leads). Afterwards, we drove down the Oregon and California coasts.

Work

PROFUSA interns hard at work

Since arriving in San Francisco, we have been busy with work and exploration. I can comfortably say I’ve done nearly every tourist-type thing I should here. My favorite so far has been our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but that may soon get overtaken. Bay-area interns were recently invited to a barbeque by Daren Courter ’89, a Wabash alum from Anderson, Indiana. We spent most of the day there, and have been invited to go abalone diving in a few weeks. Many Wabash graduates in the area have gone out of their way to make our experience as rewarding as possible, highlighted by Khurram Tahir ’01 providing us an endless supply of places to eat. I’m not tired of driving by the Golden Gate Bridge, going to the ocean, or seeing the mountains, but I am starting to miss cornfields and basketball hoops.

Adam Boehm ’15 – West Coast Chemist

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Adam Boehm ’15 – Enjoying working in the lab as a Chemistry Intern

Adam Boehm ’15 - I cannot express enough gratitude for the opportunities I have had this summer thanks to the Small Business Internship Fund.  When I first discovered the posting for a chemistry intern with PROFUSA, Inc. in San Francisco, I never expected I would be offered the position and spend my summer in California.  As a premed student, I was looking for a summer opportunity that would help me gain experience in the medical field, and PROFUSA has provided me just that.  PROFUSA is a small startup biomedical device company specializing in creating sensors that can monitor real-time body chemistries non-invasively.  I had no idea what this meant for me as a chemistry intern, and it took several weeks for me to fully grasp what I was doing.

My day typically begins at 7:30 as my fellow interns, Doug Baker and Terrence Zhou, get ready to make the 20-minute drive from our apartment near Lake Merced to PROFUSA in South San Francisco.  I spend the majority of my day in the lab working on various projects I have been assigned for the summer.  The details of some of these projects are proprietary to PROFUSA and cannot be discussed, but that just makes my job more exciting.  The two main projects I have been working on are testing how different pore sizes for the smart-sensing hydrogels affect their performance, and creating different types of skin phantoms for in vitro studies.  Both projects have required a lot of research and learning on my part.  With the skin phantom project, I am working on creating silicone molds that mimic the optical properties of human skin (absorbance, fluorescence, scattering, etc.).  Using combinations of different dyes, I have been able to create formulas for phantoms that represent both oxygenated and deoxygentated hemoglobin.  After each formulation is made, I use different machines in the lab to get the phantom’s absorbance and fluorescence to compare to real hemoglobin.

In addition to the microplate readers I use for absorbance scans, I have also learned how to use other lab equipment such as SEM, YSI, BGA, and the laser cutter at UCSF.  The chemistry team has been remarkably helpful in teaching me lab protocol and procedures.  Everyone is great to be around, which makes for a very fun work environment.  The great thing about working for a startup company is that every task, no matter how seemingly small, plays a large role in the progress and growth of the company.  I truly feel like I have been able to make a great contribution to PROFUSA.

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Adam Boehm ’15 and his brother Brian pose at Glacier Point with a view of Half Dome and Nevada Falls at Yosemite National Park

This summer has not been all work, though.  The drive across the country was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.  I took six days to drive from Indiana, through St. Louis, Denver, made a stop in Moab, UT to see Arches National Park, stayed a night at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and drove along the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  Now that I’m settled in my apartment I spend most of my free time exploring San Francisco and the surrounding areas.  I live within walking distance to the beach and it’s only a 10-minute drive to get downtown.  In addition to several Giants games, and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I’ve made a weekend trip to Yosemite, Sequoia National Forest, and went horseback riding at the bottom of King’s Canyon.  We already have our tickets for a tour of Alcatraz and Angel Island, and have a trip planned with alumnus Daren Courter ’89 to go camping and Abalone diving in Ft. Bragg.

This has been one of the best experiences of my life living on the West Coast and working for PROFUSA.  I again want to thank the SBIF for making this all possible.  As great as this summer has been, I will be ready for the cross-country drive back home to see my friends and family in mid-August.