What’s it like to be a Royster Lawton Fellow? Chandler collins reflects on his summer internship experience

“I’ve learned that you can make a positive social impact no matter where you are. Positive social impact isn’t confined solely to non-profits or NGOs. During my time as an intern at Yext in Washington D.C. , I was constantly thinking “How is the work I’m doing today solving a social issue?”
Chandler Collins , Class of 2020  Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy - Public Policy & Leadership

Chandler Collins, Class of 2020

Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy - Public Policy & Leadership

For myself, the area I’m most passionate about is technology, and more specifically, about how large tech companies’ products harm both individual well-being (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/opinion/how-evil-is-tech.html) and society (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/01/how-russia-helped-to-swing-the-election-for-trump). Through my summer internship, I wanted to dive deeply into a technology company to learn how they function and to use my perspective as a Royster-Lawton Fellow to bring in an ethically and socially-minded lens. Before I talk about this summer, I’d like to share a bit about who I am.

Hi, I’m Chandler. I’m heading into my fourth and final year at UVA and am studying Public Policy and Leadership (https://batten.virginia.edu) and Global Development Studies (https://globalstudies.virginia.edu/global-development-studies). I was raised in a small town in Alabama and I came to UVA because I was fascinated by questions of governance––how do governments make effective policies? How do you weigh competing policy options and make a decision when we live in a world where most issues lie in gray zones with no clear answers?

“How do governments make effective policies? How do you weigh competing policy options and make a decision when we live in a world where most issues lie in gray zones with no clear answers?”

These sorts of questions drew me to UVA, and they’re ones that I’ve continued to grapple with throughout my time here. I’ve been drawn in to technology policy specifically since it’s both omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent in our modern lives. Yet, few people truly understand the complexities of subjects like net neutrality and artificial intelligence. Of course, neither do I, but I was drawn in by the challenge. And so, these dual passions for policy and technology’s impact on society led me to the Royster-Lawton Fellowship and to my internship this summer at Yext.

In a nutshell, Yext works with large companies and organizations to make their information accessible, no matter where you’re searching. For instance, imagine you’ve just moved to a new state and you need to find a new doctor, so you search something like “primary care physician near me who accepts Aetna.” Well, Yext works with healthcare providers to make the patient process easier by making sure that your query would bring up physicians who match that description, no matter if you’re searching on Google or YellowPages or asking Siri.

As a Technical Project Manager Intern, I would work directly with clients like the healthcare provider above to explain how the back-end technology functioned and how we could work together to improve the patient’s online experience. In the future, I hope to leverage this experience to work towards other more purpose-driven technology companies. Specifically, I’m interested in blending my passion for both technology and policy and would love to find a company like Jigsaw (https://jigsaw.google.com) or La Victoria Lab (http://lavictoria.pe) which seamlessly combine the two. 

I’m immensely grateful to the Royster-Lawton Fellowship for allowing me to be a part of this extraordinary program and for the support provided to me over this last summer. The Royster-Lawton Program allows me to continue grappling with important questions in a group of like-minded, inspiring students who share a passion for ensuring that our creations are purpose-driven and rooted in social impact. Additionally, the Program has provided me with educational opportunities including lecture series and dinners so that I can get feedback on my future direction and hear about what other members of my cohort are involved in.

 In the coming year, I will be applying to companies which are driven by purpose rather than profit. While my experience as a fellow has only lasted one summer so far, it has shaped my values and priorities at work which I hope will last a lifetime.