The Temple of Understanding’s 2016 student interns have successfully completed their first two weeks at the United Nations! We are delighted to have such a talented and diverse group. Read on to meet our 20 interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.

Nicolas AlvaradoHi, my name is Nicolas Alvarado, and I am seventeen years old. I am American, French and Colombian, and I am trilingual in the respective languages of my nationalities. I am very interested in international relations and business, and so I decided that this internship at the UN could help me get a better sense of this. Furthermore, I wanted to merge myself into a community where the languages, cultures and beliefs present are endless, so what better place to go than the UN.

The project that I am going to work on during the internship will be about the reintegration of child soldiers in Colombia after the signing of the peace process. Having lived in Colombia for a while, this topic is very important to me because it has been very detrimental to the country. The conflict being resolved is an incredible feat for Colombia. Furthermore, my topic of the reintegration of children goes hand-in-hand with my non-profit, which donates bicycles to underprivileged schools in order to be able to create a healthy and fun environment for the kids. Finally, I am very concerned with finding ways that the Colombian child soldiers can really be re-accepted into society and for them not to be marginalized or discriminated against; maybe Bicy-Green, my non-profit, can be an initiative that can help.


Kieran DowneyMy name is Kieran Downey and I am a sixteen-year-old girl from New York City. I attend Convent of the Sacred Heart. Initially, I heard about this internship through my school and from friends who have participated in the program; I was inspired by the Temple of Understanding’s mission, which correlates with my eleventh grade yearlong religion project about Religious Violence in the Middle East and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the Church. I am interested to learn more about issues including human rights, environmental and global issues, international law, social justice, and counterterrorism. I aspire to be a global citizen and be informed and aware of how an NGO and the United Nations can work together to foster social justice. One of the goals in my school community is for students to be compelled to action; therefore, my interest to strengthen my ability as an educated and involved citizen to promote change in our world can be expanded with the exposure to global issues through the United Nations.

For my final project, I will be researching the history of Bangladesh as a secular country, despite its national commitment to Islam in 1977. Additionally, I want to learn more about the violence against non-Muslims and other foreigners within Bangladesh and discover ways in which to promote peace and unity within Bangladesh through interfaith dialogue. I hope to speak with a representative from the Bangladesh Mission to get first-hand information about the relationship between religion and politics within this secular nation. I want to research more about the goals of a secular nation, as many believe it provides a more inclusive environment. Violent extremism is a global issue, but has become notably present in Bangladesh recently, and I therefore look forward to the opportunity to delve into this complex topic.


Elzat ErkenMy name is Elzat Erken. I am sixteen years old and I was born in East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China). My priority of being an intern at the United Nations is to help people in need, especially refugees, and enable them to have better lives. Since there are many refugee communities in Philadelphia, I plan on helping them by building organizations and encouraging more people to get involved in them. I will also find ways to have the voice of underrepresented people heard at the United Nations, like the Uyghur, Tibetan and other minority groups. I hope to come up with solutions that can ease the human rights violation against those minorities.

My topic for the final project will be “Human Rights Issues in East Asia and the Middle East.” Many human rights violations are occurring in Asia because of government oppression against minorities. As a victim, I hope to let more people know about the underrepresented minorities and how they are suffering deprivation of human rights from the government. Human rights defenders are thrown into prison or executed due to their active human rights advocacy and their action of raising human rights awareness in the local community. I hope that United Nations can put more effort on human rights protections in Asia.


My name is Manuela Figueiredo and I am sixteen years old. I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but I moved to New York when I was five years old and have been here ever since. Studying at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls school in the heart of New York City, I have been extremely lucky to never experience much of the adversity that exists in the world towards women and other minorities. However, that has not prevented me from studying these adversities in the hopes of someday making an impact myself.

For my final project in this internship, I will be researching the impact of climate change on the Syrian Civil War and sequentially, the Syrian refugee crisis. Many studies have demonstrated that the drought, which occurred in Syria from 2006-2011, was one of the factors that contributed to the social unrest that led up to the civil war. I will also focus my research on how the current climate situation is unsustainable when considering the large influx of Syrian refugees migrating to both developed and developing countries. In my research, I hope to brainstorm more sustainable methods of accepting new migrants with respect to the impact of climate change.


Grant Gelles PictureI am Grant Gelles, a student at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, Connecticut. I love everything business-disciplined and am incredibly passionate about health and fitness, cars, and especially civil liberties and human rights. My interest in a UN internship spawned from my access to the UN at a young age via my older brother (a past intern at the TOU), and father, both infatuated by the consciousness and awareness of the United Nations and Temple of Understanding. My interests include and surpass consciousness and awareness, and I’m particularly interested in maintaining liberty and ensuring that I make a positive impact in the world, both with positive thought and action. I pursue this passion in everything I do by seizing opportunities, educating people, and being educated by all that surrounds me.

During my time at the United Nations, I plan on seeking information regarding the effects that education has on maintaining peace and stability. This broad topic explores how education can be used as a vessel to prevent terrorism, promote equality, and ensure a sustainable future. In pursuit of this topic, I plan on working closely with UNICEF and many other organizations who protect the rights of students and spread their abilities to learn and grow as members of society and as global citizens. My philosophy is to ensure that education is not only the greatest weapon, but will promote a higher functioning society that will yield a more stable and enhanced future in the worlds of science, technology, arts, infrastructure, etc.


Dylan JunkinMy name is Dylan Junkin and I am seventeen years old. I live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1 hour from Philadelphia) and attend a public high school called Central Bucks East. Throughout the last four years, I have grown more interested in social justice and pursued this interest through documentary filmmaking, writing, and currently, this internship. During my 9th grade year, I made a documentary about the Armenian Genocide for a research project, but decided to continue my research into the subject after finishing the project. I was fortunate enough to interview survivors of the event, whose stories both captivated and sickened me. The following year, I did another project on the Cambodian Genocide and made a documentary and website featuring the testimonials of the survivors I interviewed. In the moment, I did not realize the tremendous impact these experiences had on me, but during the last three years I have been exposed to ideas and events I would not otherwise understand, I have learned about different cultures, and most of all I have realized the need for a connected and cohesive world when confronted with war and genocide. These are the reasons I have decided to pursue my interests through this internship.

Recently, I was able to travel to Israel and the West Bank as well through a program for Israeli/Palestinian youth called Writing Matters. While abroad, I gained a better sense of the everyday conflict that exists in the region. It is not always dramatic like the newspapers portray it, nor does it feel dangerous, but there is an unspoken tension and a sense that people on each side of the debate yearn for something different—a solution. I decided to do my final project on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is that sentiment I wish to capture to fully analyze the differing viewpoints of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the history of the conflict, and what the future may hold for the region. Specifically, I believe the best way to showcase this emotionally charged situation is a documentary. The people I interview will be able to speak for themselves and none of the passion, feeling, and meaning in their words will be lost. My main goal is to interview as many people as possible during these five weeks so that my final project encompasses many viewpoints and I am able to accurately portray all perspectives. I also want to speak to a mixture of government delegates and everyday citizens of each region, so that I am able to highlight the contrast between the wishes of the politicians and the wishes of the people. In conjunction with the Temple of Understanding, I am additionally hoping to speak to religious leaders of Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish organizations to gain perspective on each group’s attitudes surrounding this topic.


Meher KaurMy name is Meher Kaur. I am seventeen years old, and I am from Maryland. I am here to explore my interests in the field of international relations and to find ways to provide long-term and short-term humanitarian aid. During my junior year of high school, I completed an extensive research project on the conflict in South Sudan, with a focus on the UN’s role in resolving the conflict. This project sparked my interest in the UN and inspired me to apply for the internship program with the Temple of Understanding.

During the course of this internship, I am researching the conflict in Punjab and how the UN and various international organizations can contribute to provide aid. Currently Punjab struggles with large unemployment rates, poverty, disregard for human rights, and a massive youth substance abuse problem. I believe something needs to be done to save the young generation of Punjab. Throughout my research, I am focusing on the root causes of these problems.


Grace KimGreetings! My name is Grace Kim and I am from Montrose, one of the (many) sunny suburbs of Los Angeles, California. I am a seventeen-year-old with a passion for humanitarianism that stems from my travels to Bolivia and China. Interacting with the locals exposed me to the various problems existing in underdeveloped communities. Having grown up in a sheltered neighborhood, I was shocked to see first-hand that issues that I had read about in the news were very much a reality. That initial shock has stuck with me to this day and motivated me to apply for the Temple of Understanding internship.

Through my internship at the UN, I hope to delve deeper into the topics of youth empowerment and youth participation in humanitarian efforts. My decision to focus specifically on the role of the youth comes from my personal involvement back home – I had the opportunity to co-found Give2Friends Foundation, a student-run non-profit organization that proactively fights to better the lives of the homeless, disabled, and foster children in my local community. In conjunction with Give2Friends, I am also the Corps Commander of my high school’s Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Corps, a student-run leadership program that aims to create better citizens of America by promoting service before self. As I am heavily involved with youth-run programs, I hope that the TOU project and the UN internship will provide me with not only a wider knowledge base, but also a network of NGO leaders and like-minded students that can promote youth involvement in the local and global community.


Hyukjin KoMy name is Hyukjin Ko, and I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior at Bishop TK Gorman High School in Tyler, Texas. I am currently attending high school as a foreign exchange student from South Korea. While living in South Korea, I frequently heard the news about military tension, political conflict, and stories of separated families, which prompted me to pay attention to international affairs. Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon was elected as the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, which sparked my interest in the United Nations and international relations. Eventually, my interest in international relations and the event discussion club at my school led me to want to intern at the UN. My main goal is to engage with people from different countries and ethnicities at the United Nations. I strongly believe that religious extremism and political conflict most likely come from the lack of understanding and overall misconception; therefore, I have aimed to interact and share viewpoints with people so that I can contribute and change real problems.

During my internship at the United Nations, I want to focus on the relationship between religion and politics and also analyze different religious perspectives towards religious extremism in the Middle East. Religious radicalism has influenced and threatened people’s rights and lives for a long period of time, which is why I expect to break the misconceptions people have about religions and argue that the only way of solving the problem is to negotiate and engage everyone, because this will minimize the damage and will enable us to figure out the solution to this problem.


My name is Ava Levin and I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I am seventeen years old and will be a senior in high school in the fall. During this internship, I hope to learn more about the world from less of a Eurocentric viewpoint, attend a variety of meetings and side-events, and explore New York City. I hope to accomplish all of these goals alongside the other interns as we create lasting friendships.

I am going to focus on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which is “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.” I also hope to delve into the intersectionality of this goal and SDG 5, or “Gender Equality.” I plan to do a case study on at least one country in Africa, likely Liberia, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although I will focus on one place, I will look into Rule of Law practices in surrounding countries to see how successful projects there could be applied to the place in which I research in depth. I want to specifically look into access to justice (especially for women) and especially creative institutions and programs. I cannot wait to learn more about this topic and share what I learn with my peers.


Savanna LimHi! My name is Savanna Lim and I am eighteen years old. I grew up in Singapore, but I now reside in Houston, Texas. I am excited at the prospect of being able to meet the people in the foreign service whom I want to be in the future, and to observe the day-to-day life at the United Nations.

For my project, I will be doing a comparative analysis of sustainable development goal #4, or quality of education, between Southeast Asia and Latin America by using two case studies from each region. I will also be looking at root causes for any disparities and similarities between the regions. In addition, I am looking into how the teaching of the English language affects the quality of education and in turn the development of the country as a whole. Since the SDG’s are fairly new and are still fresh in the minds of other delegates, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask representatives from different countries how they will develop SDG #4 and what tools they will use to ensure the continued stability of their respective projects. I am very passionate about education and the two regions and am excited to present my findings!

Here are some links that I am using to assist my research: Report Card on Education in Southeast AsiaEducation and Poverty in Latin AmericaEducation in Indonesia; How Education Shaped Communist CubaEducational Quality and Inequality in Latin America


Lauren LiottiMy name is Lauren Liotti and I am seventeen years old. I have lived in New York City my entire life, but I will be moving to Scotland in September for University. I decided to be an intern at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding after cultivating an interest for international affairs throughout high school and three years of Model UN.

For my final project, I will be studying the destruction of religious and cultural sites that have been destroyed in the recent conflicts in the Middle East. Specifically, I will outline not only what has happened to these sites thus far, but also the steps that have been and will be taken to prevent the further loss of sites of historical importance. I will also be looking at how the United Nations and the UN Organization UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) have been combatting the losses of valuable historical, cultural, and religious artifacts and locations. I hope to interview someone from UNESCO to have a deeper understanding of what can be done to protect these important sites for future generations. I am very excited to research this very interesting and pressing topic over the next few weeks, and I look forward to utilizing the resources of both the Temple of Understanding and the UN.


Elena Younhye OckHello! I am Elena Younhye Ock from South Korea. I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior who has been studying in the United States for the last two years. I decided to study in the United States in preparation for the global career I have dreamed of, which I am very excited to begin with the United Nations High School internship. In the future, I want to fight for the rights of the marginalized, refugees, or any victims of discrimination and injustice.

For my final project at this internship, since I want to become an international human rights lawyer, I want to broaden my understanding of the complexity and magnitude of the human rights violations in North Korea. The project will cover different areas, including: the measures that the regime employs to keep the freedom away from its people, the violations on the human rights of North Koreans, and the history of the condemnations and sanctions from the international community and their impact on the lives of the North Koreans and its government’s policy. In addition, I will also examine the human rights violations of the North Korean refugees.


Elle ParkMy name is Elle Park, and I am eighteen years old. I am currently an upcoming senior at Syosset High School on Long Island, but I moved from Seoul, South Korea in 5th grade. At an era when violence prevails the earth and global conflicts as well as cultural differences lead into wars, peacekeeping efforts are needed more than ever. Ever since I was a child, I have always looked up to the work that the United Nations has been doing to improve international relations, whether it be on nuclear weapons and border control or on improving lives of the oppressed population.

When I saw the opportunity to be part of that workforce in the summer, I became interested immediately. It is saddening to see the lives of civilians ruined forever due to war, oppressive regimes, and hunger. I am interested in providing education for developing countries, especially for women and children who never had a chance for a formal education. I hope to work on a solution to provide education by supplying wireless internet in regions that lack them and cannot be part of the global conversations online.


Diana PaulsenMy name is Diana Paulsen. I am seventeen years old and I am from Houston, Texas. I applied for the Temple of Understanding Internship Program because of a conviction instilled in me by my parents, my faith, and my school: that all people have a moral obligation to create positive social change. The UN provides an amazing forum for affecting social change around the world, one which I hope to be able to utilize.

For my research topic, I would like to examine the links and connections between environmental justice and gender equality. Women are uniquely affected by climate change and are uniquely situated to be part of the solution. Also, underlying gender inequalities exacerbate both the factors leading to climate change and the kind of effects that it can have. To learn, check out these resources: UN Women: Sustainable Development and Climate ChangeWomen and the Environment; and UN Resources on Gender and Women’s Issues: Women and the Environment


Evan SchlosserMy name is Evan Schlosser and I am a sixteen-year-old from Pennington, New Jersey.  I have developed an eager desire to pursue a career as a political economist contributing to the UN’s efforts on international development through the following experiences: member of the coordinating committee at a soup kitchen in Trenton, NJ; serving as an officer of the Model UN Team and Co-Captain of the Debate Team at my high school; writing articles on international cooperative organizations; reading of The GuardianThe New York Times, and The Economist; and independent readings on topics including the UNESCO, the ILO, and the discussion of a global tax on wealth.

During my internship, I plan to explore ways in which international, national, regional, and local actors, while keeping in mind the general goals outlined in the SDG’s, as well as the progress made through the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit, can work collaboratively and increasingly horizontally to foster a holistic approach towards the long-term goal of economic self-reliance for protracted internally displaced persons by breaking down silos that dominate the humanitarian-development nexus to implement an integrated policy approach. To paraphrase the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, the new development agenda must leave no one behind and help those furthest behind first. As was stated repeatedly during the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of ECOSOC, no sect of the population of our global society is further behind than protracted IDP’s.  This topic focuses on merely one of the avenues to bring economic self-reliance to protracted IDP’s: by establishing coordination between humanitarian and development actors at the international, national, regional, and local levels. My final research statement will by no means be a definitive and all-encompassing solution, but will aim to be a contribution to the possible solutions of the multi-faceted challenges facing protracted IDP’s.


Ashwini SelvakumaranHello! I am Ashwini Selvakumaran. I am sixteen years old and I’m really passionate about women’s rights issues, especially concerning global education and empowerment. I’ve had the privilege of being brought up in five different countries: Kazakhstan, Yemen, Malaysia, America, and Canada, where I currently reside. Moving all around the world has helped me gain a broader perspective on the important issues surrounding the world today, especially regarding the unfair treatment of women. Witnessing this conflict really sparked an interest in me to come up with a solution, hence igniting my passion for women’s rights. I can’t wait to impart my knowledge and gain new experiences during my time here at the United Nations!





Rhea SomanHello! My name is Rhea Soman, and I have been in this world for seventeen and a half years now. Most of those years I have spent residing in Sayreville, New Jersey. From a very young age, I was deeply interested in discussion. I lived for the transferring of ideas, the enlightening of the mind. I just always hungered for a deeper human understanding of concepts and events. Honestly, the communicating of different thoughts, the offering of different angles to perceive things, a new inventive insight, thought-provoking questions and answers are all very thrilling to me – and what better place to find such a collaborative discussion than the United Nations, an organization representing people of different countries, different lifestyles, different ideals? Through my experiences at the UN and my work on my project, I hope to continue to broaden my perspective and invite further discussion and reflection among people I interact with.

For my project I specifically hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between religion and politics. Religion and politics are both undeniably strong forces that govern people’s lives. I think studying the connection between the two is vital to further understanding human nature and conflicts that are affecting people’s daily lives in connection to those two powers. We cannot hope to solve the world’s biggest problems without looking within humanity and its deepest influences.


Christian YoonHello! My name is Christian Yoon. I’m seventeen years old and am from Mclean, Virginia. Since the beginning of high school, I have been passionately involved with my school’s Model UN club. From researching a variety of countries and topics, cooperating and applying diplomacy, and learning how to speak and write professionally, Model UN has truly been a blessing upon my high school experience, and one that has pushed me towards interning at the UN. I hope to apply my enthusiasm and creativity for Model UN to actual issues in the UN itself.

During my time here at the UN, I plan to research and prepare a presentation and essay regarding the influence of formal education on standards of living in developing countries. Through this topic, I want to analyze the current models of labor and education in developing countries, impediments to establishing lasting forms of formal education (such as child labor), and the effects that education can have on the factors that determine the standards of living. As established by the United Nations Development Programme, the Human Development Index (HDI) stands as the most accurate tool for gauging standards of living throughout the world. Not only do I hope to evaluate the standards of living in current models and conditions through the Human Development Index, but also the standards of living in countries that are of similar backgrounds, but utilize formal education systems. Throughout this endeavor, I hope to be able to assess the value of education, whether or not it is universally effective, and if it can influence the individuals at a communal and global level.


Kayla ZhuMy name is Kayla Zhu. I am sixteen years old, and I was born and raised in metro Detroit. My work with youth voices at the UN, as Chief Programs Officer of American Programs at the International Youth Council, has led me to pursue this internship. The youth of the world have the responsibility of creating a collective voice to challenge global issues that will shape our generation’s future. I hope to use this experience to serve as a youth advocate at the UN, as our generation looks ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals as a long-term development road map. Youth voices must always be at the table when developing policies for the present and long-term, and I would like to thank the Temple of Understanding for investing in youth and presenting us with the opportunity to become global change makers. My interests at the UN include sustainable urban development, food security, and development finance.

I will be focusing my research on the financing of humanitarian aid. The current system of humanitarian aid is widely accepted as unsustainable by all parties involved in the aid process and, as a result, the sector has been working towards developing a long-term approach to financing. The complexity of balancing reform with the reassurance of donor confidence is a challenge both governments and NGOs face on the path of developing a holistic development approach. The commonalities in reform suggestions include multi-year financing, multi-year planning cycles, and the analysis of comparative advantage. Many of the issues requiring humanitarian aid, such as food security and infrastructure development, are not short-term issues and are not effectively addressed by single-year initiatives. Humanitarian aid will always be necessary; therefore, it is crucial that we reform the system in which we work and look towards long-term planning.

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