Welcoming Google.org Fellows to BDT

Grace - Google Fellow

Google software engineer Grace Park is bringing her knowledge and expertise to BDT for six months as a Google.org Fellow.

This fall and winter, Benefits Data Trust is thrilled to be joined by eight Google.org Fellows. A key part of Google.org’s approach to philanthropy, the Fellowship program matches Google employees with nonprofits and civic entities for up to six months to work full-time on technical projects. The Fellows are on temporary leave from their Google regular job duties to support our efforts to create and improve data-driven solutions that can help combat poverty at scale in communities nationwide. Their talents, along with $1.275 million in grant funding from Google.org, will accelerate our efforts to make it easier for eligible people and families to connect to critical resources that help pay for food, housing, healthcare and more. 

As computer engineers, data analysts, and artificial intelligence experts, the Fellows bring their knowledge, experience, and expertise to BDT. Below we invite you to meet one of the Fellows, Grace Park, a 27-year-old software engineer who traces her interest in this opportunity at BDT to the benefit programs that helped her family years ago. 

When you were 8, you moved with your family from Korea to Philadelphia. What was that change like for you? 
My parents wanted to chase the American dream.  We came to Philadelphia because it was affordable, and my dad had a friend who found him a job. With no transferable skills after immigrating to Philly, my parents worked as drivers, factory workers, or as cashiers at Korean stores. 

When my sister was 12, she went with my parents to apply for benefits because we could not afford insurance. She translated for them because they didn’t speak English. We got enrolled in CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which was so helpful for us as kids – it covered everything. We weren’t able to save that much since it all went into living expenses. My parents said, “If you want to go to college, you’ll have to pay for yourself.” 

Early on, I was bullied a lot because I didn’t go to school with anyone who looked like me. And I didn’t know how to say anything in English. I woke up every morning not wanting to go, but my parents worked into me that I had to fend for myself. In high school I started working really hard. I wanted to break my family out of poverty. As an engineer, I was (and am) able to achieve that for myself and my family. 

What drew you to the Google.org Fellowship program? 
Being a lawyer was one of my childhood dreams and I’ve always had an interest in natural language processing. I found both of those interests at a nonprofit that received a Google.org Fellowship a couple of years ago. They help lawyers prepare for civil rights cases. I was thinking how cool it would be to use the skills and interests I already have to give back, and the pandemic brought out more of those feelings of wanting to do something more meaningful. So I revisited the Google.org Fellowships and saw the opportunity with Benefits Data Trust. 

It immediately spoke to me since I grew up in Philadelphia receiving some of the benefits that BDT works with. Being able to use my skills and time to work toward such a positive cause is already meaningful, but knowing that I get to be a part of helping families and kids whose situations I have been in makes it even better! This is an opportunity for me to give back because there could be another me out there who could do better and follow their dreams.  

I also have to say that the support of my team at Google, allowing me to take this time so I can do this rotation, has been just amazing. 

What do you do at Google? 
I joined Google three and a half years ago. I work on Google Doc Storage – Google slides, Google Docs, Google Sheets. Google has terabytes and terabytes of data, so to make it accessible quickly and make sure it’s stored safely and editable quickly, the storage system needs to be robust in many ways. Also, we have to make sure that when new features are introduced, that their integration goes smoothly. 

What do you do at BDT? 
The whole BDT Google team is building a backend infrastructure for the data that comes in from different states. We figure out a better automated way to ingest the data so that BDT can use it to reach people likely eligible for benefits. Right now, a lot of things are done manually, which makes it slower to onboard a new partner, which means it takes longer to get benefits to people. That’s just a part of the project we are working on. 

What has been most surprising since starting your Fellowship at BDT? 
Working with the structure of government data is very different since there are so many external factors BDT must contend with. Also, I have been impressed by the amount of time that BDT invested in the Fellows to make us feel a part of the team. I know time and resources can be short at nonprofits, so I appreciate that.

Meet the Google.org Fellows at BDT: