By Nolan Pokpongkiat
I started Helix in summer 2017 with a group of six friends. Now, in 2020, it’s grown into a 25-big undergraduate student organization that puts on a hands-on healthcare summer program for high school students around the Bay Area.
Starting Helix was, no doubt, one of the most exciting, sleepless, and fulfilling experiences of my college career. Two years ago, in the summer of 2017 following my freshman year, I was looking for a way to quench a couple of internal desires: to be in control of something, and to be proud of something amazing I created. Although in retrospect it sounds like I was interested in entrepreneurship, I honestly didn’t know what startups were at that time. The only major experience I had under my belt at this time was being in leadership in high school marching band, so the thing I was most comfortable with was student organizations —naturally, I gravitated towards the idea of starting a student organization. Throughout my freshman year, I had seen a handful of other health-oriented clubs that I was interested in—but at this point in time, I was obsessed with visual appeal and professional brand, so I found myself turning away from these clubs before even giving them a shot, just because they didn't look polished. This isn't to say those clubs didn't do meaningful work—not at all—the student organizations at Berkeley do amazing things. Rather, it's a highlight of my obsession with outward presentation that I’ve recently begun to realize isn’t always as important.
Having finished my first year at Berkeley, I was determined to create a new health-oriented student organization. One that did both impactful work and marketed itself well. I began to brainstorm ideas at the intersection of 1) things that undergrads had the skill do to, 2) things that benefited society positively, and 3) things that undergrads would consider something worth doing, in that order of importance. I also knew I didn't want to, and definitely couldn't do it alone, so I asked a few of my friends to join me: Jeff, Brian, Dais, and Maddie. At one point, we were almost set on this new club being the go-to community health screening organizer for the Bay Area; we were going to recruit a ton of doctors to man a whole bunch of different specialties and we'd train students to help people with public health resources and help people apply for Covered California.
But, long story short, we rethought the project and found motivations that were closer to our own experiences: Jeff had experience working in the healthcare environment as an EMT where he saw a problem of lack of diversity, and Maddie and I had experience in education initiatives. Combining that with the catalyst of UCSF Summer Science Camp (more on that later), we decided to start an organization that would provide hands-on exploration of a career in healthcare, geared at high-school students coming from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
The next two years is a story of friendship, desperation, mental health, a ****load of mistakes, and thankfully, some self-reflection & (hopefully) personal growth.
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