KIP Student Feature – Prerna Shankar 

Prerna Shankar (CAS’26) is a neuroscience major on the pre-med track and has a strong interest in public health. This past summer she interned with Minnesota Connect Aphasia Now (McCan), helping their team raise awareness for Aphasia and increase access to McCAN services.  

Collage of the team that Prerna worked with at MnCAN, over Zoom.

Q&A with Prerna Shankar 

Could you give us a brief description of the organization you are interning with and what your primary responsibilities are during this internship? 

This summer, I interned with the non-profit organization Minnesota Connect Aphasia Now (MnCAN). MnCAN is an organization that I have volunteered with before in the past, and its main mission is to improve the experience of individuals who are impacted by aphasia through education, awareness, and peer support programs. Through these measures, MnCAN’s goal is that people with aphasia are able to actively participate in life without barriers, despite any difficulties they have because of their condition. Aphasia, a neurological communication disorder, frequently caused by strokes or traumatic brain injury, is acquired by more than 200,000 Americans annually. Aphasia is the loss of the ability to understand and/or express speech and can come in many forms. The onset of such a condition can severely alter a person’s life – suddenly not being able to communicate with loved ones can be incredibly isolating. Many individuals with aphasia can no longer work and have difficulty finding comfortable social outlets. MnCAN provides people with aphasia and their caregivers social opportunity, aphasia education, and a safe space to practice communication through a shared community of people who are undergoing similar experiences. During this internship, I worked closely with MnCAN’s executive director and a team of volunteers and speech-language pathologists to raise awareness for Aphasia through social media, video, and community outreach initiatives and to fundraise to support scholarships for individuals who cannot afford MnCAN’s care. I also sat in on multiple aphasia conversation groups, getting to know MnCAN participants and their stories – overall, this experience was really eye-opening and inspiring! I’m glad that the work I did translated to at least some benefit for MnCAN participants. 

How did your internship fulfill the goals of social justice? 

At the center of social justice are the principles of equity, access, and the ability to participate in society. So many of MnCAN’s participants, having aphasia, are not able to fully participate in society without a supportive and instructive environment like the one MnCAN provides. In addition, recognizing the socioeconomic disparities in Minnesota and working to fundraise and create scholarships for those who may not be able to afford our services was critical to expanding access to quality care, another tenet of social justice. Through this internship, I was able to increase equity for people with aphasia by educating the larger community about the condition; increase awareness about and access to aphasia-social services through outreach efforts; and thus, enable those affected to participate more wholly in society, and express themselves as clearly as possible. It’s also incredibly important to recognize that though aphasia is an invisible disability, individuals with aphasia still can experience stigma due to their condition and can have a difficult time participating to their full potential in society because of this. For example, when individuals with aphasia get pulled over, they are often not able to communicate effectively with police officers, who may assume that they are intoxicated. And if an individual that does not speak English has aphasia, it can be even harder to help them express themselves and communicate with others – we need to be working on ways to solve these situations. The more awareness is spread about the existence of aphasia, the more we can create a more equitable experience for these individuals. 

Has the work you have done this summer changed how you think about social justice? 

Without a doubt. Before working with MnCAN through KIP, I was exposed to social justice from a direct patient-care perspective, working with socioeconomically disadvantaged and differently-abled people in Boston through volunteering on campus. Through these experiences, I learned about the importance of equity in healthcare and the origins of the disparities that plague many cities like Boston. These principles were at the forefront during my internship too, but I also was able to step back and learn about social justice in a new way. To make any change at a person-to-person level, there have to be changes at a large scale too. This means that knowing how to navigate administrative challenges like funding, applying for grants, and communicating with people at different levels of the “social justice chain” is just as important. Working with MnCAN’s executive director and getting to see all the effort that goes into creating a helpful and educational participant experience was eye-opening. This internship has definitely allowed me to think about social justice from a new perspective, and I’ll be carrying my takeaways with me as I continue to work within this sphere! 

How did you find out about this internship, and what advice would you give to students hoping to apply for this funding opportunity in the future? 

I actually have worked with MnCAN before as a volunteer video editor throughout my high school career! However, when I found out that KIP was an opportunity that Kilachand offered its students, I knew immediately that I wanted to use that chance to work with MnCAN on a deeper level and get to know what it’s like to pursue social justice from an administrative, behind-the-scenes viewpoint.  

For students hoping to apply to KIP in the future, I would suggest that you really think about what social justice means to you and look for organizations that can help you understand it better. It can be hard to find an organization that is willing to take you on as an intern, especially if there is a training period required, or if you don’t have an existing connection with them. However, KIP is super flexible and there are so many options that might cater to your interests! If I could make a virtual internship with a non-profit in Minnesota a fruitful, educational, and engaging experience, so can you! 

How has the Kilachand coursework helped prepare you for the work you are doing during your internship? 

Kilachand’s writing studios and seminars have really prepared me for my internship, especially because of the interdisciplinary and wide-ranging thought they stimulate for students. However, one course in particular really helped me prepare for working with MnCAN. In my spring semester, I took a seminar titled “Reforming the U.S. Healthcare System”, taught by Professor Alan Cohen. In this course, I learned all about our healthcare system and the schools of thought in which we may be able to improve it (and it’s incredible that I was able to learn so much in an introductory course, that too as a freshman!). Through my work in this course, I also learned about the specific groups throughout our country which are most at a disadvantage because of how our system works, and this really opened my eyes to how expensive getting the care you need can be. Coming into this internship, armed with this knowledge, really allowed me to understand the impact that our fundraising and awareness was having. It’s easy when on the administrative side of things to get lost in the work and turn it into a repetitive cycle; I’m really grateful that the expansive background I had helped me connect to MnCAN participants on a deeper level. 


Learn more about the Kilachand Internship Program here.