Catch Up With HWA Alum William Liem

Catch Up With HWA Alum William Liem


Like all of our Huckleberry Wellness Academy students, William had difficult choices to make the spring of his senior year, and many questions to answer – What school should he choose? How far away should he go? How would the finances work? To his credit, William wasn’t focusing only on prestige or ratings, but rather on where he believed he was most likely to flourish. He wanted to be prepared for a career globally as well as locally.  For this reason, he chose University of British Columbia, particularly for the International Scholars Program. William had immigrated to San Francisco from Indonesia, and it was crucial to him to study with students from all parts of the world, in a university respected internationally.

Now a college junior, William was happy to connect recently and talk about his experience at UBC. Overall, he feels really good about all he has learned in college, although the academics were even more challenging than he expected.  The encouragement and support from the International Scholars program has been quite helpful.  William has also been heavily involved with volunteering at a local health clinic called REACH Community Health Centre.  He stated that being able to be working directly within the health care system has taught him a lot about healthcare. He was happily surprised to be asked to be a Program Coordinator by the director. This promotion has stretched him and given him new skills.

William feels “humbled” by the service he is doing.  He thought that as a first generation student, coming from a family that struggled financially, things were easier for others. But in the clinic he serves patients from a wide range of backgrounds with many stories.

“I realized that people can be suffering regardless of their background.  None of us are unique. And having money or not is not the only factor in someone’s background.  I found this helpful in thinking about public health.” What comes through in speaking with William is the depth of critical thinking with which he contemplates the world around him, and his commitment to making a difference.

Recently, William posted an open response to a news story about gentrification in San Francisco. Some call this progress and advancement, but who or what is it advancing and at what cost? Is it really progress when people are forced out of their own homes, have to abandon their roots, and seek shelter when San Francisco is the 4th most expensive city in America as well as the city with the largest wealth inequality gap in the country? Is that what progress means? Wiping away the past and history and replacing it with innovations that only appeal to the privileged? 

This is just a snippet of the many ways William is thinking critically about the world, social justice, and policy.

William plans to graduate in the spring of 2017 and will most likely will enter a Masters in Public Health Program upon graduation, although he may take time to sink his feet into the field first. He continues to see himself as a public health professional, which, he says, all started with being a peer health educator at Huckleberry Youth Programs.

William remains grateful for the ample support Huckleberry Wellness Academy offered him throughout high school and in navigating his college choices.

We hope he his path crosses ours often as his public health career continues.

Huckleberry Youth Programs | 3310 Geary Blvd. | San Francisco, CA 94118 | (415) 668-2622