Although winter is a time for animal hibernation, Wellesley students keep themselves busy with a diverse range of activities on campus during wintersession. The most prominent of these activities is the Albright Institute. The 2015 Albright Institute, which convened on Jan. 5 and concluded on Jan. 23, focused on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which consists of eight international development goals established in 2000. The multidisciplinary and cross-cultural nature of the Albright Institute is reflected in the diverse academic and personal background of the fellows.
Nikita Saladi ’16, one of these fellows, hopes to study the affect of health disparity on women and people of color. Equipped with background knowledge on how social services and physicians can work together to provide comprehensive care, Saladi entered the Institute with an understanding of international development. After her three weeks with the Institute, however, she discovered that there was more to the issue when addressing poverty in developing countries than she had previously imagined.
“I definitely had preconceived notions about who belongs at the table when attacking poverty and related issues. I knew economists and policy makers play crucial roles, but I was struck by the number of speakers who challenged us to think about who else needs to be involved,” Saladi said.
To guide this year’s 40 fellows in their research and understanding of the MDGs, the 2015 Albright Institute featured guest speakers in health and education development, consulting, and the academia, including professors from Harvard University and Georgetown University. The lectures given by Wellesley’s own faculty came from a variety of disciplines, including speakers like Professor Larry Rosenwald, who made the case for why scholars of imaginative literature are needed to expand ideas of what is possible.
In addition to challenging many of the members’ pre-existing viewpoints, the speakers stressed the value of having an interdisciplinary forum where individuals from all fields feel like they have something to contribute.
“People think that the Institute is for students with economics and political science majors, but it also welcomes science majors. [But] it’s essential to have people from different backgrounds,” said Mariya Patwa ’16, a Chemistry major and Health & Society minor.
In fact, the Institute has successfully attracted fellows from a large cross-section of majors. While political science and economics comprise a large fraction of the fellows, disciplines such as computer science, art history, and philosophy are also well represented. The diverse approaches in tackling global affairs from students with a range of academic interests made Patwa appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts education.
“The Institute makes you very aware of the perspective you are coming from, what you’ve grown up in, and how your view might be biased as a result. You need to be aware of why you see things a certain way,” Patwa commented.
Patwa hopes to continue her education in medical school following graduation, given her experience at the intersection of health and global engagement. However, the Institute allowed her to realize that there was more than one path to achieve her goal.
“You realize that there are so many different routes to get to places you are interested in getting to. The best advice is to ride the wave. It makes you think about how many things are out there and wonder, ‘Am I continuing my education too quickly?’” Patwa shared.
Education not only takes the form of learning hard knowledge, but also hearing other people’s personal experiences.
“The most valuable part of the Institute for me was actually not necessarily learning about certain topics, but listening to the speakers talk about their personal experiences, about their stories, and about the challenges they have encountered throughout their career, especially the Wellesley alumnae,” explained Mariajosé Rodriquez-Pilego ‘16, an English and Economics double major from Mexico.
However, in addition to listening and learning from the speakers, the fellows also spent a lot of time working with students across disciplines as they attempted to solve problems like improving global water and sanitation to good governance.
During the Institute, Helen Huang ‘16 worked with her group to integrate their knowledge of environmental studies, electrical engineering and computer science, international relations, economics and women’s and gender studies to come up with targeted solutions. Having wanted to be part of this experience since before attending Wellesley, she was enthusiastic to see how Albright was a true test of the power of the liberal arts.
“Our different majors helped shape research based on academic interests, while our experiences living abroad helped with identifying specific countries and regions as case studies,” Huang ‘16 described. She also spoke to the importance of including a global lens. “These global issues cannot be just dictated by the U.S., because they affect everyone. Therefore, a variety of perspectives and opinions is essential. Having international students adds another layer of discussion and brings in perspectives of other countries.”
Another fellow, Priyanka Fouda ‘16 revealed how there were definitely moments where her team was not sure how to approach the topic of good governance and were forced to think creatively.
“Initially we weren’t sure how to approach such a large topic,” Fouda ‘16 described. “We decided to speak about the a concrete example the trucking and transportation sector in Central Africa and a more abstract example of governance of the internet. We chose these because both case studies demonstrated the importance of good governance but also showed the different ways good governance can be applied based on context.”
Having now successfully completed the program, Fouda ‘16 encourages current sophomores and juniors to apply to the institute, “The institute is focused on development so it definitely helps to have an interest, but I do believe that development studies is a very broad field, and you can participate in lots of different ways within the field.”
As for the mentality required for this program, the fellows’ personal growth is perfect showcase for the interdisciplinary and multicultural nature of the Albright Institute.
“This Institute is designed for people who are humble enough to recognize that becoming an Albright fellow is a charge to dedicate yourself to the world,” said Zoe Moyer ’15. “If you’re not paying for it, you become the product.”