August 6, 2020 – By Ananya Amirthalingam

The following is a diary from a GU Impact fellow, on her experience with a distributed work environment this summer.

March 27, 2020: “All summer academic offerings will use remote delivery platforms and summer study abroad programs have been suspended”

screenshot of email from GU Provost
Screenshot of email from Georgetown University

The message from the Georgetown University Provost was disappointing but understandable. We were (and still are) in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while, and the University’s decision was a practical one. Weeks earlier, when I officially committed to be a part of the 2020 GU Impacts cohort, I knew there was a slim chance that I’d be actually traveling abroad.

What I didn’t know: if I wasn’t traveling abroad, would I still have a fellowship?

I had been planning on working with the Mann Deshi Foundation, in rural Maharashtra, India, helping the Foundation serve local women entrepreneurs and the community with programming ranging from business school courses to sports education to farmer cooperatives. In my conversations with Prabhat Sinha, one of the Foundation’s heads, Mann Deshi’s region had limited resources and little internet access.

I readied myself for more bad news.

April 9: “We are happy to share that Mann Deshi has committed to working with you over the summer, remotely!”

I was overjoyed! I had a fellowship! This is happening! I am going to be working remotely!

Remotely.

Screenshot of email from GU Impacts
Screenshot of email from GU Impacts

At this point, I had only been in virtual classes for three weeks. Getting to roll out of my bed and into a Zoom call was beginning to lose its charm. A twinge of doubt set in. What would I be able to do remotely? Would I be able to connect with people? I already had to deal with a language barrier, and now I had to tackle time zone differences and spotty internet, not to mention the overall awkwardness of virtual interaction over Zoom and WhatsApp. Would I even be making a difference?

June 2 (at 3:50 AM ET to be exact): “Here are some projects: a report on COVID-19 relief work, a report on our Youth Development Center, a report on our Champions sports program (we are especially trying to get funding for traveling and coaching), a case study on the Mann Deshi Community Radio …” the WhatsApp message proved there was plenty of work to be done.

Screenshot of What'sApp chat
Screenshot of What’sApp chat

As someone with an interest in education, I started on the Youth Development Center (YDC) report. Researching and reading through past reports left me with endless questions, and each question brought a new idea. What resources are available to teachers? Let’s make a resource. My cohort-mates (Danny and Kia) and I can compile suggestions into a Teacher Toolkit for Interactive Lessons. How do Zoom classes or recorded WhatsApp videos differ from regular in-person lectures? Let’s interview the YDC students and teachers, I can include their first hand experiences in my report.

June 12: “Over the lockdown, she’s been getting more info on exams. For fun she plays an interesting game – I’ve never heard of it before. There are certain roles …”

10 days later, Omkar, a Mann Deshi staff member, was translating one of the YDC’s student’s answers to a question I had asked. Things move at rapid-fire speed at Mann Deshi, and a nine and a half hour time difference was no deterrent.

As I listened to him explaining this ‘interesting game’ I began to laugh. It was Mafia – a game I had just learned about. Sure the roles were different (they had kings, queens and soldiers while the game I played had sheriffs, detectives, and gang members) but the general premise was the same: the uninformed majority trying to outsmart the informed minority. Everyone’s faces lit up as I marveled at the similarities aloud.

It was a small thing to be sure. A glimmer of silliness, during our otherwise serious interview about the impact of COVID-19. I remember wishing I could be there in person, but I wasn’t feeling wistful or disheartened of what could have been. Rather, I couldn’t stop beaming thinking about how in spite of the time zones, language barrier, and internet reliability, I was doing it – I was connecting.

July 7: “ I have been a teacher since 1994, and no one has ever done an event like this for teachers. This was amazing!”

Or maybe it was July 8. I had stayed up until 4 AM for two consecutive days; my concept of time was definitely distorted. But this comment, made by a local government school teacher attending our conference – made it all worthwhile.


Read More: GU Impact Interns Organize First of Many Teacher Conferences in Rural India


Two weeks earlier, the Teacher’s Conference had been a spur of the moment suggestion by my teammate Kia, who believed as we all did, that a lockdown didn’t have to stop learning, and that this time could be used to bring innovative methods, resources and support for Mann Deshi and local government school teachers alike. From that idea, in just over a week, we researched, contacted, connected with, and secured Indian experts in child psychology, pedagogy, and technology. While my teammates designed pre-assessment surveys, posters, and schedules, I grappled with Zoom. I familiarized myself with breakout rooms, mute features, and live streaming capabilities as I prepared to be the host of the two-day conference.

But as prepared as I believed myself to be, running the logistics of such an unprecedented event was by no means an easy feat. Suffice to say, I ran into multiple technical problems. Many participants were unfamiliar with Zoom – unsure of how to change their names or rejoin when they got kicked out because of their internet connection.

As I was panicking and trouble-shooting, I remember receiving text messages from Mrunal (another Mann Deshi staff member who had worked with me extensively to help make the conference run smoothly): “You are doing great! The teachers are loving this!” She told me how teachers were sharing things they had never shared before, and how this experience was all at once new and exciting.

I thought it was a cute sentiment meant to make me feel better for what I thought was a profound failure on my part. But when the conference ended and Prabhat shared some of the teachers’ comments I found myself filled with pride.

We had done this: Prabhat, Omkar, Mrunal, Danny, Kia and me. I was making the impact I had dreamed of.

Screenshot of Zoom participants at Mann Deshi Teacher's Conference
The author (upper left) with Youth Development Center students and teachers during a recent interview.

July 18: It’s been nearly two weeks since the conference. Work hasn’t slowed by a bit! I continue churning out reports, and am going to be reinterviewing some of YDC students soon. Working remotely has far exceeded my expectations. I’ll be the first to admit, it hasn’t been easy – what with all the late nights and Zoom fatigue. But it certainly has been worthwhile and definitely impactful (pun intended!)

August 6, 2020 – By Kia Muleta

“I have been a teacher since 1994, and no one has ever done an event like this for teachers. This was amazing!” said one attendee of the Mann Deshi Foundation’s Teacher’s Conference, the first of its kind in Maharashtra state.

screenshot of Zoom participants at Mann Deshi Teacher's Conference

This spring, I proposed the idea of a teacher’s conference to my peer GU Impact fellows as a means of sharing knowledge among teachers, developing a support system for them, and providing lessons on topics like communicating with students, and developmental psychology, areas that most Maharashtra teachers haven’t been trained in. We’d design a conference for government school and Mann Deshi Youth Development Center teachers who are rarely given opportunities for training, especially in identity development, gender equity, the impact of poverty on academic performance, and several more avenues.


Read More: Remote but not Removed: Making an Impact through a Virtual Fellowship


Everyone enthusiastically agreed, and in less than 10 hours of opening registration, 100 people had signed up. Teachers were more than eager to share and improve their teaching strategies.

Due to COVID-19, the event was held virtually, and was a smashing success with 80 teachers, 4 education experts from various fields, a member of Parliament, the State Minister of Human Development (Education), and the District Commissioner in attendance. We were honored to have Brookings Institute Fellow and Study Hall Founder Dr. Urvashi Sahni as our keynote speaker to talk about the application and vitality of Critical Feminist Pedagogy in Indian classrooms.

screenshot of Zoom participants at Mann Deshi Teacher's Conference
Brookings Institute Fellow and Study Hall Founder Dr. Urvashi Sahni addresses the Mann Deshi Teacher’s Conference.

Goals of the Workshop

To help Government and Mann Deshi Youth Development Center, teachers:

  • Implement and create their own innovative and interactive teaching strategies and curriculum
  • Become familiar with digital learning models and technology
  • Close the authority gap between teachers and students
  • Develop closer relationships between teachers and students
  • Become more efficient and effective in educating students to become confident, creative, knowledgeable problem solvers, leaders, and lifelong learners.
  • Create a support group for teachers and offer tangible resources

Teachers and students in rural Maharashtra face a number of challenges to getting an education. Many students struggle to finish school: some families rely on marrying their daughters to men if they need financial support, electricity/internet is unreliable, many students are wage laborers or farmers. Due to major issues in food insecurity, public health, and infrastructure, training for teachers is limited or nonexistent as the government focuses on other regional challenges. As such, training occurs once every 1-2 years and is often organized by the state, which means there are 1,000+ teachers in the state training program. In order to ensure a close knit teacher community and interactive workshops, our conference Zoom breakout rooms had a teacher-to-expert ratio of only 13:1.

Dr. Yajyoti Singh, an expert on developmental educational psychology, led lessons on efficient and emotionally conscious communication between teachers and students. She created a safe space for a research- based workshop that allowed teachers to be vulnerable with their challenges as teachers as well as successes.

screenshot of Zoom participants at Mann Deshi Teacher's Conference
Dr. Yajyoti Singh, an expert on developmental educational psychology speaks to the Mann Deshi Teacher’s Conference

During her workshop, Mrunal, a Mann Deshi staff member, excitedly clapped, smiled and messaged me:

“They shared experiences where they made some mistakes in their classes without considering the student’s perspective and how they felt bad about it later. Many teachers do not usually share such experiences. Now they are sharing some of the best moments in their lives as a teacher…This teacher is sharing how he wasn’t happy with his students as they didn’t study for one of the competitive exams. Later, when the results came out, 5/7 students passed the exams with good grades.”

“Education is not about filling the buckets. It’s about lighting the fire.”

In another session with Sushant Kamble, another educational psychology expert, Mrunal explained, “[Kamble] is explaining how adrenaline generates in our body when we are scared and how it could also happen in a classroom if the teacher communicates in a loud voice or if you yell at students it could affect them for a lifetime.” I watched as teachers took notes, nodded, and raised their hands for further questions. In a region where authority is an important part of culture, Kamble explained how authority can both negatively and positively affect the success of students.

As an aspiring lawyer in international politics and development, engaging teachers, education researchers, government, and an NGO in supporting local schools taught me that education is far more complex than standing at the front of a classroom. Education has a historical legacy, a cultural footprint, is a means of inquiry and validation of one’s identity, and cannot be directed by one person or group but rather requires the consistent and unified cooperation of multiple fronts. And most of all, teachers are incredible and genuinely care about the prosperity of their students.

As Kamble said, “Education is not about filling the buckets. It’s about lighting the fire.”

January 14, 2020 | By Matt Fortier

We’re excited to announce the Spring 2020 Student Analyst Cohort. They will play a critical role as they both learn about and contribute towards the Beeck Center’s mission of creating systems-level change for social impact. This semester’s cohort welcomes back seven analysts from previous semesters while introducing six new students. 

“The Beeck Center helps students expand their idea of what social impact opportunities look like, which is so important when considering future career paths.”

– Casey Doherty, College ’20

Every semester, Student Analysts work across our different portfolios: Fair Finance, Data + Digital, and Sustainable Student Impact, while helping us explore new areas of work such as Corporate Social Impact. The analysts take on key roles across the team, contributing new ideas, conducting research, managing projects, and supporting our operations, much of which you can see in our Student Analyst Capstone Showcase.

Our Student Analyst program embraces an experiential learning model where students learn to tackle real world problems in the social impact space, put theory to practice and work alongside staff and fellows, including seasoned social impact practitioners. This model is enhanced through a variety of programming, from skills-based workshops on public speaking and dialogue facilitation, to thought-provoking conversations in our Discern + Digest lunch series. Our goal is to provide a holistic education in social impact that enables students to develop their skills for social impact leadership and propel them towards a career that contributes towards the common good, in the spirit of Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition. 

“The Beeck Center does some of the most forward thinking and fascinating work on campus, and I’m so excited to join the center’s efforts. I find their approach of using the intersection of technology and social impact to inspire large scale social change both innovative and effective!

– Saumya Shruti, College ’20

To tackle the most complex challenges of our time, we require an interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral approach. The 2020 cohort includes undergraduate and graduate students from six Georgetown schools and an even greater variety of majors, interests, and experiences. This rich diversity of skills and perspectives makes our Center stronger and creates an ideal learning environment in which we learn from each other as well as from the work itself. 

Students are a key audience of our work as we seek to develop future leaders for social impact. If you are interested in learning more about how you can contribute to the common good and learn about a cross-disciplinary approach to driving systems-level change for social impact, we invite you to engage with us and our work. Career opportunities with the Beeck Center can be found here and Student Analyst opportunities for Summer 2020 will open in February, so stay tuned! 

Below you’ll find some quick statistics on the 2020 Spring Student Analyst Cohort.

First Name Last Name Graduate Level Year of Graduation School Major(s) Minor(s) Hometown Portfolio Focus
Cristina Alaniz-Ramirez Graduate 2021 American University School of International Service (SIS) Ethics, Peace and Human Rights : Concentration: International Economic Affairs N/A Brownsville, Texas Fair Finance
Tyler Yat Long Chan Undergraduate 2021 COL Economics Sociology/Asian Studies Las Vegas, NV Fair Finance
Casey Doherty Undergraduate 2020 College Government and American Studies n/a Charlton, NY Student Engagement
Elaina Faust Graduate 2021 School of Foreign Service Global Human Development Social Innovation and Global Development Southborough, MA Data + Digital
Forrest Gertin Undergraduate 2020 SFS International Political Economy French Rochester, NY Student Engagement
Hayley Pontia Graduate 2020 Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Communication, Culture, and Technology NA Pittsburgh, PA Data + Digital
Justus Pugh Undergraduate 2020 MSB Marketing N/A Chicago Student Engagement
Taylor Savell Undergraduate 2020 School of Foreign Service International Politics Spanish; Economics Nashville, TN Data + Digital
Saumya Shruti Undergraduate 2020 COL Government, Philosophy N/A San Ramon Fair Finance
Cameron Smith Undergraduate 2020 College Computer Science N/A Saratoga Springs Data + Digital
Donovan Taylor Undergraduate 2020 McDonough School of Business International Business and Management n/a Baltimore Fair Finance
Audrey Voorhees Graduate 2020 Georgetown Business Administration Social Entrepreneurship Des Moines, IOWA Corporate Impact
Tongxin Zhu Graduate 2020 McCourt School of Public Policy MPP N/A Guangdong, China Fair Finance

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