“Wow—there’s a place on campus that focuses on education and learning and global health? This is the kind of environment I need to be in!”
This was Nina Bhattacharya’s first thought in August 2015 when she learned about the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI) during her new student orientation course at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH). A native of Michigan with experience in community organizing, public policy fieldwork, and teaching in Indonesia, India, and Flint, Michigan, Nina quickly combined her global health coursework with student-fellow experiences at GHELI. In the summer of 2016, she collaborated with the Human Outreach Project to nurture GHELI’s ongoing partnership in Tanzania, and in the spring of 2017, joined the team of teaching fellows for Faculty Director Dr. Sue J. Goldie’s Harvard College course on complex global health challenges. It was not a surprise to anyone at GHELI when she was recruited by Dr. Goldie upon her graduation to the fulltime staff as our new Instructional Design Specialist.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “The Incubator blends my interests in both education and working with adolescents, but also my interests in art, writing, and audio. I’m looking forward to brainstorming creative ways to leverage the Incubator space for educational products. That’s where the magic of the Incubator happens—where this curating, with a really good group of people, allows them to think creatively about things they care about. I’m very curious about how to enable that kind of creativity and then help translate it into resources freely available for other learners and educators.”
Nina is no stranger to creative thinking that crosses boundaries and disciplines. While a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Global Health and Population’s two-year program, she sought experiences inside and outside HSPH that approached complex challenges through a multidisciplinary lens. As a student in "T550: Designing for Learning by Creating," an innovative course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education led by Professor Karen Brennan, Nina crafted a mental health toolkit for South Asian teenagers that blended public health evidence with art and reflective journaling. She also took anthropology and ethnography courses across Harvard schools to learn how different mediums—like filmmaking—and different methods—like ethnographic interviewing—could be leveraged in the Incubator’s curriculum development activities. These broad-ranging curricular experiences shaped her culminating, year-long Master’s thesis on family relationships and the health and wellbeing of transgender youth. Her research is a part of the Trans Youth Family Study led by Dr. Sabra Katz-Wise at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Her perspective is also shaped by family—her mother’s family displaced by Partition to Calcutta, her father’s experience as the only student of color in his Michigan high school—and by her own passion to “center myself with people and learn from them.” A Fulbright year teaching English in Indonesia, she says, “made me think a lot about what it meant to be an American woman of color where I was the only foreigner and didn’t meet cultural stereotypes of ‘American-ness’.” Conversations with other fellows helped her think more deeply about intersectionality. While working in Washington, D.C. prior to attending HSPH, Nina and a friend hosted the first retreat for young Hindu women that focused on looking at women’s issues from a faith perspective. “I like to talk about things that are taboo within South Asian culture,” she smiles. This approach also informs the monthly podcast, Almirah Radio Hour, that she co-hosts with a former Fulbright colleague.
“We’re in an environment where researchers and graduate students need to learn to communicate what they care about in more accessible ways,” says Nina. “And visual media—whether art or theater or dance or even just a simple sketch—are one step towards communicating across disciplines. I think that’s the only way global health and global health education can move forward.”