In Conversation With Raj Mundra
Raj Mundra began his career at Andover in 1991 when he served as a Teaching Fellow in the Biology department. He returned to Phillips Academy in 1996 as a full faculty member teaching a variety of biology courses. With a tremendous background in international education, including having served as the Deputy Head of the secondary school at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya, Raj brings a global perspective to every teaching opportunity. During his years at Andover, he has been a coach, residential house counselor, academic advisor, International Student Coordinator and Associate Director of the International Academic Partnership. Drawing on his global experiences and his passion for teaching, Mr. Mundra created the Niswarth (Hindi for non sibi) service-learning program in order to create opportunities for students and faculty to learn about a variety of issues related to the overall development of India. In addition, Mr. Mundra recently announced that in 2009, Harvard University’s South Asia Initiative, Phillips Academy and the Winsor School will host a conference, “Why Teach India?: Exploring India’s Role in Secondary Curricula”, for high school teachers interested in integrating India (historically, politically, economically and culturally) into American secondary schools.
As an Indian American growing up in Shrewsbury MA, what made you decide to pursue a high school teaching career, arguably a non-traditional one for Indian Americans?
After I graduated from Brandeis I was offered a teaching fellowship at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. I absolutely fell in love with teaching. I did consider medical school, however, I could not pull myself away from teaching at the high school level. I completed a Masters at Brown University in Biology and Education and later I was offered a full time position at Phillips Academy. I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to pursue my passions through my teaching. I love working with a diversity of teenagers who come to our school with a mission to make a difference in the world. Helping children understand how they can become changemakers in the world has been a challenging and gratifying experience.
How is it different to teach at a boarding school like Phillips Academy from a day school?
Since my family and I live on campus with the students, teaching at Phillips is not just a job but a way of life. All faculty play multiple roles. In addition to teaching Biology I coach football, live in a 9th grade boys dorm, am an academic advisor, advise the South Asian students club, and am the Assistant Dean of Community and Multicultural activities. It is a very special place where there is access to a tremendous amount of resources and faculty are given the freedom to create meaningful programs locally and abroad.
Can you tell us more about the Niswarth program at Phillips Academy?
Niswarth is the Hindi word for “non-sibi” which is a part of the central mission of Phillips Academy. In 1995 I was given a fellowship to teach a year in Mumbai, India at the Aga Khan schools. The trip was most enriching for me and this is where I met and married my wife Kavita who was a kindergarten teacher at the school. The experience of living and teaching in India was very transformational for me and helped me to conceptualize curriculum innovation, as well as faculty and student programming that could be developed between Phillips Academy and institutions in India.
Usually study abroad programs fall into three categories: language immersion, cultural tourism and community service. However, our program is different unique because it uses service as a means to understand a community, social structures and offers opportunities for participants to develop a sophisticated level of empathy and learn how changemakers make a difference. We practice the skills of observing without judgment, listening carefully, planning with community members, and organizing appropriate service activities. Phillips Academy students accomplish this because we partner with students in Indian schools ad work with NGOs. They also interview all stakeholders including the people being served, government officials, corporate CEOs, and policy makers so that they get a holistic understanding of the change making process.
Could you tell us about your visit to Pratham?
Faculty and students from Phillips Academy and the Udayachal School in Mumbai studied child labor injustices while interacting with students and staff at a Pratham shelter in Crawford Market in Mumbai. Located here were 42 children ages 10-14 years old who had been rescued from child labor situations all around Mumbai. This shelter was helping to rehabilitate these children, get them ready for school, and help them make a smooth transition back to their communities. The children read a lot of background material and interviewed many people including the Labor Minister in Maharashtra. It really gave them a great understanding of how Pratham functions and the realities of the challenges facing their staff.
We developed a photojournalism project where the Pratham students took photographs in their neighborhoods and captured the influences (positive and negative) in their lives. We developed, framed and mounted the photographs from the Pratham children at the Cymroza Art Gallery in South Bombay for a one day photoexibition on June 26th titled, “EXPOSURE: Mumbai’s Unseen Heroes”. The jaws of the Pratham children dropped when they saw their photographs on the wall and they took great pride in explaining their backgrounds to the public. The exhibition attracted many in the Mumbai community including the US Consul General in Mumbai, Michael Owen, to attend and understand the tremendous work being done by Pratham.
These pictures will be available at the Gala for silent auction. I really urge everyone to attend this gala and support one of the finest NGOs that is creating a huge impact.
Any tips for our readers who may be parenting teenagers?
I believe strongly in exposing teenagers to a wide range of experiences. This privilege allows them to explore their strengths and identify their passions. We live in an interdisciplinary world where people need to understand how to work with others and become positive leaders. We should not force teenagers to fit into molds that are not appropriate to their strengths and desires. I believe it is more important to raise responsible and empathetic citizens who are involved in their communities and have the courage to become positive changemakers in society.
If you have questions or thoughts about the Niswarth program, you can contact Raj Mundra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 20, 2008
Sheraton Newton Hotel
Vikas Taneja, Pratham Boston
Dr. Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and author of Billions of Entrepreneurs
Honoree address: Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen
Dance performance: Parijat Desai Dance Company
Intermission: Silent auction
International perspectives and Pratham update: Pratham co-founder Dr. Madhav Chavan
Pledge Drive: Charu Puri-Sharma, Pratham Boston
Musical performance: Falu
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