Promoting an ethically informed, just world
In my Rhodes essay, I wrote that the Middle
East is a place where I see many penetrating
lenses into important global questions. For
instance, the religious and cultural segregation in Israel’s school system, which is leading
to professional and political crises, provides a
striking portrait of the potential tensions
between child interests, parent interests, and
the health of liberal democracies. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides a powerful look
into the roles of religious differences, border
disputes, and terrorism in global conflicts.
The pilgrims in Jerusalem help us to think
about what freedoms government was created to protect.
What is it to be an Indian American?
I am the youngest of two daughters. My
older sister Dia is a scientist. Our father never
said we should follow any particular career.
He likes to travel and from him I learned that
travel was also an educational experience. I
have been to India with him and by myself
many times. I have also volunteered as an
English teacher in Hungary.
What will you be doing at Oxford?
My desire to complete an MPhil in politics (political theory) at Oxford — a program that combines the politics and
philosophy departments — to have a deeper grounding in
the philosophical debates that center around questions of
justice. In my later career, I want to encourage a public dialogue that approaches social, political, and humanitarian
challenges with an emphasis on what Harry Truman
described as ‘the moral nature of man’s aspirations’. I want
to encourage a dialogue that is motivated, first and foremost, by the question: ‘ What is just?’ Oxford’s program will
help me gain a better mastery of the history of liberal
thought and contemporary theories of justice.
Aysha Bagchi, second from left, with friends
awareness, advocacy, and service group and
has over 25 active members who help immigrant service organizations in Palo Alto
around the campus and nearby areas providing health care and English language to immigrants. Along with a few other members, I
helped successfully petition Stanford
President John Hennessy to publicly endorse
the DREAM Act, a bill that was to aid undocumented students. (California has since
passed its DREAM Act).
You are also known for your advocacy writ-
ing during your Stanford years.
At Stanford, my proudest contributions
have come in aiming to promote a holistic
undergraduate experience for students who,
no matter whether we work in Washington,
Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or beyond, will be
called upon as global citizens. In the context
of an increasingly commercial and specialized
world, I have used my writing in The Stanford
Daily and my service on the task force reviewing Stanford’s
undergraduate education to advocate for an intellectually
and personally transformative education, one that engages
students’ philosophical and value-laden identities as well as
our technical skills. In (historian) Tony Judt’s words, I have
tried to promote an ‘ethically informed public conversation’
about education at Stanford, aimed at fostering an evermore reflective and responsible student culture.
How did the Israeli scholarship happen?
In my application for the Haas/Koshland Memorial
Award, I described how the 10-day visit to Israel I made
just before college with leftover high school earnings led
me — a student who did not grow up with personal con-
nections to Israel — to dream of spending a year there. A
handful of my experiences included climbing the Mount of
Olives overlooking the Old City, talking with an Arab
mother and daughter as they walked on their way to the
Temple Mount, witnessing prayers quietly whispered at the
Western Wall, spending three hours in Yad Vashem, touch-
ing the star marking Jesus’s birthplace in Bethlehem, visit-
ing the outskirts of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbor-
hood in Jerusalem, and living casually amidst a seemingly
pervasive military presence. Although I could not articu-
late precisely why, I felt as if I were at a gravitational center
of the universe. In a sense, Israel is a boiling pot epitomiz-
ing so many of the complexities that make us human. The
Haas/Koshland Memorial Award is giving me the chance
to make a new home in that world.
The complex equation
of doing good
You are deeply interest in politics.
At Princeton, I integrated my interests in
politics and mathematics into a program of
interdisciplinary study. In Ireland, I have
found course requirements to be more
rigid, but participation in the literary and
debate society and on the editorial board of
the student newspaper have opened up
new avenues of academic exploration to
me. But politics is more than academic, it is
a contact sport, and I got into my first real
scuffle during an Engineers Without
Borders project in Ashaiman, Ghana. At
Princeton, I had joined the EWB because of
a high school interest in engineering and a
vague desire to do good. My involvement
deepened, and I traveled to Ghana during
my sophomore year at Princeton as project
manager. I led a team of students in build-
ing a school library. But once in the coun-
try, we met with resistance from the offi-
cials. Our project got back on track only
after we reached out to local parents and
politicians, allaying their fears, and wel-
coming their feedback.
Mohit Agrawal, right, with Dublin, Ireland’s Lord Mayor Andrew Montague, center
the past 20 years, per capita GDP has
tripled and now matches that of the US.
Ghana, on the other hand, has had near
zero growth — this, even over dozens of
libraries, like EWB’s, have been built. The
most important equation, then, that I
learned while in Singapore had nothing to
do with B-splines: The Singaporean gov-
ernment is ruthless in pushing through
policy, while Ghana’s weak democracy has
faltered in implementing even the most
basic of reforms. Moreover, the
Singaporean government works with
mathematicians to model economic poli-
cies, while decisions in Ghana are made
with far less study. For instance, poor finan-
cial modeling during the Kufuor adminis-
tration led to the sale of Ghana Telecom for
hundreds of millions of dollars less than its
later valuation by outside experts. I seek to
combine my background in politics and
mathematics to help crate an economic
policy, be it at the World Bank, or the US
Treasury, or in Congress.