The Learning Part of the Fellowship

After a 7-year hiatus from school, I settled into student life as if no time has passed. As an IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow I was given the chance to take classes at MIT – and any other university in Boston. This second part is important, because, to the best of my understanding, while all Neuffer fellows are granted this perk, most Fellows sensibly stick to MIT. But as I learnt earlier this year, I’m greedier about learning than most people: my thinking was, why must I only stick to MIT? I opted to take classes at MIT, Harvard, and Emerson College. I wanted to experience it all!

I know it looks basic, but I’m just getting started

Getting into Emerson was tricky. At first the dean of the journalism school said that it wouldn’t be possible, it hadn’t been done before. But another thing I am learning during this fellowship is that if you want something, and if it’s a reasonable, just demand, keep asking. After much back and forth, and some great allies at MIT, Emerson, and IWMF who supported me, I had myself enrolled in courses where I am learning Data Visualization and Video and Audio Editing. And I am delighted!

In order to explain my happiness, I should explain that I have never had a chance to learn hard-skills around journalism – I’ve never learnt how to scrape data off PDFs to support my reporting, or present statistics in a way that I don’t have to waste 500 words explaining them, or how to use a fantastic audio clip as an accessory to my feature story. And now, even in less than a month of taking these classes, I can do these things!

At MIT I am enrolled in a course called “Humanitarian Innovation” – the best way to describe the instructors, the students, and the vibe of the class is “human rights practitioners meet engineers”. A little more about me: I also used to work at Human Rights Watch and am very invested in learning the best practices around human rights. There are several projects and much learning happening there, but I’ll report more on that next time, after some of the projects are executed and I have a bit more confidence that we may achieve what we set out to.

At Harvard, I am auditing “Audience Engagement” with the Audience Engagement editor of Boston Globe – it’s where my two worlds meet! The class is really riveting, because while it is a learning environment, it’s extremely practical and timely. The discussions, assignments and guest lecturers are all brought on keeping in mind the mood and news of the week. I will be honest, I am still figuring out exactly what audience engagement is, but in my defense we’ve only met three times so far and we have three more months to figure it out. I have full confidence that by the time the course is over, I will be able to explain this term to you!

A draft of my comic about learning Bharatnatyam while in Covid lock-down in 2020

Okay, in case you thought I was done with courses, I am not! Before the semester officially begins, MIT offers short IAP courses in January. I took a “Comics on Covid” class back in January, and it really changed my perspective on my own set of skills and limitations. I always thought of myself as someone who can’t draw. I was never good at art class. I still only make lollipop trees and deformed cartoon cats. But the first time we met, Mauricio, one of the instructors, told us a secret: if you can draw your signature, you can draw. And draw we did. In a matter of two weeks I had created my first comic, and while it isn’t perfect, it is a whole entire two-page comic, which tells a story using images rather than words. By the time the course ended, I was shocked by what we are capable of if people have faith in us (I’m thinking of Sajan, the second instructor) and I’m stunned by how many different ways exist in which we can tell stories!