Three months ago, I moved to Cambridge to become a Curriculum Writing Fellow at Bridge International Academies (or Bridge, for short). How and why I ended up at this company has everything to do with my time at UConn.
I graduated from the Individualized Major Program with a degree in International Relations. I was like pretty much everyone else I knew who devoted four years to studying global affairs: we all wanted to do something important. But how exactly do you achieve a global impact? And how do you do it responsibly, without it being a vanity project?
Bridge opened its first academy in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. Since then, the company has opened over 400 schools and expanded into Uganda, Nigeria, and soon India. It controls every aspect of creating and managing the schools, from building the academies to running the classroom. Scale is Bridge’s secret to success: using technology, data, and some heavy initial investments, Bridge takes advantage of efficiencies that reduce overhead costs and allow for enormous reach (without sacrificing academic quality). That’s why I have the opportunity to directly impact the education of hundreds of kids on a daily basis.
A day in the life of a Curriculum Writing Fellow is busy, challenging, and gratifying. We write the textbooks handed to our pupils every day. We come up with the math problems they do for homework every night. And perhaps most interestingly, we write the teacher guides that their instructors read, word-for-word, in every class, every day. Though scripted lessons are a controversial method in the United States, Bridge’s massive data team has found that they work really well in our academies. In countries with far fewer trained and quality teachers than the U.S., writing lessons and delivering them on teacher tablets allows us to maintain a high standard of quality for each pupil at an affordable cost. And by using teacher tablets, Bridge can compile data in real time about each individual classroom and use it to constantly improve our approach. In other words, we are always striving to do better.
And I get to be a part of it. Knowing that the hard work I invest in my job actually means something, and has impact, is incredibly satisfying. The fact that hundreds of kids are going to read what I write motivates me to create the best, most creative lessons I possibly can. I leave work every day feeling like I’ve done the best thing I possibly could with my time. As a student myself studying International Relations just a few years ago, this is what I strove to do.
This past summer I spent six weeks in Florence, Italy through the UConn Business Summer program. I left Storrs with a little bit of excitement, a little bit of fear, and all the questions in the world about what these next six weeks would hold. At the time, I had just decided to become a double major and add Consumer Behavior to my nearly completed Psychology major. I decided that this experience would be the best way to truly know if I belonged in the business world. The program included two courses led by UConn faculty: “Business in Italy: International and Entrepreneurial Perspective” and “History of Culture and Food in Italy.”
While getting acquainted with the breathtaking city of Florence, my business course took me on interactive trips to six different businesses in the neighboring cities. From authentic paper marbling to a winery run from a historic Medici castle, my classmates and I experienced an eclectic collection of business settings. My first trip was to a pizza company that was unlike any other business we would visit. Contrary to the family-centered way of business that is common in Italy, this company had it eyes set on international expansion while maintaining authentic values. After a tour of the facility, the business executives presented their plans for expansion and engaged in an open discussion about the challenges and opportunities for their company and asked for our recommendations. It was after this trip that I knew I was in the right place.
As the weeks flew by, we were tasked with evaluating each business, giving our thoughts on what they did well and what we felt could be improved, and constantly comparing and contrasting the American way of business to that of Italians. Despite all of the papers and assignments, we were still able to travel and explore on our days off. As our classes only ran from Monday to Thursday, I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful island of Capri, the ruins of Pompeii, and the magnificent shore of the Adriatic Sea. Those six weeks abroad gave me one of the most memorable, beneficial, and absolutely fantastic experiences of my life. I may have arrived in Florence with apprehension, but I left with every assurance for which I could have asked.
During the summer of 2015, I traveled to Guatemala with the Social Entrepreneur Corps through the 8-week UConn study abroad program. It was a fantastic experience and program, and I learned more during that time than in any other period of my life. Perfectly complementing my individualized major in International Relations (with a focus in Human Rights and Development) and my traditional major in Spanish, this program reaffirmed my desire to work in the human rights and economic development sector. We worked with students from all over the country and different universities such as UConn, Duke, Babson, Boston University, University of North Carolina, and Cornell. Our community partner, Soluciones Comunitarias, is run by absolutely amazing people, and we worked very closely with them during this whole process. They use the MicroConsignment Model (MCM), a sustainable and impactful social business plan that mirrors microfinance initiatives in many ways.
Our big group was divided into three different teams: Esperanza, Oportunidad, and Impacto. My team, Esperanza, focused on eye care and eye health—this entailed running and organizing free eye exams for the local communities and finding the correct glasses or other products for the clients. This was the first year that they implemented the SVOne (as seen in the picture below), a device that took pictures of the client’s eyes and read what they needed for a distance prescription. As a team, we created a final report of over 100-pages with deliverables and instructions on how to carry out an effective campaign with the SVOne. This included everything from how to create strong relationships with local eye doctors to a way to properly manage the product sales.
We worked five to six days a week, but on our days off we were able to travel, hike, and explore the local community. On a weekend with two days off, we climbed Volcán Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America. We made it to the peak to watch the sun rise over the volcanoes in the distance (see picture below). It was one of the hardest, but most incredible physical challenges I’ve ever experienced. At UConn, I continue to work with Social Entrepreneur Corps as a Campus Advisor because I truly believe in the work that they are doing and I hope to help them continue and improve upon their vision in any way possible.
by Anisha Rajopadhye (’17), IMJR: Fashion Merchandising
My major is Fashion Merchandising, but UConn doesn’t offer any courses in fashion, so I looked outside the school to gain knowledge of the industry. On the Education Abroad website I discovered the Fashion Business Summer School at the London College of Fashion (LCF) . This program offers twelve credits in everything from fashion entrepreneurship and marketing to styling. So I applied, was accepted, and experienced an inspiring two months living in London and attending one of the best fashion schools in the world.
The material I studied at LCF was extremely relevant to my career goals. It taught me how to develop a collection, interact with buyers, be a buyer, calculate the costs of manufacturing and producing a garment, distinguish between fabrics, predict upcoming trends, and much more. My professors didn’t sugar coat what the industry was like and didn’t take it easy on us when critiquing our work. They showed me what it would be like to actually work in fashion…and I loved it.
After completing the eight-week summer program, I have an entire portfolio of work I’ve done and I have narrowed down the career path I want to take. I initially thought I might want a career as a stylist, but after producing an eight-look editorial shoot (see below), I’ve realized I am better suited for a career that is more focused on business.
Studying abroad was the best academic decision I have made thus far. It gave me the opportunity to grow as a student and as an individual, and I would encourage all other students to study abroad (especially in London) if the opportunity is presented to them.
This summer I had the opportunity to learn how to use DSLR camera equipment, edit with Adobe Premiere and After Effects, and create short promotional videos, all with the help and support of three experienced video professionals – and I did it all right on the Storrs campus at the University’s Office of Communications. My internship with UConn Communications this summer was both exciting and an important experience professionally. Multimedia Supervisor Bret Eckhardt and Multimedia Specialists Angelina Reyes and Elizabeth Caron all offered me hands on experience and generous amounts of sage advice about varying aspects of media production. With backgrounds in television news, advertising, and freelance work, they gave me an inside look at the different directions my career could take, and what I should look for. This summer, working on my own, I was able to capture a jazz concert at Storrs Center, Peter Pan flying at the Connecticut Repertory Theater, and UConn’s annual Bioblitz event. I also assisted production on an array of other projects throughout the summer. Going forward, I have a much clearer idea of my path, and it confirmed that my decision to pursue an individualized major in film was a good one. Oh, and I also became friends with the Jonathan Huskies!