Or maybe Hug-Z, Jay-Z’s cuddly cousin we haven’t heard about! However you spell it, it sounds like a blanket of thousand marshmallows cascading you on a snowy winter’s day…so soft, so warm, an all-embracing bubble of kindness and compassion. That’s Harvard’s Graduate School of Education or HGSE, lovingly referred to by students as “Hugsie” for the ethereal feeling it generates among all who frequent the one block that is Appian Way. I felt it on that cold March day as I set foot on this campus as one of many prospective students at an Open House, and I feel it even more so now that I have spent five long but amazing months as a student here.
Born and raised in India, I was always taught to pick a lane and stick to it if I ever wanted to go somewhere or be somebody. Of course, I never listened! “If you put one leg in one boat and one leg in the other, you will go nowhere and you will drown” is one of the many nuggets of wisdom I heard almost everyday growing up. That’s one way of looking at it. “What if a big awesome ship comes by and picks me up? Then I’ll have something better than two boats and I’ll reach my destination faster,” little me always wanted to say but deferred out of respect to my elders. Well, they may not exist in abundance but there are havens for people who like to pledge their allegiance to more than one discipline and one interest. The Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) cohort at HGSE is one of those havens!
Having lived under the poverty line for more than six years after my family came to this country, I developed a whole new appreciation for people who generously dedicated their lives to education as a means towards liberation and enlightenment. Since then, I started my dream of starting a school for children in low-income households. As I began to be trained as a neuroscientist, this dream shifted into a different type of school – a school whose methods, operations, and pedagogy was based on neuroscientific research. As I began teaching at a high school, reality reared its attractively-challenged head and my dream came crashing down. How on earth was I going to do this? Where would I start? Who would even understand my mission and goal? Nothing that existed came close to my vision for a school. Looking back, it seems silly that I thought I was alone in this journey. In MBE, I have found scientists, educators, managers, artists, and a variety of other kindred spirits who are fearlessly balancing themselves on the cusp of multiple boats, and are for the most part, WINNING!
But what makes HGSE unique is not just the rapport you build within your own cohort. Professors, coordinators, alumni, and many other permanent members of the community constantly advise us to capitalize on the sea of human potential that we encounter in the form of peers, and that is exactly what I set out to do during my Fall semester. I chose mostly elective classes in non-familiar areas such as policy, entrepreneurship, and technology to complement my existing knowledge and networks. As a result, I experienced first-hand the reasons behind the gaps between different disciplines as well as professions. But the magnitude of learning, growth, and networks that tagged along with this challenge is so immensely valuable that words cannot do it justice.
My HGSE colleagues have taught me to truly respect and utilize the value of my peers while being genuinely open and true to myself. I wake up everyday excited to learn things I know nothing about from people in HGSE and beyond. From constant battles about the necessity and feasibility of 21st century skills in an International Development context in my A801-Education Policy Analysis and Research section, to collaborating with the Harvard Graduate School of Design to introduce a design thinking workshop for the HGSE community, and so much of everything in between, the synapses in my brain have formed at an exponential rate since I started this journey in August.
The multitude of interactions and conversations with my peers and professors has taught me to be brave about my vision for a better school, but they have also opened my eyes to the many underlying issues I need to tackle first. But most importantly, they have shown me that I am not fighting alone. We’re all in this together!
Mecca, Eden, “Hugsie”….call it whatever happy place you will! I have never looked back and as this new semester starts, I am hungry for more.
Mona Anchan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Mona has toggled between the research and teaching professions for the last ten years. In addition to her role as a Neuroscience and Psychology researcher, Mona has also taught science and math as a high school classroom teacher, tutor, and college instructor. She is on a quest to find avenues to bridge the theory-practice divide between neuroscience and education. She is actively seeking to connect with kindred spirits with the same mission.