Bhatnagar is using her MPP skills as an Education Technology Researcher at UNICEF, delivering digital public goods to children in low-connectivity areas in developing countries.
Headshot of Divya Bhatnagar
Divya Bhatnagar

“There should be a burning passion in your heart for the work you are doing—there should be a meaning,” says Divya Bhatnagar, MPP’18. “I am finding meaning in my work at UNICEF.”

Bhatnagar’s work as an Education Technology Researcher aims to identify digital public goods to help reach children in low resource, low-connectivity areas.

 “The projects I’m working on at UNICEF deal with the daily challenges faced by children in developing countries. When I'm writing a concept note, for example, about out-of-school children, I'm also writing about why those children are out of school—what kind of circumstances they are surviving. Realizing that there is such a big, unimaginable gap between a student who goes to school every day and somebody for whom these programs exist is motivation enough to get up in the morning and get to work.”

For Bhatnagar, her own educational experience growing up in India made her want to reimagine education policy. "In the Indian education system, there’s a lot of emphasis on grades and test scores. Since education is something that can make or break a child’s future, the stakes are incredibly high. This results not only in rote learning to cram for tests, but also a serious mental health crisis: child suicide is high in India due to intense academic pressure. I felt I could make my greatest impact by creating safety nets for this age group so that they can experience childhood to its fullest."

Bhatnagar’s trajectory into public policy, however, was not always clear. She had completed her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and  worked as a Researcher  in Astrophysics at the University of Victoria in Canada before she applied to Harris. She also worked as a teaching assistant for undergraduate astrophysics. Additionally, she volunteered time working with children ages 3 to 7 years old and worked in student services to support international students and create awareness around mental health.

“After two years, I realized I was happiest when I was doing my volunteer work, not pursuing my degree. I began thinking about how I could make the leap to public policy, and Harris was a perfect match for me because it combined data with policy.”

While pursuing her Master of Public Policy at Harris, Bhatnagar earned certificates in International Development and Global Conflict Studies. She also worked as a research assistant for Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia, analyzing restorative practices in the US school systems and serving as a teaching assistant for Senior Lecturer Tom Coleman in his Principles of Microeconomics class.

“Besides the projects we worked on together, Professors Adukia and Coleman were, and still are, my support system. Professor Adukia advised me about my future in education and children, and Professor Coleman was a big psychological support. I'm still in touch with both of them.”

Bhatnagar says she also benefited from the mentorship program. “I was matched with Abigayil Joseph, who was chief of staff of the Chicago Board of Education at the time. She connected me with so many people that even though I was a newbie in the policy sector, I was able to learn so many technicalities of the field and how people work in their jobs every day.”

“When I came to Harris, I experienced much more than the data and policy that is so well publicized: I found an incredibly supportive community.” Bhatnagar says she is regularly in contact with classmates such as Faraz Ahmed, MSCAPP’18, Saeb Ahsan, MPP’18, Mariana Botero, MPP/MBA’19, and Arvind Ilamaran, MPP’17.

 “The Harris community gives me a sense of belonging—and energy to continue what I'm doing."

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