Gupta plans to use the quantitative skills she gains at Harris to improve solutions for addressing mental health.
Headshot of Sunena Gupta
Sunena Gupta

Sunena Gupta’s passion to assist those struggling with mental health issues is directly tied to her own upbringing. “I was born into a fairly traditional Indian family in Singapore, in a community where it is very difficult to talk about mental health. It is almost taboo. I struggled myself with mental health issues growing up, and what I realized when I went abroad to California for school is that there are a lot of other people struggling with similar issues that they could not explore and resolve because of their backgrounds.”

While health policy is a driving policy interest for Gupta, her other policy interests stem from balancing her different identities. “My interest in South Asian relations, for example, is a product of my cultural Indian heritage while having been born and raised in Singapore.”

After completing her bachelor’s in political economy at the University of California, Berkeley, she returned to Singapore and began working as a Trade and Policy Research Assistant at the Asia Competitiveness Institute, a policy research think-tank at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. There, she worked primarily on projects involving trade and economic policy, including launching a policy blog to share key research insights and co-authoring research reports and policy briefs on inter-regional trade and development.

Even before finishing her bachelor’s, however, Gupta heavily involved herself in youth mental health awareness, including through the medium of dance. “I have been doing classical Indian dance since I was seven years old. Typically, Indian dances narrate stories involving historic figures or mythology. I thought, why couldn’t we start telling stories about modern people?”

Gupta created her own dance performance, “Umeed: Colors of Hope” that told the story of a young girl dealing with her own mental health issues. Eventually, she performed this production at 25 international venues between 2018–21, including London, San Francisco, India, and Singapore. “Each show was a fundraiser for a different mental health organization. We would do panel sessions after some of the shows so students could ask questions, and I could talk to these students as a fellow peer who had also struggled with mental health.”

"I then thought,” Gupta continued, “if I could make this impact through dance, what magnitude of impact could I make through policy? While it was great to talk to the kids after each show, I didn’t know what policies those schools have in place to address mental health. I realized public policy was a way to link that interest with my passion for finding better solutions to how we deal with mental health.”

When she began exploring graduate programs, Gupta said she was drawn to Harris, and the Master of Public Policy program, for several reasons. “The emphasis on social impact was huge, and the school’s openness in its selection of students with diverse interests and academic backgrounds is something I really appreciate. It’s nice to see that level of diversity at the graduate level.”

Additionally, Gupta was drawn to Harris because of the quantitative focus. “The data science emphasis is great and applicable to any policy avenue I eventually go down. And that’s the other thing: I feel like Harris is a place where I can explore all my interests simultaneously, and that is not something you find in a lot of public policy programs.”