This fall, students will gather biweekly in the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs to participate in Practitioner-Led Study Groups, where they will spend 90 minutes exploring various topics in-depth with the Watson Institute’s Senior Fellows.
The three study groups are “Leadership and Governance in Challenging Times,” led by former Democratic National Committee Chairman and current Maryland gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez ’83, “Promoting Human Rights in an Increasingly Challenging and Autocratic World,” led by former UN representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council Keith Harper and “Girls’ Education and Gender Equality,” led by nonprofit founder Kakenya Ntaiya.
Started in 2017, these study groups provide around 20 students per group a unique opportunity to engage with leaders who have years of real-world experience in advocacy and policy.
“The goals are to get students really excited about a topic ... and to see how, in a given important topic area, they can affect change in the world,” said Edward Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute.
Perez echoed a similar sentiment. “When I was at Brown, I had wonderful professors, and it was a remarkable experience,” Perez said. “At the same time, I didn’t have enough professors who had been in the trenches.” As a result, Perez explained that the goal of his study group is to “bridge that gap between theory and practice and to give people a sense of how we go about problem solving, especially in these challenging times.”
Ntaiya is the founder of Kakenya’s Dream, an organization dedicated to improving educational opportunities for girls in rural Kenya. “I think the biggest takeaway (from my study group) is that it’s not too late to do something you’re interested in,” Ntaiya said. “If you’re really passionate about something, you should really pursue that.”
Outside of holding study groups, Senior Fellows have a variety of other responsibilities, from participating in public events at the Watson Institute to holding office hours. Steinfeld noted that Senior Fellows can also help students network in their fields.
Joshua Neronha ’22 is a student liaison in Ambassador Harper’s study group and will assist Harper with planning the group’s structure and organization. Neronha participated in former Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s study group in Spring 2020 and said he is excited to be involved in a group again this year.
One of the reasons Neronha enjoyed Heitkamp’s study group was because of her unique world-view. “The perspective we often get from our professors and our peers is not (that of) someone from a large, rural agricultural family in North America,” he said. “I’m from Rhode Island, so hearing about those perspectives is very interesting.” He added that, in the study group, students had the opportunity to hear Heitkamp speak very candidly about current events, like the Democratic primary.
“There are very few times in your life where you can click a link to fill out a Google form and meet some of the most influential people, whether in the field of human rights for Ambassador Harper or national politics for Tom Perez,” Neronha said. “If you’re interested, you should absolutely do this.”