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Twelve Ashoka students get selected for the prestigious Millennium Fellowship

The Millennium Fellowship, which was launched in 2013 is a 10 session, semester-long programme to take a Fellow’s social impact onto the next level and help them be change makers in the society.

Twelve students from Ashoka University have been selected for the prestigious Millennium Fellowship 2020. The Fellowship, a collaboration between the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and Millennium Campus Network (MCN), is a semester-long leadership development programme that convenes, challenges, and celebrates student leadership for UN goals. MCN launched the Millennium Fellowship in 2013 and beginning in 2018, MCN and UNAI partnered to present the Millennium Fellowship, creating a robust global network of undergraduate leaders advancing UN goals.  

For the class of 2020, 15,000+ students applied from 1,400+ campuses across 135 nations. One of the toughest fellowships, only 80 campuses (just about 6%) were selected to host the Fellows for the Class of 2020.  I asked how they were all feeling given this was the first time Ashoka had been nominated. Looking at their excited faces, it felt the exhilaration never stopped. They were overwhelmed and humbled. Echoing the same, Naman Bhatnagar, pursuing Psychology and Entrepreneurship said,  

“It feels so empowering to be heard and to be recognised not for the weight of my past accomplishments but for the weight of what my team is trying to achieve. I am proud to be a torchbearer of Ashoka. I hope the next generations of Ashokans find it easier to spread our reach and impact even further.”

 Nathan Narde, a prospective double major in PPE and Psychology agreed with Naman. “I am ecstatic to be selected for this coveted Fellowship and eager to convert the vision of my project to a reality,” he said.  For all of them, this has been a dream come true. Sanjay Sudarsan, second year in Political Science and International Relations, said, “I still cannot believe that I am a Millennium Fellow. I jumped in excitement when I read my acceptance email. I am definitely still overwhelmed by all the love and wishes that I have received from my friends and family.”  Through the Fellowship they want to work towards their passion and make a change.  

“After a long time, I have felt a sense of unity with the like-minded people on campus. I am sure that through this Fellowship, I will be able to gain a platform in which I can contribute towards change in a sector that I am extremely passionate about education and inequality gap.” – Rohit Vasishta, Mathematics and Political Science major at Ashoka University. 

Among them, Radhika Banerjee and Mohit Kumar have been selected as Campus Directors for the duration of the Fellowship. Radhika who is currently majoring in Psychology said, “I was extremely enthusiastic in applying but as the situation around the pandemic worsened, and it became apparent that we will not be on campus to execute our projects, I became nervous. My original project was to take place on ground and moving online thwarted those plans.”  

This is true for most members of the group. But, now that they have had some time to think through the situation, that they have started to realise what this opportunity actually means to them.  

As a friend would put it, this is my infinity stone – a chance to step out of my comfort zone and address the issues I am passionate about. I am absolutely honoured to be a part of this Fellowship. Moreover, getting selected as the Campus Director for Ashoka just adds to my excitement and fuels my urge to give the Fellowship and our team my best.” – Radhika

They being the first batch of Ashoka getting recognised for the Fellowship has made the success even sweeter. Atishay Khanna, majoring in Political Science and International Relations exclaimed, “I always had the vision and conviction that dreams could be achieved. Ashoka has always inspired me to fulfil my goals. This is a great achievement for the University and proves what a top class university it is. This University has always made me realise my vision. It has given a direction to my life to make the goals and dreams a reality.”  

But also a lot of responsibilities falls upon them for being the torch-bearer for the next batches of students. Aishwarya Sunaad, pursuing Sociology and Anthropology, and Economics seemed to nod, “There’s a sense of responsibility to leave a legacy and set an example for the succeeding cohorts; to build a culture of empathetic problem-solving.”  

“It’s an uphill task to fulfil the commitments of the Fellowship. But, it is a task certainly worth taking on.” – Nathan

The Millennium Fellowship Class of 2020 virtual Town Hall took place on August 12, on the International Youth Day. Mohit who is majoring in History and International Relations, as the Campus Director for Ashoka, on behalf of the Class of 2020, was chosen to address the galaxy of guests from the United Nations and a 1000 fellows from around the world. He said, “I was overwhelmed no doubt. I shared my journey from my village to Ashoka University, and how my personal experiences have helped me to take up the project for the betterment of my society. I welcomed all the fellows to make connections, share ideas, and strive for their solutions together to make bolder social impacts.”  

As Campus Directors, both Radhika and Mohit’s duties involve taking regular updates on the projects of other fellows, taking regular training sessions for the team, making sure that the team is well looked-after in terms of their wellbeing, maintaining contact with MCN and UNAI and ensuring that the programme functions seamlessly overall.  

Their projects 

From bio-diversity to education of the visually impaired to waste paper recycling to mental health to safe period alternatives – their projects are as diverse as they as individuals are.  

Like Atishay here who is working on cleaning the Asawarpur water body which is significantly big in size and if they succeed, it could change the lives of thousands of denizen in the area. On the other hand, Aishwarya will be working on a policy model for instituting waste paper recycling units in universities in India while Rohit will be focusing on driving the education for the visually impaired people through audio calls during the pandemic. Tanisha Singh, a prospective Biology major and Psychology minor is working on Kintsugi, a student-run club at Ashoka focusing on issues of mental health and well-being. Sanjay will be working on a project called MUNtutor, which falls under UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of Quality Education and is offering public speaking, debating and Model UN workshops mainly catered to empower high-school students. Naman is working with a team of three students of Ashoka to provide a free telemedicine platform which connects volunteer doctors with at-risk migrant workers currently facing barriers to healthcare while Anjali Dalmia, majoring in Sociology and Environment Studies is providing alternate solutions to menstrual hygiene. For the Fellowship, she will be working on The Project Amara, which is an organisation she co-founded along with her friends in 2016, while still being in high school!  

Divya Akanksha T G, majoring in Biology will work on her project RePack which aims to make a strategy to urge companies to change their packaging processes (substitute non-biodegradable products with biodegradable ones) and help them with the pooling of research to transition. Radhika’s primary project idea at the moment is to set up a mental health support group, for people who feel isolated during a pandemic. Nathan’s project is based on the immersion of social media in our lives, especially, among school children and how this immersion has had a host of negative impact on us. Sowmya Vaidyanathan, majoring in Literature and Sociology said her project is related to UN SDG 15 of Life on Land. Known as the Mythical Trees Project, it will be an accessible, open source online list of native flora in India, and how each plant species mentioned is connected to myth, folklore, legends and/or history. Mohit’sproject ‘Sarathi: The Guide’ aims to transform society by providing the best possible inclusive and equitable quality education to the children of his community.  

Every one of them is an inspiration!  

Their passion towards their respective projects and for making the society a better place is contagious. They have always wanted to focus on these projects and many of them felt that the Fellowship might just be that window of opportunity they were waiting for.  

Their future aspirations lie in their interest, of course. Some of them want to work in the development sector while others want to get into academia, public policy, while some haven’t figured it out, yet. But one thing for sure, they are a passionate group of people who are ready to thrive, no matter how hard the circumstance is.    

As we have come to the end segment of the interview, I asked if they would like to share anything, to which every one of them jumped into the praise wagon for Ashoka! From helping them realise their dreams to helping them meet people (professors, guests lecturers, alumni, staff members) and horizon their network, but most of all, they are happy that Ashoka provided them the strong platform they needed to base their ideas upon.  

Twelve students and one extraordinary journey – to be change-makers in society. Ashoka congratulates each one of them for this stellar achievement!   

To understand the global impact of the Fellowship, click here

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