Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Hello! My name is Mercedes Riley and I recently graduated from MIT with degrees in Cognitive Science and Philosophy. I’ve had the pleasure to work at Ek Kadam Aur as a Strategy and Impact Fellow for the past six months, and through this position I have been able to follow through on my passion for education and social impact.
What I have loved the most about working at Ek Kadam Aur are the people and their focus on a mission that is greater than themselves. I was lucky to meet colleagues from around the world, and work simultaneously with team members from California to Chicago to New York to Boston to New Delhi to Uttar Pradesh. Although the timing of the meetings has been difficult (sometimes at 6am for me in California!), our conversations have been eye opening. For example, I was able to connect with my fellow colleague Sneha on our shared passion in social change, and she has shared stories with me about the hard work of the women near her village in Jharkhand, about theories on how best to give back to our communities, and about various Indian cultural practices and festivals such as the celebration of Navratri. I hope someday to be able to visit Sneha and the schools I have worked with in Uttar Pradesh and Sitanagaram. :)
Some of my favorite things that I have been able to work on include the Train the Trainers Program and the Active Learning Pilot Program. I wrote a report analyzing the past impact of the Train the Trainers Program running at elementary schools in Panhar and Jhavar ka Purva, and suggested a strategy for future improvements. For the Active Learning Program, I was able to co-create a more interactive curriculum alongside Jeremy Bhatia at the Harvard Kennedy School and Pragya Saboo, and I helped train the teachers in implementing it to their 8th grade classes at the Ramakrishna Mission High School in Sitanagaram.
I have also been given the opportunity to lecture our High School Leadership students on various topics. I spoke to them about the “Neuroscience of Meditation” where I discussed the benefits of meditation for improving students’ academic performance and mental health, and provided advice for the students to begin meditation for themselves. I presented a scientific paper titled “Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity” from my class at Harvard, to get the students interested in understanding more about the relationship between meditation, neuroscience, and morality. Through this presentation, it was my goal to show students how to understand and think critically about scientific papers, and also to think critically about how they view and treat others.
I was also able to teach a lecture on the “Ethics of Artificial Intelligence”. I encouraged our students to reflect upon the impacts of our technology, and informed them on the ways to recognize and prevent bias in all forms.
One difficult part of my experience has been working with a remote team amid the coronavirus crisis. Here are a few questions that I answered based on my experiences at Ek Kadam Aur during the pandemic.
What have you learned about your host’s response to the pandemic?
I learned that education is a flexible endeavor, that children want to learn and that teachers want to teach, and there are many different mediums that this can be accomplished through.
I also learned that fun and community bonding is integral to the program and still can happen during the pandemic. For example, Ek Kadam Aur still had a talent show virtually by compiling all the videos beforehand and sharing it at once with everyone on a virtual video call. I was able to watch some incredible dancers and it was a fascinating cultural event!
How has your company/campus responded to remote working/studying?
We have all made sure to download What’s App and learn to ask each other the small questions on there. We have also learned to check in with each other via Zoom regularly, with weekly meetings not only for the whole company but also for each specific group and other teams.
How has your time at MIT shaped how you have adapted to these new circumstances? Any lessons learned?
At MIT I learned to take initiative. Often the answers were not easily found in the textbook or class notes, so I would have to be resourceful in finding other ways to learn and come to an answer. Similarly, at Ek Kadam Aur working virtually, I have learned to take initiative with less direction and form my own path, finding online literature on topics new to me, and learning a ton in the process.
Overall, my time at Ek Kadam Aur has been a wonderful way to meet people from around the world and work together on uplifting those who need it most. I will always be thankful to MISTI India for their support, and to EKA’s founder, Satish, for the wonderful opportunity, and to all those who worked with me! Thank you so much!