Sunder Ramaswamy

Sunder Ramaswamy

Spotlight on President-Designate Sunder Ramaswamy

by Amy Beck

As a five year old in Madras, India, Sunder Ramaswamy wanted to be a steam engine locomotive driver. Years later, he finds himself sitting in a temporary office in the Segal building preparing for his next challenge: Monterey Institute’s next president. He is a surprisingly optimistic man with a refreshing perspective on global problems and their solutions. His goal for MIIS students is to nurture an alternate way of thinking. He sees the biggest global challenge as a combination of cynicism and a feeling of powerlessness that one cannot make a difference.

Ramaswamy said, “Think of Muhammad Yunus, [founder of the Grameen Bank] – someone must have told him it could never be done. Don’t accept that “you cannot do it.” Overcoming this mental obstacle is, in Ramaswamy’s mind, the first and most difficult step in solving a whole host of global problems, “from poverty to global warming to you-name-it. All global problems are manifestations of the ‘I can’t do it’ mentality.” We feel we cannot effect change. As Gandhi said, ‘Become the change that you want to see in the world.’ [As] we embrace that mind set, the problems start becoming opportunities that can be solved.” He urges, “small things that can make a difference.”

In fact, one visual manifestation of this thinking is a new slogan for MIIS: “Be the solution.” He urges students to find an issue that they are passionate about and work towards ‘becoming the solution’.

This mix between academic and practical work defines Ramaswamy well. He has worked with the World Bank, USAID, UNCTAD, WHO, UN University, NGOs, as a professor of Economics at Middlebury College, Vanderbilt University, Purdue University, Institute of Financial Management and Research in Chennai India, and the Madras School of Economics. He is passionate about development and international economics and his work has included economic reforms in India and agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, to name a few.

He joined Middlebury College in 1990 and was only a few years older then the students he was teaching. He cites his recent professional experience as the director of the Madras School of Economics (MSE), one of the premier graduate research centers for economics in Chennai, India, as a very rewarding one. He reflects that as the head of the school, he was able to have the “most impact because [he] was able to make a difference in the lives of the students &faculty.” The position also allowed him to “take part in major policy discussions in India. [It was] personally and professionally satisfying because [he] was heard.”

During the two years in India, he also “got involved with the Institute for Economic Education.” The major goal of the institute was “to spread economic literacy in cities in India by giving lectures on why economics is important, and why understanding the economy is important.” He spoke to students and average citizens around the country, giving lectures every two weeks for a year. He says, “In India there is a thirst for good economics knowledge and [to know] why it’s important. ‘Is globalization good for me?’ or ‘What does liberalization mean?’ [I] tried to give a sense to why certain political things were happening and why other things weren’t”.

When asked why he decided to accept the position as MIIS’ next president, he cites his excitement for the merger as complementing both institutions’ strengths and building upon each other. When he first heard of the merger, he “emailed [President Liebowitz] and said this may be one of the best thing you could have done. Middlebury is much more international than we’d realized… [and that the schools should] leverage opportunities with all the assets available – Summer Language programs, Schools Abroad and the Bread Loaf Schools of English.” He envisions the two institutions viewing each other as two members of the same family. His enthusiasm and background earned him the position as the point person for spearheading integration. “it was a job that I really enjoyed.”

Still, when he was offered the position, he had to sit down and really think. The offer was completely unexpected, “a bolt from the blue.” He spent five weeks thinking before he accepted. One of his biggest concerns was his family: his wife, Varna and five and a half year old son, Srivats. Varna, like him, is a strong believer in the mission of the Monterey Institute.

Ramaswamy’s plans for the future include a new image for Middlebury and MIIS, as a unique education and a unique study plan. He lists future opportunities as joint degree programs such as a 3-1-1 plan which consists of three years at Middlebury, one year through some combination of summer language schools and our schools abroad and one year at MIIS. The 3-1-1 plan would earn the student a dual BA/MA degree. There are many other creative ways in which MIIS, Middlebury and the various other entities of the Middlebury network can be leveraged such that the “experience is greater then the sum of its parts” for students, faculty and even staff. The collaboration will “set [both schools] apart from their competitors.”

He concluded the interview with a message to the MIIS community:

“As the incoming president, I look forward to working with members of this community and beyond – faculty, staff, students, trustees and community friends – for I believe that real change usually requires consensus, learning, and accommodation to make any vision come to reality. It is also equally important to note, that Vision, however idealistic, or grand — without resources — remains a hallucination. The key is to do everything we can to make the Institute financially sound, remain academically excellent, innovative and nimble, and last but not least, professionally relevant. It is important to make things better, but it is equally important to make them matter.”

Seda Savas

Seda Savas

Spotlight on Student Council President: Seda Savas

By Amy Beck

Seda Savas is committed to improving communication on MIIS’ campus. She ran for Student Council president on the platform that she would improve student-student communication and student-administration communication. But her dedication to communication seems to come from somewhere else: a commitment to efficient and effective management. For Seda, it’s all about making it work.

Anyone who has seen Seda run a meeting can attest to her ‘make it happen’ attitude. She knows how take a brainstorming session and turn it into an outline of actions. Her entire life is organized on a palm pilot, which she cannot live without. Accompanying her palm pilot in her purse is a fold-out keyboard that the palm pilot plugs into. She laughs when someone gawks at her keyboard (which happens a lot).

Seda grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, arriving in the US for the first time in 2001 to attend college. She looked for small liberal arts colleges with a strong focus in theatre and ended up at Middlebury College. Her undergraduate focus was Theatre, but the importance of international and cross-cultural understanding played a strong role.

The Fever by Wallace Shawn was her favorite play to participate in. She explains that it “speaks to the average white middle income guy; it could be anyone who grew up with privileges: the privileges of having a nice day without worrying what bomb’s going to explode next door.” When asked why this particular play was so important to her, she responded, “It really challenges the [main character’s] view of the world.” By the end of the play, the main character realizes that his actions have a butterfly-effect: his actions indirectly affect the rest of the world, for example, through his purchasing power.

So what is the link between social activism and theatre, and an MBA in International Business? She laughed at the question. “Management can be applied to anything.” But her experience in the non-profit world sheds light on the connection. After graduating from college in 2005, Seda moved to Washington D.C. to work for a non-profit theatre company writing grants and fundraising. Two years with the company taught her the importance of management. “The problem with many nonprofits today is that they are so poorly managed,” she commented. “You need business experience to be able to take advantage of the nonprofit world.” Seda decided it was time to pursue an MBA and take matters into her own hands. She said, “I want to be part of positive change, but [when an] organization is poorly run, [I think] that maybe this isn’t the way to do it.” Ultimately, Seda wants to apply her business skills to a socially responsible for-profit.

Having grown up in Istanbul, Seda has a deep affection for water. The Bosphorus Strait, the body of water dividing Asia and Europe, is what she misses most from home. Istanbul developed along banks of the strait, so unlike most coastal cities, in Istanbul, you’re never far from the water. “It’s such a big part of life. It is blue and beautiful.” A large component of city life is water oriented, from ferries to bridges and breathtaking views.

Get to know Seda:

  1. Favorite ice cream: Chocolate chip cookie dough
  2. Which restaurant on the wharf has the best clam chowder sample? Gilbert’s
  3. If you could meet anyone dead or alive who would it be and why? Founder of Turkey, Ataturk
  4. What is your favorite thing to do in Monterey? Run – I’m training for a half marathon on November 9th.
  5. Favorite restaurant/food in Monterey? Naan wrap at the farmers market.
  6. Favorite night spot? Indian summer
  7. Favorite coffee shop: East Village
  8. Advice to first years? Don’t be afraid to take risks because you have nothing to lose and only two years here.
  9. Most embarrassing moment? When I was 9 years old, I had a test in school and a boy in my class found a copy of the blank test. He began reading the questions aloud and I answered them, not thinking anything of it. The teacher walked in and caught us, accusing us of cheating. But I had no conception of cheating, and was devastated.

2 Responses

  1. […] Ramaswamy. To learn about his life, aspirations, and future vision for the MIIS Community, check out this Foghorn newspaper article written by Amy […]

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