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Tell us about yourself?

Vaishali Kushwaha always knew she would pursue a PhD; she just wasn’t quite sure of the area of expertise. That’s why she worked in three different countries until she realized her passions lie in developing countries and urban sustainability.

“A PhD was not something all of a sudden; it was in my life plan,” Kushwaha explained. “I had many detours and I think that is what has defined who I am and what I want to do.”

Sitting in an office on the third floor of Renaissance Park, Kushwaha took a trip down memory lane, smiling as she recalled the uneven journey that has led her to Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

In 2005, as a young graduate fresh out of college, Kushwaha combined her knowledge of civil engineering from undergraduate school with her Masters Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering to conduct environmental risk assessment in Houston. However, the highly technical position did not fulfill her ambition of tackling policy in developing Asian countries.

So eight months into the new job in 2006, Kushwaha resigned and returned to India, her birth country, against her boss and family’s advice.

“I was trying to access the human health risk of environmental contamination, and that’s when I felt that what I was doing here was super advanced. You’re talking about health risk assessment where in the world that I came from, we were still having issues of basic sanitation, clean water, poverty, and so many environmental problems,” Kushwaha said. “That’s when I started feeling a disconnect. Somewhere down I wanted to do something that was meaningful, and the more time I spent here, doing advanced environmental technology and policy stuff, I realized that I was going farther away from the problems and issues of Asia or my country.”

It was in India, while looking at sustainability and education for environment as a driver for change, that Kushwaha had her aha moment.

What did you do next?

“That was the time that transformed me as a person, as a professional, and helped me find where my passion lies, what my interests are,” she recalled. “I always wanted to be part of the bigger picture.”

With that in mind, Kushwaha moved to Singapore in 2008 where she worked for the Center for Sustainable Asian Cities and enrolled in a Master of Public Administration at the National University of Singapore.

Now, Kushwaha is a first-year student in Northeastern’s PhD in Law and Public Policy with a focus in urban sustainability. She chose the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs after comparing other Boston area programs.

“The relevance of what I wanted to do was at Northeastern, not Harvard Kennedy or MIT,” she said. “In fact, Harvard Design School recommended Northeastern because of the work I wanted to do in urban sustainability and system dynamics.”

What are your future plans?

Kushwaha’s ultimate goal, she said, is to work on policy and governance frame books for Asian cities in an effort to make them more sustainable.

“There is no need for developing cities to do the same mistakes that the developed world has already done,” she said. “I want to use the knowledge that exists here to help developing cities leapfrog.”