Where Dreams Can Flourish
Graduate student Manoj K. Dora was born in a poor village where people die of starvation and people sell their children for a meal. In this squalor, he dreamed of helping families launch small businesses to provide for their needs. Today, enrolled in Vanderbilt’s Graduate Program in Economic Development (GPED), his dream seems possible.
“GPED classes helped me to refine and articulate my plans,” the native of India says. “I am more confident about my plans now with the strong network I established during my stay here at Vanderbilt.”
For more than five decades, dreams like Dora’s have flourished at Vanderbilt’s GPED program and taken root in countries around the world. In 1954, Vanderbilt established the Summer Institute on Economic Development to teach international students how to help developing, low-income national economies and countries. Funded by the predecessor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the program was located at Vanderbilt not only because of the university’s reputation, but also because of its location in the South. The aim was to show that there were pockets of America that faced similar issues to developing countries. Some 200 participants attended the three years of the summer institute, which led to the year-round degree program in the College of Arts and Science, the Graduate Program in Economic Development.
In the years since, more than 1,300 students from 125 countries have received degrees. (To put that in perspective, the United Nations has 192 member countries.) “It puts Vanderbilt on the map of the world,” says Suhas Ketkar, PhD’73, interim director of the program and professor of economics.
Some students have returned to their home countries to create programs like that Dora hopes to institute in India. Others have gone on to careers in public service. Finance minister, ambassador and bank governor are among the positions held by program graduates. Others have worked for international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or regional development banks. Still others have entered academia. A handful work in the private sector.
International and Influential
Süreyya Serdengeçti, MA’86, worked at the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey. When the bank recommended he pursue further education, he enrolled in the GPED. Returning to Turkey, he worked his way up to governor of the Central Bank, retiring in 2006 when his term expired. He lectures in economics at a university in Ankara and is director of a think tank.
“We recruit new students largely on word of mouth. We have a number of graduates who have, over time, risen to important positions in their respective countries and they carry the Vanderbilt name with them.”
– Suhas Ketkar, PhD’73
“The quality of the education together with the international environment made the classroom experiences a delight,” he says.
In 2005 Serdengeçti returned to Vanderbilt to speak to students, marking the long reach of the program and its vibrant network of alumni. That, says the program’s director, is one of the enduring effects of the GPED.
“We have a large group of alumni with whom we keep in touch,” Ketkar says. Of the 1,300 GPED graduates, the program maintains contact with more than 850 around the world. “We recruit new students largely on word of mouth. We have a number of graduates who have, over time, risen to important positions in their respective countries and they carry the Vanderbilt name with them.”
Ideas that Impact
That helped draw Dora to the program. His ideas to impact his community were built upon the work of Mohammad Yunus, PhD’71, microcredit founder, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and an alumnus of the program.
Ketkar himself holds a Vanderbilt degree in economics. His wife, Kusum Wadhawan Ketkar, MA’75, PhD’80, attended the program before earning a Ph.D. Ketkar taught at Vanderbilt after graduation, then went to Wall Street where he focused on emerging markets. Business travels took him around the world where, by merely being a Vanderbilt graduate, he would often be entertained by GPED alumni. After retiring from Wall Street, he returned to Vanderbilt to teach.
Tatiana Mihailovschi-Muntean, MA’02, calls GPED “an unforgettable family. The existence of such a program is the most beneficial aspect of my experience,” she says. “It gave all of us a great opportunity to study and enjoy our stay in the U.S., and to gain invaluable educational and cultural experience. Honestly, those two years in Nashville were one of the best times of my and my family’s life.”
Mihailovschi-Muntean worked for the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova when she came to GPED. After graduation, she pursued her doctorate and is currently an assistant professor at Trent University in Canada. “The GPED program is one of the best for international students,” she says. “Everything is well-organized, and everybody is extremely helpful, friendly and welcoming.”
Hospitality From Day One
Ketkar says the friendliness that students find when arriving can be attributed to Mouzon Siddiqi, program coordinator, and Van Marie Kelley, program secretary. The two women meet students at the airport, maintain a list of suitable off-campus apartments and even help students move furniture in a truck that Siddiqi purchased for just that reason. Siddiqi’s husband, Sultan Siddiqi, MA’70, is occasionally pressed into service to help a student navigate the Social Security office, enroll children in school or find halal meat (meat permitted by Islamic law).
For Siddiqi, the issue is personal. Her husband came to Peabody College from Afghanistan to pursue master’s work without the benefit of a program like the GPED. “He found his way to the campus on his own. However, there was a university-owned, furnished house available to share with another student,” Siddiqi says. “After we married, I returned to Afghanistan in 1970 with Sultan for two years. The Afghans were incredibly hospitable, and it meant so much to me as a foreigner.”
For Kelley, the support and help they provide is just the right thing to do. “They come here from around the world,” she says. “We just want to make them comfortable and help them get set up and settled as much as possible before their classes begin. I know I would appreciate the same if I was in their situation.”
Both women also see their roles as impacting the world without leaving Calhoun Hall. “I like to feel that setting a good example of love and understanding will go abroad and help make the world a better place,” Kelley says.
Siddiqi refers to the alumni as her children, and says she hopes to continue to have a positive effect. “It will never match the impact that our students have had on my life,” she says. “I would be a different person—my world would be much smaller—if I had not had the marvelous opportunity to work in the GPED.”
photo credit: Jenny Mandeville, Steve Green