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Graduate Women of Excellence

On Friday, April 29th 2019, Masters of City Planning (MCP) candidates: Margaret Dunne, Yael Nidam, and Kavya Vaghul, were honored as members of the 2019 MIT Graduate Women of Excellence. Dunne, Nidam, and Vaghul were selected from over 200 nominees for their leadership, mentoring of fellow MIT students, community building efforts, and service contributions to the Institute. Graduate Women of Excellence is a biennial event hosted by the MIT Office of Graduate Education that showcases and celebrates the work of honorees.

“Everyone in the department is incredibly proud that the exemplary efforts by Maggie, Yael, and Kavya were so prominently recognized by the Institute,” said Eran Ben-Joseph, Department Head of DUSP. “In addition to achieving great academic success, these young women demonstrate that top-notch scholars can also be empathic, compassionate, community builders, and pioneers, who are achieving real impact for a better future.”

Prior to arriving at MIT, Dunne graduated from Colgate University where she completed a three-year term on its Board of Trustees. Dunne has extensive experience working with Native American youth in Pine Ridge, South Dakota—through a nonprofit organization that she founded as a high school student, Lakota Children’s Enrichment (LCE). She currently serves as its Board Chair and oversees LCE’s efforts to empower Native American youth through programs in the arts, education, leadership and mentorship. Dunne has received multiple awards for her service including: Forbes's 2016 30under30 and in 2012, a Grand Prize in Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women. Dunne was a two-time recipient of US Department of State Critical Language Scholarships in Bangladesh, where she studied Bengali language and culture. As an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow she studied social entrepreneurship and conflict resolution at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School and Cornell's Johnson School of Management.

Dunne is passionate about community economic development as it relates to advancing opportunities for socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, particularly in rural settings. During her time at DUSP, Dunne was invited to speak about her research and work empowering young women and girls at the Inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. At MIT, she was the Co-Project Manager for an Economic Development plan for the City of Nashua, New Hampshire completed under the guidance of Professor Karl Seidman in his spring 2018 Economic Development Planning Practicum. Dunne is a Graduate Research Assistant for Professor Brent Ryan, researching post-industrial development in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Dunne is a member of the Board of Directors for the Harvard- MIT Cooperative Society “The COOP,” and a member of several committees through which she greatly enjoyed organizing initiatives to engage MIT students, and dispersing grants to the MIT community through the COOP Gives grant program. She is also a MIT Graduate Resident Advisor for a diverse undergraduate MIT living community. Off campus Dunne is member of the Boston Hub of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, a group of young professionals spanning a diverse set of sectors, that catalyzes projects to give back to the greater Boston area.

Nidam is an architect, urban designer, planner, and researcher with a passion for building smart, low carbon, resilient and equitable cities. Prior to studying at DUSP, she received a Bachelor of Architecture from the Technion-Israel institute of technology and pursued a career focused on urban revitalization and sustainable design for new development. Her work won several awards and was presented in national professional urban and environmental planning conferences in Israel. Nidam, a Fulbright fellow, has been an instrumental leader in two initiatives in DUSP – DUSP Climate and Home Groups - both focused on enhancing the student experience, progressive change, and global impact.

DUSP Climate, a MCP led, cross-cutting group from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was formed in response to the 2018 IPCC special report - which outlined, in very real terms, the challenges of avoiding global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius as well as the risks to sea-level rise, global health, global displacement, and vulnerable ecosystems if we do not take action. Throughout the 2019 spring term, DUSP Climate has fostered conversations for how the department and the Institute researches, teaches, and acts on climate change issues.

Home Groups are a new initiative aimed at promoting cross disciplinary discussion, discovering new ways to engage with the field of planning, and build more robust social connections for DUSP students, staff, and faculty. Along with Ceasar McDowell, Professor of the Practice of Civic Design, Yael has been a key planner in the implementation and refinement of the initiative. “Yael is truly an outstanding member of the DUSP community, constantly contributing and expanding the aspects that make our department special,” said David Hsu, Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning. “In addition to conducting thesis research that has strengthened the department’s connections with the City of Boston, Yael has found time to be a founder of DUSP Climate and has been instrumental in helping to set up the DUSP home group discussions. Her efforts have expanded how and what our department talks about while making the department a much more convivial and friendlier place.”

Vaghul focuses on learning about the local policies and legal frameworks to address socioeconomic inequity within communities. Prior to coming to graduate school, she was a Senior Research Analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. There, she conducted social policy research on a wide portfolio of issues related to economic equity, family economic security, student debt, early childhood education, wages, taxation, and gender and racial inequality. Vaghul’s research and analysis has been published and featured in several media outlets, including the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, and Fortune.

At DUSP, Vaghul works with her mentor, Professor Mariana Arcaya, on the Healthy Neighborhood Study (HNS). HNS is a large-scale Participatory Action Research project focused on unpacking the relationship between neighborhood change and community health. Vaghul is a member of the DUSP Student Council’s Executive Board (DSC), the Council on Work and Family, as well as the Presidential Advisory Cabinet. In addition, each week, she volunteers as a tutor for the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program for MIT Employees. The ESL Program for MIT Employees offers year-round ESL classes for all working shifts at MIT, support services for employees seeking U.S. citizenship, as well as tutoring and preparation for licensing and certificate exams, such as General Education Development and Adult Diploma Program.

“Kavya brings an outstanding level of talent, work ethic, and commitment to social equity to every setting she enters,” said Arcaya, DUSP’s Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Health. “She is a model collaborator, a selfless and reliable leader, and a truly innovative thinker. It has been a privilege to work with Kavya. She is a rising star, and I look forward to seeing how she helps shape social policy research in the coming years.”

The DSC is a student-run organization that works to improve the quality of student life by facilitating communication among faculty, administration, and students. Members are elected from the student body, and the group, encourages and thrives on a high level of student participation. The Council on Family and Work is an Institute Committee appointed by President Reif, serving in an advisory and deliberative capacity concerning family and work-related issues as they impact MIT's faculty, staff, and students. The Council measures the state of family and work life balance for the MIT community, identifies potential means of addressing imbalances, and provides updates and recommendations to MIT’s senior officers. “Participating in the DUSP and broader MIT community has brought me closer to my city planning peers and introduced me to so many other inspiring people across the Institute. The opportunity to collaborate with students, staff, and faculty, problem-solve around critical issues, and advocate for a better MIT has undoubtedly reaffirmed my passion for giving back through public service,” said Vaghul. “There are so many ways—big and small—for current and future MCPs to serve as a leader at DUSP and beyond that simultaneously add to the richness of being in graduate school and can have a lasting and positive impact on the MIT community.”

For more information and to learn about past MIT Graduate Women of Excellence honorees, click here.