Soumya Mittal, a student in the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), ardently believes that education development is an essential tool for advancing social change. A wealth of prior international experience, combined with the mixed-methods data research and policy analysis skills that she is developing at SP2, is helping Mittal forge a career dedicated to supporting and improving the well-being of young children, particularly those in under-resourced communities.
Mittal graduated with a Bachelor’s in Economics and Finance and a minor in Politics and Public Administration from the University of Hong Kong. During her undergraduate studies, she worked in several public policy areas, including immigration, health, and education. Her efforts included advocating for change in the city’s immigrant labor policies and aiding migrant domestic workers in their legal and financial issues. Mittal also supported the region’s refugee and asylum seeker population, focusing on their medical needs and assimilation to the local culture. Additionally, she worked with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Hong Kong and at an orphanage in Mutai, Uganda, addressing early childhood policies and designing student centered multi-grade curriculum for primary school students. After completing her undergraduate studies, Mittal served with Hong Kong’s branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFN), an international wilderness preservation NGO, where she analyzed trade channels and illegal trade of tropical timber and ivory in the Asia-Pacific region, lobbying with policymakers in trade and finance departments.
These experiences led to Mittal having profound realizations about the importance of policy advocacy in addressing social issues. She became especially enthusiastic about working in education development and K-12 policies and pursued a Master’s in International Education Development (MSEd) at Penn’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) in 2019.
Concurrently, Mittal sought to supplement her knowledge in education development with policy analysis and advocacy skills, so she enrolled in Policy Communications and Law and Policy classes at SP2. Mittal found that the MSSP classes gave her a different perspective by providing an overview of social issues, particularly in a U.S. context. Toward the end of her first year at GSE, seeking to expand these understandings even further, she applied to become a student at SP2.
“There were three components that attracted me to the program. First, due to my past experience in working with data, I see an immense potential in quantitative research methods, and the program’s focus on building students’ quantitative skills was important to me,” Mittal said. “Second, I believe that social issues need a cross-sectoral approach and thus it is important to gain knowledge in different policy areas. Lastly, I was very interested in policy analysis and opportunity to apply that skill through internship experience in the program.”
For Mittal, a highlight of her time in the MSSP program has been the opportunity to apply a policy brief from one of her classes in a real-world context.
“After analyzing the lack of school accountability in the schools in my city in Katni, India for an assignment, I submitted my recommendations to the local district government,” she shared. “While my policy recommendations for the parent-teacher associations in the government schools were not adopted due to constraints of capacity and resources, I did get an opportunity to work with the education data team with the local government due to my policy brief. It was amazing to see the impact of policy communications first-hand, even though the impact was limited.”
As Mittal explained, while her research interests still remain in the field of education development, the MSSP curriculum has helped her further develop those interests by streamlining her focus to mixed-methods data research and policy analysis, as well as helped her to approach young students’ education through health and economic policies.
These research interests have also evolved as a result of Mittal’s current work with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), where she helps to conduct support sessions for K-8 students who have recently experienced grief or trauma.
Mittal hopes to continue advancing her data and policy advocacy work in the areas of early childhood policies and primary school education after she graduates from GSE and SP2 in May 2021.
“Alongside education, I have seen the importance and need to support young children through health initiatives and physical education for their psychological and physical well-being. I aim to dedicate my career to the well-being of young children,” Mittal said. “My graduate studies at Penn and experiences at SP2 made me reflect back on the lack of resources and support needed in my own community. I hope to return to India to continue working in the social policy sector, focusing on data evaluation, policy advocacy, and education development.”