Year of Graduation: 2013
Hometown: Bihar, India
Previous Education: Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Delhi, M.A. in Environmental Studies from TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute)
Award: Feldman Fellowship
“I traveled across India [for the past] three years, learning about different people and environments and different situations people live in, because we say “conserve the environment” but the environment cannot be conserved without a cost. Trying to link those costs with benefits that environmental conservation brings to us is what I focus on.”
Jarnail Singh is passionate about the environment. His arrival at the Heller School this fall follows three years of post-graduate work he has done in his home country of India, focusing on biodiversity conservation and renewable energy technologies in rural areas. In the Sustainable International Development program he has found the macro level approach to issues that he has faced in the field for some time now. Yet Jarnail says that before he started his graduate work, he did not know much about the environment. At TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in Delhi his mind was opened to new ways of thinking about the word. He says he learned that “the environment is not just trees and animals, it’s everything around you. In our religion also, we had been learning about the environment implicitly, but the university gave me more explicit information about it.” TERI is unique in India, working with in the environmental sector for thirty years, and is the only university that “is completely dedicated to environmental causes.” Jarnail spent two years completing his masters, and then continued to work for the institute.
His graduate education exposed him to many field visits, and on his treks and hikes across India, he saw environments that changed at a rapid rate due to human interventions. Jarnail said that these experiences inspired him to “contribute more to the positive side, regaining the status quo.” This idea was especially important in rural areas, where Jarnail spent a lot of time working in the last several years, and where he says he loves to interact with the local people. He states that when he visits rural locations, people “will speak their hearts out; they don’t keep anything within themselves.” He says that some people would refrain from talking about their general feelings with others, but in many cases when he goes into a rural home“ they are ready to speak to you. They don’t [have the attitude of] ‘I don’t know this person so I should keep myself away.’” He appreciates this mindset, and says that working with rural peoples in India means a lot to him.
It is this mentality of connecting with people and reaching out that led Jarnail to Brandeis. He first heard about the university from a student who was in the SID program, who spent a year working for the same institute in Delhi where Jarnail was located. He said “I was not thinking of applying for the course in this year, but I met some of the representatives from the Heller school at the conferences in Delhi and they motivated me and encouraged me to apply—I applied on the last date actually—just making it.” Jarnail credits good luck to getting him to where he is today, where he has found a link between the two sides of an issue that is very important to him.
Jarnail states, “so far I have been working on just solar/clean energy, and biodiversity conservation,” but he would like to diversify, and also look at “policy level thinking.” He says that his experience in India has had him working with implementation projects. “But after this experience with Heller, I am sure I will know enough to analyze policy and also contribute at a higher level that actually makes a lot of difference.” Along with this macro-impact, he will continue to visit rural areas and interact with people and see how it benefits them.
The benefits that Jarnail is most looking forward to in his year at Brandeis are the discussions he has with colleagues and faculty. “That is the most enriching part of being at Heller: its not the grades that matter, it’s the discussions you have in the class with your own colleagues, from 35-40 different countries at the same time with your faculty members, who have such rich experience in terms of field realities as well as policy making. “ It is only his second month in the United States, but Jarnail is in awe of the beauty here, a place where he says, “trees and development exist collectively”. It is in exploring this interconnectedness within the environment that Jarnail finds his passion, and his will to continue to explore how these connections can make positive change.