Simran Bhuria, left, and Allison Kundrik, '19, worked on one of the the Mountaintop Initative summer projects together in 2017. Bhuria was a student visiting from Ashoka University in New Delhi. (Courtesy of Allison Kundrik

Ashoka, Lehigh students form cross-cultural bonds through partnership

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Seven thousand miles across the globe, separated by the Pacific Ocean, Lehigh and Ashoka University of New Delhi crossed paths the past two summers as they worked on Lehigh Baker Institute’s Hatchery and Mountaintop summer projects.

Leaving the bustle of New Delhi behind for the summer, Ashoka students Simran Bhuria, Shubhangi Poddar and Shivani Bajaj joined Lehigh students for an innovative summer in the Lehigh Valley.

Bhuria is passionate about entrepreneurship, and when the opportunity to work for the Mountaintop Initiative was presented, she knew she should jump on the opportunity.

“Before I let myself delve into the details of the program, I couldn’t help but be excited about the prospect of spending a summer abroad,” Bhuria said in an email. “I had never been outside of India before then. Nevertheless, as soon as I went through the list of projects and came upon the ‘Jamrooms,’ I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be there.”

Bhuria was thrilled to find a project such as Jamrooms, where she was able to combine her love for music with her entrepreneurial skills, developing an online collaborative space for music creation.

By no means was it easy.

“Everything about the project was a challenge for me,” Bhuria said in an email. “It was coded entirely in a language I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Given the stage at which I was in my bachelor’s program, I hadn’t known how databases worked or the role sockets played.”

Her mentors were patient while she learned. Bhuria said she learned quickly and left Lehigh with many new skills.

While Bhuria worked with the Mountaintop Initiative, Poddar and Bajaj were part of the Hatchery Teams. Bajaj developed ‘Jugnu,’ which provides customizable products to turn a dorm wall into a canvas. While she was unsure of what to expect when she first arrived, Bajaj said the community immediately inspired her.

“The people were my favorite part,” Bajaj said in an email. “Coming into the Hatchery every day and seeing their work ethic was inspiring. Creating something and having a group of people to talk to every day kept me going.”

The inspiration was reciprocated as Ashoka students brought a different perspective and admirable work ethic, said Lisa Getzler, Lehigh’s executive director of the Hatchery. She said Ashoka students immediately went to work with determination.

“They came here ready and willing to immerse themselves 100 percent,” Getzler said. “They brought their innovation-focused mindset with them. They were overall extremely joyful and fun to have around as well.”

Because they were working together in teams daily, friendships formed quickly. Lehigh’s Joe Guzikowski, ‘20, worked and lived alongside Ashoka students as he worked on his project.

Bajaj said in an email that entrepreneurship is based on teamwork and it didn’t take long for students to form a supportive and successful community of innovators.

Looking to the future, the Mountaintop Initiative and the Hatchery hope to continue collaborating with Ashoka and continue growing the friendships and teamwork that were developed this past summer.

“Every day of that summer taught me something new,” Bhuria said in an email. “Professionally speaking, working with Lehigh bolstered my skills and opened doors to other opportunities. On a personal level, it was a very gratifying experience. It gave me friends and experiences that I cherish every day. It will always have a special place in my heart.”

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