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Time Well Spent: Hetal Jani, SSP'12

Hetal JaniHetal Jani didn’t want to waste one minute of her time at Harvard. She actively sought out opportunities for enrichment not only on the Ed School campus, but all over the university, recognizing that engaging with all the various perspectives would benefit her learning.

“I got involved in many different organizations and events to stay inspired,” Jani says. “I couldn’t get enough of the events that hosted people from all 12 graduate schools and the college; those events really brought creativity into my thinking because of all the different people I encountered.”

And the New York native wasn’t just a participant on campus, she was also a true leader.

“From the moment she arrived on campus, Hetal’s contributions began,” says John Collins, director of the Special Studies Program (SSP). “She organized cohort events, engaged us in team building activities and brought insight and energy to all of us in Special Studies. As our student government senator, she represented students here at HGSE and on the Harvard Graduate Council. Through her leadership skills she encouraged us to engage and, in so doing, she enriched the Harvard experience for us all. I fully expect her to continue in that role after graduation.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for SSP, Jani answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? Upon entering the Ed School, my goal was to learn about all the factors that affect a child’s education. I have worked with students of varying ages, backgrounds, and learning styles, which caused me to realize just how much a child has to navigate in order to learn. My goal was to learn from the best about how effects of the environment, standardized testing, policy, and culture can be understood individually and under what conditions these effects work best together.

Is that goal any different now? The unique aspect of the Special Studies Program is that it requires students to come in with a focus. Therefore, my academic experience was enhanced because my courses facilitated me reaching my goal. I am much more energized to go out there and utilize what I have learned over the course of the year. Many ideas that I had before coming here were often met with my own anxiety, limiting myself to exploration because I felt alone in my thoughts. However, the professors I studied under at HGSE, such as Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, Karen Mapp, and Nancy Hill to name a few, really helped put language and methods to the ideas I had. I now have the tools to execute these ideas and know that there are many others who also believe in teaching to the whole child.

What are your post-HGSE plans? After HGSE, I plan on going back to work on my business. I have a small business which works with students who are at various academic levels. Before I came to HGSE, I completed my certification in applied behavioral analysis (ABA) because I was interested in working with students who were at risk or who were labeled as special education. I will be completing one more practicum this fall and, thus, my master’s in ABA. I am really interested in how environmental factors affect a child’s learning, and I’m eager to combine my ABA knowledge and my HGSE knowledge to work towards helping the whole child. If things pan out in the right direction, I hope to also be doing some research and consulting.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? You’re not alone in wanting to change the world. There are people not too far away, in the little world of Cambridge, who also are trying to make a positive change in the lives of others. If and when I feel ‘silly’ about trying to engage a parent or about sharing my personal story with families, I’ll remember that there are others out there who also strongly believe in the power of this work.

What will you change in education and why? I’m not sure of the change that I would bring to education as a whole, but I hope to bring change to the lives of individuals in a positive way. I am grateful to have found this field because I feel it provides the visible fruits of my labor as I see a child grow. This continues to motivate me every day. A happy child is the best product of any business/field.

For the full list of recipients, visit


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