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Joy in Movement: Sai Somboon, SSP'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Specialized Studies reflects on his time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Sai Somboon

"This photo was taken during the 2022 Alumni of Color Conference, of which I was a tri-chair. This picture symbolizes joy in movement... . My time at HGSE inspired me to dance again after taking a five-year break from my former life as a dancer. I danced both online and in-person, and felt re-energized by the possibilities of moving together in community."

Photo: Courtesy of Sai Somboon

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Sai Somboon will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for the Specialized Studies Program (SSP) during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Librarian and Director of Gutman Library Alex Hodges, faculty director of SSP, comments on Somboon's selection: “Sai Somboon has earned this award because of his strong efforts to gather the SSP community online and in person throughout the last two years. By bringing people together, he kept conversations going that were critical for intellectual and social connections. His student leadership of HGSE’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts after Tracie Jones’ departure [as director of DEIB] provided many opportunities for the community’s growth. To the benefit of the whole HGSE community, not just SSP members, the Alumni of Color Conference was truly an incredible success because of his deep care and well-rounded professionalism as a tri-chair. HGSE has been a better place because of Sai, and we are lucky to have him become an HGSE alumnus.”

We spoke to Somboon about his time at HGSE, his future plans, and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape:

What were your goals in coming to the Ed School — and have those goals changed?  

I am a strong believer of lifelong learning. After I completed my first master’s program (MFA in Dance), I swore that I would never return to the classroom as a student again! However, in the years since, I became even more curious about how I could integrate my passions in education, the arts, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Specialized Studies brought me to the Ed School because I was able to create an interdisciplinary curriculum that mirrored, reflected, and elevated my interests. I felt ready to dive into deep explorations of texts, engage in courageous conversations with peers and faculty, and unearth my potential as an educator. 

"Education has the means, ability, and responsibility to reach all. I earned a Harvard degree during this pandemic, and I am very aware of the immense privilege that I carry with this experience."

What were your experiences with online learning?

Because of my life circumstances, I would never have been able to attend HGSE without a virtual or part-time option. In the summer of 2020, I jumped at the chance to study part-time while keeping my full-time job in college counseling. I was able to take advantage of a two-year timeline, which allowed me to double the networks and communities established during my studies at Harvard. Online and hybrid learning provided a new chapter in ways of engagement with students and faculty. In my first year, I participated in not only classes, but conferences and community spaces online. Faculty such as Christina "V" Villarreal and Aaliyah El-Amin created spaces of community engagement — through cooking classes or dance parties, where I met and developed lifelong friends. Even when Zoom fatigue kicked in, my classmates still met online because of our thirst and need for community and connection! For me, online learning was most effective because of the synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to further develop my studies, friendships, and communities. 

What surprised you about your time at HGSE?

I’m most surprised about the sheer amount of opportunities to get involved beyond the classroom. At first, I thought I was ‘just’ going take classes and that was it — and then I remembered that a student identity is holistic and comprehensive, and I wanted to engage in the fullest experience possible at HGSE. I immediately got involved with the DEIB office, which ultimately led to a part time role with the office in 2021–2022, where I hosted events, facilitated panels, and interviewed leaders in the field of education in different capacities. I’m also most surprised about the friendships I made in both a virtual and a hybrid space. I was fortunate to be able to visit campus multiple times this year, where I was intentional on connecting with classmates and faculty. 

What are your post-HGSE plans?

I applied my classroom learning into tangible action in the spring, which led me to a new role as an Associate Director of College Counseling at The Dalton School in New York City. I credit my Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning class with Uche Amaechi, which taught me to approach challenges as case studies and identify solutions, in addition to Issues of Diversity in Cross-Cultural Counseling with Josephine Kim, which inspired me to take a complex, holistic, student-centered approach to my work. I also hope to continue learning in community and contributing to the field of DEIB at my current institution and beyond. Lastly, I plan to integrate my love for dance back into my practice as an educator and my personal journey. 

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

Education has the means, ability, and responsibility to reach all. I earned a Harvard degree during this pandemic, and I am very aware of the immense privilege that I carry with this experience. While we were quarantined, we were not closed off. Though we were shut in, we were not shut out of opportunities to positively affect change in our schools, institutions, and most importantly, our students.