Sanjana Chidambaram

Honors Cohort student Sanjana Chidambaram takes on the tall task of understanding two massive, intricate societal levers.

How are business and policy connected?
How can they leverage one another to improve the communities in which we live?

Those are the questions that Honors Cohort student, finance major and incoming senior Sanjana Chidambaram tackled this past summer as an intern at The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

“The actions of business have an impact on what type of access we have to resources and opportunities. Public policy can either hinder or help advance that,” Chidambaram said. “If you want to make a change systemically, that comes down to thoughtful and comprehensive policy.”

The Urban Institute is a think tank that conducts bipartisan research to create policy recommendations. Chidambaram took advantage of this unique opportunity to find her niche at the organization. “The best thing you can do is show that you are willing to take initiative,” she said. “What really matters at the end of the day is who you know and what types of conversations you are having.”

The Urban Institute

The result for Chidambaram has been a summer working on multiple projects. She was hired on to learn the nuances of nonprofit finance and how organizations such as the Urban Institute are supported, but her initiative led to projects focused on the Urban Institute’s communications strategies.

Her team, motivated by a World Bank report that found only two percent of research is read and well-cited, aims to “make research accessible, especially through clear and concise writing and interactive visuals that help people understand large amounts of complex data.”

The team recently created a heat map for the 2020 census – a tool that can demonstrate how adding or removing a controversial citizenship question can affect reporting numbers in each state.

“Helping build these tools, sharing them with the community and seeing them utilized, has opened my eyes to how policy is shaped,” Chidambaram said.

While Chidambaram’s fit at the Urban Institute was seamless, her path to the internship was anything but. With hobbies that included writing poetry, playing in an orchestra and refereeing high school basketball, Chidambaram arrived at Ohio State feeling “pressure to specialize,” she said.

She started out in the Integrated Business and Engineering program, switched to public affairs and English, before choosing finance and minoring in English.

“The culture of college is to take a very linear path,” she said. “I had to learn to let myself go in that regard.”

Chidambaram hopes her circuitous path at Ohio State is encouraging to others – that it proves there is no right answer to building a career progression and it is a balance of purposeful effort and organic growth.

Chidambaram’s growth was spurred by a previous internship with Kiva, a nonprofit organization that helps lend money electronically to low-income entrepreneurs and students in over 80 countries, and a course on women, gender and sexuality. As she explored “how theory and history can affect who we view as powerful or privileged in our society,” she began to “learn more about my community. Growing up in Dublin, Ohio, I had no idea that Columbus is one of the most economically segregated cities in the United States. I learned that we need to enable local nonprofits and government agencies to understand how we got to this place and how we can use both business and policy to close these economic gaps.”

The Honors Cohort provided the guidance she needed to connect her passion with her education.

“The people we have in Cohort have pushed me to be more confident, “she said. “I was forced out of my comfort zone and now new things do not seem as hard.”

Whenever a new hurdle presents itself, she knows that “I have been through something similar to this before and I know how to handle this.”

The Cohort program, coupled with her experience at the Urban Institute, have given her the skills and perspective she needs to thrive. “In politics people tend to become out-of-touch with what the rest of the world looks like,” Chidambaram said.

“Cohort has pushed me to understand other people’s opinions and experiences. I have not been challenged to do that in other circles.”