Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tiger of the Week: Luna Ranjit *04, Working for Social Justice

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04, a Woodrow Wilson School MPA graduate and native of Nepal, began working with Nepali immigrants in New York City 10 years ago as one of the founders of Adhikaar, a Queens-based community organization that takes its name from the Nepali word for “rights.”

“Although our focus is the Nepali community, we’ve never called ourselves a Nepali organization,” said Ranjit, Adhikaar’s executive director. “We’re a social-justice organization which happens to serve some of the most marginalized groups within the immigrant community.”

Ranjit and her colleagues set their sights on a range of community needs, including workers’ rights and access to health care, while building a more prominent voice for one of New York’s fastest-growing immigrant groups.

In the last year, Adhikaar has made headlines for its community leadership in the wake of tragic earthquakes in Nepal and its advocacy on behalf of workers in New York nail salons — shining a light on health and pay issues that were featured in The New York Times in an in-depth investigative report and editorial last May. Adhikaar helped to catalyze change, including new workplace safety regulations in the state, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, and a wage-bond requirement that went into effect Oct. 6. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Allegra Wiprud ’14, Conservation Leader

Allegra Lovejoy Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 gets emotional when she recalls her first land stewardship trip at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, an 18,000-acre land preservation and conservation nonprofit. It was an invasive species removal job in Hopewell, N.J. That day, the dangerous plant that her team tracked down, cut back, and destroyed — the climbing growth that covered, choked, and threatened to kill a tree — was English ivy (Hedera helix).

Perched on a picnic table outside the Johnson Education Center, a historic barn overlooking Greenway Meadows, Wiprud mimes how she removed the ivy, grabbing the vine with her hands as if it were a snake coiled around her neck. By clearing the ivy away, she says, “We can give the tree its life back.”

Ivy might look quintessentially Princeton, but as Wiprud is learning, the non-native plant climbs and grows so fast that it smothers other plants and starves trees of sunlight.

Unlike the local flora, Wiprud, a native of Brooklyn, has flourished amongst the ivy. While at Princeton, she meditated, studied, and practiced yoga. She quickly found a home in Murray Dodge Hall, a center of religious and spiritual life on campus. Eventually, she unearthed and discovered within herself a new belief: Hinduism. She took the lead in student religious groups, planning programs, retreats, and service projects for the interfaith Princeton Religious Life Council and the National Hindu Student Council. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Vin Gupta ’05, Pursuing Work in Clinical Practice and Health Policy

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Although there is “increasing evidence” that universal health care improves health outcomes, many of the world’s lower- and middle-income countries have not pursued universal health care policies, according to a recent article by lead author Vin Gupta ’05 and three colleagues, published online in The New England Journal of Medicine. With that in mind, Gupta and his colleagues studied the adoption of universal health care in six countries — Chile, Mexico, China, Thailand, Turkey, and Indonesia — and the political, social, and economic factors that made the change possible.

The results, Gupta told PAW, are “more diagnostic than prescriptive,” but the research could play a useful role as the United Nations discusses new development goals at a summit that begins later this week. For example, the group found that “societal solidarity” (admittedly difficult to measure) was not a prerequisite to adding universal health care. Economic growth, on the other hand, was present in all six countries during the periods in which the government added universal health care.

Gupta said that more of the research, including details from individual countries and examples of “how they navigated common problems,” will be part of a new book, A Convenient Truth: The Politicization of Health Reforms and Electoral Success in the Southern Hemisphere. His co-authors include Eric Goosby ’74, a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who served as the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator in the Obama administration from 2009-13.

Gupta, a chemistry major at Princeton, attended medical school at Columbia, starting a path toward clinical practice. But a few years later, a Fulbright fellowship in public health took him to China and East Africa and kindled a deep interest in foreign policy and global health. Now, with his M.D. from Columbia and a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge, Gupta is pursuing both tracks in his career.

Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Documentary Filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Meru, a Sundance Audience Award-winning white-knuckler of a documentary, follows three elite mountain climbers on their quest to conquer the 21,000-foot summit of Mount Meru, the most technically difficult peak in the Himalayas. It’s a death-defying expedition into sub-zero temperatures that involves extraordinary risks.

But the mission that climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin share is not only physically grueling; it’s emotional. Meru tests their friendship, and their relationships with their families back home.

No one knows this better than Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00, who co-directed and co-produced the film with Chin. The directors fell in love through the making of Meru, and they married in 2013. Now, they split their time between the Upper East Side of New York City and the big blue skies of Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“I’m not a climber, so I was always more interested in the human relationships in the film,” Vasarhelyi said from New York as the couple’s toddler, Marina, gurgled patiently after waking up from her afternoon nap. (She’s used to Mommy doing interviews, Vasarhelyi laughed.)

Vasarhelyi and Chin met at a conference in 2012. Chin, a professional alpinist and cinematographer, shot the film with Ozturk on their two Meru expeditions in 2008 and 2011. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Christian Birky ’13, Hiring Former Inmates to Make Sustainable Clothing

Christian Birky ’13 (Courtesy Lazlo LLC)

Christian Birky ’13 (Courtesy Lazlo LLC)

During his junior year at Princeton, Christian Birky ’13 received an email from the Pace Center about a program that matched student tutors with inmates at a local prison. After participating in the program for a semester, Birky said he was so “blown away” by the scope of the prison crisis in the United States that he decided to write his senior thesis on prison policy.

“And so I continued to learn about how dysfunctional the entire criminal-justice system is here in the states,” Birky said. “When I was working with the guys, they would say over and over again that they had no idea how they were going to get a job when they get out.”

Meanwhile, Birky also was involved with the Sustainable Fashion Initiative, a student group dedicated to developing a “culture of sustainability in the fashion industry.” Birky said he had never considered a career in fashion before college, but after graduation, he moved to Detroit and started Lazlo, a sustainable men’s clothing line.

“There’s basically no way to make cheap clothing and still do things right,” Birky said. “So what we’re thinking is, ‘we’re going to go in the opposite direction — if fast fashion, labor abuse, and disposable clothing is at one end of the spectrum, we’re going to see how far in the other direction we can go.’”

Lazlo’s goal is to provide high-quality and durable clothing for men while ensuring its products are manufactured in the most ethical and sustainable ways possible. And to do that, Birky plans to hire former inmates from the Michigan prison system. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Ajay Kapur ’02, Bringing Creative Arts to Online Education

Ajay Kapur ’02 (Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97)

Ajay Kapur ’02 (Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97)

PAW’s January 2013 Music Issue highlighted the technologically advanced performances of Ajay Kapur ’02, a professor at the California Institute of the Arts best known for developing intricate, responsive robotic instruments. Now Kapur is shifting his creativity to a new outlet: Kadenze, an educational technology startup that he founded with Princeton emeritus professor Perry Cook.

Kadenze, which launched in June, features courses in music, art, and design that range from traditional topics (the history of Western art) to cutting-edge technology (“Physics-Based Sound Synthesis for Games and Interactive Systems,” a forthcoming class from Cook and Stanford’s Julius Smith). The platform aims to fill a niche that has been largely neglected in online education.

“It’s great that you can learn math and engineering and all these things that are out there,” Kapur told Inside Higher Ed. “We want to bring creativity into the mix.”

Princeton, Stanford, and CalArts are among Kadenze’s launch partners. (A few institutions are offering credit for the online courses, but Princeton is not among that group.) In addition to serving as Kadenze’s CEO, Kapur is teaching one of the first courses, “Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists.” It features sessions with three digital-music innovators who are also Princetonians: Cook; Ge Wang *08, an assistant professor at Stanford and co-founder of Smule; and Spencer Salazar ’06, a doctoral student at Stanford.

WATCH: Ajay Kapur ’02’s robotic creations, a video by Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97 Continue reading