When Vidisha Dehejia Patel ’81 and her father, Mak, had lunch with Sidwell Friends’ Dehejia Fellows last summer “the energy in the room was incredible,” says Vidisha. The program, which started with a handful of interns nearly 20 years ago, had 33 interns in 2022. “The room was full,” she says, “it was magnificent.”
To understand how the Dehejia Fellows Internship Program came to be, the first thing to know is that when Vidisha ’81 and her brother, Anindya ’78, arrived in the United States from India as young children, Sidwell Friends became a home away from home. Their mother chose the School for its Quaker values, which aligned well with her Jain beliefs. “Sidwell nurtured us and later, when our mother passed away,” says Vidisha, “the Sidwell Friends community wrapped itself around us,”
Both Dehejia children thrived at Sidwell Friends, with Anindya discovering his path early on. Described as brilliant, never running out of questions, and always taking ideas a step further, he had the opportunity through Sidwell Friends to work in a research lab at the National Institutes of Health. “A whole world opened up for him,” says his father. After graduating from Yale, Anindya became a groundbreaking molecular geneticist, helping to map the first part of the human genome. Then in 2001, Anindya tragically passed away from brain cancer.
At the time, the Dehejia family established the Anindya Dehejia ’78 Fellows Fund to celebrate his spirit of inquiry, curiosity, vigor, and love of life. Initially, it provided opportunities for involvement in creative and innovative intellectual pursuits for faculty and students. Since then, the fund has evolved to focus on giving rising seniors the chance to intern at local nonprofits, businesses, and think-tanks, where they can gain valuable professional experience while exploring topics of interest.
“Anindya’s internships were the beginning of his life’s work,” says Vidisha. Her own experience was different but just as valuable. Describing herself as her brother’s “shadow,” she also interned in a research lab while at Sidwell Friends. “I didn’t enjoy it at all,” she says. Today, as a psychotherapist who sees many adolescent patients, she feels strongly about helping young people explore different professional paths early on.
To develop ethical leadership, students need more than intellectual ability... They need experiences that allow them to cultivate and apply people skills.”
— MAK DEHEJIA P ’02, ’78
“They feel so much pressure to choose what they want to do, yet they have so little understanding of what their options really are,” she says. The desire to help students led to the Dehejia Fellows internship focus. A sampling of this year’s internships includes working with a medical group specializing in retina surgery, a solar power company, a Georgetown University artificial intelligence (AI) research group, Amazon, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Dehejia Fellows Program will now be part of the new Center for Ethical Leadership. Mak sees the program’s new home as fitting. “To develop ethical leadership, students need more than intellectual ability,” he says. “They need experiences that allow them to cultivate and apply people skills.” Indeed, at this year’s luncheon, students spoke about ethical considerations involved in the development of AI and the manufacturing of solar panels.
“They also talked about days on the job when they were thrilled, and others when they were angry or felt like they knew nothing,” Vidisha says. “I was excited to hear students express their true feelings about the internship experience. Rather than just commenting on what went well, they recognized the ups and downs and were willing to share about them, which I found insightful.” She sees internships at this stage of a student’s life as invaluable, giving them the chance to explore a variety of paths that may or may not be in their comfort zone while assessing what resonates with them.