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Program for Scientifically Inspired Leadership (PSIL)


In January 2019, PSIL brought a motivated team from Harvard College to northeast India to work with the most promising high school students in the state of Manipur. The group of three Harvard students, a faculty member, and an alum:  

  • served as teaching staff;
  • conducted a variety of workshops, discussions, and projects for over 100 high school students;
  • and were an integral part of a civic minded and evidence based leadership development program.

Dr. Dominic Mao, a Lecturer in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, spearheads the program. Originally from Manipur, Imphal — a state in the extreme northeastern region of India — he set out to create a program in Manipur that would engage high school students and college-level teaching assistants in a Western-style educational format. The team from Harvard University traevled Don Bosco school in Manipur for one week during the 2019 winter session to deliver the program’s curriculum to local high school students.

“Most initiatives happen in the western part of India, and I wanted to set up an education outreach program in a part of India that people don’t tend to go to. [Imphal is] one of the poorest states in India, and the region has been under political conflict for many years,” Dr. Mao explained. “As a result of conflict, the education system gets hit the hardest. If you have any kind of political instability, the state shuts down, and that eats into school time. If you don’t have opportunities, growth gets limited.”

The Harvard team’s trip to Manipur was a success, learning from the students of Manipur just as much as the students learned from them. Below, the Harvard College students reflect on their experience:


Faculty Chair: Venkatesh Murthy, Professor Chair, Dept. of Molecular & Cellular Biology
Director: Dominic Mao, Lecturer in Molecular & Cellular Biology
Associate Director: Christopher Li, Research Assistant, Belfer Center

“[A student] said that the program gave her a broader sense of the world and opportunities. For me, this program gave me new perspectives and experiences that have and will continue to shape the way I view opportunities, education, and mentorship as I go forward.”

Ellen Zhang

Student, Harvard College

“It was really empowering to know that we were doing this for the first time ever. That was a little bit daunting at times, but I think that was what made the experience so rewarding: knowing that we able to build something from nothing. Just being in Manipur, it’s about experiencing a different way of life. I think a lot of us might have come in [to this program] with a Harvard mindset, but in Manipur things are based upon the strengths of relationships.”

Allison Pao

Student, Harvard College

“I really loved the educational component of it, and cross-cultural education is something I was excited about before this. The only way to really learn about a place is to experience it and to meet people there, and to do what you can to go in there with open eyes.”

Sam Kessler

Student, Harvard College