By Helen West
Svetha Janumpalli combines economic wisdom, global studies savvy, and artistic talent in her quest to solve social problems in the developing world
Svetha Janumpalli has a tough choice to make: graduate a semester early in January with two majors (economics and global studies) and a minor (studio art), or wait until May and graduate with all three as majors. "I haven't decided," says the ambitious senior.
Her graduation date might be up in the air, but Janumpalli has a laser-sharp focus on her academic interests. And if, on paper, those interests seem eclectic and divergent, they make perfect sense to the Madison, Wisconsin, native. She chose each discipline for the way the pieces fit together in her plan to raise awareness about social issues and solve problems in developing countries.
"I've always been interested in international relations and global studies. But I found that my global studies classes focused only on one side of an issue. I could see how specific situations were bad, but they didn't give me the tools to think about how to solve them," Janumpalli says. "So I started reading different articles about economics. Economics provides tools to solve problems but doesn't necessarily apply them to specific situations."
A freshman anthropology class, Globalization, Free Markets, and Inequality, first helped Janumpalli connect the dots between global studies and economics -- and inspired her passion for melding together disciplines. Economic Growth, taught by Fatih Guvenen, assistant professor of economics, alerted her to how economic principles could be used to understand and help developing nations.
"We looked at a study with the goal of improving literacy of children in African villages," Janumpalli says. "In one village, all of the children received textbooks. In another village with the same conditions, all of the kids were treated for ringworm. In the village where they received textbooks, literacy didn't increase at all. But in the village where they treated ringworm, it improved multiple times. That really changed my viewpoint. We always think that people need textbooks to learn to read, but that won't help them as much as we think it will. Health care is what they really need."
Janumpalli applied to many schools, and chose the University of Minnesota for its wide range of academic offerings. She knew she could explore her many intersecting interests and not get routed into just one discipline.
Her studio art studies (she is most enthusiastic about photography and oil painting) give her yet another way to communicate about important social issues and reach a wide audience. "I've always wanted to do something with social issues and making people more aware of the realities in other places," She says "I want to refine my art skills so that when I have enough knowledge about social issues, I can create my own art to inform other people."
After graduation, Janumpalli plans eventually to go to law school and specialize in international patent law. First, she hopes to work overseas. "There are a lot of opportunities for economics and development in the world right now," she says. "That's why I wanted to major in economics, to get the background to know how to understand and evaluate social issues."