Rekha Datta, Ph.D., lives her life according to the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Raised in Kolkata, India, Dr. Datta is a dedicated teacher both in and out of the classroom. The impact she has made over her more than 20 years of teaching at Monmouth University is indelible and exponentially powerful. Her students are globally open-minded thinkers who embrace religious and cultural pluralism and are not afraid to tackle new challenges after they graduate.
Among many other experiential education initiatives she has spearheaded, Dr. Datta—the 2003 Distinguished Teacher and founding director of the Institute for Global Understanding (2001–11)—has been taking a group of Monmouth students on an international service learning trip to Kolkata, India during winter break since 2010. The trip is part of her course, International Service Seminar (PS 371), which provides students with experiential education credits and a model for other service travel projects throughout the world.
“I see MU students who befriend orphans and abandoned children spontaneously, and embrace them with love and care,” said Dr. Datta. Also accompanying her on the 2014 trip to India were History and Anthropology Professor Richard Veit and Emeritus Professor Shelia Baldwin.
Closer to home, she regularly helps with the University’s Big Event, provides mentoring to Asbury Park students, and acts as the main representative of Monmouth University’s Institute for Global Understanding to the United Nations. Dr. Datta has created and secured external funding for Project BAM, a mentoring program for Asbury Park High school students, run in partnership with the high school; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties; and Monmouth University. She spearheaded a partnership with the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), which supports an annual UNAI Lecture Series hosted by Monmouth University, off-site internships, and a UNAI scholarship for students. In addition, through this partnership, students and faculty of Monmouth University have participated at conferences at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
“A university that offers opportunities for rigorous classroom learning and community engagement in local and global settings is at the cutting edge of creating world citizens,” Dr. Datta said. “It is a matter of deep and personal pride for me that I am part of this beautiful and caring campus community.”
Her dedication to education and helping others has not gone unnoticed. In 2004, she was given the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the National Council for Community & Justice. Dr. Datta also received the Global Visionary Award from Monmouth University in 2012 and was named Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education in Higher Education by the National Society for Experiential Education in 2011. She was also an appointed member of the New Jersey Governor's Transition Team on Higher Education Policy Group, 2005–06, and has acted as interim director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning since July 2014.
In recalling an outcome of the international service learning trip, Dr. Datta said that as an educator, it is heartening to see how such transformative experiences impact students as they shape their personal development and careers. After returning from India, one of the students secured an internship in the US Department of State through Monmouth’s Washington Semester program. Her experience with India helped; she got placed, and after her internship, obtained a permanent position as a foreign service officer in the Office of India Affairs in the State Department.
In 2013 she co-founded Women and Girls Education (WAGE)-International (wageintl.org), a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization that seeks to educate and work with community organizations that help families and support women and girls facing violence. As vice president of WAGE, she also helped facilitate the creation of Students Advocating for Girls' Education (SAGE) on campus.
Dr. Datta is the author of Beyond Realism: Human Security in India and Pakistan in the 21st Century, (2008, 2010); Why Alliances Endure: The United States-Pakistan Military Alliance, 1954-1971 (1994); and co-editor, with Judith Kornberg, of Women in Developing Countries (2002).
When she is not teaching, writing, or transforming students’ lives, Dr. Datta loves yoga, reading, gardening, long walks, and watching college basketball, especially those games that involve Monmouth Hawks and her alma mater, University of Connecticut, in particular.