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News > Alumni Stories > Constellation Thinking—Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa Finds Her Way from AES to Oxford

Constellation Thinking—Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa Finds Her Way from AES to Oxford

Constellation Thinking—Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa Finds Her Way from AES to Oxford

By Clare Perry (AES Content Writer and Alumni Link)


The American Embassy School (AES) Valedictorian of 2020 joins a December Zoom call from Palo Alto where she is enjoying the sun with friends and family before returning to the sure-to-be chilly Columbia University campus in New York City. While by now, she is back, deeply engaged in the University’s classrooms, seminars, and libraries, completing not one but two theses—one in history and one in math—I imagine she is also keeping warm, running from activity to activity.

Straddling two majors and two theses is nothing new for Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa as from a young age she grew accustomed to traveling between two countries, two climates, even two schools. Born in Palo Alto, she moved to NYC as an infant, eventually spending half of each of her elementary school years in India and half in New York. When she finally settled into AES for middle school, her patterns of movement became more localized—around campus and Delhi—but also more globalized as she met students and teachers from around the world—the AES community leading her to engage with a constellation of shining new experiences and realizations. Indeed, Mrinalini’s narrative that eventually led her to Columbia University and soon off to Oxford seems connected through a myriad of experiences and insights that fit together much like constellations in the night sky—each one offering a snapshot into this young scholar’s interests and pursuits and each a sort of invitation for a deeper look. I would add that the constellations of Wadhwa’s thoughts, studies, and life experiences recently shone so brightly that she has captivated the attention of the Rhodes Scholarship program, selecting her to be one of 32 US students to be part of its 2024–2026 cohort to study at Oxford. 

Like those of our favorite Banyan tree, Wadhwa’s roots as a scholar grew deep and wide within the international community of AES. Describing her arrival in the context of AES’s culture of belonging, Mrinalini speaks with enthusiasm about joining such a global group of students—many, like her, who spoke several languages, were quite used to changing schools and moving around, and were adept at quickly jumping into class discussions and new activities. Mrinalini also credits the teachers at AES for recognizing, even leveraging, such a diverse learning community, and in doing so, ensuring that each student had a voice and that all students learned the value of considering multiple perspectives in any inquiry or study. 

While Mrinalini may have been a bit more focused on math during elementary school, she developed a keen and unanticipated passion for history while at AES. While her interest was initially sparked through the Middle School MUN—through all the research and preparation—an early personalized recognition of her interest and an important insight about the study of history crystallized her pursuit. She loved her freshman year history class taught by Laura Manker and having done well, received a book prize at the end of the year. Beyond the recognition, it was the personalized gift that came with the prize—a book aptly chosen to honor her budding interest in women’s rights—that was most encouraging. The book In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is about four sisters resisting a dictator in the Dominican Republic. Still today, Mrinalini focuses much of her work on seeking and uncovering the voices and fights of women in any number of countries and causes. 

During sophomore year, Mrinalini had the fortune to take Michael Collins’s AP US History in which they read Give me Liberty! by Eric Foner. A significant take-away for her from this class was that history is not linear—that instead, histories and narratives include pockets of progress but also of regression. And so, most importantly, that we must never rely on the idea that progress, once in motion, will continue. We must never be complacent. Likewise, in talking about her passion for history, Mrinalini is driven by the idea that history is never a signed, sealed, nor delivered body of knowledge—that many accepted narratives are mere interpretations that beg to be revisited. While Mrinalini’s interest in math may be more obviously rooted in truths and structures, her passion for history grew in part from a desire to similarly seek first principles—in this case of historical narratives. 

One of the ways Mrinalini spearheads her quest for primary source material is by tackling new languages: she currently speaks English, Hindi, Spanish, French, Sanskrit, and most recently Urdu. Often using these languages to dig deeper, she approaches her work as a puzzler might approach a new challenge without knowing what the final image will be—chipping away at it, looking to find a clearer and clearer picture. While Mrinalini will soon be wrapping up her current history thesis,"The Lost Manuscript and the “Unmasked” Missionary: Retracing the Role of Pondichéry Jesuits in Enlightenment and Colonial Discourse on India,” there is more to investigate and she plans to continue along a similar line of research next year at Oxford. She is excited that the Oxford program stretches for two years as it will give her time to experiment a bit before coming up with her actual MPhil thesis project. Mrinalini thrives in a place of discovery!

While history is the rudder that is guiding Mrinalini through to this next chapter, important other bright pockets of her experience at AES ground her in reminiscing about her time in India. As a graduate of the 2020 class, she did not have an in-person graduation but looks back with enthusiasm as she recalls the last time she was on campus in community with her peers and teachers. It was March 2020 for the IB Art Exhibition—an event that was hastily moved forward in the calendar as Covid threatened all in-person events. And while graduation would have been wonderful, the elements of this exhibition characterized so much about what Mrinalini and many students appreciate about AES. The event called on students to curate and display two years of IB art work, to host viewers in their respective booths, and to engage viewers in dialogue about the work. Not unexpectedly, Mrinalini’s work featured a piece about unsung women heroes of various regions. Celebrating the internationalism of AES, Mrinalini was excited to engage her viewers in thinking about their own unsung heroes from around the world and so in the spirit of great AES teaching, Mrinalini set up a participatory section of her booth where viewers could share names and narratives of the unsung heroes they carry with them. 

Finally, another bright star of Mrinalini’s experience at AES was the mentorship she received from Vera Garg—both as a history teacher and through the Service Council. After taking Sophomore US History, Mrinalini felt destined to take History of the Americas and probably even pursue US History in college, but the class was canceled, and she landed in Vera Garg’s IB HL Asian History—”the best thing ever!” In that class, with Garg’s brilliant and thorough approach to teaching—remembered by Mrinalini as always involving reading numerous perspectives on the same story—this exceptional teacher captured Mrinalini’s interest through her encouragement of the quest for deeper truths of the British Empire in India—especially about its legacies for history-writing and for ongoing struggles for equality and legal reform (particularly in the Indian women's movement). At the same time, Mrinalini was working closely with Vera Garg to run the Service Council—a student run organization that was as much about digging to find and assess needs as it was about providing service. Inspired by coursework and her lived experiences here in India, by the end of her time at AES, Mrinalini was already hooked on an academic focus that would keep bringing her back to the pockets of Indian history (and that of other regions) where the intersections of gender, religion, and law were most compelling. 

New constellations in Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa’s night sky are sure to appear in the coming years—and know that there will be much to learn from this young, proudly AES-trained scholar!

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