By Rachel Johnson | Photo by Cydney Scott
Not every undergraduate can spend the summer assisting a renowned Judaic scholar on a book that will help redefine the Holocaust's place in history, but Nicole Bhatia (CAS'13) knows how to make her own opportunities. She spent her summer at the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies helping Professor Steven Katz, the Alvin J. and Shirley Slater Professor in Jewish and Holocaust Studies and the center's director, on the next volume of his seminal work, The Holocaust in Historical Context: The Holocaust and Mass Deaths before the Modern Age. From typing up Katz's manuscript to cataloging the 9,000-plus books in his office library, Bhatia is as deeply immersed in scholarship as she can be, and that's the way she likes it. "I just want to know everything about everything," she says.
The Maryland native doesn't attend school; she consumes it. She's the student who sits front-row center, peppering professors with questions, making them work. She's the student the great professors remember. In one anthropology class, not satisfied with a massive reading workload, Bhatia would have lengthy discussions with Professor Jenny White, over email and after class, about policy and conflict in the Middle East. Fascinated by politics at home and abroad, she reads everything she can get her hands on; her learning doesn't stop at the classroom door.
She credits this all-encompassing quest for knowledge to her grandfather, whom she grew up watching read the newspaper in six different languages. (In addition to English, Bhatia herself speaks Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu—she's catching up.) "He would watch the news all day, and it used to annoy me when I was a kid," she says with a laugh. "But now I do it too. And I call him and we discuss it."
Bhatia doesn't see herself leaving academia anytime soon. After graduation, she plans to continue studying political science and sees in Katz's work a model for her future. "I want to make a substantial contribution to my field, something that's going to mold ideas, to help generations to come. When you're passionate about a subject, the ultimate thing you can do is contribute something completely new, completely original, that's going to further the dialogue. That's definitely what I want to do."■