Foundation Scholarship Recipient Anokhee Dave: Fifteen Years Later, Where is She Now?

When Anokhee Dave was nine, her family moved to Springfield from Jersey City.  For young Anokhee, the daughter of Indian immigrants, navigating a new place and different cultures was “challenging and overwhelming.”

Anokhee Dave speaks to students at the 2018 “How to Wear Your Crown Girls’ Summit” in Springfield. Photo courtesy of Anokhee Dave

She later became the only Indian American in her elementary school, middle school and high school.  She recalled, “I was trying to find where I fit in…where do I belong?”

The answer came to her in college. “You realize you can be all the things you want. You can be proud of your culture…and be your authentic self.”

Fifteen years ago, a James Z. Naurison Scholarship and interest-free student loans from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts helped Anokhee earn a political science degree from the University of Massachusetts. She later earned a graduate degree at Columbia University. Anokhee now lives in the Washington D.C. area and works on education policy at the Council of Chief State School Officers. She spoke to us by phone about her educational and career journey. Her responses are below.

Q: What started you on the road to a career in education?

I was in high school and the Springfield school system was seeking student teaching assistants. During my interview for that position, I was hired to work in their Title 1 district office where they focused on out-of-school programming.  That was my introduction to the education field. I was able to understand the inner workings of how a district operates with a school and I was fascinated by it. Because my parents, especially my dad, instilled a sense of social justice and giving back to your community, I could see inequities at times. So, I questioned a lot. ‘Wait, why does this school have this and this one doesn’t?’ Luckily, I had a great mentor, Mary Ellen Baron, who was open and honest with me about how systems worked and what’s in our control and what’s not. As an undergraduate at UMass, I came home for summers and continued to work for the Springfield school system.

Q: What is your career focus now?

I work at the intersection of federal and state education law and policy, and how that affects students at the district and school levels. We’re trying to understand what’s working and what’s not working at a systems level to make education equitable for all. Change can’t happen overnight, but what is within our grasp to change the trajectory so more public school students have better opportunities in their futures. Because unfortunately right now, usually it’s where you live. Your zip code decides the quality of your education experience. And to me that’s not fair.

Q: You still have strong connections to Springfield. What are those and why are they meaningful for you?

Springfield is the city that raised me. I believe it takes a community and as many people as possible —not just parents and teachers—to help train the next generation. I’m an ally to the LGBTQ community.  My good friend Taurean Bethea came out a few years ago and put on the first pride parade in Springfield in June 2022. I’m working on the board of his organization to plan and implement a summer program for LGBTQ youth.  Prior to that I worked with six other Springfield women, all in our mid-thirties, to put on an annual event called “How to Wear Your Crown Girls Summit.” It’s a day-long event of seminars and workshops primarily for middle and high school girls to showcase to them that they can be anything they want to be and to explain our journeys. There’s a wealth of various seminars: financial literacy, political activism, advocacy. We want to help young ladies be goal-oriented so they can put the steps in place to get there.

Some responses above have been lightly edited for space reasons. Learn more about the Community Foundation’s scholarships and loans.

Anokhee Dave (at left), with planning committee members of W.I.S.E. (Women Inspiring Self-Love & Excellence) at the 2019 “How to Wear Your Crown Girls’ Summit.” Photo courtesy of Anokhee Dave