Profile: World Citizen Finds Academic Home in Columbia Ph.D. Program


Anisa (center) with two brothers from Rua Domingos, a rural community along Mozambique's Beira Corridor. The community faces severe development challenges of poor water and sanitation compounded by intense HIV infection rates along this major international transportation artery.

Anisa Khadem Nwachuku calls herself a "world citizen." With just a cursory glance at her curriculum vitae, it is easy to see why: she has traveled to and lived in every far-flung corner of the world, growing up around poverty and communities in crisis.

Originally from Chicago, Khadem Nwachuku was raised by globally minded parents — doctors who actively sought to put their talents and skills to use helping people in need.

"My earliest memories are of living in post-invasion Grenada" in the early 1980s. "My family vacations were to clinics in Guyana and Albania," recalls the 25-year-old.

During her childhood, Khadem Nwachuku's bedroom also served as office space for her parents' international public health nonprofit. Thanks in no small part to their influence, Khadem Nwachuku has carved her own impressive path in public health and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainable development from Columbia University — the first program of its kind in the United States.

Having held a range of development-related positions in Brazil, Chile, Albania, Bolivia and Italy, Khadem Nwachuku chose to enroll in the innovative doctoral program for its strong foundation in interdisciplinary subjects and its access to some of the world's leading experts in sustainable development.

"The academic rigor of the curriculum is unique and more substantial than other programs of its kind," says Khadem Nwachuku. "The program serves the interest and needs of people who want a career in academia as well as those who want to be development practitioners. Students develop the analytical skill set needed to take either path."

The interdisciplinary nature of the program introduces students to a range of issues — from public health to energy — that helps them to see their own research interests in new ways. "My cohort includes climatologists and economists," says Khadem Nwachuku. "The exposure to a diverse international student body has been conducive to intellectually stimulating discussion inside and outside the classroom, and is, I believe, one of the hallmarks of the program's success."

This past summer, she began her field research for her master's thesis, which will look at the nature of Mozambique's democracy and its effect on development outcomes, with a particular focus on health disparities. Because public health indicators are so closely linked to overall economic and social well being, Khadem Nwachuku is particularly interested in understanding the basic health needs of marginalized communities in Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries.

Now in her second year as a doctoral candidate, Khadem Nwachuku has already caught her first glimpses of what life might be like after graduation. "Part of my research in Mozambique involved interviewing officials at international organizations. Talking about my work at Columbia has opened doors and given me access to the people and information I need to take my research to the next level."

While conducting her research, she was offered employment by a reputable international organization. But they, like others impressed by Khadem Nwachuku, will have to wait until 2010 when she graduates.

The doctoral program in sustainable development is offered by Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in partnership with The Earth Institute at Columbia University.