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Mugdha Yeolekar, Ph.D. | College Educator & Religious Studies Scholar

We had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Mugdha Yeolekar, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at California State University, Fullerton.

What drives you to give back?

I am always grateful for the guidance, mentorship, and help in various forms that I have received throughout my career. I would not have been who I am today if I had not gotten that help. I still remember that one of my college professors from my undergraduate days drove to my home to return a graded sample paper that I had submitted for their review. They had volunteered to grade my paper because I was an engaged student in their class. They brought it home as they knew that I was busy with studying for upcoming exams. It is these small moments that I treasure forever. I had not requested them to give me anything. But what I received from them is something that taught me a foundational principle of giving back. When you give back something, do it without somebody asking. Do it because someone needs it, not because you have nothing else to do. Be humble and do not boost your ego by giving back. When we do any good act, it creates a distinctive satisfaction and that leads to boosting your ego in an indirect way. However, that defeats the purpose of giving back in my understanding. The act of “giving back” should not be labeled as such and should happen in an organic way.

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

I teach at a university which has a lot of first-generation college students. Watching the journey of my students from freshman to senior is the most meaningful part of my job. Sometimes I meet students who have to take a break in education due to family priorities or other reasons. These students are struggling to adjust to the university system. Other students who are acquainted with the system have their own challenges, such as limited economic resources, working multiple jobs, not having cars, access to internet etc. Understanding where my students come from is very important for an impactful teaching. I find engaging with students from their specific contexts very meaningful.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

One key thing I would like to tell my younger self is–never lose the focus of the big picture. A lot of us get engrossed in little happenings around us. A person like me who is very sensitive gets easily distracted by little things. This is very energy-consuming and can be curtailed by training your mind to never lose sight of the bigger picture. Nowadays, I ask myself, “will this matter after five years?” I base my response to situations based on the answer to the above question. Another big advice I would give to my younger self is, “keep your emotion out in professional conversations that are related to conflicts.”

How did you help your community this year?

I can’t say I “helped” my community. I would rephrase and say I “engaged” with my community in a meaningful way this year by participating in El Segundo Scholarship Council. Coming from an academic background, I have experience in grant writing and reviewing. I wasn’t sure what would be most effective way of bringing my experience of research at a university to grade school level. I enjoy volunteering in my children’s class activities. However, the scope of that volunteering is very limited. Moreover, my purpose of volunteering there is to connect with my child in a different context. I wanted to volunteer in a place where I can offer something to the broader community and in a more foundational way. So I decided to join as the chair of the El Segundo Council PTA committee for scholarships.

Share one teaching strategy that worked.

As a teacher, I can sense the energy-level in a classroom every day. There are days when students are eager to talk on topics and then there are days when there is dead silence in room after you ask the most interesting question. I have been noticing a direct co-relation between low-energy and use of electronica for many years. After years of contemplation about this topic and traninings about teaching, I came up with a strategy to make my classroom engaged on one day that I sensed dullness in classroom. I created a group activity which consisted of four parts: watch a short video, conduct a group discussion based on a list of guided questions provided by me, group post of a written paragraph in a shared google doc that reflects the key takeaways from the video and group discussion, and critical feedback from on writing from one group to the other. This strategy worked very well in my classroom this semester as everyone was actively and creatively engaged.


1000 Spotlights: Why We Give reflects our mission of giving back, to mentor and to inspire those around us. Through a series of interview questions, we explore intrinsic motivations behind why we give, and talk with those inclined to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are involved in charitable activities, volunteer and paid academic engagements or in community service, we want to talk to you. Write to us to nominate yourself or someone else who fits the bill.


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