Four seniors awarded Labouisse Prize for international civic engagement projects

Written by
Pooja Makhijani, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies
May 23, 2024

Princeton University seniors Akhila Bandlora, Khiara Berkowitz-Sklar, Max Diallo Jakobsen and Ananya Grover have been awarded the Henry Richardson Labouisse 1926 Prize to pursue international civic engagement projects for one year following graduation.

Bandlora, a psychology major from Phoenix Arizona, will identify facilitators and barriers of gender-affirming care, in Sydney, Australia. Berkowitz-Sklar, a molecular biology major raised in Costa Rica and California, will help to uncover the mechanisms by which malaria parasites are able to establish silent infections in humans without triggering strong immune defenses or compromising the survival of their hosts, in Berlin and Bamako, Mali. Diallo Jakobsen, a history major from Conakry, Guinea, will return home to trace indigo dyeing practices. Grover, a computer science major from Delhi, India, will create a mobile app for self-expression and support for those affected by premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), in her home city. 

The Labouisse Prize, which awards $35,000 to each recipient, enables graduating seniors to engage in a project that exemplifies the life and work of Henry Richardson Labouisse, a 1926 Princeton alumnus who was a diplomat, international public servant and champion for the causes of international justice and international development. Labouisse’s daughter Anne Peretz and family established the prize in 1984. It is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS).

“Henry M. Labouisse’s dedication to global service, work and diplomacy is more relevant than ever in a world that is effectively deglobalizing with increasing political, economic, social and cultural compartmentalizing at the international and national levels,” said Emmanuel Kreike, professor of history and chair of the Labouisse selection committee. “International development cooperation is on the decline, war dominates diplomacy, and nations close borders in the face of waves of human migrants displaced by political and economic crises and invading microbes pushed by climate change. A telltale sign of these trends at the local Princeton level is that our average students’ international educational exposure has declined in duration from a semester or summer abroad to a break week. This year’s Henry M. Labouisse Fellows through their commitment to a year of service to help make our world a better place, demonstrate that Henry M. Labouisse’s ideals remain a powerful inspiration.”

Akhila Bandlora

Bandlora will spend her fellowship at the Centre for Social Research in Health at University of New South Wales (UNSW). She will conduct original qualitative research with gender-diverse communities in order to identify barriers and enablers of quality, gender-affirming care, with a particular focus on people who reside in western Sydney, an area recognized as having a large, diverse population, but poorer access to services. “Access to culturally competent healthcare for LGBTQ+ communities in West Sydney is a high priority to comprehensively address the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait people,” she said. Bandlora will be working alongside Martin Holt, a professor at UNSW who also serves on the research steering committee LGBTQ+ Health Australia. 

Bandlora’s undergraduate research has also focused on health inequities. Her thesis investigated the psychological impacts of gender-affirming care for transgender youth of color. Her other field research has included a series of interviews with Uber drivers, many older South Asian, Latin American, and African immigrant men, about their mistreatment by the ride-sharing app, and interviews with migrants in Berlin and the idea of gardens as sites of healing.

Bandlora hopes to attend medical school after her fellowship year. “I want to work towards supporting the psychological, cultural and physical health of every patient I meet, with the larger goal of reimagining the systems which make us so sick,” she said. “The Labouisse provides me the opportunity to research and discover what it means to repair injustice and generate a vision of our world without White supremacy, colonialism and borders.”

On campus, she serves as a mentor at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding P.U.M.P program, a Forbes peer academic advisor, and a Coffee Club barista.

Khiara Berkowitz-Sklar 

When Berkowitz-Sklar was a child, her small town of Quepos, Costa Rica, was hit by a dengue epidemic. She remembers dressing in long sleeves that reeked of chemicals and draping a mosquito net over her bed. The humidity of the tropics wasn’t exactly conducive to stuffy garments and layers of repellant, but she understood that her home was particularly vulnerable. “Natural disasters, infectious diseases, road-way accidents — these were common tragedies that the community faced, but we didn’t always have the resources to mitigate or prevent them,” she said. 

Many years later, when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, Berkowitz-Sklar took a leave of absence from Princeton and joined COVID-19 research efforts at the National Center for Scientific Research in Montpellier, France. When she returned to campus, she became a student leader of the Climate Action Plan for Emissions Reduction Strategies team — a subgroup of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative — and worked closely with Sustainable Princeton and other local stakeholders in researching and informing on climate-conscious policies.

Berkowitz-Sklar sees the Labouisse as a “launching point for a career and lifestyle that harmoniously align with my personal values and academic ambitions,” she said. From her upbringing in Costa Rica and through her academic experience at Princeton, she said, “I have developed an interest in understanding the nature and context of vector-borne diseases through a holistic comprehension of the environmental factors, community-wide challenges, and molecular pathways that are at play in the spread, persistence and pathology of disease.”

At Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin and Malaria Research and Training Center in Bamako, Mali, Berkowitz-Sklar intends to investigate the seasonal spread of P. falciparum — the deadliest of malaria-causing parasites whose transmission in tropical and subtropical communities is inextricably linked to the environment and public health. Specifically, she will study blood samples collected from infected individuals in Mali to characterize — through systematic sequencing — the molecular switches in gene expression over time, as well as their effects on the cytoadhesion of infected red blood cells and their relation to host humoral immunity.

Berkowitz-Sklar hopes to pursue a postgraduate degree in the biomedical sciences after her fellowship year. “I have learned from lived experience that the study and protection of human life and the natural world are inherently linked,” she said. 

Max Diallo Jakobsen

Diallo Jakobsen will return to the west African nation of Guinea — a country to which he has close personal ties and that he has conducted research in through various experiences at Princeton. “Although I had spent a couple of years of my childhood in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, my connection to my mother’s home country had always felt tenuous,” he said. With the support of the Alex Adam ‘07 Award, Diallo Jakobsen traveled to Guinea in summer 2023 to retrace the life of his grandfather who had been an indigo dyer before fleeing the country in the 1960s due to political instability. “Immersing myself in the art of indigo dyeing, a long-standing tradition and practice in the region, I traversed the country, seeking out artisans and communities working with indigo and indigo dyed fabrics.” Through this research, he “was able to meet with elected officials, businesswomen, artists and artisans,” he said. “On a deeply personal note, this research also allowed me to begin healing a rift in my heritage caused by my grandfather's exile. In retracing my family’s history with indigo, I was able to pick up what my grandfather was forced to give up.” 

Diallo Jakobsen’s senior thesis traces indigo’s material, cultural and socio-political history in Guinea: from its emergence as a discursive Fulani cultural symbol to how it colored the formation of Guinean national identity in the postcolonial period. His art practice — he is earning a minor in visual arts — which spans sculpture, painting, video, and installation, has coalesced around explorations of and with indigo. He has made an organic indigo vat in his studio that he uses to dye fabrics and is co-directing an experimental short film exploring the interwoven histories of cotton and indigo across the Black diaspora.

During his fellowship year, in partnership with Guinea’s National Office for the Promotion of Arts and Craftmanship, Diallo Jakobsen will continue his research on indigo dyeing in Guinea and across West Africa. He will translate some of the acquired knowledge and skills into his own art practice, and use this opportunity to enable and establish linkages and relationships among local and international stakeholders passionate about promoting African craftsmanship and creativity. “My life’s mission is to engage deeply with the emotional and historical truths of this place I call home,” he said. “I hope that my contributions in research and art open doors to further explorations of indigo dyeing and African art more broadly. This is the type of comprehensive research that could only be conducted through a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like the Labouisse prize and it is the type of research that is long overdue for my community, country and continent.”

Ananya Grover 

Three to eight percent of menstruating people live with PMDD, an often-undiagnosed condition that can lead to severe emotional and physical symptoms. Grover uncovered a gap in the market and aims to develop a novel mobile application that addresses the specific pain points of PMDD patients and serves as both a health tool and a creative outlet during her fellowship year. 

Her project is informed the interdisciplinary nature of her academic work — she is earning certificates in cognitive science, technology and society and creative writing — and a long-standing interest in menstrual equity. As a teenager in India, observing and facing the stigma around menstruation, she organized informational sessions, fundraisers, street plays and installed sanitary napkin dispensers in under resourced schools. Her TED talk on menstrual equity reached over 1.8 million viewers. She collaborated on an educational toolkit for The Pad Project, a California-based non-profit, for partners in South Asia and Africa. At Princeton, she continued her advocacy within The Pad Project's global ambassador program. “Through this project, I aim to synthesize my technical skills with a humanistic approach, creating a platform that not only addresses the struggles faced by individuals with PMDD but also fosters self-expression, support and awareness,” she said. 

In Delhi, Grover will conduct user research, interview health professionals, conceptualize and create a lo-fi prototype, pilot the app, and host a symposium, all in partnership with Rotary Clubs in Delhi, her in-country sponsor, and The Pad Project. Her app will include “robust symptom tracking functionalities, a creative journaling platform for self-expression, a community support forum, and access to judgement-free doctors for medical consultation services,” she said. As an aspiring tech entrepreneur, she hopes to build products “that uplift all members of society and make everyone feel seen and heard.”