All for the Good
Globe-trotting alumna embraces diversity and promotes social justice and human rights
Monday, October 3, 2016

Nava Kavelin '06, '07, B.A. English, MAT

"It may sound idealistic, but my whole life I have strongly believed that diversity enhances beauty, and have thus always sought to travel, live in different countries, learn from different cultures, and experience as much of this human diversity as possible." So says Nava Kavelin, whose international experiences inform her passion for improving human well-being.

Born in California to an American father and Persian mother, Nava moved to Puerto Rico at age three and was raised in the Baha'i faith. She grew up exposed to three languages: English, Spanish, and Persian. Passionate about education, Nava chose Trinity—"the perfect match"—for its highly ranked MAT program and English department. "It was remarkable to be in a small school in a state that isn't necessarily known for its love of diversity and socially progressive views and yet be surrounded by staff, peers, and professors, who were open-minded, curious, and encouraging," she recalls. She found education professor Angela Breidenstein especially inspiring and a positive example of a strong capable woman.

At Trinity, Nava discovered that "if you had an idea and the slightest drive to see it through, people would rush to help you make it a reality." Prime example: Along with her "dear friend Simran Singh '06," a Sikh, Nava co-founded the interfaith club "And who supported us the most? Our Christian chaplain, the Rev. Steven Nickle, and the first three members to join were a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Muslim," she says, smiling.

"These experiences stay with you. They give you hope about the state of the world and where things can go."

Believing that young people care deeply about the state of the world and long to see it improve if they are exposed to the right curriculum and educational content, Nava designed her student teaching internship unit to tap into that potential. On the strength of the unit's positive responses, she decided she needed additional training in order to teach and speak about human rights and social justice with professional credibility.

She moved to Haifa, Israel, and spent four years doing research for the supreme governing body of the Baha'i International Community (BIC) called The Universal House of Justice. Staying longer than she intended, Nava became involved with the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, an NGO, whose programs for college-aged students sought to nurture a desire for self-improvement while bettering their communities. Her work there included travel around the world to regions she knew little about but whose cultures she wanted to learn from. When offered a teaching position at the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, Nava could not turn it down. "China challenged me in ways I have never experienced and helped me grow and learn a lot about myself and the world," she says.

Earlier this year, Nava returned to New York City as senior researcher and writer for the BIC at the United Nations. Her job entails staying abreast of discourses and issues taking shape at the U.N. Currently, she is focusing on the discourse around the equality of women and men, global citizenship education, the role of youth in processes of transformation, the impact of immigration on sending and receiving countries, and the role of religion in society. It's a big job, but Nava is uniquely qualified.

Drawing on scientific insights, Baha'i's sacred texts, and her own grassroots experience, Nava strives to articulate what she has learned that could make its way into public policy. One issue her office advocated for early on was the need to educate young girls. "While this is now a popular idea that's widely accepted, BIC was the first to promote it within U.N. circles," she notes proudly.

Glad to be back in the U.S., Nava finds living in New York "fantastic … the entire world is at your fingertips." A huge fan of musicals, she has seen eight since her arrival in January, keeps fit by walking or biking everywhere, and takes barre classes—"ballet for adults." Her "insatiable appetite for travel" is sated with several trips a month, some of which are for work, and two international trips annually. (She actually drafted answers to interview questions at a café in Florence.) Outside her official capacity with BIC, Nava is very involved with educational efforts for the local Baha'i community and wants to focus on moral education classes for children.

Having lived in many countries and made a seeming career shift from education to non-profit work, Nava says her life has always had a common thread woven through it and it's the thread she hopes will connect everything throughout her life: serving others and learning about processes of improving human well being. "It is hard for me to predict the exact form this will take—there might even be a Ph.D. in my future— but whatever I do, I want it to be with the common weal in mind."

You can contact Nava at nkavelin@gmail.com

Mary Denny helps tell Trinity's story as a contributor to the University communications team.

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