Urmi Samadar: Bringing Theory to Life at MIT Sloan Action Learning and a Performing Artist

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Urmi Samadar is director of Action Learning at Sloan School of Management at MIT. The goal of Action Learning is to bring theory to life. “At MIT, I oversee a portfolio of graduate-level, project-based management courses, where students apply their classroom learning to real-world management challenges posed by SMEs to large corporations,: says Ms. Samadar. “To that end, I work with faculty, industry practitioners, students and corporations to advance this community of practice that impacts organizations and deepens students’ learning.”

In addition, Ms. Samadar is an accomplished performer, choreographer and trainer in Indian classical and creative dance forms. She has received concurrent training in three Indian classical dance forms – Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam.

While maintaining the rigor of classical traditions, Ms. Samadar experiments by blending Indian, Western, classical and regional forms of dance in her productions. To widen her perspectives in western dances, she has taken courses and workshops in western dance forms such as Nia, Ballroom Dancing and Isodara Duncan Dance. She was a recognized child artist on Indian TV channel Doordarshan.

 INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

Urmi Samadar: In an increasingly connected world, it is ironical that we are losing deep person-to-person connections that is the kernel of human existence. My pursuit is to build and deepen those genuine connections through the work I do at MIT, my journey as a dancer and the roles I am privileged to have, as a mother, wife, daughter, friend and others.

At MIT, I oversee a portfolio of graduate-level, project-based management courses, where students apply their classroom learning to real-world management challenges posed by SMEs to large corporations. To that end, I work with faculty, industry practitioners, students and corporations to advance this community of practice that impacts organizations and deepens students’ learning.

One of our primary goals in this learning format is to provide an opportunity for students to enhance their collaboration, teamwork and sense-making that are critical leadership skills. In a recent study we conducted at MIT Sloan on the impact of Action Learning, alumni rated Action Learning as one of the top three most valuable learning experiences they had at school that shaped their leadership style. My role gives me a tremendous sense of fulfilment in that it is rendering a learning environment that fosters human connections.

Urmi Samadar

As a practicing Indian classical dancer (Kathak and Odissi), my goal is to share our distinctive art forms with the community here to kindle inspiration, appreciation, respect and connection.  Children and families of Indian origin get an opportunity to learn the incredible dance forms that connect them to their roots.  Other students and audiences get an exposure to the centuries-old performing arts that continue to evolve and connect people together.

While some students have taken their learning to a higher level of pursuit, others have thrived in the connections, friendships and joy that dance has brought to their lives.  Beyond the creative quest, this journey gives me the honor of being a part of several stories and goals that my students have. For some, I am a mentor beyond the dance learning; a friend to others or an indulgent auntie to the little ones. Mentoring, nurturing these relations and helping shape a few stories while providing a space for people to express themselves is the most gratifying part of my role as a dancer. Through dance, I have built an extended family of incredible people spanning decades in ages who are there for each other. Srishti, my daughter who has grown up in this environment of rhythm, laughter, and learning, loves her extended family and is so passionate about her Indian heritage.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

 US: Charitable organizations unite people for a common cause, to make a change, advance a purpose, or make a difference to society. While I humbly support inspiring organizations that are making a huge difference to society, both here and in India, I am not an official member of any nonprofit organization.

Instead, I devote my time to build an extended family of inspired children, girls and women who are not only committed to the art that they are learning, but also use their learning and relations to reach out to society and make a change; I see myself as an enabler of that purpose.  My students have organized or participated in fundraisers by sharing their dance with and for community centers, senior living, mental health centers, youth organizations, and more established institutions like AID, DAWNWW, Boston Pledge and countless others.

They have self-organized and led outreach workshops in public libraries, elementary schools and cultural organizations to educate the communities here about Kathak, Odissi and the tapestry of cultural richness that India brings to the world.  Inspired by her Kathak training, one of my students, Anishka, a junior at St. Marks School Southborough, undertook a herculean task of developing a one-semester course on Kathak, which she will teach at her school this fall; a first-of its kind endeavor in the Indian arts at the school!  She has also garnered support from the school authorities to share her knowledge and passion for Kathak with other ISL schools in the region. These are testaments to the level of inspiration and passion I hope to instill in my students and with the people I work with.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

US: What interests me most is to make a tangible difference in a person’s life, whether it is advising MBA students on their career journeys, developing my team at MIT Sloan, being a sounding board for my dance students for their career and life pursuits, or being there for a friend when he or she needs someone to talk to.

To do this in a meaningful way, I dedicate time that is not measured in volunteer hours; it is silent, private, and ongoing and boundary less and I believe that is how I have built, nurtured and developed true relations.

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization or professional field?

US: MIT’s motto is ‘mens et manus’ or mind and hand whereby education aims at practical application. Action Learning is the embodiment of that philosophy, and I am committed to bring that community of thinkers and practitioners together to advance this format of education that we believe will create better leaders for tomorrow.

My biggest contribution in this role at MIT has been to bring together over a hundred faculty, mentors, leaders and staff who are engaged in Action Learning to participate in ongoing discussions on best practices, build synergies, determine common goals and measure impact. On the dance front, it is an ongoing commitment to inspire more students to learn and love this art form, while educating the broader communities.

To cite an example of my commitment to my students, I continue to teach my students in New York state’s capital region (where I started my academy) by visiting once a month and taking regular lessons on Skype, even though I moved to the Boston region in 2010. Even though some of my students have left the region, they practice with their teammates over Skype or Google Hangout every week and come together as a team in professional concerts despite the distance learning model.

INE: What are your favorite books?

US: My mother is an award-winning Bengali author and I have grown up in a literary environment. My personal favorites are narratives on real people who have made a difference to the world, and humor, because we need more of it.  I also love reading with my nine-year old daughter, Srishti, and reliving childhood with Enid Blytons!

INE: What are your Favorite Quotes?

US: My favorite quotes come from Srishti, my daughter.

When she was six years old, we visited Disneyworld and on being asked to take a picture with a “princess”, she politely said, “I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but a true princess is someone who can do math (like multiplitication), is kind and not an adult in a costume!”

One day, when she was seven, and was looking at pictures of US Presidents, her comment was, “Why isn’t there a woman here? I will become one when I am 35.”

My recent favorites, “Mamma, how do you make time for everything and also give the best hugs?”

The one she (and even I ) try to live by  “You can always solve a problem by making people laugh.”

INE: Who inspires you the most?

US:  Several public figures, my dad, and my husband have relentlessly inspired me, but my biggest inspiration is Srishti. She has always been a compassionate, thoughtful and giving child with a whacky sense of humor. On any visit to a toy or bookstore, she would never let me buy anything for her. Instead, she would cite the names of her friends, who love certain toys, or suggest we buy it for Cradles to Crayons! She has a piggy bank where she has collected tiny amounts that her aunts, uncles or tooth fairies give. To date, she has not spent a dollar for herself, and she uses that money to contribute to Cradles to Crayons, Unicef and other organizations.

Like any other kid, she loves parading in the neighborhood for Halloween, but is most energized about collecting change for Unicef as opposed to filling her bag with candies.  Her perceptive observations amaze me. Recently, I was working extensive hours because of a time-sensitive project and was going through the guilt that most moms do! Srishti somehow sensed that, and assured me that I was a great mamma and that sometimes other things need more attention; it’s not just about her!!!

These interactions inspire me to be a better woman, a better human every day because I have to live up to the standards that my little girl lives by.

INE: What core values do you try to live by?

US: As I cited earlier, I genuinely try to make a difference to a person’s life by silently being there for them, and being a mentor for younger people.  One of my core values is to always look for the positive elements in an individual and learn to acknowledge my own shortcomings. For me, genuine warmth, respect and humor make life beautiful.


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