Chowdhury Fellows, Caitlin Cook (left) and Nafisa Akbar (right), with Dean Fiona Doyle. Photo by Keegan Houser
Chowdhury Fellows, Caitlin Cook (left) and Nafisa Akbar (right), with Dean Fiona Doyle. Photo by Keegan Houser.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and guests celebrated the launch of The Subir & Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Institute of South Asian Studies on March 30. Following the ceremony, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the Founder and Chairman of BRAC — the world’s largest NGO — delivered a speech titled “A Quiet Revolution in Bangladesh,” focusing on developments in public health and human rights.

The Center is the first in the U.S. to showcase the history and culture of the South Asian country. Spearheaded by a generous donation from the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Foundation, the Center focuses on research, scholarships and exchanges between Berkeley and Bangladesh.

Subir Chowdhury — a Bangladesh-born author and business consultant — donated $1 million for its establishment at Berkeley. “My hope and wish is that the Center will have an impact on improving the quality of life on Bangladesh people,” Chowdhury told Daily Cal. The Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies will feature a library, courses, and visiting scholars.

Inaugural fellows Caitlin Cook and Nafisa Akbar will pursue projects that examine public health and political issues. Cook — a second-year Master’s of Public Health student who focuses on infectious diseases and vaccinology — is using The Subir Chowdhury Quality of Life Fellowship to continue her research on antibiotic resistance.

Caitlin Cook, a Master's of Public Health student.
Caitlin Cook, a Master’s of Public Health student.

For her project, Cook spent 12 weeks in Bangladesh, where she tested fresh produce for bacteria. Cook screened the specimens for antibiotic resistance and attempted to identify the gene that caused its immunity. “This is a very urgent public health concern because many clinical bacterial infections are now antibiotic resistant — rendering them untreatable. We think bacteria on produce may be an important reservoir for harboring these threatening resistance genes,” Cook explains. She worked with researchers who are continuing the investigation at the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research in Dhaka.

Cook adds that the collaboration between institutes in Bangladesh and the U.S. helps consolidate research and resources that address global health issues. “I truly am incredibly grateful to the Chowdhury Center for making this project possible. It has been the highlight of my MPH,” Cook says.

Nafisa Akbar, a Political Science PhD student, was named the Malini Chowdhury Fellow.
Nafisa Akbar, a Political Science Ph.D. student, was named the Malini Chowdhury Fellow.

Akbar, a 6th year Political Science Ph.D. student, won the Malini Chowdhury Fellowship to study why political parties use violence as an incentive for voting. She is currently collecting data from media reports about incidents and will pursue case studies in Bangladesh this May. Akbar also prepared for her research by conducting fieldwork in Bangladesh from November 2012 to July 2013. She interviewed politicians, journalists and academics to learn about pre-electoral violence. Akbar hopes that her research will provide alternative voting incentives in Bangladesh and other developing nations.

The fellowship has provided her with a support network that will help her continue her work. “I consider receiving the fellowship a great honor and responsibility. There are very few resources for students who work on Bangladesh, and thus, I am grateful for the recognition and support the Chowdhury Center has given me,” Akbar notes.

To learn more about fellowship opportunities and upcoming events, visit the Chowdhury Center website.