Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 25, 2012

Journalist Mukherji applies hands-on international public affairs

Naya Mukherji


After graduating in 2012 with master's degrees in international public affairs and in journalism and mass communication, Naya Mukherji joined National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. As an editorial and production assistant she produces shows for Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and All Things Considered.

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Taking questions and comments from early morning callers to Wisconsin Public Radio is just one component of Naya Mukherji's engagement with people from different backgrounds.

From 6 to 9 a.m. the associate producer of "The Joy Cardin Show" answers the phones for the show. Mukherji, a 2012 graduate of the La Follette School, has been working at WPR for the last year, interning and producing for "The Joy Cardin Show," "To the Best of Our Knowledge" and "Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders."

Mukherji started her work at WPR as a producer for "Here on Earth," a show that matched her background in international public affairs perfectly. "The show gave an international perspective on global citizenship," Mukherji says. "Our core mission was to learn about ourselves by learning about others."

Working in public radio allows Mukherji to blend her skills. "I am using all my research and analysis skills from political science and La Follette, plus my journalism background in finding stories and identifying sources to interview," says Mukherji, who evaluates potential guests, books guests and does preliminary interviews as background information for the shows' hosts.

She came to the La Follette School after deciding to not pursue a doctorate in political science. She had completed a master's degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and was working on a master's in journalism. "I found I wanted to be more hands-on in working with people from different backgrounds," Mukherji says.

She talked with professor Melanie Manion about her career interests and took the political scientist's advice to enroll at La Follette. "My life has been changed by people like Melanie Manion, who, despite having so many students, still takes the time to talk with them and to be invested in their future," says Mukherji, who earned her Master of International Public Affairs degree in May and will finish her journalism degree in August.

Mukherji appreciates the La Follette School's small size. "Right away I got to know people because the classes are structured in such a cooperative environment," she says, "the microeconomics study groups, the macro, then the second-year group projects. Students have good access to professors who are invested in the work we are doing."

The teamwork inherent in many of the classes is very valuable, she adds. "Right away there is a cooperative learning environment created by the students and the professors."

Mukherji grew up in Bombay, India. Her life changed when she won a scholarship and attended United World College of India, one of several United World Colleges built on the philosophy that problems in the world are cause by people not understanding each other. "The college brings together people from different backgrounds to remote places in countries like India, Swaziland, Norway and New Mexico in the United States to live and learn together," Mukherji says. "The experience forces them to face cultural biases and assumptions. The experience made me the person I am."

The experience also helped her win a scholarship to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she majored in international relations and education. "I became interested in international development in high school. While in college, I went to Shanghai for the summer to teach English," Mukherji says. "Bombay is the most sophisticated city in India and Shanghai is the most sophisticated city in China, so I thought they would be similar. When I got off the plane, my jaw just dropped. I walked around stunned for the entire three months, Shanghai was so much more developed. It made me realize that India has a long way to go."

After graduating in 2006, Mukherji taught high school history for a year in the city of Wellesley, but left to join the political science program. As a teaching assistant in international relations and comparative politics, she led discussion sections for up to 80 students a semester. After three years, she became a project assistant with the Center for Pre-Health Advising, which enabled her to learn more about higher education. She joined "Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders" in 2011, "The Joy Cardin Show" and "To the Best of Our Knowledge" in 2012

Mukherji uses her policy analysis skills in her journalism, reporting on political events for the Madison weekly Isthmus. "Public policy informs the kinds of stories I can write," Mukherji says. "The quantitative skills also set me apart — I can double check what the experts say about data."

Mukherji takes full advantage of Madison's media market. In addition to producing shows at WPR, she also volunteers at radio station WORT's "Third World View," researching, writing, and sometimes reading stories on-air. She is also managing editor of the local news website Madison Commons.

When she graduates in August, Mukherji hopes to work as a radio journalist and continue learning about new places and people — and herself.

"I am interested in serving the public interest through teaching, education and radio," Mukherji says. "My training in public policy makes me better at what I do. For me, this is how I give back to the world, for the people who said to me that learning can be fun and critical thinking can change your life."

— updated June 10, 2013