Student Spotlight: Junior Tara Bansal Blends Passion and Policy to Empower Women


Tara Bansal, left, interviewing a local area leader in a slum in Bangalore, India.

Published May 10, 2016, last updated on June 3, 2020 under Education News

Tara Bansal, a junior from Long Island, New York, knew from day one that she wanted to focus her college experience on empowering women. She chose Duke and DGHI because she wanted to take an interdisciplinary approach to international human development, she was seeking study away and fieldwork opportunities, and she was drawn to high-quality yet accessible research opportunities. 

Three years into Duke, she’s found all of these as she completes a co-major in public policy and global health, as well as an economics minor.

Even before coming to Duke, Bansal knew she was interested in using global health as a way to empower women. In high school, she read the book Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof, which sparked her passion to use women’s health as a means to women’s empowerment. In her time at Duke, Bansal has followed her passion, learning and working on topics like family planning, education and sexual health.

“I can’t encourage people enough to take advantage of study-away and fieldwork opportunities,” Bansal shared as she reflected on her fieldwork. “The resources available from DGHI and Duke are unbelievable.” 

After her freshman year, Bansal worked as an intern with the World Health Organization in Indonesia, where she studied how to bring immunizations to more families. Her focus was mainly on policy and how to prioritize health above political inefficiency. “There are a lot of barriers you don’t anticipate,” Bansal shared, “You think everyone is going to want immunizations, but then you realize that’s not true for a lot of cultural and financial reasons.”

The following summer, Bansal traveled to Bangalore, India, to work on a Bass Connections project, studying urban poverty, social mobility, and how political networks and public services were affecting families. Her goal was to understand how governments can better deliver services in health and education. Bansal worked closely with political leaders in slums and collected data from residents to inform her research.


In this video produced by Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, Bansal talks about 
her work in Bangalore and the photo that won a Sanford School photo contest.

Now, Bansal is working on her global health capstone, a collaborative project with ZanaAfrica. Her team is conducting a systematic review to understand how to improve branding of sanitary pads and menstruation products for young women in rural areas as well as performing a literature review on menstrual hygiene management for the Population Council. 

Bansal likes DGHI’s real-world approach to education, and she appreciates how the skills she’s learned in DGHI classes are exactly those potential employers are asking about in job interviews. 

Bansal also likes how customizable the global health major is. “The incredible thing about DGHI is that there are so many different ways to approach the global health major. My three focus areas—public policy, global health and economics—are really preparing me for what I want to do, including theoretical conceptualization and practical application like in-depth field research.”

After she graduates next year, Bansal hopes to continue doing research in either an academic or private-sector setting as well as travel and work abroad. Her long term goal is to pursue policy work that promotes human development. 

The incredible thing about DGHI is that there are so many different ways to approach the global health major.

Tara Bansal, junior public policy and global health major