The daughter of first-generation immigrants, Nitya Labh ’22 has shared a dream with her grandfather of doing something meaningful in the world.
After making a significant impact as a student at William & Mary, Labh will take another step as part of the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a foreign policy think tank located in Washington, D.C.
Labh, a 2022 Rhodes Scholarship finalist who is studying international relations, was among the 12 students nationwide to receive the prestigious fellowship, and she is the third William & Mary student selected in the last three years, joining Grace Kier ’20 and Caroline Duckworth ’21.
Labh was accepted for a fellowship with CEIP’s South Asia Program and International Security Program. She will provide research assistance to scholars in both programs and will also have the opportunity to conduct research, contribute to op-eds, papers, reports and books and also edit documents, participate in meetings with high-level officials, contribute to congressional testimony and organize briefings attended by scholars, activists, journalists and government officials.
“Being selected for the Gaither Fellowship feels extremely validating,” Labh said. “In 2018, I gave up a scholarship to the Arts Institute of Chicago to instead study international relations at William & Mary. That decision was a huge risk for me.
“I didn’t know if I could be successful in this field or if I had anything meaningful to contribute. After years of training, researching, and mentorship, I feel like I’ve found a voice. With Gaither, I feel like I’ve found people who want to invest in me and help me find my place in the world. I took a chance on myself when I decided to come to William & Mary, and I feel like it’s finally paid off.”
Starting in childhood, Labh shared her big dreams with her grandfather, Kunj Sahay, who lives in Ranchi, India. She told him one day she’d make it big and buy him a castle or a big house.
“My grandfather is one of the first people who ever believed in me and my dreams — whether they were dreams of castles or dreams of peace and justice,” Labh said. “Whenever I accomplish something, he is the first person I want to call and tell. And every time I call he reminds me how proud he is of me. More importantly, he reminds me about the mansion I promised to buy for us.”
Internationalist by heart
A gifted artist and visual thinker, Labh turned down a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue a degree in international relations at William & Mary. While she is passionate about art, she wants to do something with a greater impact, and she felt a W&M degree in IR would get her there.
Labh has career aspirations to work at the National Security Council or at the United Nations Security Council as a representative for the United States working in the Office of Political and Military Affairs.
“That has a lot to do with decision making in national security and how I feel that there needs to be someone in the room who bridges that gap between security, decision making and humanitarian concerns,” Labh said.
Labh calls herself an artist by trade and an internationalist by heart.
“I am moved by my passion for internationalism, and I’m going to use the tools at my disposal to help promote a better world if I can,” Labh said.
Her tools as an artist have helped her simplify theories and concepts for herself and also for those she has instructed as a teaching assistant for three courses. Her “thought maps” include arrow diagrams, clouds and bubbles. They have helped explain some of the most complex concepts relating to complicated topics such as blockchain technology.
She has explored these topics as a research fellow for W&M’s Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) and as a researcher for the Global Research Institute and the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
She was hired in October to intern with Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm run by W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley and critically-acclaimed author Anja Manuel.
Empathy and care
Labh’s topics of expertise include blockchain technology, a subject on which she wrote a textbook for the course she taught for the Global Research Institute as a sophomore.
“It was only eight to 10 pages,” she said. “Before I taught it to people, I had to explain it to myself, and so I sat down and wrote it all out as I simplified it down to the core concepts. I thought it would be helpful as a reference.”
Labh has also studied international relations in the Indo-Pacific and wrote an op-ed this past summer for Australian Defence Magazine about Chinese land reclamation.
Another piece she wrote on the topic recently won runner-up honors in an essay contest run by Girl Security and the quarterly journal “International Security,” which is published by the MIT Press and sponsored and edited by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
While some Pacific islands are sinking, China is also building new islands, to which Labh says, “I feel like that changes the entire game of geostrategic competition if people can build land wherever they want, and that’s where the project really took off.”
Labh grew up in Princeton, N.J., as the daughter of Wall Street financial tech leaders who immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1995. Her proximity to New York City opened up an opportunity to display her artwork at the United Nations, and that’s what drew her interest to international relations.
She created murals for the United Nations, and it asked her to be a non-governmental delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women.
“Nitya’s intellect is rooted with empathy and care for those around her,” GRI Associate Director of Programs David Trichler wrote in a recommendation letter for the Rhodes Scholarship. “She is one of the most talented mentors and teachers that I have met.”
Another recommendation letter said: “The fact that her potential is built on a foundation of compassion and unshakable moral fiber only adds to the good that she will do.”
Labh’s achievements are numerous, and her time at William & Mary led her to her next great chapter of life at the CEIP.
But of all she accomplished at W&M, one thing stands out above the rest.
“I feel like I found my voice,” Labh said. “I think through the research process and gaining publications, I’ve become more sure of myself in that I have something worth contributing to the world, to academia, to the conversation on international peace and security.”
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist