Sumeeta Gawande, JD

Board Member & Strategic Advisor

Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidyalaya (GSG College)

Umarkhed, Maharashtra, INDIA

and Director Student and Education Support Association, Inc. (SESA)

Boulder, Colorado, USA

Sumeeta is a Director of SESA, Strategic Advisor to GSG College, and a business lawyer.  She was born in Brooklyn, New York, spent her childhood in Appalachian, Ohio, and completed her education at Cornell University (B.A) and Rutgers Law School (J.D.).  She visited her paternal family in Umarkhed, Maharashtra often and was struck by the contrasts in fortunes. At age 4, Sumeeta didn’t understand why the village children were pressing close to touch her dress, until she realized theirs were torn and could be washed only in a pond where wild boars bathed.  At age 12, she wondered why girls her age were home all day, until she realized they had no school to attend.  At age 27, when she graduated from law school, she received the shocking news that her same-age cousin in Umarkhed had committed suicide, perceiving no better option. The inequities sparked in Sumeeta a commitment to improve options in the Umarkhed region. In 2012, she assumed management of SESA & became an advisor for GSG College. Sumeeta nurtures collaborations between GSG College and US-based institutions such as Ohio University, Rotary Clubs and the University of Colorado Boulder.  Through those collaborations, Sumeeta facilitates projects at GSG College which improve education, technology, health, and quality of life.

After GSG College students beseeched her to do something for those whose farmer-fathers had committed suicide and a College Trustee asked her for help addressing the worsening water shortage, Sumeeta committed herself to building a team of experts and stakeholders who could work together to create solutions. Sumeeta facilitates and oversees the development of the Maati-Paani-Asha vision as one that is rooted in and informed by Umarkhed stakeholders while drawing on a wide-range of resources and sources of knowledge.

Our Team

Dr. Sushi Gawande

Founder & Board Member

Retired Pediatrician

President - Student and Education Support Association, Inc. 

Dr. Sushi Gawande founded SESA in 1992 with her husband, Dr. Ram Gawande. A pediatrician from Ahmedabad, India, she immigrated to the United States in 1963 to complete her medical education in New York. In 1973, she, her husband, and their two children moved to Athens, Ohio, where she and Ram became a fixture in the community, both through 

their work as doctors in a region desperate for medical professionals and as community leaders and philanthropists. Additionally, with their proximity to Ohio University, the Gawandes frequently hosted international students at their home. Some of them struggled to pay for their education and had nowhere to turn. Thus, the idea to form SESA was born.


Dr. Sushi Gawande founded SESA in 1992 with her husband, Dr. Ram Gawande. A pediatrician from Ahmedabad, India, she immigrated to the United States in 1963 to complete her medical education in New York. In 1973, she, her husband, and their two children moved to Athens, Ohio, where she and Ram became a fixture in the community, both through their work as doctors in a region desperate for medical professionals and as community leaders and philanthropists. Additionally, with their proximity to Ohio University, the Gawandes frequently hosted international students at their home. Some of them struggled to pay for their education and had nowhere to turn. Thus, the idea to form SESA was born.

Through SESA, Sushi has supported numerous projects at GSG College in Umarkhed, India, at Ohio University, and in the broader Appalachian region, from endowing OU's Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy to ensuring students at GSG have Internet access, among dozens of other initiatives. Her vision is for SESA to become a force of economic change and cultural exchange between Umarkhed and Athens

Nicole Civita, JD, LLM

General Consultants

Yadaorao Raut

General Consultant

Medical Physician, Umarkhed

Secretary Yavatmal

Zilha Akhil Kunbi Samaj

Dr. Raut is a former farmer & owner of a farm managed by his son. He has received a Service Above Self Award from Rotary International for overseeing multiple major grant projects. As a physician, Dr. Raut has seen how the environment, diet, and other circumstances can negatively impact health. Some examples of these issues in his community are diabetes, death from over-exposure to pesticides, and mosquito-borne diseases.

Someshwar Vadrabade

General Consultant

Vice Principal
Gopikabai Sitaram Gwade Mahavidyalaya (GSG College)

Umarkhed, Maharashtra, India

​​As Vice Principal, Dr. Vadrabade guides the development of GSG College. He has worked closely with SESA for over eight years, implementing projects that transformed GSG College into a solar-powered, digital Wi-Fi campus and that engage international collaborations in education, food security research, and child health, among others. As a Professor of Physics with twenty-three years’ teaching experience, he strives to create a learning environment that stimulates students to undertake projects of social importance. He obtained his Masters in Physics and Ph.D. in Physical Science from Nagpur University. His areas of research include zeolites, nano materials, and biogas. He worked as a research fellow on the development of a biogas plant sponsored by the Government of India, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Sources. He is enthusiastic about the potential for biogas to be a source of energy in rural India and for manure, a biogas plant effluent, to help farmers regenerate the soil.

Instructional Technology Project 

Dr. Briju Thankachan

Instructional Technology Project Consultant

Dr. Briju Thankachan is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment Design and Improvement at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. As a certified Quality Matters peer reviewer, Dr. Thankachan designed online and hybrid courses for the School of Nursing at Ohio University. As an adjunct professor, he teaches Advanced Instructional Design and Technology Application in Education at the Patton College of Education.  In 2018, Dr. Thankachan served as the president of the International Division of Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) and is a certified trainer in Team-Based Learning (TBL).


Since 2014, Dr. Thankachan has been serving as a Technology Advisor to the Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande (GSG) College in Maharashtra, India. He took a major lead in implementing instructional technologies at GSG College including G Suite for education.

Counseling Project 

Yegan Pillay

Counseling Project Consultant

Associate Professor

Ohio University

Yegan Pillay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education and is the graduate chair in the Counselor Education Program at Ohio University.  He was the site principal investigator of a recently completed multi-state study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases ($523,498) which examined the treatment of depression in individuals diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. He is currently a member of a research team that was awarded a $1.35 million US Department of Health and Human Services grant to address the opioid crisis in rural Appalachia. He spent five weeks at GSG College assessing counseling services, interacting with faculty, students and community members, and providing resources for psychological support.  Yegan is committed to reducing the prevalence rate of suicide globally. He contributed the famer suicide component of the Maati-Paani-Asha Vision submission.

English as a Second Language Project

Greg Kessler

English as a Second Language Consultant

Greg Kessler is Professor of Instructional Technology at Ohio University. He has published extensively and delivered keynotes and featured talks around the world. He has won numerous teaching awards. His research addresses technology, teaching, learning, culture, and language with an emphasis on teacher preparation. He is currently editor of the CALICO Equinox book series, Advances in CALL Practice & Research, and the Language Teaching & Technology forum in the journal Language Learning & Technology.

Maati Paani Asha Project

Pronoy Rai

MPA Consultant
Assistant Professor | International and Global Studies

Portland State University, Oregon, USA 

Visiting Professor | Social Sciences

Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidyalaya (GSG College)

Umarkhed, Maharashtra, India

Pronoy been conducting fieldwork to obtain qualitative data for social geographic and development research in Umarkhed since Summer 2012. His research in the region has  resulted in the production of new knowledge about the politics of food access and changes in social relations in labor migrant home communities. He has published his research in major peer-reviewed journals and in his thesis (Ohio University) and dissertation (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).


Pronoy was drawn to collaborate on the Maati-Paani-Asha Vision because it brings together multiple local and international stakeholders and draws on an integrative approach to nurture a promising agro-ecological and social future that can be an inspiration for all developing regions of the world, which aligns well with his own personal and professional philosophy.


Pronoy has written sections of the proposal that describe current levels of food insecurity in Umarkhed and has provided information and information resources regarding Umarkhed’s characteristics and challenges.

Nicole Civita

MPA Consultant

Graduate Faculty & Sustainable Food Systems Specialization Lead

Masters of the Environment - University of Colorado - Boulder

Nicole is a food systems innovator, educator, ethicist and attorney. Her approach to studying and fostering change in and through the food system is grounded in systems thinking and stewardship, attentive to relationships of care and reciprocity, and framed by comprehensive law and policy knowledge. She has experience leading multi-stakeholder, community-based projects to support the development of vibrant and resilient place-based food systems and to propose systems-aware agri-food policies. Nicole’s recent scholarship and service identifies ethical values and explores dilemmas across the food chain, with particular attention to the well-being of workers, producers, their families and communities. Through this work, she produces ethical guidance, actionable policy and programmatic recommendations, and transparency-enhancing tools that enable nourishing, informed, and values-aligned choices about food. Nicole is nationally recognized for her work on food waste and conservation. She also advises food system actors of counsel to Handel Food Law, LLC and serves on the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council. Nicole holds an LL.M. in Agricultural and Food Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law, a J.D., magna cum laude, Order of the Coif, from the Georgetown University Law Center, and an A.B. in American Studies and Creative Writing from Columbia University. 

As a pracademic at CU Boulder and consultant to the Student & Education Support Association, Inc, Nicole has spearheaded the development of the Maati-Paani-Asha vision. The visioning process has renewed her own “asha” (hope) for agri-eco-social renewal -- especially in parts of the world that have done the least to accelerate the climate crisis yet stand to suffer the most if change remains a unidirectional force. 

Dhanraj Tayade

MPA Consultant
Professor and Head of Department of Zoology
Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidyalaya (GSG College)

Umarkhed, Maharashta, India

Dr. Tayade has taught Zoology for 31 years at GSG College and published over 80 research papers. He also has 20 years’ farming experience, including ploughing, sowing, cultivation, weed control, fertilization, pesticide usage, irrigation, farm labor management, yield storage management, and marketing strategies. He has knowledge of organic farming, organic pesticides, soil health boosting, livestock diseases, and related human diseases. Dr. Tayade is also a poet, singer, public speaker, and skilled communicator. Through his personal experiences, Dr. Tayade deeply understands the sorrows and problems of farmers in Umarkhed. He believes it is his social responsibility to extend a helping hand, and the Maati-Paani-Asha (MPA) project gives him an opportunity to do so. His vision is that, if the project is run efficiently, it will transform conditions in Umarkhed in an unbelievable way.

Working with College Trustee Yadaorao Raut and Vice Principal Someshwar Vadrabade, Dr. Tayade guides the development of the MPA Vision at GSG College. He meets regularly with the MPA team, meets with food system stakeholders in Umarkhed, and supervises student interviews of farmers, food preparers and other stakeholders. He is also guiding post-graduate Zoology students on a project studying the effect of diet on the mental and physical health of farmers and farm laborers in Umarkhed and nearby villages.

Betsy Briju

MPA Consultant


The Ohio State University Master Gardeners for Athens County

Betsy’s undergraduate degree enabled her to have a feel for what farmers go through as they plant a crop and wait for rain or wait for the rain to stop. That’s when she decided to be of help to Indian farmers whose livelihoods depend on rain or lack thereof. Although she earned her PhD in Plant Molecular Biology, her passion continues to lie in being a source of information and seeking creative ways to solve everyday problems of farmers. Currently she is an active Master Gardener Volunteer who serves as a link between the research university and the general gardening public. Being a link - is how she sees herself in the future. Betsy appreciates that this visioning process enables us to explore how to accomplish the task of helping farmers realize that they are not doomed, but will achieve success in farming even with the constraints they are facing now. Betsy helped formulate the part of the vision that aims at healthy food for the community by suggesting the involvement of women and the bartering of excess crops with neighbors. She also helped prepare the questionnaire for surveying farmers and homemakers. Being a resident of the US for about 14 years, but having been born and brought up in India, she adds cross-cultural perspective to the project.

Anjani Moro

MPA Consultant

Masters of the Environment - Sustainable Food Systems Candidate

University of Colorado - Boulder

Anjani values an economically viable food system that benefits both the social and environmental well-being of a community. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Health, and has experience in program planning, community engagement, and teaching. Recognizing that access and affordability of healthy food in a changing climate is at the heart of the problems she wishes to improve has led her to pursue a graduate degree in environmental studies with a specialization in sustainable food systems.  Her work on this project so far includes aiding in farmer survey translations and providing context for the current policy programs in place in the area. She envisions a promising future for her home country of India, and that drive leads her to participate in this project. 

Lauren Dunteman

MPA Consultant

Masters of the Environment - Sustainable Food Systems Candidate

University of Colorado - Boulder

Having grown up on a farm in the midwest, Lauren is passionate about connecting with the land, animals, and people of our food system. She is driven to inspire others to live with nature rather than extracting from it. Particularly passionate about empowering farmers to pursue regenerative farming models, she is currently studying Sustainable Food Systems through the Masters of the Environment graduate program at CU, Boulder. Her passion for improving soil health through regenerative agriculture stems from a desire to increase farmer independence and livelihood, ecosystem health, connection within our food system, future farming viability, and climate change resilience and mitigation. Her primary contribution to the vision has been creating surveys to gain stakeholder insight, especially amongst the impacted farmers in the region. Additionally, she has assisted with systems mapping and visual storytelling.

Joshua Yuen-Schat

MPA Consultant

Joshua is Indigenous to Taiwan, and he is from the Atayal tribe. His maternal grandfather is the first person to introduce, farm, and cultivate white peaches in Taiwan, with over fifty years of experience. From working in the fields to packaging and delivering the product directly to customers, Joshua has been immersed in the commodity chain processes of small-family agriculture systems since he was a child. His upbringing and heritage are the very foundation of his passion for working towards food justice and Indigenous food sovereignty. He wants to help build communities similar to his grandfather's, ones in which all stakeholders show a mutual understanding and respect for the relations to the environment, the land, and to one another. 

Water Project

Daniel Che

Water Project Consultant

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering (Water Resources) 

Ohio University

Danny’s background is in water resources engineering, both in academia and industry.  After completing his PhD at Arizona State University in 2015, he worked as a water resources engineer in a consulting firm.  He then joined Ohio University in 2016 as an assistant professor in water resources engineering.  His research uses a systems approach to tackle water resources problems. This is because water resources problems are very complex, interconnected, and overlapping. Water resources management considerations often involve water allocations, economic development, and environmental preservation. His research primarily involves developing optimization models for sustainable water resources solutions. 

Danny believes that water is so fundamental to our way of being that it is absolutely paramount to work with farmers in Umarkhed to develop sustainable practices when facing climate and drought crisis. 

Danny has conducted research projects on water resources sustainability from a systems approach in arid and semi-arid regions. He contributed information about Umarkhed’s water resources and forecasted the impact of climate change on water resources if they are not optimally managed.

Atif Haider

Water Project Consultant

Md “Atif” Ibne Haidar is a Graduate Research Assistant in Department of Civil Engineering at Ohio University.  His research interests are water resource engineering, hydrologic modeling, watershed management, flood and drought optimization.  In this project, Atif will be developing an integrated Simulation-Optimization Model to determine the optimal reservoir operation in far future climate change scenarios to ensure sustainable water supply in the Umarked region.  

Liz Myers

Water Project Consultant

Liz Myers is in her 4th year of an undergraduate civil engineering degree and is pursuing a minor in environmental and plant biology at Ohio University. She has research interests in environmental fields, specifically stream restoration and water management.  Her role in this project is to use hydrologic simulation model to examine the effects of the existence of reservoir in the region.  She will try to answer whether or not these reservoirs are helping or harming the region in regard to water resources sustainability.

Study Abroad

Brian Collins

Study Abroad Consultant

Associate Professor  

Ohio University

Study Abroad Consultant

Associate Professor  

Ohio University

Brian Collins is an Associate Professor at Ohio University and the Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy.  His specialties include  Hinduism, Buddhism, Comparative Religion, Theories of Religion and Religion in Asia.  Professor Collins has been a member of the Ohio University faculty since 2013. 

Brian Collins is an Associate Professor at Ohio University and the Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy.  His specialties include  Hinduism, Buddhism, Comparative Religion, Theories of Religion and Religion in Asia.  Professor Collins has been a member of the Ohio University faculty since 2013. 

Julie White

Study Abroad Consultant

Professor Center for Law, Justice and Culture

Ohio University

Julie Anne White is Associate Professor of Political Science and a core faculty in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Dr. White received her A.B. from Barnard College, Columbia University and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her primary training is in the field of political theory. Her work has focused specifically on the ethics and politics of care-work and she is the author of Democracy, Justice and the Welfare State: Reconstructing Public Care (Penn State, 2000) and contributor to Care Ethics and Political Theory (Oxford, 2015). Article length work has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Affilia, Law and Social Inquiry, and Gender and Politics.

She is the recipient of the University Professor Award, the College of Arts & Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award, the Grasselli Brown Teaching Award, as well as the Honors Tutorial College’s Outstanding Tutor and Outstanding Mentor Awards.

Courses she teaches include Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Introduction to Political Theory, Feminist Theory, Democratic Theory, and Ethics and Public Policy. She works with Dr. Brian Collins in Classics & World Religions to offer an India-based study abroad experience at the Gawande College.

SESA Interns

Charlie Linkenheil


Student and Education Support Association

Charlie has interned with SESA on and off since 2015. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs, a minor in Geography and a certificate in South Asian Languages & Civilizations. Charlie met Sumeeta in Hindi class in Boulder and was excited to get involved with GSG College. Over the years Charlie has helped with both SESA and GSG website content, written proposal summaries for potential project partners, assembled information for needs assessments, and helped with SESA and GSG media.


In 2016 Charlie visited GSG College in Umarkhed where he interacted with trustees, faculty and their families, helped students practice their English conversation skills, and enhanced his own Hindi-speaking skills. Charlie formed personal relationships with college students, faculty, and trustees, and soon became known as the happy fellow who never had any problems and enjoyed himself regardless the circumstances.


Charlie divides his time between managing a guesthouse and working as a backcountry ski guide in Northern Japan, exploring South Asia and the Himalayas, and relaxing with friends and family in Colorado. He loves to be on an adventure in the sunshine with a good book.