Nandini Sharma

In high school, Nandini Sharma loved participating in Model United Nations (MUN) so much, she wondered how she could reproduce the experience in her everyday life. Her first step was to enroll at UC Irvine and major in international studies and French. The impressive senior will graduate this spring after completing her double-major in just three years.

From Rajasthan to the Bay

Growing up, Sharma moved around a lot for her father’s work in software development. Born in Rajasthan, India, she relocated to the Bay Area at age four, moved to Delhi at seven, and later lived in Frankfurt and Tokyo before her family settled in the Bay Area again when she began high school.

Her international upbringing is where she developed her love of languages and international studies. In addition to English and French (both are official languages of the UN), Sharma is fluent in Hindi. Instead of finding the frequent moving challenging, she embraced it.

“Honestly, it was kind of nice to move around and keep meeting new people. I liked figuring out a new city every couple of years,” she says. “You need to know the world to be able to connect with it.”

Although they may not have moved as much as she did, Sharma says that many of her fellow Anteaters understand the immigrant experience.

“A lot of us have moved from our home country for a better education,” she says. “I’m grateful for my parents. They’ve had to deal with a lot so that I can study here.” 

Reporting to research

When Sharma first arrived at UCI, she considered becoming a foreign correspondent. At New University, UCI’s student-run newspaper, she wrote opinion pieces that mostly focused on global politics. While she really enjoyed her foray into journalism, she realized what she enjoyed the most was the research.

“I found I wanted to dig deeper and take on bigger projects,” she says.

Sharma was able to accomplish this by conducting research for a non-profit organization specializing in green and sustainable business practices. She also worked as a research assistant for global and international studies assistant professor Vibhuti Ramachandran. These experiences confirmed Sharma’s decision to pursue research as her path forward.

Sharma is currently working on her honors thesis about the rise of the environmental refugee crisis and the lack of an international response to the problem. Specifically, she's studying international law on refugees to understand why those affected by environmental disasters aren't being recognized.

Professor and chair of the Department of Global and International Studies Eve Darian-Smith is Sharma’s honors thesis advisor.  

“She is an extremely admirable and ethical person who seeks to develop solutions to some of the pressing global issues of our times, with the surge in migration being at the forefront of her concerns. She is a very intellectually curious person. This comes through in her honors thesis research,” says Darian-Smith.

Beyond borders

At UCI, MUN continues to be a part of Sharma’s life. As part of UCIMUN, she has helped organize and host conferences for high school students on campus. This year, she holds the title of Under Secretary-General of Special Committees, where she has helped structure the conference and contributed research for student debates.

Contributing to the MUN research and taking diplomacy courses when she studied abroad in Paris inspired Sharma to participate in UTeach, a UCI program that enables students to research, design, and teach their own seminars. Sharma is teaching a 1-unit freshman seminar about the history of treaties this spring.

“I feel like when you study international relations, a lot of focus is put on the consequences of the treaties rather than how they occurred. I wanted to go behind the scenes and teach students about the skills behind diplomacy,” she says.

Sharma is also very active in student government. She represented the freshman class and the School of Humanities in ASUCI’s Senate. She also served as the Academic Advocacy Co-Director for ASUCI.

“I really loved being in student government. Students have numerous needs on campus. I'm thankful for the opportunity to address them. Plus, I found the best community and some of my best friends there,” she says.

Sharma’s involvement in student government has given her valuable experience and confirmed her interest in diplomacy.

“Speaking up in a big room was scary,” she says. “I learned how to advocate for myself. It really set the stage for my being interested in diplomacy and advocacy research.”

The road ahead

This fall, Sharma will be enrolling at Johns Hopkins to complete an MA in international relations. After her master’s degree, she hopes to work for non-profits before eventually pursuing a Ph.D.

“I'm really excited to go to grad school. The research opportunities that I've had at UCI have prepared me to attend the rigorous program that lies ahead,” she says.  

Darian-Smith describes Sharma as “persistent” and “committed.” Given these qualities and the experience she’s already gained, it wouldn't be a surprise to one day see her working at the UN.

-Jill Kato for UCI Social Sciences

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