Celebrating Jaspal Sandhu: 5 Years at the Fung Fellowship

On turning a bold vision into reality, taking risks, and creating an undergraduate program that nurtures personal growth and innovation

Jaspal Sandhu is a faculty member in Maternal Child & Adolescent Health at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and served as the Fung Fellowship’s faculty lead from 2016–21. Outside of UC Berkeley, Jaspal is a managing partner at Gobee Group, a global health social impact design consulting firm.

Under Jaspal’s leadership, the Fung Fellowship became established as one of the first undergraduate discovery education programs at UC Berkeley. As faculty lead, he was responsible for building the curriculum, embedding experiential learning into the program, and bringing community into the classroom. As he transitions out of his role as faculty lead at the fellowship, he shares his reflections on the past five years and will be exploring how art and futures thinking can help us build a better tomorrow.

Adrienne Greer and Jaspal Sandhu at Fung Fellowship Boot Camp, August 2019.

Your journey at the fellowship started in 2016 as one of the founding members of the team. What enticed you to come to take on the position as faculty lead at the fellowship?

In late spring 2016, I got a call from Dean Stef Bertozzi about starting this program. I declined — more than once — but Stef was persistent and persuasive. He helped me recognize the power in the mission that the fellowship’s founder, Coleman Fung, laid out — particularly the ability to rethink and experiment with optimizing undergraduate education at the intersection of health and tech. I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I was intrigued by the possibility of joining a team where I could leverage my expertise in human-centered design (HCD), health, and technology to do something new in redefining the undergraduate experience.

When you look back at the past five years as the faculty lead at the Fung Fellowship, what are you most proud of?

I am proud that the program still exists today! This program did start as an experiment, so it wasn’t clear that it would last this many years, let alone become institutionalized. Thanks to the incredible team and the students, the fellowship is now a permanent fixture at the Fung Institute and a distinguished UC Berkeley program. I’d like to give a special shoutout to Jennifer Mangold, Adrienne Greer, and Joni Rubin for supporting the creation of this program, our hardworking GSIs — Bina Patel Shrimali, Rohit Raghavan, Orianna Demasi, Surya Sendyl, Katie Judson, Mariela Herrick, Carolyn Gezon, Jack Kerby-Miller — who helped mold this program, and Ashley Villanueva and her marketing team for being integral in helping our program grow to where it is today.

Left-Right: Jaspal Sandhu, Adrienne Greer (Program Manager), and Jennifer Mangold (Director), May 2018. Photo by James Wang

The fellowship isn’t just a few courses — it is an experience that helps students with potential create the trajectory they want to follow. When we see how alumni two to three years down the line thrive with their respective passions, we know our program has done its job.

“The Fung Fellowship became a central community for me at Berkeley. It is easy to feel lost in such a big university at Berkeley. As part of the Fung Fellowship, I felt a part of something where I was supported and cared for. With any help or resource I needed, the Fung Fellowship was there every step of the way to help me. The faculty is committed to supporting the fellows and creating an environment where learning, creativity, and connectedness are fostered.” — Yasmeen Faisal, B.A. Psychology and Music, UC Berkeley Class of 2020

Can you tell us more about your work outside the fellowship?

At Gobee, we’ve made strides in using design to work on substantive, unresolved societal challenges. We just wrapped up three years of work with Reimagine Lab, a partnership with Blue Shield of California as an incubator-accelerator for innovation in domestic violence prevention. Three ventures — Anti-Violence Ventures, History Reimagined, and Influencers4Justice — emerged from this process, and we’re excited to report that these three have already secured $1.5 million in funding in 2021.

With the Wallace Center at the Berkeley School of Public Health, my Doula Futures team is engaging community doulas from across the United States to envision equitable futures for pregnancy and childbirth, including the possibilities for technology.

Right now I am developing a new course called The Art of Public Health for spring 2022 with Somalee Banerjee, my former graduate design student. Somalee is a painter with her own studio practice, an internal medicine physician, and a nationwide expert in the medical humanities. The course is intended for both undergraduate and graduate students. It explores the role of artists in shaping the health of communities, justice, equity, and sustainability.

“Jaspal always instilled in us that we were more than our major. He would expose us to different issues in the world of public health and emphasized a call to action of empathy. As an undergraduate, this not only allowed me to think outside of my comfort zone but allowed me to ideate and problem solve with* people and not just for* people.” — Anna Cardenas, B.A. Cognitive Science and Computer Science, UC Berkeley Class of 2018

What would you say to a student who is unsure of how discovery education might benefit their career?

There are many different opportunities out there at a place like Cal, and people want to know the value they are getting out of them. However, in a discovery program like this one, the most interesting bits are in the unknown. The magic comes from diving into this experience with faith that it will be a worthwhile adventure.

I’d encourage students to look at the stories and profiles to get a glimpse into how this program has impacted those who have participated in it. These stories capture how alumni have achieved fulfillment — maybe it’s a technical skill, a departure from a previous mindset, conflict resolution, or teamwork. Most academic curricula are traditionally set up for individual performance and success, with collaboration as a supporting element. Since our program revolves around the opposite — collective success and performance — it creates a unique opportunity to gain value in unexpected ways.

“Jaspal was always there to support us and grounded us in unlocking our imagination.” — Javier Chen, B.A. Sociology and B.S Environmental Science, UC Berkeley Class of 2017.

What are some notable changes in the curriculum and program with the growth from 45 to 140+ fellows during your tenure?

The credit for the growth in the number of students over the last few years definitely goes to Adrienne, Jennifer, and the Fung Institute staff! I supported creating the infrastructure for the program, but the overall Fung Institute community grew it to where it is today. In regards to the curriculum, it has evolved from the beginning through much trial and error. The first and second cohorts played a critical role in shaping and defining the program, allowing us to integrate interdisciplinary aspects and flexibility throughout the curriculum.

Fellows Meera Ramesh (far left) and Nseke Ngilbus (far right) speak with Jaspal Sandhu and Jennifer Mangold at Fung Fellows Bootcamp, August 2019.

“Jaspal has had a profound impact on my education and my career because he made me feel like I belonged. There were many intersectional self-doubt struggles that I dealt with. Jaspal was very caring and intentional in understanding my situation. He constantly encouraged me and gave me the support that I needed at the time. He was a teacher and a coach to me. From a design perspective, he was there to push me and encourage me to dig deeper.”— Nseke Ngilbus, UC Berkeley Class of 2022, Jr UX Designer at RepresentEd.

What lessons (or takeaways) have you learned from launching this program and witnessing its impact?

My biggest takeaways from this program are the stories and relationships with the team and students. I’ve been able to stay connected with students three to four years out of the program, and reminiscing about the memories we’ve made evokes a variety of emotions that will stay with me for years to come. I’ve also learned how important it is to have a bold vision, which Coleman Fung had, and the flexibility and freedom to create something from scratch. There is so much value in intentionally slowing down to curate a program, to experiment with it, and to build an experience with impact and meaning.

Retreat with the inaugural Fung Fellowship cohort, Walker Creek Ranch, Petaluma, California, January 2018.

“Jaspal was such a wonderful instructor from my time as a Fung Fellow when we learned all about technology, healthcare, and human-centered design. He approached teaching in a unique way that got me to critically think and take the time to discuss with my peers the topic at hand, allowing me to gain confidence in team activities. Jaspal and the Fung Fellowship have significantly impacted my career by showing me the ways to promote learning, risk-taking, and teamwork more than examinations and grades, with the former being much more prevalent in the real world. It made me push past my comfort zone and improve how I work in a team-based environment that will stay with me forever. I am grateful for all that I learned from Jaspal and the Fung Fellowship!” — Miko Fogarty, B.A. Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley Class of 2020

What advice would you give to a future leader to be successful in their career?

The two most important principles to achieve that success — in the right ways — are:

  1. Surround yourself with the right people
  2. Be willing to listen to what others have to say

When you connect with people of different backgrounds, mindsets, and skill sets, it gives you perspective while helping to prioritize what you think is important. When you are willing to listen to what people around you have to say, you cultivate an environment that nurtures personal growth in which people are comfortable taking risks.

Fellows visit Hopelab to explore technology and its role in addressing college loneliness, San Francisco, March 2019. Pictured from Hopelab: Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, Denise Ho, Lionel Ramazzini, and CEO Margaret Laws (center).

“When you are willing to listen to what people around you have to say, you cultivate an environment that nurtures personal growth in which people are comfortable taking risks.”

“Jaspal has inspired me to be an agent of change and a creator of innovative solutions to health challenges… I am grateful for his mentorship and selfless style of leadership, which allowed me to realize my strength and capacity to transform the world.” — James Tayali, B.A. Public Health, UC Berkeley Class of 2017, Founder of Keki-Mawe Inc.

Connect with Jaspal Sandhu.

Edited by Shivani Lamba and Nick Yang.

The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱