As a first-generation Bangladeshi American, Jenn Pamela Chowdhury ’06 understands the high expectations for conventional success that immigrant parents hold for their children. At her father’s urging, Chowdhury planned to major in economics at Barnard, with an eye toward a career in banking.
“Being an immigrant daughter, there was an expectation from my parents that I would go into the sciences, academia, or law,” she says. “My parents wanted me to pursue the most viable career in order for me to earn a living.”
She did many of these things, earning a master’s degree in international relations, international human rights, and humanitarian assistance from New York University as well as the William J. Clinton Fellowship from the American India Foundation, which provided funding for nearly a year of work with a grassroots women’s rights NGO in India.
She attained leadership roles in public relations, communications, and nonprofit organizations, rising through the ranks despite feeling isolated in majority-white spaces.
“Ten years ago, I would have given you all the successes I’ve managed and the incredible benchmarks I’ve hit,” she says. “But as I look back, I’m aware of the tremendous amount of microaggressions I experienced when I was often the only woman of color on a team.”
Asked to describe herself, Chowdhury shifts the focus to her coaching business, the Aranya Project (formerly In Full Bloom Coaching). As an “embodied leadership” coach and healer, she devotes her time to “helping leaders of color access the freedom to become more self-aware and self-responsive.”
Aranya, the Sanskrit word for “abundance” and “forest,” encompasses Chowdhury’s desire to support BIPOC- and immigrant-identifying leaders. She aims to help them “feed the forest of their lives” so that they can help create and lead healthy communities.
Chowdhury facilitates these changes through a 12-week private coaching program, professional development workshops, and community events. She employs her skills as a woman of color who has walked a variety of career paths and draws on her experience as a certified meditation practitioner and Reiki Level II healer.
Since launching the business in 2020, she says, she has “helped more than 300 clients find their authentic voices, learn to embrace change and find safety within their bodies, alchemize their anger, shame, and resentment into sources of wisdom, listen and honor their deepest desires, and launch new initiatives, careers, projects, and much more.”
Chowdhury credits Barnard with helping her balance her filial responsibilities with her desire to learn more about herself. By meeting other Brown-identifying classmates who connected through their lived experience of being from immigrant families and exploring the curriculum’s Nine Ways of Knowing, Chowdhury found the path for her journey.
She was drawn to human rights after studying with political science professors Peter Juviler and Dennis Dalton and double-majoring in political science and the human rights interdisciplinary program. “My Barnard education gave me the opportunity to explore different paths and really opened my world to show me, and my parents, the value of a liberal arts education,” she says. “Barnard gave me a feeling of belonging."
“I understand the pressure experienced by high-achieving immigrant women or women of color expected to fit into a box of perfection,” she adds. “That experience informs many of our choices, including ones that we sometimes regret. Using the critical lens of my experience, I want to help others free themselves from those expectations.”