Student Spotlight on Sejal Shah
This month, we were honored to speak with Sejal Shah, current student in Loyola's M.Ed. in Montessori Education (Evergreen Pathway) program.
Born in India and raised in California, Sejal comes to the program with a unique professional background as a product manager in Silicon Valley! Below, we dive into her exploration of how to "bridge cultural preservation with cognitive development."
First, let’s introduce you to our readers.
I was born in India but spent my formative years in California, USA, after my parents immigrated when I was just a toddler. Growing up in America, my parents instilled a strong sense of responsibility and commitment to preserving our Indian heritage. They dedicated time to impart our rich culture and spirituality, ensuring we remained connected to our roots through our native Indian languages, Gujarati and Hindi.
As a proud multi-cultural and multi-lingual Indian-American, I am deeply passionate about cultural preservation, particularly through language. Currently, my husband and I are raising our five children in an environment immersed in our native language. Beyond my role as a parent, I am an advocate for bilingualism and multiculturalism within our South Asian Indian community. My commitment to this cause extends to my Montessori-inspired passion project turned small business, Bolo Bolo Baby.
You've mentioned your interest in the “intersection between early childhood education, business & technology.” Can you elaborate on that?
My professional world has been firmly rooted in Silicon Valley, where I've spent a decade in product management, crafting cutting-edge consumer-tech experiences for dynamic companies and startups. Simultaneously, my personal world is that of a busy mom who wholeheartedly believes in the power of hands-on learning, advocating for an environment in early childhood development where technology takes a back seat.
However, over the years, I've witnessed these seemingly contradicting worlds start to converge. As a tech leader, I acknowledge that technology is not going away; instead, it continues to evolve and impact various aspects of our lives. Technological progress has notably decreased accessibility gaps, fostering more equitable digital experiences across diverse domains.
I envision a future where technology plays a pivotal role in early childhood education. What if we could harness technology to provide personalized learning experiences for all abilities, while simultaneously supporting educators? Imagine a scenario where early childhood education mirrors the personalized recommendations and seamless journeys we experience in online shopping. I aim to enhance the Montessori approach by leveraging technology as a tool to empower educators and caretakers. My goal is to enrich the learning journey for all, extending Montessori methods beyond the classroom and seamlessly integrating them with technology.
Where are you now in your career, and what are some of your professional goals?
First and foremost, my focus is on personalized learning through technology. Combining my role as a product-tech leader with a deep commitment to Montessori education, I am excited about harnessing the power of technology to create personalized learning experiences for students.
Additionally, I strongly believe that bilingualism should take center stage in early childhood education, and the Montessori pedagogy provides a solid foundation for this. My vision involves advocating for optimized learning opportunities for English Language Learners, celebrating and embracing their bilingual identities. I aspire to engage in grassroots-level efforts, utilizing platforms like my small business, Bolo Bolo Baby, to encourage multicultural families to prioritize their native language. Beyond cultural preservation, through my studies at Loyola, I've uncovered the deep cognitive benefits that bilingualism offers for brain development. I aim for it to act as a catalyst, enabling me to further motivate bilingualism among parents and educators.
Finally, I am navigating my role in Montessori education beyond the classroom. I see a need for building longevity in Montessori practices and integrating modernization, including the incorporation of technology. My envisioned role is one where I bridge the gap between home and school environments to support educators, students, and families in achieving success. Through this, I aim to spread Dr. Montessori's vision of holistic education and contribute to the evolution of Montessori principles in contemporary contexts.
How is Loyola supporting your scholarly interest in Bilingualism/Language immersion?
For me, language has always been more than just a means of communication—it's the very foundation of culture, enabling the richer preservation of heritage and roots. My experiences growing up as an English Language Learner in the USA were marked by challenges—feeling a sense of disconnection at school, balancing cultural differences, and encountering a lack of cultural responsiveness in my academic journey.
The Loyola Master's program has been a transformative space, turning my personal experiences into a scholarly exploration. [It] has equipped me with the tools to deepen my research, broaden my perspective on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), equitability, and diversity, and unveil the cognitive benefits of bilingual learners over monolinguals. I've immersed my children in our native language at home, drawing on Montessori's oral and written concepts to create a framework for their bilingual development.
This approach, initially designed for my family, expanded to benefit the Indian-American community through bilingual learning products I designed in Gujarati and Hindi. Loyola's program has not only validated my mini-experiment but also provided me with the insights to bridge cultural preservation with cognitive development. As a result, I feel more poised to advocate for bilingual education in early childhood, particularly for English Language Learners.
How has Loyola impacted you, personally and/or professionally?
The Loyola master's program has expanded my understanding of creating equitable learning environments, with applications extending beyond the classroom to the workplace. The program has been transformative, helping me recognize and challenge my own biases. This newfound perspective benefits my role as a product leader, influencing how I approach problem-solving in technology solutions. As an educator, it equips me to better address the diverse needs of students and families. The value of learning from a diverse cohort has been immense, providing a 360-degree view into the Montessori landscape through the firsthand experiences of my peers.