Students and Volunteer Coaches alike dedicate their time to preparing for the competition, an effort that resulted in about 50 students advancing to the MATHCOUNTS State Round last year, and another five that excelled in the National round.
With a greater number of dedicated students registering this year, NSF is excited to further its scope of accomplishments and achieve even greater successes.
Srinidhi: Tell us about your personal background. What were your younger years like?
Rao Chalasani : I was born and brought up in a small village in Andhra Pradesh and went to high school and college in a nearby town called Eluru. Service to society had become a strong imprint in my mind emanating from high school, heavily driven by theosophy with Ms. Anne Besant.
Srinidhi: What is your professional background?
Rao Chalasani : I came to the US in 1968 to study BS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Akron. I went on to finish MS in Chemical Engineering and another MS in Polymer Science. I worked as an engineer and a scientist for less than two years in research and production supervision jobs, then decided to move on to finance. I worked in various positions leading up to the Chief Investment Strategist in a Wall Street firm in Cleveland, Ohio. However, I later retired 13 years before normal retirement age to spend full time on NGO activities.
Srinidhi: What motivated you to become involved with the NSF foundation?
Rao Chalasani : Even before NSF, I had accumulated working knowledge in the rural supply chain in India and developing lasting leadership among the youth. I was one of the founders of TANA Foundation, produced over 100 television episodes in an entertainment format in Hindi and Telugu, and served as a Charter Member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE). My strength is getting everyone on the same page, and NSF was a natural extension for what I always did. Dr. Chitturi consulted me before starting NSF in 1989, and I have been following and working occasionally with NSF since its inception. NSF is an excellent organization in education mostly driven by volunteer work that is unparalleled.
Srinidhi: When you first became involved with NSF, what were your experiences like? What were your early responsibilities?
Rao Chalasani : My early responsibility as a Board member was to bring discipline and form where it was missing. Since NSF is an all volunteer organization with tremendous growth, there wasn’t enough time in the day to steer the energy and fully utilize the opportunities presented to the management. Although I stayed away from day to day operations, I paid attention to maximize the positives, minimize weaknesses, find ways to reduce stress on management and volunteers, and open seamless new avenues for growth and impact. The efforts of volunteers, management and Board are paying off. We have many opportunities ahead and they can indeed be fully explored for a better tomorrow.
Srinidhi: As you became more involved with NSF, how did your responsibilities and commitment to NSF grow?
Rao Chalasani : My commitment as a board member was the same from the beginning, but I voluntarily devoted more time and expanded substantially. Even after initial commitment was almost completed and financial reporting, technology, and organization structures were in place, within each category there were holes to be filled. What I take on myself is to expand operations in India by combining NSF flagship products and contests with personality development, leadership and service.
Srinidhi: Tell us a bit about JNV schools, its mission, and its success.
Rao Chalasani : There are 600 JNV high schools in India for 6th to 12th grades, with each district (except Tamilnadu) having one school. These schools are rural based and situated on a 30 acre plot. It was conceived and is fully funded by the Central Government with no out of pocket expense from students or their parents including tuition, hostel, uniform, shoes, sports etc. Admission into sixth grade is by merit. On site written tests are given every year to about two million students of which only fewer than forty thousand are admitted. Needless to say that rural/urban divide, social justice, gender equality, merit and need are addressed. 26% of the seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes & Tribes, girls are at least a third of the total, and 70% admitted have to be from rural schools. Holistic education is its motto. In 11th and 12th grades science, commerce etc. are given as special tracks to prepare students for higher education in their general area of choice. Teachers are certified with a minimum of a master’s degree, are required to be on campus with all facilities provided to them, and are paid more than the equivalents in state government schools.
Srinidhi: What led you to realize that JNV students were an excellent pool of potential NSF scholarships?
Rao Chalasani : Since NSF scholarships in India are primarily based on merit and also give some preference to rural/urban divide and gender equality, JNV schools fit the bill perfectly. It is much easier to go through NSF scholarship credential verification if the students are from JNV. This source greatly expands the pool of students seeking NSF scholarships for higher education.
Srinidhi: How were you aware of and connected to JNV? What pushed you to take the initiative on connecting JNV and NSF?
Rao Chalasani : The founder of Dakshana Foundation, Mr. Monish Pabrai, IIT alum and successful businessman with a good heart, made me aware of JNV schools and the hidden assets there. His info and encouragement was the starting point for me to explore JNV as the right avenue for NSF’s efforts. Size and scale were important factors for taking the NSF model to India. JNV offered both, giving us a footprint throughout all of India; the dream had etched in our minds. We did on site inspection and interacted with the principals and staff at three schools before confirming that we made the right choice. The scholarship team enthusiastically reviewed and endorsed JNV as the right avenue.
Srinidhi: How did you manage to make the connection between JNV and NSF a reality?
Rao Chalasani : Once everyone was on the same page, I accepted the responsibility to open the line of action. I went to work with a two-prong approach, opening dialogue with JNV management in Delhi as well as in Hyderabad. Second, I went to one school near Hyderabad. We offered our service for testing and I made a couple of presentations before they decided to open up to the possibility. Ms. Rekha Cherukuri, former Sacramento coordinator, graciously accepted to help us to carry on NSF contests in Hyderbad and JNV schools. Ms. Rekha's efforts paid off in Hyderabad and Rangareddy JNV schools where over 20 schools participated in science, spelling and math contests. After good feedback went to the top management from Rangareddy JNV, it made it easier for me to make a persuasive argument. We made a detailed MOU with JNV prepared by our scholarship and contest teams with input from the Board, and signed the MOU within months, earlier than one would expect knowing the complexity.
Srinidhi:After all, this is an ongoing process. How are you continuing to expand the NSF foundation?
Rao Chalasani : Sure, it is an ongoing process and although NSF has made many recent accomplishments, there are goals remaining to be achieved as well. The scope of what we can do in India is enormous. We have an opportunity to reach more than 250,000 students and help JNV to earn the reputation as the IIT of secondary education.
- We now have a permanent address and very nicely appointed headquarters in Hyderabad with a Boardroom and most facilities at a very modest cost.
- We shot a video in late 2009 in India, which is widely used now to familiarize our target audience about NSF.
- Last year we had only one center for regional contests in Hyderabad. This year we will have two centers and reach 50 schools beside JNV schools.
- We have added computer training to JNV students to run an intelligent office that runs for two months after school hours on campus at an unbelievable cost of about $5 per student.
- We conduct NSF Computer camps: highly creative programs that help students run an intelligent office, be a responsible citizen, improve communication skills and possess leadership qualities.
- In not too distant future we like to very selectively expand our contests to aspiring communities where our volunteers are enthusiastic and willing to chip in.
- As part of the holistic education, we hope to have organic vegetable gardens in two schools this academic year fed by organic compost derived from kitchen waste in the school to reduce kitchen bill substantially over a two year period.
- We need to open the window of sizable financial contributions from corporations, foundations or individuals.
- Alumni activities need to be put in place to recruit more volunteers, improve visibility, and begin mentor programs and a channel for fund raising.
Srinidhi:Lastly, what is your message to our readers?
Rao Chalasani : NSF has achieved a lot and is its own class of exemplary volunteer sweat monetized for the greater good. Empathy, a good heart and determination coupled with good planning can achieve a lot. Don't let any short-term disappointments bother you. They are the lessons to build a bigger and better organization. There is every reason for us to be elated. But there is no stopping because there is lot more on the anvil to achieve. Recognize that you are part of an organization that has matured and its goodwill is lot higher than we give credit for. Our intangibles are so strong that tangibles should follow, provided we properly plan and execute. The Board is hard at work just like you. Holiday season is upon us as we race towards Thanksgiving. We have every reason to celebrate and have a lot to aspire for.
Chapter coordinators in India have been busy scrutinizing applications and interviewing candidates for this academic year’s (2011-12) scholarships. NSF Scholarships team is also piloting an on-line application process to be able to reach out to more students and stream-line the process.
We are always looking for help and wish to expand our team. If you are interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NSF India Scholarship Team
Since NSF is an organization run entirely by volunteers, the volunteer team consists of many hard working adults who devote a great portion of their time in order to make NSF events a reality.
However, this year, NSF has expanded even further. One of the significant highlights of the NSF Finals 2011 is the record number of youth volunteers from the Bay area high schools. Some of the youth led a few teams and showed their leadership skills.
During the NSF finals, more than fifty teenagers were helping out as room guides, food servers, and graders. Two other teen volunteers, Shrinidhi Thirumalai and Ranjani Gunupudi, gathered, organized, and assigned the volunteer shifts. Furthermore, another high school volunteer, Ramya Auroprem, helped immensely by devoting a great portion of her sophomore year summer to compose the NSF 2011 Bee book, an accomplishment greatly appreciated by NSF. NSF continues to be grateful for the time of its volunteers and hopes to expand its youth volunteer program in future.
Syamantak Payra, 10 yrs
Sit in my chair, look around.
Mind glances back. Long days spent studying.
So many word lists… Will my hard work pay off?
Think furiously. What word will I get?
Heart pounds, I shudder seeing spellers go off the stage.
My turn. Mind is screaming.
I nervously walk up to the microphone.
Knuckles turn white. I can’t bear the suspense any longer.
Word is asked. I am speechless.
Dreading this moment, fear drives me on.
I think it over. Slowly, carefully.
Use what I know to piece it together.
I spell out each syllable with clarity.
Done. I stare. Heart stops beating.
Nothing goes to my ears, except
“WE HAVE A CHAMPION!”
I did it!!
MY FRIENDSHIP TREE
Syamantak Payra, 10 yrs
There is an old tree by my yard,
That I can see save but a shard,
I feel at peace to know it is there,
And my feelings with the tree I share.
In times of sorrow, when I glance
At that old tree, on its grassy expanse,
I fall into a happy trance,
As the tree performs its own rain-dance.
In times of bleakness, when I look,
My heart remembers my life’s old book
And a spark stirs up inside of me,
Of confidence and hope and glee.
In times of anguish when I go
To that old tree, time worn for long,
In my calm boat I row and row,
And sing my life’s own happy song.
On days of happiness, when I run out
To my friendship tree, so prudent and kind,
It feels my joy and spreads it about
It’s countless branches with a blissful mind.
That old tree has seen so much,
2012 National Finals will be held on August 18th and 19th at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI