Newsletter: April - 2013


Dear NSF families,

The end of April is rapidly approaching, and the NSF regional contests are coming to a close. We would like to congratulate all the participants for
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their hard work, and wish you all the best luck for your future. Not only is each of you improving your own education, but also combating poverty by funding the education of India's students in need.

As you may already know, 2013 is the year of Swami Vivekananda's 150th birth anniversary. Swami Vivekananda said that a man's duty is to help mankind in the best way he can, and at NSF, we have done our best to convert his advice into our reality. In order to honor Swami Vivekananda's contributions to the east and the west, a Swami Vivekananda themed essay and art competition was recently conducted by the NSF Denver chapter. The Denver chapter received several very inspiring entries. These entries will be published in a book being compiled by the Denver chapter.

Lastly, as part of NSF's ongoing series of inspiring stories from NSF Youth, this newsletter showcases an essay by Mihir Nene. We also have an interview with Kaamya Varagur, an
NSF youngster who scored a perfect 2400 in SAT. We hope you will find these articles and essays motivational, and encourage you to contribute to the NSF activities in your own ways. To parents and students alike, we hope you had a fantastic season and wish you the best of luck as you finish up your 2012-2013 school year!

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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Even though many of NSF's Bees end with middle school, knowledge gained from participating can also help with taking the SATs in high school. Kaamya Varagur, a former NSF participant and currently a high school junior, scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT. She shared her experiences with Dr.Madhav Durbha from the NSF newsletter team.

Madhav: Kaamya! Congratulations on your SAT score of 2400/2400. Quite an accomplishment! I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me!
Kaamya: Thank you! I was so excited to learn that you wanted to interview me.

Madhav: What can you tell our readers about yourself?
Kaamya: Well, I'm a junior at J.P Stevens High School in Edison, NJ. I'm an honors student, and my favorite subject is Biology. Science is really important to me, and I think my extracurricular involvement reflects my interest in the subject. I am the Vice President of my school's Science League, and I participate in many other activities including Science Olympiad, Science Bowl, Knowledge Masters, and Waksman Student Scholars, and my school's genetic research team. I'm also heavily involved in my school's music department as the choir secretary and a member of the chamber choir, because if there's anything in my life that I enjoy as much as science, it's singing.

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Madhav: Very interesting background. Coming to your SAT journey, when did you start preparing for SAT?
Kaamya: I started seriously preparing for the SAT in June at the end of my sophomore year. I had taken the SAT's earlier once in middle school, like many of my classmates, as a practice, to qualify for the Johns Hopkins CTY (Center for Talented Youth) program, but I don't consider this part of my preparation for the actual SAT.

Madhav: How did you prepare? Did you take any coaching?
Kaamya: I prepared mainly through tutoring sessions with a private tutor(not affiliated with any company). I heard about her through a family friend, whose son was also tutored by her. I visited my tutor once a week for an hour and a half, and each week I was assigned four or five reading and writing sections for homework (I only received tutoring for the English sections, as I was already confident in my math abilities). During tutoring sessions, I reviewed my homework sections, and as I came across any unfamiliar vocabulary, my tutor would write down new words, so I could learn their definitions before our next meeting.

Madhav: How many hours a week did you study for the SAT?
Kaamya: I probably spent around four or five hours a week studying for the SAT, including my tutoring time. The time I spent studying mostly consisted of actually finishing the timed homework sections, and occasionally reviewing any vocabulary lists I received from my tutor.

Madhav: Did you use any special study techniques? Any tips or tricks you can share with our readers?
Kaamya: Throughout sophomore and junior year, I've noticed a lot of my friends carrying around SAT vocabulary books, flashcards, and study aids. Although these may help some people prepare, I found that I already knew much of the necessary vocabulary from books I had read. I also found it easier to identify all of the sentence errors in the writing section because I understood how English should flow, from all the reading I have done. If you can expand your reading list, chances are, you'll be able to save on test prep aids.

Madhav: Any recommended readings / books for those aspiring for a perfect SAT score?
Kaamya: If you do find yourself at a loss when it comes to vocabulary, there are definitely ways to improve. I signed up for an account at vocabulary.com for some time, where you can learn a word of the day and take endless quizzes. I actually found the quizzes to be extremely helpful. I would also recommend reading some novels, like Of Mice and Men or The Great Gatsby, that can be used as examples for a wide variety of SAT essay topics. Having examples prepared makes the essay writing process much easier, especially under pressure. Finally, Quizlet.com has a helpful idiom guide to help you catch all of those pesky idiom errors on the writing section.

Madhav: Did you ever anticipate a perfect SAT score as you were preparing? If yes, at what point did you realize you may be able to get a perfect score?
Kaamya: I did, in the back of my mind, realize that getting a perfect score was within my reach. During my first tutoring session, I actually got a perfect score on a practice test, but I kept going to tutoring sessions for two reasons: first, tutoring built up my confidence, because I learned some new vocabulary, and I saw that I could get the same scores consistently. Secondly, my tutor imposed deadlines on my practice packets, which forced me to do the work. If I hadn't had a tutor, my biggest problem would be my tendency to procrastinate, because I certainly wouldn't have finished 4-5 packets a week, let alone thought about preparing for the SATs five months before the test.

Madhav: What role did your family play in your SAT prep?
Kaamya: My parents' greatest contribution was raising me in a way that I came to appreciate learning and education in general. From a young age my mom set the bar high, and encouraged my sister and me to succeed at everything we did. My dad used to read with me at night; his bedtime stories exposed me to excerpts from great epics. We still watch Jeopardy together every day and answer most of the questions correctly. Small things like these set me up with a great deal of general knowledge and knowledge of literature, which I think contributed immensely to my SAT success.

Madhav: What are your hobbies? What do you do in spare time?
Kaamya: As I mentioned before, I love to sing. I sing Indian Carnatic music as well as western classical music and opera, but I also enjoy listening and singing along to pop. I also love playing tennis, both on and off my school's team, and running. Most of all, I love spending time with my friends, which is always my most trusted mode of stress relief after a hectic school week.

Madhav: What are your future plans? What next?
Kaamya: I hope to take my love for biology and turn it into a career, perhaps in medicine. I am quite interested in neuroscience, so I am seriously considering a career in neurology. In any case, I plan on majoring in cell biology or neuroscience in college, and then proceeding from there.

Madhav: Where do you see yourself in, say, fifteen years from now?
Kaamya: I want to be a successful neurosurgeon in a hospital somewhere on the east coast. Hopefully, I'll be close to finishing my surgical residency by then, which I hear can last about 8 years. If not a neurosurgeon, perhaps I will be a medical researcher in the field of neurology.

Madhav: Tell us about your association with NSF.
Kaamya: I have been participating in NSF's educational contests since first grade, including the regional and national math bee, vocabulary bee, and spelling bee, and I participated in the brain bee last summer, placing in the top ten. NSF is important to me, because in preparing for the contests, I learned some very important vocabulary and other skills that eventually came in handy in school, and on the SAT. Aside from the content of the competitions themselves, I also learned valuable life skills such as the ability to study and focus for long periods of time by studying for the NSF contests. My parents were NSF volunteers for quite some time and I'm so glad to know that the work that NSF does helps to fund students' college educations in India.

Madhav: Any words of wisdom for our young readers and parents?
Kaamya: Don't stress out about SATs. While test scores are important, they do not make or break your chances of getting into your top choices for college, and do not affect your future as much as you may think they do. While it's important to prepare for standardized tests, be sure to focus on building other areas of your resume as well, such as involvement in extracurricular activities. I know many people who started going to SAT tutoring much earlier than I did, and in the end it comes down to how prepared you think you are at the beginning of your SAT preparation. No matter what your skill level is, I believe that tutoring specifically for SAT skills should only begin during your sophomore year of high school, at the earliest. As long as you are willing to put in the necessary effort during the months that you go to tutoring, you don't need to start preparing years in advance.

Madhav: Kaamya! On behalf of NSF and our readers, I would like to thank you for your participation!
Kaamya: It was my pleasure; thank you for having me!

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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NSF has organized another successful year of its APNA India Ambassadors program, which providesan excellent opportunity for high school students from the US to volunteer in India. Mihir Nene shares his experiences below.
For additional details about NSF's APNA program, please visit http://northsouth.org/app11/Others/YourProgramsAPNA
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The rickshaw groaned to a halt, its motor puttered, and my mom paid the fare. As I pulled myself out of the vehicle, I was met by an onslaught of fat raindrops. I dragged my sodden shoes through the main gate. The monsoon rain had turned the field into a pool of slick mud. I was struck by how much the kids were enjoying frolicking on the mucky field. My mom and I made our way into the principal's office. We took off our shoes and wiped our feet, as is Indian custom. It is easy to see the reason behind this custom; unlike the rest of the school, the floor of the principal's office was comparatively clean. Since the principal hadn't arrived yet, my gaze began to wander. The principal's desk was a worn, wooden one. The cheery yellow paint was peeling. There was a single computer in the room. It was clear that VB Gogate was not an extremely well financed school. My mom had told me that only extremely poor children go to public, or as they call them, corporation schools. This was in stark contrast to my public school, which at that moment seemed so lavish and immaculate. In the past, I had had the opportunity to spend a day in a private school in India, where children from the upper-middle class study. The public schools here in America surpass even that.
My reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the principal, Mr. Giri. We learned that we had to get a permission form the Pune Municipal School Superintendent. He provided us with a number and we took another auto back home to my grandma's house. We called the superintendent and scheduled an appointment for the very next day. She had asked for us to bring a lesson plan with us. That night my mom and I visited a nearby Internet cafe, since my grandmother did not have a computer. The Internet cafe was a cramped little room with a dozen computers and an Internet connection. I created a lesson plan based on the NSF guidelines and printed a copy. The next day my mother and I took an auto rickshaw to the Superintendent's office. Her office was very far away from where my grandmother lives in the heart of the city. We received permission and visited the school the next day. After speaking to the principal and the teacher, it was agreed that I would receive a 90-minute block in which to teach the sixth and seventh graders. That night I spent several hours sitting at the heavy glass dining div, writing up an elaborate lesson plan to use on Monday. I stayed up very late writing and revising the plan. The following morning, I felt well prepared to teach class. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

When I walked into the classroom the teacher was still teaching so I sat down at an empty desk. A few heads turned in my direction, but no one made a noise. I thought to myself, "By God, these are the most well behaved students I have ever seen." The teacher announced my name and told the students what I was there to do. The teacher left the classroom and all hell broke loose. It was as if someone had torn down a dam holding back a terrible din. Everyone was screaming and shouting and running around. Pens and papers became airborne. Never had I seen such chaos in a single room. My pleas for silence were drowned out by sheer incomprehensible noise. Finally I raised my voice to a tone I rarely use, and at the top of my lungs yelled, "STOP." The madness subsided and my mom lectured the kids about respect and discipline. Then I understood what teachers had to deal with. After all of that, I finally started teaching the day's lesson. I had chosen to teach about Greek and Latin root words. I had planned to review about 20 roots.

Five minutes into class I realized that that was not going to happen. I had clearly expected too much of these kids. I decided to talk about. It was not difficult to distinguish the brighter, more interested kids from the others. For example, one of the students, Tushar, was very fond of answering questions. He would even pretend he hadn't answered so that he could answer again. After class, my mom and I spoke to the teacher. She told us about how the students come from very poor households. Some of the students are orphans and others' parents are drunks. It was all very sad to hear. She also told us that this was the school's first English Medium batch. There wasn't enough money to hire two teachers so the sixth and seventh grades had been combined. The next day I shortened my lesson plan and tried to conduct a majority of the class in Marathi, I thought that maybe the kids didn't understand my accent. I came up with a team game to review the previous day's material. We played that at the beginning of class. The kids would be divided into three teams and then each team would receive a root word. Their goal was to write as many words that used the given root in 5 minutes. The kids enjoyed the game very much. Then I taught them about prefixes. Just like I could tell which students were genuinely interested, I could also tell which ones weren't. One girl was staring out of the window when I asked her what "prejudice" meant.

After breaking down the word and trying to teach her what "judge" meant, we thought she understood. To give an example of what a judge is, I named a popular law and order show in India called "Adaalat." When I asked her what it meant again she told me "TV." The day after that, we played the same game, only instead of using three root words, we used three prefixes. Then we studied suffixes. The following day, we played the game using suffixes. Then I taught the kids about number roots. I tried to use the Olympics and events such as decathlons as examples, but I soon learned that the kids for the most part did not watch the Olympics and followed few sports, other than cricket. The kids invited me to stay and watch their schools "Dai Hundi," which is in celebration of Janmashtami. The students tried to make a human pyramid in the muddy field and break a clay pot hanging from a rope. On top of all of that, the staff sprayed the participants with a hose. Having an event like this in an American school is not something we can imagine. The enthusiasm was great. It was fun watching it. No matter how many times they fell down, the kids got up and tried again. Friday was a school holiday for Janmashtami. I went out with my grandma and bought two books to give as prizes to the winners of Saturday's mock vocabulary bee. Then I went to the Internet cafe and made the written part of the vocabulary bee. Saturday, I hosted a mock vocabulary bee. I designed the bee just like the NSF ones I used to participate in. The first phase was written, and the top 5 from that moved on to the second round. The first round ran without a hitch. The second round, which was verbal, didn't run quite as smoothly as I had hoped. In the end, no one won, and I gave the two books as a parting gift to the entire class.

When I first learned that I couldn't teach at JNV I was disappointed. In hindsight, I appreciate that JNV was too far to go to. I also am glad - I know it sounds strange - that I was ill right after arriving in India. If it weren't for these factors, I probably would have taught at JNV. I appreciate that instead of teaching at JNV, a boarding school for which students take an entrance exam, I taught at VB Gogate, a regular public school for average students. JNV receives donations from many non-profit organizations. They can afford a teacher for each grade. VB Gogate couldn't. If I had taught at JNV, I would have come away with a false impression of underprivileged students. The students at JNV may be underprivileged, but they certainly aren't average. They are brilliant students from rural areas selected through testing. This is different from VB Gogate, a school where you get a whole spectrum of students. Many students there come to school just for the food that they get. This experience really opened my eyes. This is one of the things I had hoped to achieve from the program. I also fulfilled several other goals that I had hoped to meet with this program. This program created a window into the world of teachers for me. I would like to thank NSF and its tireless volunteers who made this wonderful ambassador program possible. In the future I would like to participate in this program at a JNV school to see the progress I am sure NSF has made.

Mihir Nene
NSF Youth Ambassador
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Nathan Somavarapu is a senior at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, CA. In this article, he shares his experiences with raising money for NSF, for his Boy Scouts' Eagle Scout project.

Though there are thousands of different organizations one can donate to, I felt that NSF is one of the most deserving. When asked why, the answer came almost immediately – NSF's dedication to educating poor people in India. I believe that education is salvation; with education one can clear many obstacles and achieve goals considered impossible.

I was fortunate to have a grandpa who considered education as the best gift one can give others. He supported many individuals through college education with his own funds when he found out they were meritorious students without means to go to college. All he asked in return was that the beneficiaries of his generosity help others in need. He hoped that the cycle would continue to help poor merit students in the community. While my grandpa is no more, I wanted to fulfill his wish, and found a perfect opportunity to do that through NSF.

I was able to raise money by requesting donations to NSF instead of receiving personal gifts at my Eagle Scout Court of Honor. I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the people and the support I have received for my cause. I am so glad to know that four individuals can get college education for a year with the funds I have collected. I believe that all of us have a responsibility to help others in need. I encourage others to find ways to help those in need. You can do that by getting involved in your local chapter of the NSF organization as your support and funds raised at the local level helps NSF help more needy students in India.

I am impressed by the work NSF has done for many years and hope it will continue to do so in the future with help from all of us. I have been an NSF participant and volunteer for the last two years and will continue to support their efforts in the future. Thanks to Dr. Chitturi for creating such a wonderful organization that is changing so many lives.
Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Team Member
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"Here's how this works. If he spells this word correctly, that does not necessarily make him the winner. He will be given another word. If he spells that word correctly as well, he wins the bee and the $1000." The enunciator smiles up at me. "Your word is 'numismatic'." At the very same bee, last year, I was eliminated on this word. And nobody forgets his or her missed word, so I quickly rattle off :numismatic". It is my chance to win. I close my eyes, and begin praying: "Get me an easy word, get me an easy word..."And then, the word: "emeritus". Everything in the room suddenly becomes sharper, as if the scene had switched to high definition. I hadn't spelled it yet, but I knew that I had won. I do not hesitate to spell: "E-M-E-R-I-T-U-S, emeritus?""Congratulations. You are the winner."I pump my fist in joy, and suddenly many newspaper reporters surround me. This was the first time I had ever won.

NSF has played many roles in my winning of this bee. I began participating in NSF when I was in 2nd Grade with the Geography Bee. In the following years I participated in the Spelling and Vocab bees, and won the regionals in the Palo Alto chapter. I also tied for 3rd Place in my regional spelling bee in San Francisco, where I misspelled "bruisewort".

I highly recommend NSF for anyone who would like to be more ardent. Whether you like linguistics, or you just want to impress your parents, the spelling bee is what you should do. The vocabulary bee is also great to learn more definitions as well.
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Always keep this in mind whenever you participate: It's not about winning, it's about learning. The trophy might be misplaced someday, but the knowledge you earn from participating, nobody can take that away.

Arjav Rawal
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I still remember the night back in 1990 when I was sitting in a corner of our small hut and weeping for several hours after my father told me not to even think about my engineering admission. The tuition fee ($250 per year) for next four years was way too expensive for him to support. I was left with only choice to follow my father to become another tailor in the village.

I do not mean to say that tailoring is a low profile profession but my passion was to pursue higher education and make a difference to my family and to the society. My state ranks, merit certificates and academic excellence did not help me enter into college since they meant nothing to anyone.

It was a mere coincidence when I found out about NSF scholarship program, while going through the local newspaper. I couldn't believe when NSF told me that I was selected for the scholarship, and that I could proceed to my engineering study (1990-1994). I had no clue why a person like Dr. Chitturi from Chicago (not even knowing where Chicago was on the map!) was keen on helping a poor kid from a remote village in India.
I literally failed to understand the bond between the two. With that life changing event, I successfully completed my graduation in 1994, my masters from IIT Kharagpur in 1996 and then worked for 16 years as a software consultant in United States. My story is a classic example of how NSF transformed a local tailor family to an NRI family.

Fortunately for me, my story did not end there. What I received from NSF was more than monetary support- it was the spirit of giving and helping someone in need whom you never knew before. The very thought inspired me to pay forward- something I've been trying to do for the last 10 years in my district in India. I'm now filled with joy to see most of my scholars becoming catalysts for the society by also paying forward in their own way. For example, a young doctor (Dr. SudhirDavala) just finished his graduation in medicine, and while still preparing for his post graduate examination, started a free clinic in his village with a noble idea to serve the poor around him. At such a tender age, he has already started changing lives and I am confident that he has a lot more to contribute in the future.A few of my other scholars, who were settled in various jobs, keep sending their checks every year asking me to recycle that amount to other needy waiting in line.I cannot wait to see how far this amazing cycle of Pay Forward goes and continues to bring wonders.

Upon returning to India for good in December 2012, I was given the opportunity to be part of several NSF scholarship distribution events as a chief guest. It felt great when my brothers and sisters connected with me after I shared my life journey with them. I told them how I reached from one end to the other and I challenged them to do the same. Each time I interact with a group, I am told that my story inspires them.

Over the next few years, I will be working for NSF India, exploring new opportunities around me and see how I can best use my God-given talent to make a positive difference.It gives me immense pleasure to know that I am given the opportunity to work for an organization that made a difference in my life. How many would get such a blessing?

What a life journey it has been so far? I am truly blessed, thanks to NSF!

Surya Padala
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Do you have a story, poem, essay, or some artwork to share? Send your submissions to nsf-editor-team@googlegroups.com! In addition to your entry, please include a scanned photograph of yourself and the name of your school, your hometown, grade level and hobbies.

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Ramya Auroprem, Sukanya Roy, Shrinidhi Thirumalai, Ferdine Silva, Vignesh Kumar and Madhav Durbha.

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