"Did bhangra help me get the Rhodes scholarship," asks Parvinda S Thiara, a Harvard senior majoring in chemistry, who has just been named as one of 32 Americans to receive the highly coveted Rhodes scholarship.
"I guess the selection committee wants to know how well we excel in areas other than studies," he adds with a chuckle. "Being serious about bhangra, I could not help putting it down in my application."
Bhangra or not, the committee must really have been impressed by Thiara's account of his life was reshaped when his grandfather died of diarrhoea, which he got from drinking contaminated water in India a few years ago. Improving water supply then became Thiara's passion.
On Sunday, 32 Americans from campuses across the country were named as Rhodes scholars, who will study at Oxford University starting next year.
Thiara is one of four Indian Americans who have received the scholarships. The others are Amia P Srinivasan and Maya Shankar from Yale, and Shaan-Chirag C Gandhi from Case Western.
The scholars were selected from 896 applicants endorsed by 340 colleges and universities. The scholarships provide two or three years of study, with the total value about $45,000 per year.
The scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.
Thiara, who is the co-founder of a non-governmental organisation for improving water sanitation technologies, plans to study an M Sc in theoretical chemistry and water science policy and management at Oxford.
"Clean drinking water is one of the biggest health problems across the world today," he says. "The situation could become worse unless we fight the problem with serious solutions."
She has also founded and directs a partnership between Yale and New Haven to revitalise the impoverished downtown area, and co-foundeda publication called Five Magazine, devoted to social justice and human rights.
"It is Yale's first call-to-action non-profitpublication," she says, adding that it seeks to bring closer social justice and human rights groups on the campus and inspire students to be activists. She is also a campus coordinator for United Students Against Sweatshops.
"Music is another passion," says Shankar, who was a private violin student of Itzhak Perlman, performed with him at Carnegie Hall and has soloed with many orchestras in the United States and abroad.
Thiaraand she have a common passion; Shankar is also an avid bhangra dancer.
Sheplans to do the M Sc in experimental psychology at Oxford.
FellowYale scholar Srinivasan is a playwright, publisher and a philosophy major. She is the co-founder of Yale Philosophy Review, launched in 2004.
The annual journal showcases the best in philosophic work by undergraduates worldwide, she says, adding that each issue contains interviews with famous philosophers such as John Perryand Richard Rorty of Stanford University.
She started as a playwright at Yale over two years ago and was chosen for the Yale Playwrights Festival in 2005. Her first play Drought was produced as a staged reading at the Yale Repertory Theater.
"Ihave also worked with the O'Neill at Yale Studio, a collaborative project between the Provincetown Playhouse in New York and Yale," she says.
As part of the project she has also mentoreda group of New Haven high school students in playwriting.