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6 Indian-American students named 'Leaders of Tomorrow'

April 11, 2008 17:54 IST

Six Indian-American high school juniors and 19 others, all named 'Leaders of Tomorrow', will discuss ways to heal the ills faced by society at a meeting later this month on the Bentley College campus at Waltham, Massachusetts.

The students are winners of the 2008 Tomorrow 25, an international leadership competition for high school juniors organised by Bentley College, in cooperation with Time magazine.

The meeting is the 2008 Bentley Leadership Forum that will continue last year's successful focus on 'The Business of Healing Our World', this time with an examination of 'The Global Imperative to Serve the Public Good.'

Tomorrow 25 students will also appear in a national ad in Time as part of Bentley's national campaign to promote future leaders.

The Indian-American winners who will participate in the discussions are Maya Madhavan of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Ohio; Ashim Midha of Peddie School in Cranbury, New Jersey; Harika Rayala of Worthington Kilbourne High School in Columbus, Ohio; Nikesh Shah of Lecanto High School, Dunnellon, Florida; Tara Suri of Edgemont Junior-Senior High School in Scarsdale, New York, and Pratyusha Yalamanchi of the International Academy in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

The winners were chosen from hundreds of nominations from around the world, and include one student each from Germany and Jordan.

The common thread linking all 'Leaders' is an aptitude for helping the society they live in. Thirteen-year-old Tara Suri, for instance, founded Helping Orphans Pursue Education, which works to provide kids with the opportunity to reach their full potential.

It has raised over $20,000 for orphanages in India and Sudan.

Ashim Midha has worked with Transparency International India, a nongovernmental organisation that fights corruption in governments. Harika Rayala is the founder and president of Students To Rid Dementia in the Elderly, a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading awareness of the problem through workshops and presentations.

Nikesh Shah is president of his school's American Teen Cancer Society chapter, and has raised over $25,000 towards cancer awareness.

Pratyusha Yalamanchi founded Dental HygIndia, a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading awareness and improving dental health conditions in India.

As the economy becomes increasingly global, and issues ranging from global warming to human rights to tariffs and trade become more critical to business management, concern for the public good now has become a required component of economic growth, organisers of the event note.

In their discussions, these students will join leaders from a wide range of organisations 'to examine how bold ideas can transform our society and our world.'

"Creativity, passion, commitment, genius, and more will be on abundant display (at the forum) as visionaries who are transforming our world share their thoughts and hopes about improving the global society in which we all live," organisers said.

Tara told Rediff India Abroad, "At the summit, I hope to network with other youth interested in taking action and effecting social change. I believe that youth are a movement -- a movement that can end poverty, combat global warming, promote peace, ensure human rights, and eradicate disease."

Daughter of Kirin and Ranjit Suri, Tara was named 2007 Cosmo Girl of the Year by CosmoGirl! magazine, beating 20,000 other applicants and winning a $20,000 scholarship.

She has written a novel in verse about women caught in sexual slavery in India, which she hopes to have published soon. Her other honors include her selection as Nestle Very Best in Youth, being picked for the We Are Family Foundation's Global Teen Leader, and winning the Presidential Lifetime Service Award.

She has straight A's throughout high school thus far. A public speaker who has taken the state at various conferences, she co-chairs Youth Service America's National Youth Council.

"I received the Bentley Award for these accomplishments, most importantly for starting HOPE and Aandolan," she said. Aandolan, which means movement for change in Hindi, implements social change initiatives and provides youth with the opportunity to become change-makers.

"Aandolan runs various initiatives including the HOPE program, which raises funds and awareness for orphanages in India and Sudan, and our Turn-Your-World program, which allows youth to turn their ideas into action," she said.

Harika Rayala plans to stress the importance of educating the community and spreading awareness in an effort to reduce dementia in senior citizens. Maya, who is promoting a bill on lupus at the Ohio legislature, will present her perspectives on the theme at the summit.

"Before I got involved with the LFA, I did not even realise that a disease called lupus existed. After meeting the leader of our local chapter of the LFA, I realised what a devastating disease it can be, and that the voice of millions of silent sufferers needed to be heard," she said, adding that she backed a recent bill to improve awareness about the disease and hoped to persuade Ohio lawmakers that this bill was vitally important.

To accomplish this, she wrote a petition to the Ohio legislature urging them to pass this bill, and gathered hundreds of signatures in support. She now plans to show the petition to each Ohio representative and urge them to pass this bill, she said.

"We seek to spread awareness in communities because we believe that education is the best defense against dementia," Harika, whose organisation holds workshops for various retirement and nursing homes "in which we touch on the four keystones of preventing dementia: mental activity, physical activity, diet, and recreation," said.

Volunteers visit the nursing homes each week, to play games with the inmates that stimulate the mind, and also read to them.

Harika, daughter of Chandrasekhar and Aruna Rayala, won first place in the Ohio Brain Bee, and sixth place in the International Brain Bee. She has been on the honor roll since the sixth grade. She is a Davidson Young Scholar and AP Scholar with Distinction, and a semifinalist in 2006 and 2007 in a national vocabulary competition.

She is currently conducting research on Alzheimer's and dementia at Ohio State University, among other things. She is also captain of the Science Olympiad Team of the school that won various state and local awards.

Maya Madhavan, daughter of Beena Sreekumar and Sreekumar Madhavan, believes her latest honour comes by virtue of her "tutoring, medical research work, and my work with the Lupus Foundation of America."

The student of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Ohio said, "When I choose activities to be involved in outside of my studies, I choose those things that I am passionate about and feel would influence the greater good of the community."

She has spearheaded an effort to investigate the incidence of Alzheimer's disease among coal miners and find out what the rest of their families endure. For this research, she won first prize at the West Virginia State Science Fair in the Medicare and Health category.

She has also tutored elementary school children in West Virginia, encouraging students to stay in school in an area that experiences high dropout rates.

Her most recent research was on the bird flu virus. "Research into the bird flu is vital to prevent the virus from becoming transmissible, which could cause a pandemic affecting millions worldwide. With three others, I used the supercomputers at the Ohio Supercomputer center to run simulations of ways the bird flu injects itself into cells," she said.

Maya has a 4.3 GPA (weighted) and has won several academic awards. She has also won the Ohio Music Education Association Vocal Ensemble State prize, among other honors.

Nikesh Shah has, for the past three years, been committed to the fight against cancer. "As president of my school's American Teen Cancer Society, I have participated in the annual Relay for Life and have raised over $30,000 to benefit cancer research and awareness," he said.

The son of Dr Nikhil and Neha Shah made his name by measuring variations in radiation dosage on people at the University of Florida Nuclear Science Center. His research on the relationship between stem cell distribution in bone marrow and leukemia risk associated with radiation therapy was chosen for publication in Singularity, a national scientific journal.

His research has helped to test dose absorptions associated with CT scans and radiation therapy, to create more efficient CT scans and reduce the associated radiation exposure.

He has donated over 300 hours at community hospitals, learning about the medical field, caring for patients, helping children cope with their struggles.

He is a second degree Tae Kwon Do black belt, and a finalist in Florida's All-Star State Academic Team.

Ashim Midha organised a voter registration drive for students in several high schools in Central New Jersey. The son of Sanjeev and Sunita Midha, Ashim has also performed community service at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Tanzania, and will travel to Gambia in August to teach children and assist in constructing a school.

He has also taught math and English to orphaned and impoverished children at Literacy India in Gurgaon, India.

Pratyusha Yalamanchi is co-president of his school's Building with Books club, a non-profit organisation which builds schools in developing countries. She is also a member of the BwB State Youth Advisory Council, which is responsible for organizing large-scale community service projects.

She volunteers bi-weekly at the Pediatric Retinal Disease Research Center of Beaumont Hospital, where she helps to extract patient DNA and prepare enzymes for surgery; and is secretary of the Rochester Hills Government Youth Council. She has also spearheaded a school supply drive for low-income children at a Pontiac elementary school.

A Correspondent in New York