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US: Indian student wins prestigious scholarship

June 06, 2008 23:49 IST

An 18-year-old 'exceptionally promising' high school senior from Andover, Massachusetts, was among 28 students named by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation last week as recipients of its up to $30,000 per year scholarship for four years of college education.

Veda Eswarappa was the only Indian American among the 28 students from lower-income backgrounds named for the prestigious scholarship that the non-profit foundation gives every year to high-achieving lower-income students.

The students, drawn from the Foundation's prestigious Young Scholars Programme, have struggled hard to fulfill their dreams. "My parents have encouraged me to set high goals and do the best with what I have," Veda, who was born in the United States, said. "I've learned that even though my family may not have as much money as some others, I can still find ways to access similar opportunities and achieve great things."

A student of Phillips Academy, Andover, Veda has enrolled for Harvard this fall. Veda, whose family migrated from Karnataka, has said she is undecided about her academic ambitions, although education is one of her top priorities.

The 2008 graduating class of high school seniors is the largest in US history, resulting in record-high rejection rates to colleges and universities. The foundation noted that in this fiercely competitive environment, these 28 remarkable students 'have defied the odds' to land places at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions.

More than one-third were admitted to the Ivy League, while others will attend selective schools like Stanford University, Georgia Tech, and Swarthmore College. "We have a pervasive and unfortunate expectation in this country that young people from lower-income backgrounds cannot learn at the highest levels," said Joshua Wyner, executive vice president, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. "These outstanding students are proof that when kids of great potential and limited means are consistently engaged and challenged educationally, they can excel."

The number of lower-income students admitted to America's elite colleges remains disproportionately low. While about 35 percent of all undergraduate students nationally receive Pell Grants (federal aid for low-income students), only about 7 percent of undergraduates at top US colleges are Pell grant recipients.

In 2007, the average family income of Young Scholars joining the programme was $23,000, according to the foundation that welcomes, every year, a new group of promising lower-income seventh graders into the Young Scholars Programme.

The 2008 college scholarship winners are richly diverse, representing 21 US states and a wide range of backgrounds, talents and accomplishments. Besides their academic excellence, well over half speak at least two languages and nearly three-quarters play a musical instrument. Two appeared on Jeopardy! Kids and one was cast in an off-Broadway play. 

Veda, for instance, has been a member of Honour Roll every term of her high school career, and is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. Besides being named an AP Scholar with Distinction for scoring three or higher on more than five AP exams, she has been awarded two Latin Department Prizes, and was the grand prize winner of her library's town-wide Teen Poetry Contest.

Despite her academic engagement, she managed to go to Oxford University as part of a summer programme to study art, which is one of her passions, and had worked with a former commissioner of the Food and Drugs Administration and a prominent pro bono lawyer and professor at Georgetown University, in a bid to experience the workings of the federal government up close, sitting in on Congressional hearings and meeting a lobbyist.

While she excels in school, Veda also makes sure she helps her family as well and others as much as she can. She has taught children how to play soccer and the violin, and has also tutored students in Latin, biology and math. The teenager also plays competitive softball, something she began when she was in fifth grade, as well as soccer. "I just hope that whatever I end up doing, I'll be happy, working hard, and helping others in a significant way," she said.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to helping young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education, supports Young Scholars through generous funding for their education, guidance from a dedicated staff of advisers, and supplementary educational services such as summer enrichment programmes.

The level of support each Scholar receives can range from $1,00,000 to $5,00,000, and can last for as many as 15 years. The foundation provides individualised support tailored to the needs of each Young Scholar.  Some have benefited from music lessons or the purchase of a laptop; others have found help treating conditions like dysgraphia and Asperger's Syndrome.

Summer experiences made possible for this year's graduating class of Young Scholars include a trip to Paris to present research at the Pasteur Institute, a trek through the Peruvian Andes, and study trips abroad in China, England, Italy and Spain.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York