Newsletter: February - 2014

Dear NSF families,
Happy New Year! In countless ways, this precious time is a new beginning. For young students, it is the beginning of a new semester. For high schoolers, it is time to think about college applications and summer activities. For college students like me, this semester marks the start of a whole new set of classes. Of course, for our NSF contestants, it is time for a new round of regionals! Whoever you are and wherever you might be,
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it is time to close the book of 2013 and write your story of 2014. It is hard to believe that another year and season of NSF has already begun. Registration is now open for 2014 Regional Contests, and plans are already being made for the 2014 National Finals in Dallas, Texas. If you aren't feeling excited for 2014's new opportunities yet, in this issue, we offer articles to get you pumped and ready to roll.
Firstly, we encourage our high school readers to check out our article on college preparation tips written by Ramya Auroprem and myself. Both first year students currently enjoying college, we put together our own personal advice in order to help you make the most of your education and future. For our younger readers, we offer you an interview with past NSF participant/Scripps Winner/current spelling blogger Stuti Mishra. Last but not least, we have an inspiring APNA experience article for you by Akhil Meka.
We hope you use our articles to help make this next year as rewarding as possible. Here's to the start of enjoying a great 2014 together!

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
To a student in any year of high school, the college admissions process can seem intimidating or confusing. As two college students who have just finished their first semesters in college, we'd like to give you some advice on the process of applying to and picking a college or university.
General Advice: There are five puzzle pieces to a well-rounded individual. Shape them now.
The college application process can seem very confusing. Let us break it down for you: Think of college applications as a way to show colleges who you are. You want colleges to see a well-rounded individual. The five puzzle pieces to a well-rounded individual are Grades/SAT scores, leadership, volunteering, extra-curriculars, and academic initiative. Think about what you have done that fits into each of those categories, and make plans to fill in any gaps as well as make each category stronger.

To high school underclassmen: College applications might seem confusing, but right now, just focus on shaping your activities.
The process might seem very complicated to you – SAT scores, grades, essays, leadership, volunteering, and extra-curriculars are part of the picture. But your job in high school is to do the activities that you want to do, and to stick to those all the way through. It's about quality, not quantity. Colleges look for depth: They want to see a person who has done a great deal in a few things they are passionate about. Take your extra-curricular to the next level by not only excelling at it, but showing leadership, volunteerism, and initiative in it. Are you a great singer? Take that to the next level by volunteering to sing at your local center for the elderly. Then when the time comes, after you've made a list of schools (see below), those activities combined with your coursework will shape your application essays.

To high school juniors: Make a list of schools that appeal to you.
There are thousands of colleges in the United States –small, big, rural, urban, private, public…
Each one of them is unique. In fact, the only thing these colleges have in common is that they want a diverse student body, which means they're not looking for a single type of high school student. They want students who are interested in them. So, when you're making your list of colleges to apply to, find the college that you want to be a student at.
If you excel in a sport or extracurricular activity, for example, look for schools that excel in your activity. Or if you've always wanted to live in a big city, then apply to colleges that have an exciting urban life. It's good to do research about schools in all the different ways you can - not only looking the school up online, but also visiting if you can and talking to current and former students.

The more the school truly appeals to you, the more convincing your applications and interviews will be and the more likely you'll get in!
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Essay Tips:
1. Start working on your essays over the summer of junior year. Trust me, you will be thankful later.
2. In order to make your essays as strong as possible, do a couple free-writes on the important aspects and experiences of your life first. Rather than reading the prompt and trying to write an essay to fit it, see which free-write could fit into this prompt. This way, your essays will truly show who you are.
3. Once you have your basic essays down, get feedback from others, then edit! You want to revise your essay multiple times in order to make it the best it can be.
4. Don't worry. It may seem like there are a lot of essays to write, but some of your essays can fulfill several prompts with just a bit of modification. It will all work out well in the end.

To high school seniors waiting for results: Don't worry – wherever you end up going to school, you'll have a great time!
After our first semesters, we can safely say that despite any anxieties you may have about starting college, we know you'll enjoy yourself no matter where you choose to go. It's a little nervewracking to think about leaving your home behind, and going to a place where you may not know anyone, but you have to remember that everyone is in the same boat as you. When you get results, you may want to visit your top choices so that you know which college's atmosphere fits you the best – where you feel most at home. If you're worried about not getting into your dream school, just remember that your experience in college and life will be as great as you choose to make it – dream school or not.
Ramya Auroprem and Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Members
Stuti Mishra, a past NSF participant, has been very involved in spelling bees since 2009, and won 2nd place at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2012. Showing the spirit of a volunteer and leader, she did not stop there. Since then, she has created an online video blog giving a series of spelling bee and language pattern lessons, called Saturdays with Stuti.

Shrinidhi: Hi Stuti. Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. Could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Stuti: I live in West Melbourne, Florida. I am a sophomore this year at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, Melbourne, FL. I am a member of my school's Academic Team,Honor Council,and Mu Alpha Theta,and I am the president of the French National Honor Society. I'm also a prosecuting

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attorney for the Brevard County Teen Court and I run for my school's track and field team. My favorite subjects include history, physics, and math.

Shrinidhi: Could you tell us about your journey in spelling? When did you become interested and where did it take you?
Stuti: I first found out about spelling when I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals on television in 2009, and was greatly inspired by all the 2009 finalists, especially Kavya Shivashankar. I always wanted to meet Dr. Bailly and get a word to spell from him as well. When I was in fourth grade, I had competed in my school bee for the first time. Every year since then, I moved up a level in spelling; in fifth grade I won the school bee, in sixth grade I won the county bee, and in seventh grade I won the regional bee which allowed me to compete in Washington DC. I placed as a nineteenth-rank semifinalist that year at Nationals. The following year, in eighth grade, I made it back to Washington and placed second in the National Spelling Bee. My journey in spelling has taught me so much, including the significance of working hard, setting goals, never giving up, staying composed, working with the media, thinking before speaking, gathering information to make a single decision, and accepting all situations, whether favorable or not. I have met so many amazing people throughout my journey and I will be forever indebted to the bees for that :)

Shrinidhi: What is your connection to NSF, and what has it done for you?
Stuti: I can't even begin to explain how much NSF means to me. In 2009, I found about NSF and competed in the spelling bee at the Jacksonville, FL chapter. Over the years, I have grown very close to everyone at the Jacksonville chapter for their support for me all the way. NSF has provided me with the right platform to compete in any spelling bee. Most importantly, however, NSF has allowed me to make and meet my friends from spelling every year. Needless to say, I felt really honored when I won the NSF National Senior Spelling Bee in 2011. During my participating years at NSF, I grew with confidence while having a very engaging experience at the bees. Post my bee participation, NSF gave me the opportunity to use my expertise for conducting workshops, enunciating, judging, and helping participants by sharing my experience with them and their parents

Shrinidhi: Could you tell us a bit about your video blog program, Saturdays with Stuti?
Stuti: Sure. Saturdays with Stuti began as a bimonthly club (every other Saturday, hence the name) that I started at my local public library. After my last spelling bee in Washington DC in 2012, I desperately missed spelling and felt a void in me that I couldn't ignore. I really loved spelling and language patterns a lot! I started the club to keep in touch with languages. All word enthusiasts were welcome, and pretty soon, I had many children and adults regularly attend. We discussed language patterns and rules, and talked about interesting words and vocabulary. Naturally, I loved being able to share what I had learned throughout my journey with my community as time permitted. However, I always wanted to share my ideas with the global community, so that my club would not be confined to my local area only. It was also in line with the many requests I received from people who wanted to get some help from me. So I decided to create a video blog which people could access from anywhere at any time, at their own convenience! When I discussed this intense desire of mine with my family, they encouraged me and helped me create it so that it could be run from any technical platform as well. On my blog, which can be found at, I create and post videos every Saturday. The videos are in a series, and I cover spelling patterns language by language. I launched the blog in September 2013, and am continuing to actively update it every Saturday. I put in hundreds of hours to date to devise a comprehensive curriculum with a very structured approach to simplify and easily present the abstract world of languages and spelling. This series will end up having 50 or more videos, starting with the very basics of pronunciation and language families. For new starters, I would highly recommend to follow the blog from the very first post.

Shrinidhi: Why did you decide to create a video blog program on spelling?
Stuti: Having immigrated with my parents to America when I was a year old, I have grown up understanding the pronunciation differences that immigrant families face, which may pose a challenge towards spelling bee preparation. I quickly realized and understood that my strength lies in understanding language patterns and how they relate to pronunciation, which is an integral and crucial part of spelling bees. I also wanted to teach my younger sister outside of our formal club at the library. However, with my school/academic schedule not being in line with hers, I could not spend much spelling time with her. Also, the club was irregular at times for the same reason, so I wanted to create something that could be used by my sister at her own convenience. This idea was befitting with my other idea of taking my club to a global level to aid families who have a similar situation like mine and otherwise. I hoped to create a solution that could be used by others in the community who could benefit from the blog just as my sister would. I have always had an interest for video making/editing and technology. I really wanted to give back to the community, and I thought that the best way to do that would be through the powerful combination of sound, voice, and visuals. Besides dictionaries, there are many references that provide tips on how to pronounce words. Depending on the reader's perception, the pronunciation may vary. I wanted to bridge that gap by providing a voice that people could listen to and easily understand. All this led me to create my blog.

Shrinidhi: What are your top spelling tips?
Stuti: For serious spellers, I would say that setting an achievable goal is of highest priority. You can break up your goals into smaller parts. Once this is done, setting aside some specific time daily as a discipline would be the next key step. If you can't put in much time on weekdays, then save weekends and summer/winter vacation time to work towards your goal. On a more technical aspect, it is helpful to learn language patterns in parallel with practice words. With experience, the language patterns will become evident in the words practiced. It is great to analyze each word and understand if the rule applies or does not apply (that is equally important). Making connections this way helps the words transfer to long-term memory better. Also, being patient and relaxed all the time will help on Bee days.

Shrinidhi: We are so glad to see you hold the volunteering spirit. Why do you feel it's important to volunteer?
Stuti: I feel that we should always be there for each other. Together we can make a difference in others' lives, so it is important to volunteer in any way possible. For me, there is no better feeling than knowing that I have helped someone else. When you do that in a specific area that you love, it feels even better! For example, while I am busy creating videos and sharing them with others who can access them at their own convenience from home, I realized that there are many people out there who don't even have access to the very basic necessities of life, like water! It touched me to learn that most women in Africa have to travel at least 3 hours a day to get even a sip of water! That's why I decided to set up a fundraiser from my blog's donation link to help make a difference in others' lives.

Shrinidhi: We're really glad to see you're still involved with spelling even after you finished competing in spelling bees. What are your suggestions for staying involved in an activity even once it's over?
Stuti: Thank you! In my view, passion is not limited by an activity; rather, activities related to one's passion flow very naturally. Passion never ends, and it certainly did not end for me at the culmination of my spelling bee career as a participant. I always looked for ways to reach out in whatever capacity I could to stay involved with spelling even after my bee days. I would just say that if you are in love with something, it will be natural for you to stay involved with it! My blog is an example of this, and besides that, I find myself often helping many bees in various ways.

Shrinidhi: :Congratulations on your successful blog. After going through the process, do you have any tips for new aspiring leaders who wish to start something on their own?
Stuti: My tip would be to follow one's passion, and to not be afraid to start something that you truly believe in. With the right intentions backing your efforts, everything will fall in place.

Shrinidhi: What is your advice to our young readers preparing for NSF contests?
Stuti: Participate in the contests that you enjoy the most at NSF. At earlier stages, one may not know where their interest lies. My suggestion is that by participating in many NSF contests, you will discover your true passion that you can narrow down later on. Have fun, make friends, and enjoy every moment of the journey as NSF contests are fun :)

Shrinidhi: Do you have any last words? What would you like to say to our older readers and NSF contest alumni?
Stuti: I am honored to be part of the NSF family, and to know many of the earlier NSF alumni. I have been inspired by many of them, and I have always learned something from them as well. In my view, sharing is the biggest aspect of being part of NSF.

Once again, we thank Stuti for her time, and wish her the best of luck for both her blog and her future!

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
NSF organized another successful year of APNA (Ambassadors program for NSF Alumni), providing an excellent opportunity for high school students in America to volunteer in India. Below are the experiences of one volunteer from 2013.
For additional details about NSF APNA program, please visit

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I found my experience as an APNA Youth Ambassador to be very fulfilling. I spent a month of my summer vacation in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, and also thought that during my trip, I should do something to give back to my heritage and help India's younger generation. My mother got in touch with Mr. Venkat Gade and he forwarded all the supplemental information required to conduct an English Workshop in India. My mother and my grandfather contacted three schools and we originally planned to conduct three workshops.
However, due to the Telengana bifurcation and the ensuing school closings and strikes in Andhra, my brother, Nikhil Mekha and I were only able to hold a 5-day English Workshop in only one underprivileged school. We conducted the workshop for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at the K.B.C.Z.P. High school in Vijayawada.
Every day, we would go to the school hoping that no college students would come to close the school.
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The principal arranged to have our class in a room which was not part of the main building so that even if the college students came, we would not be disturbed. The roads were blocked by agitators, so we had to start early and avoid the main roads. Every day we conducted an hour long class for each grade individually. We taught 50 6th graders, 53 7th graders, and 68 8th graders.
The first four days consisted of spelling fundamentals and engrossing word games (such as Hangman, which my brother came up with, and modified Scrabble) which the kids absolutely loved. The Spelling Bee was conducted on the last day and the prizes, 3 dictionaries, were distributed on August 15th during the flag hoisting.
We also talked about the scholarships that NSF is providing to underprivileged Indian children, and donated Rs. 5000 towards the school's English lab for new shelving and speakers.

We never thought that even under the prevailing conditions in Vijayawada we would be able the finish this workshop and the press meet. Clippings from this flag hoisting were also televised on August 16th in a couple of the local city channels (City Channel & Mee TV). This experience was very unique due to the fact that I am currently a student but also had the chance to become a teacher. I now know how teachers feel when the light bulb goes off in their students' head or when they demonstrate advanced understanding of a skill that was merely taught minutes ago.
However, I have also now experienced the sinking feeling when you realize your students are not listening to you or decide that their friend is more important than your hard work. Most, if not all, of the kids fell in the former characterization. I felt very humble teaching students who had very less but were still voracious for more information (I conducted this workshop at a government school where tuition, supplies, and lunch were provided to the kids for free).
After I finished the workshop, my mom and I decided to spread the word about NSF's scholarships. We organized a press meet on the last day of our stay to accomplish this goal. As we were about to leave for the Press Club to submit the Press Invitation, one lakh students blocked our road for 3 hours and the police said we could not leave.
However, we went through an apartment complex and managed to arrive at the Vijayawada Press Club only one hour late to submit the Press invitation. I also sent emails to several local newspaper reporters, and called the newspaper reporters, cameramen, and videographers.
There were more than 30 reporters present at the press meet. We distributed press notes to all the reporters. Articles were posted in many local newspapers (as well as The Hindu) regarding the scholarship opportunity NSF was providing. On August 29th the press meet was televised in local Me channel.
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Before I end this, I would greatly like to thank my mom, Mrs. Srilata Meka, as well as my grandfather, Mr. Ratnam, who both worked tirelessly for 2 months to arrange the workshop and the press meets. Last but definitely not least, I would like to thank the NSF Foundation as well as Mr. Venkat Gade for providing all the teaching materials we needed and answering all of our questions.
Akhil Meka
NSF Youth Ambassador
The NSF India Scholarships 2013-14 season is well underway as chapter coordinators in India receive and screen applications. Two volunteers play an important role in every chapter - the India Chapter coordinator who runs the chapter in India and the US Liaison who act as a link between NSF in US and India. NSF would like to acknowledge the amazing work and leadership of all the India Chapter Coordinators and their liaisons. Here is a sneak peek of Jodphur chapter's awards ceremony Click Here For Video. We hope to bring you more such videos and interviews with these volunteers.

Madavi Nathan Oliver
NSF India Scholarships Team
Do you have a story, poem, essay, or some artwork to share? Please send an e-mail with the attachments to In addition to your entry, please send in a scanned copy of your photograph, name of your school and city, your grade level, and your hobbies.


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


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