Newsletter: June - 2013

Dear NSF families and contestants,
We hope you are ready for a summer that promises to be exciting. With the 2013 NSF National Finals to be held in Durham, North Carolina, rapidly approaching, we know many families and contestants are working hard.
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As you end the school year, you may find yourself turning to forms of social media like Facebook to keep in touch with your friends. It is certainly true that more and more grade-school children are beginning to use social media for this purpose and for many others. I have found in my recent years that social media can be amazingly versatile. While we all use Facebook and Google for connecting with friends and family on a regular basis, as a high school student, my classmates and I often use it to collaborate with classmates on assignments or projects. In fact, many high school students form Facebook groups for a particular class in school, and use it to ask questions or study for tests together. Furthermore, educational services like Quizlet (an online flashcard simulation), which are connected with Facebook, can enhance learning experiences by making them social. We encourage all of you to like NSF’s Facebook page in order to hear more information about NSF’s news and events:
Other online outlets are constantly used for educational purposes; for example, Khan Academy, a non-profit organization, has thousands of videos available on YouTube for anyone to watch, on K-12 math, the sciences, and humanities like finance and history. The accessible nature of these videos makes them available to anyone with an interest in these topics; they are also proving more effective for some students than traditional classroom-style learning. This kind of virtual learning is certainly on the rise, with many institutions of higher education making their lectures available to the public. We encourage you to pursue topics in this way that you were always interested in, but never had the chance to, during the summer. After all, the Internet leaves topics from English literature to advanced calculus only a click away. You can read about this kind of virtual education in more detail in our article by Sukanya Roy.

In this issue, you will find an article on recent accomplishments of NSF youth, including Arvind Mahankali and Sathwik Karnik, champions of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee and National Geographic Bee respectively. You can also get updated on NSF’s most recent activity for India scholarships and read the reflections of the founder of the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, Dr. Pawan Dhingra, on his experiences with NSF.

Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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This year, NSF was once again honored with several NSF contestants placing in top positions in national educational contests.Sathwik Karnik, age 12, from Norfolk, Massachusetts recently won the 25th Annual National Geographic Bee. In an interview with India West, Karnik’s dad credited the North South Foundation with preparing Sathwik to attend the finals of the Geography Bee. Other NSF top placers included Ricky Uppaluri (3rd place), Akhil Rekulapelli (4th place), Harish Palani (5th place), Asha Jain (6th place), Neha Middela (9th place), and Pranit Nanda (10th place).

NSF contestant Arvind Mahankali, 13, from New York, New York was also crowned the champion of the 86th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. Several other championship finalists of the Bee were NSF participants as well, including Sriram Hathwar (3rd place), Vanya Shivashankar (5th place), Vismaya Kharkar (5th place), Chetan Reddy (7th place), Syamantak Payra (7th place), and Nikitha Chandran (11th place).
The USA Biology Olympiad has also recently named its 2013 finalists, one of whom is Nikhil Buduma, another former NSF participant. This will be Nikhil’s third trip to the Olympiad, at Purdue University, as a national finalist. In 2012, Nikhil was one of four national finalists named to represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad held in Singapore, where he earned a gold medal. Nikhil will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this fall. Finally, NSF participants are also among the top placers at the 2013 Mathcounts Competition. These high-achieving finalists included Ashwin Sah (2nd place), Akshaj Kadaveru (11th place), Swapnil Garg (14th place), and Nikhil Reddy (15th place).

We at NSF would like to heartily congratulate these NSF participants on their accomplishments and offer them best wishes in their future endeavors.
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Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
Dr. Pawan Dhingra, the senior advisor and founding curator of the Indian American Heritage Project (IAHP) at the Smithsonian Institution, is now Professor and Chair of Sociology at Tufts University outside Boston. In this article, he shares his thoughts on his experiences with NSF.

Attending the NSF national championship in San Jose, CA in 2011 was a major moment for me. I was not competing, of course, nor were my children. In fact, I did not know anyone there personally well.

Still, I could not help but quickly get caught up in the energy, anticipation, nervousness, and fun that the children exhibited. Families moved around the university campus, sat in classrooms, took tests, and ultimately received awards while posing for photographs.

In that sense the NSF competitions mirror that of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which I attended in 2011 and 2012. NSF is like the Scripps National Spelling Bee in other ways as well. Many of the past Scripps champions are NSF alum, and they were present at the NSF competition in San Jose as judges, as mentors, and as celebrities. Both competitions are professionally run with many worthy competitors. With so many Scripps champions being Indian American, it is no surprise that NSF continues to play a major role in the training and development of youth. Of course, NSF offers more than just spelling, and as a charity the competition leads to even more worthwhile benefits than just for the participants, so it is not just the spelling bee at a smaller scale.
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I first learned about NSF after I started as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution, heading the Indian American Heritage Project (IAHP). IAHP will culminate in a major exhibition opening in December of this year at the Smithsonian, under the current curatorial leadership of Masum Momaya. The exhibition is called "Beyond Bollywood." It will feature, among other topics, Indian American spelling bee champions. I have continued my deep interest in NSF as I transitioned to my current position as Professor and Chair of Sociology at Tufts University, outside Boston. As an academic I plan to write up and publish information about our community in these competitions to better inform people about this trend and about education more broadly. The NSF competition near Boston was another great event.

I have been interviewed by the media on why Indian Americans excel in the spelling and geography bees at a national level. It is truly a remarkable level of achievement. I am happy to be able to explain to the media that a commitment to education and assessment among highly educated immigrants is part of the answer, but that NSF and other venues play a critical role in the community’s overall success. NSF allows Indian families access to these competitions and helps create expectations for children to excel not only from their parents but also from the friends and elders around them. My own upbringing in the United States is similar. My parents made sure that I attended to my scholastic responsibilities above all else.
They were keenly interested in my grades and only showed satisfaction with As, rarely even an A-. Beyond school I took part in extracurricular scholastic offerings, at the urging of my parents. And, I grew up within a community that had the same expectations, which made them seem normal to me.

I hope to learn more about how the Indian community approaches education, and NSF in particular. I would be happy to talk briefly with any families about motivations to be part of NSF, what the experiences have been, what you think of the American educational system, and the like.
I can be reached at and at 617-627-2467;

you can learn more about me at

Good luck to all of the NSF families in the near and long term!

Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Team Member
NSF India Scholarships team has completed the 2012-13 season and is proud to announce that we provided scholarships to 992 first year students, and renewed 1015 scholarships to a grand total of 2007. NSF would like to acknowledge the amazing work and leadership of all the India Chapter Coordinators and Dr. Rayudu our India National Coordinator for Scholarships. With their and your help NSF would like to increase the number of scholarships again this year.

We are ready to start the 2013-14 scholarships season with a goal of giving 1000 scholarships to first year students and renewing all current scholarships. NSF has increased the number of scholarships given by more than three-fold in a span of 5 years as one can see in the div below:

Yearwise Scholarship Growth
2008-09 2009-2010 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
580 667 922 1449 2007

NSF Scholarships team has the following additional goals for the upcoming 2013-14 season:
  • Increase awareness in US and India about NSF scholarships.
  • Involve alumni by sending them a merit certificate when they graduate and have them register in our alumni database.
  • Process all applications using tools developed over the past year in our on-line application system.
  • Provide scholarships in underrepresented and backward states by starting new chapters using the help of NSF - USA families.
There are many, many students out there who could use our scholarship support to fulfill their educational dreams. We hope you will help us by coming forward with contacts in India who in turn can help us find these students in need.

If you are new to scholarships you can read about our program at:

Also, keep checking for the updated flier and other information on our website If you'd like to connect to a chapter in India or help start a new chapter send us an email at
India Scholarships Team in the US
Madavi Oliver
Jayaram Iyengar
Sarav Arunachalam
Manju Arasaiah
With the latest advances in computer technology, it might seem to some that the Internet is leaking into the classroom. But what if the Internetis the classroom?It is for MOOCs: massive open online courses, the newest phenomenon in Internet-based learning. These courses offer instruction in everything from physics to archaeology, and top-tier colleges and universities from across the globe have gotten involved, with Stanford's Udacity and Harvard and MIT's joint venture EdX among the sites that offer MOOCs. Courses vary in experience level and length. The shortest typically last for six weeks; the longest stretch to twelve or more. One particularly notable feature is that they are offered at no cost, making them accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. As a result, students of MOOCs are often as diverse as they are eager to learn: teenagers and grandparents, native English-speakers and speakers of Portuguese, Czech, Urdu… and a variety of backgrounds, nationalities, and walks of life.
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Coursera, a startup that has partnered with a host of institutions from around the world, has attracted almost 2 million students since its launch in April 2012. Students are not limited to the United States, either; I have taken courses with classmates from, among other countries, Ukraine and Nepal, as well as (of course) India.

The workload of an MOOC is akin in most cases to that of an introductory college course. Professors utilize a series of ten- to fifteen-minute lecture videos punctuated by short quizzes and assignments. In fact, the format of the videos is somewhat similar to that of Khan Academy, an educational site many of our readers may be familiar with. MOOCs, however, require their students to do more than just watch. Professors assign readings, essays, problem sets, tests, quizzes, and even surveys. Several courses offer certificates of accomplishment upon completion, but students are required to take a final in order to attain a passing grade first.

With thousands of students, grading cannot be left to a professor and a handful of teaching assistants. MOOCs therefore rely on either computerized or peer grading, a system in which students are required to evaluate a certain number of other students' work in order to receive a score of their own. Discussion forums further add to the learning experience, allowing students to share and receive feedback on their problems and ideas.

As Coursera’s website puts it, "whether you're looking to improve your resume, advance your career, or just learn more and expand your knowledge, we hope there will be multiple courses that you find interesting." If you're curious about a particular subject, want to explore something you might not have had the chance to take in school, or even just happen to find yourself with a surplus of time on your hands this summer, consider looking into an MOOC. Who knows? You might learn something.

For more information about the websites mentioned in this article, please visit:

Sukanya Roy
NSF Newsletter Team Member
Do you have a story, poem, essay, or some artwork to share? Send your submissions to! In addition to your entry, please include a scanned photograph of yourself and the name of your school, your hometown, grade level, and hobbies

NSF congratulates our Newsletter Team members Ramya Auroprem and Shrinidhi Thirumalai for being selected into UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry program and Olin college of Engineering (a selective engineering school founded by MIT in Boston) respectively. We thank them for their services to the NSF Newsletter Team and look forward to their continued support to NSF and the Newsletter activities.

Newsletter Team: Ramya Auroprem, Sukanya Roy, Shrinidhi Thirumalai, Ferdine Silva, Vignesh Kumar, and Madhav Durbha


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