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A Mechanic’s Son, How I Beat The Odds To Study At MIT

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By Ayush Sharma

ayush mitI had lived my whole life in Kanpur, where my father works as a mechanic at the PWD and my mom worked in the para-military forces (CRPF) as a constable for 20 years until she retired. I attended the local Kendriya Vidyalaya.
Then at the beginning of my Class 11, I met some volunteers from IIT Kanpur from a social enterprise called Avanti who trained students from low-income backgrounds for competitive exams. I learned that unlike most coaching classes, they did not rely on rote learning but instead had a more engaging pedagogy.

Since I was already fascinated by Physics, I took their scholarship test and qualified for their coaching, which I thought would help me secure admission to a good college. However, during my coaching, I also got to know from Avanti about Yale Young Global Scholars, one of the most prestigious and selective summer programmes for high school students conducted every year by Yale University. I decided I was going to apply and attend this programme. But there was only one problem – I wasn’t good at English.

My Struggles With Mastering English

Though I had a fairly decent understanding of the language, I never had the chance to actually speak English because no one in my circle spoke it. So, every evening when I stepped out for a walk, I would end up speaking to myself! It was a major challenge initially, however, with guidance from Avanti, I was selected, one among only four students to be chosen from India for Yale’s summer programme.

My time at Yale was transformational. For the first time in my life, I had such wide exposure to the world’s most brilliant students and faculty. In addition, my English had really improved and I decided to apply to universities in America for higher studies. I learned that I had to give additional tests like the SATs and TOEFL, and started preparing for them. While the maths section in the SATs were easy for me, I really had to improve and manage my mistakes in the critical reading section.

It was really difficult but eventually, I was able to get a good total score of 2170 out of 2400. The breakdown was – a perfect 800 in maths and 760 out of 800 in critical reading sections, for which I had to work very hard. Where I really messed up was the writing section; I managed to score 610 out of 800. But the most difficult part of the application process was yet to come.

The essays I had to write as part of the application process, were completely different from whatever we have ever done so far in school. These essays require you to think about yourself, what you have been doing, and more importantly why you have been doing the things in your field, and what you have done so far in your life.

Though, I had started to prepare for my essays as soon as I came back from Yale, they took me a long time to finish, and I kept editing and refining them till the time I finally submitted them. I’d like to emphasise that the essays are critical to the US application process. Once your academic abilities are established by your test scores and other projects, it is these essays, which determine the final decision during admissions.

My Thoughts On Indian Education

I have been part of this system since childhood but my brief time at Yale was an eye opener and led me to believe that this isn’t the best way to educate children. There is a lot of room for improvement. Here we often encourage rote learning stress on exam scores. I also feel that the level of science education in India is just not good enough. Many students don’t really get to appreciate what science means, and outside the city, there is almost no awareness or mindset for thinking about what your career opportunities are after school.

In comparison, the system in the US stresses on collaboration, research and out-of-the-box thinking. That kind of learning environment really impressed me. When I came back from Yale, I was more articulate, had a much broader world view. It is then that I decided I wanted to go to a top university for my undergraduate studies. And after a lot of effort and struggles, here I am at MIT, the best engineering college in the world, on a full scholarship.

For those students looking to apply to study abroad, this is my observation — US colleges prefer to accept students who are passionate in their chosen fields of study and are likely to fully utilise resources available to them. For this reason, it is important for you to convey your passion in your application and demonstrate how you have been able to challenge yourself and back that up through tangible achievements.

You must be to comment.
  1. akshi

    It is easy to complain about Indian education system but difficult to improve it…my friend.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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