Indian immigrants are at the receiving end in the U.S. in many ways thanks to President Donald Trump’s policies. However, at least two dozen children of Indian descent were among the 161 young students honoured by him last month at the White House. They were selected for the Presidential Scholars Programme, considered the nation’s highest honour for high school students.
“It was super cool getting to meet the President. It’s not something you really expect to happen and honestly, we were all kind of in shock. I was just amazed as I wandered around before the pictures, seeing all the history around me,” said Mihir Patel, a student graduating from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), in Fairfax, Virginia, of his visit to the White House.
“It was phenomenal. Not only because we got to roam around the East Wing of the White House, or because we got to meet the President. It was special because we had an opportunity to get to know so many other talented and bright students. Even though we were all complete strangers, there was a similar sense of drive, passion, and spirit that made us incredibly fast friends” said Kavya Kopparapu, also from TJHSST. Mr. Patel will be joining Stanford University and Ms. Kopparapu will be joining the Harvard University this year.
In brief remarks to the children who had come from all parts of America, Mr. Trump told the scholars that they were doing great things and asked them to keep it up. “Keep doing what you’re doing... Have a good life,” one participant recalled Mr. Trump telling them.
Ms. Kopparapu and Mr. Patel, both 17, consider the company of diverse Americans as the most illuminating part of the two-day gathering in Washington hosted by the Department of Education.
“Every moment became an opportunity for growth. Standing in line for breakfast meant a conversation about one scholar’s roots in Ireland and his family’s dairy farm. Another moment led to a discussion about the lessons we have learned from playing team sports throughout childhood.
“Over the two days, I became both a learner and a teacher,” said Ms. Kopparapu.
“Overall, my favourite part was actually getting to meet all of the scholars. It was amazing meeting so many students from all across the U.S. who had several different backgrounds and viewpoints. I made so many great friends, from my room-mate from Florida who moved to the U.S. from Syria six years ago to another student who is a Native American living on a reservation in Rhode Island,” said Mr. Patel.
Ms. Kopparapu will be undertaking a programme at Harvard with joint concentration in biomedical engineering and computer science, pursuing her passion of combining biology and computers. Availability of massive amount of data and computing power will revolutionise medical care in the near future, she says, and she is all set to ride that wave. Among her innovations already creating a flutter in the field is Eyeagnosis system, which uses machine learning techniques and a 3D-printed smartphone lens attachment for the automatic screening of diabetic retinopathy.
Her collaborators for this project include the National Institutes of Health, and the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Machines for health
Before heading to Harvard, Ms. Kopparapu will be joining the CoreOS Core Machine Learning Team at Apple in July and August as an intern. She loves flying and aims high, but as the expansive puja space in the living room of the family from Andhra Pradesh stands testimony to, she is also a devout Hindu.
“Before she sent out the Harvard application, she checked the auspicious time and prayed,” said her mother Rajani Kopparapu.
Mr. Patel will be taking a combination of computer sciences and economics at Stanford. His desire to help a relative suffering from lymphedema — a condition of fluid retention in limbs — prompted him to develop an invention to remotely calculate progress of the disease. He developed a mobile app and computer vision algorithms to automate limb volume measurements, and a paper on the project is currently under review for publication.
Mr. Patel also developed a tool for automated identification of Islamic State (IS) propaganda accounts on social media using user statistics, text analysis, and image recognition through deep learning. He later presented the findings before the U.S. National Security Agency.