[AI] Making it to MIT against odds

Renuka Warrier erenuka at gmail.com
Sun Jun 20 20:51:18 EDT 2010

Date:21/06/2010 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/edu/2010/06/21/stories/2010062150460400.htm _________________________________________________________________________________
Link: Education Plus
Making it to MIT against odds


Bolla Srikanth, a visually-challenged boy, is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Sciences at the university
Winner: Bolla Srikanth in conversation with National Trust Chairperson Poonam Natarajan during the inaugural function of Abilities Mela 2010 in Secunderabad.
Bolla Srikanth was barely few years old when many in his community counselled his parents to abandon him. The pressure was heavy on his illiterate parents, a farmer father and housewife mother, but they never yielded. Had they heeded their advice, the world would have been minus one inspiring story today.

>From a small village Sitaramapuram near Machlipatnam town in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, this visually-challenged boy has made it to the portals of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. The 18-year-old is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Sciences in Brain and Cognitive Science, Business Management and Computer Science at the university.

"Though they are illiterate, both of them had a strong will to get me educated. This inspired me," he says. Shortly after, about 13 years ago, an uncle of his enrolled him in Devnar School for the Blind in Hyderabad, and life took a different spin for Srikanth.

"I didn't know anything when I joined school. I was like a rural introvert. I learned everything, I picked up English. I joined community service. Now, I have occupied a place in the society where people are respecting me," he says. "It has been a long journey."

>From being a "rural introvert," Srikanth went on to secure 92 per cent in the Class X Board Examinations and was a two-time recipient of Pratibha Awards given by the Andhra Pradesh government for students who excel in public examinations every year.

He also received a citation for outstanding community service as Youth Leader in Lead India 2020 from former President APJ Abdul Kalam and was a national chess player playing against the likes of Koneru Humpy.

Intermediate was next and he wanted to take up the Maths, Physics, Chemistry stream to be eligible to study engineering. But a disinclined officialdom was not encouraging. "When I visited the offices for the first time, they asked me to get away. Even an IAS officer was not able to realise the potential of blind persons," he recollects.

"After a lot of trouble," Srikanth finally managed to enrol himself for the MPC stream at a private college, a good three months after the classes began. He went on to secure an aggregate percentage of 93 at the end of two years.

Challenges persisted still. "When I wanted to prepare for IIT, one coaching centre told me straightaway I was not fit to join them." Another top institute in the country did not even bother to respond to his application. "I didn't even get my hall ticket. I was not even allowed to write AIEEE. But, I was not disturbed because I was focussed on my goal and I wanted to study sciences."

Guided by his mentors Swarnalatha, teacher at Devnar School for the Blind, and G. Ravishankar, a software consultant in the U.S., Srikanth realised his ambition of studying at MIT. "Only 120 seats are open to international students for which students from 70 countries in the world compete," he says proudly of his admission that came with a US $ 49,000 scholarship.

"My mentor Swarnalatha was like a backbone to me in whatever I did so far. She has worked harder than me." She was by his side throughout: fighting for him, managing his study expenses, recording material for him to study easily and even lodging him in her house during initial days of his Intermediate.

Mr. Ravishankar, whom Srikanth met during an international conference at Indian School of Business, helped him apply to different universities abroad. "Because I was a special student, we had to fill up some special forms. He also worked really hard with me for six months. Even now he is in contact and helps me with whatever I want."

Persons with disabilities, he says, suffer from lack of exposure and lack of opportunities.

"You have to see where you stand in the society, not as a visually-challenged person but as a human being." He sings paeans about U.S. "The university is very helpful. They have so many resources. People don't show sympathy there. In fact they provide you opportunities."

He has already finished two semesters at the university (scoring 5/5 GPA) and currently is interning with GE in Hyderabad.

Srikanth is keen on entrepreneurship and plans to launch a software firm after his course where he wants to give opportunities to rural youth.

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