In Focus

Sixteen-year-old Roshan Prabhu of Jersey City, NJ, is one such youngster. He, along with teammate Juliet Girard, took home a $100,000 scholarship for their project in the 2002-03 Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology, a research-based competition for high school students.

Prabhu’s research on “Identification and High Resolution Mapping of Flowering Time Genes in Rice,” is a step in the direction of quelling world hunger. The team identified genes that contribute to early flowering time in rice, a discovery that could lead to increased crop production through earlier and more frequent harvests per year. The discovery was a culmination of research conducted by the two high school seniors during an internship in the NASA Sharp Plus Program at the Cornell University Department of Plant Breeding.

“Ms. Girard and Mr. Prabhu have made a significant advance in an important area of genetic research that could have great societal importance,” said Judge Victor R. Ambros, professor of genetics, Dartmouth Medical School. What were you doing when you were 16?

f4350219b9e6fd8be36dd7925262ff98-2While the younger generation is making phenomenal strides in breakthrough studies, technology gurus are leaving behind footprints in time. Kumar Malavalli and Mihir Parikh can now go where only the chosen go. As the first two Indian-Americans to be inducted into the prestigious Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, Malavalli and Parikh have earned recognition as outstanding engineers.

Malavalli is co-founder and advisor of Brocade Communications Inc., while Parikh is founder of Asyst Technologies, Inc. The award recognizes engineers/technologists who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and have made significant contributions to Silicon Valley and the Greater Bay Area communities.

“This prestigious honor bestowed upon me, not only recognizes my contribution in the area of storage networking, but also validates the supports that I received from all the individuals and the organizations in making the unique journey to get here,” said Malavalli of the citation.

f4350219b9e6fd8be36dd7925262ff98-4Separately, a young women entrepreneur is on a steely mission. Twenty-seven-year-old Farhana Huq is the power behind an organization called Creating Economic Opportunities for Women a.k.a. CEO Women founded in 2001. Childhood memories of women in her family struggling with their circumstances laid the foundation for CEO Women; present-day support and encouragement came in the form of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Lata Krishnan.

CEO Women offers a two-pronged model for economic empowerment of low-income immigrant women: by teaching better communication skills in English and by equipping its participants with suitable business skills to start and operate a small enterprise. It approaches these goals through ESL (English as a second language) programs taught by their partner organizations like the Oakland Unified School District, adult education, and through inspiration drawn from the Grameen Bank model (in Bangladesh). Huq teaches micro-enterprise herself, drawing on her background as an economic development major from Tufts University. So far CEO Women has worked with 37 women, 26 of who have made it past the ESL and 18-week training schedule.

“It is important that the community realizes that young social change-makers are entrepreneurs too, and therefore invests in their growth by bestowing a fellowship or a fund,” says Huq.—Radhika Sharma

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And last but not the least is this enterprising bunch in San Jose that promises to make life easier for all those who have to deal with math (yuck!).

Say, how much is 45 X 45? If you solved it the way many people do, you would calculate 45X5, then 45X4, and add the two products. With methods taught at Mathevedics, you would multiply the last digits, i.e., 5X5=25. Now multiply the first digit of 45 (i.e. 4) with the digit that is one more than it in value, in this case 5 (since 4+1=5). Multiply 4 by 5 (=20). Now, for the final result of 45X45, you place 20 before 25: 2025 is the answer!

Mathevedics in San Jose is the combined project of Santosh Kumar, Varsha Kumar, Rakesh Kumar, and Vinita Kumar. The classes teach problem-solving techniques derived from the ancient Vedic mathematics of India. Very simply put, Mathevedics teaches methods that help speed up calculations of big numbers. Take the above problem; ordinarily, it would require around a minute; with the Vedic math techniques, it drops to a few seconds, explains Varsha Kumar. At the deeper level, it also supposedly improves the IQ by enhancing the analytical skills and thought processes.

Santosh Kumar’s introduction to Vedic mathematics came during his days at IIT in India; he realized it would considerably speed up calculations if these methods were applied to the current curricula in modern mathematics. He started by teaching his son a few techniques, found interest and success, and decided to impart the knowledge on a larger scale.

Mathevedics does not discredit modern mathematics. It rightfully acknowledges the merits of both the ancient and modern systems, and applies the power of the old to enhance the new. Consequently, not just arithmetic calculations, but all disciplines of mathematics including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, could be tackled in fewer steps. “When you go for competitive exams like SAT where calculators are not allowed, the Vedic math techniques really help,” says Varsha Kumar.

Mathevedics accepts students as young as 2nd-graders, who can handle two-digit arithmetic calculations. There are future plans to set up Mathevedics classrooms nationwide.

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