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4 South Asian Americans — Shreeya Singh, Varsha Sarveshwar, Trisha N. Prabhu and Devashish Basnet — Among 32 Rhodes Scholars

4 South Asian Americans — Shreeya Singh, Varsha Sarveshwar, Trisha N. Prabhu and Devashish Basnet — Among 32 Rhodes Scholars

  • Elected from a pool of 826 applicants who had been nominated by their colleges and universities, the Class of 2022 was elected entirely virtually for the second year in a row.

Three Indian American women — Shreeya Singh, Varsha Sarveshwar, Trisha N. Prabhu — and Nepali American Devashish Basnet are among 32 Rhodes Scholars who will commence their studies at Oxford in October next year. 

The class includes 22 women, the most ever elected in a year, and has winners from 24 different colleges and universities. They were selected from a pool of 826 applicants who had been nominated by their colleges and universities and were elected entirely virtually for the second year in a row. The Rhodes Trust says that the contributions of these “inspiring leaders” to public welfare will ‘expand exponentially,” both nationally and globally, “over the course of their careers in varied sectors and disciplines.”

Shreeya Singh of Pembroke Pines, Illinois, is a senior at Yale College, majoring in history. At Oxford, she plans to do the MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies. Singh has worked in Congressional offices and on a U.S. presidential campaign and has been active across the world in causes of political justice and human rights. 

Her research aims to prove that women not only have unique perspectives to contribute to crisis response as a result of their diverse lived experiences but that they also tend to manage crisis response in measurably different ways from their male counterparts. “Rather than essentialize the talents of women in leadership to their gender, this research makes a concerted effort to instead argue that a diversity of representation improves crisis response broadly,” she writes in a blog on Yale University’s website. Additionally, her work engages with “the limitations of framing this inquiry within the gender binary, as well as concluding recommendations for future crisis response considerations.”

A recipient of the Women in Government Fellowship, she conducted independent research during the summer of 2020. She worked with Dr. Sarah Khan to track gendered differences in state-level leadership in the United States during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. “With COVID-19 bringing so much suffering and systemic inequity into focus, it was important to me to use this opportunity to study communities that are often left out of primary policy and emergency response considerations– often the targets of the worst impacts,” she writes in the blog. 

Simultaneously, she worked as a legislative intern for the Office of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), where she was able “to critically engage with the practical issues of representation discussed as a Women in Government cohort.”

She is also the founder and president of Students Against Hindutva, from which she organized nationwide protests against India’s anti-Muslim policies. She is also the political chair of the South Asian Society and managing editor of its International Relations magazine. Singh, who was born in India, is also an accomplished debater, nationally and globally.

Trisha N. Prabhu of Naperville, Illinois, is a senior at Harvard College, where she majors in Government. The 21-year-old innovator, social entrepreneur, and global advocate is the founder and CEO of ReThink, Inc., an app that proactively detects offensive digital content and gives users a chance to reconsider posting it. 

On her website, she tells the story of how ReThink was born as a result of an incident that shocked her. In the fall of 2013, Prabhu, then just 13, read the shocking news story of Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide. After being cyberbullied for over a year and a half, Rebecca, a 12-year-old girl from Florida, took her own life. As a victim of harassment herself, Prabhu was shocked, heartbroken, and outraged; “she couldn’t be a bystander, and decided to be an Upstander,” the website says. In response, she created the patented technology product ReThink. “Her globally acclaimed research has found that with ReThink, adolescents change their mind 93 percent of the time and decide not to post an offensive message,” the website notes. 

In 2016, Prabhu was invited by President Obama and the U.S. State Department to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, to showcase her work and share her story with other entrepreneurs. Not long after, ReThink was featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” An ardent supporter of empowering women in the entrepreneurial community, Prabhu was elected Illinois’s Youth Governor — the state’s first female Youth Governor in 28 years — in 2017. 

In 2019, ReThink was the grand prize winner of Harvard University’s President’s Innovation Challenge. In 2020, she was named one of the inaugural winners of the prestigious Elevate Prize, as well as an Adrian Cheng Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative. And a year later, she was the youngest honoree named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Impact list.

Prabhu holds several United States patents. As a Civic Digital Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Prabhu helped lead the KidneyX Accelerator, which incentivized innovators and businesses to create kidney care technology solutions. At Oxford, Prabhu plans to pursue an MSc in Social Science of the Internet and a Masters of Public Policy.

Varsha Sarveshwar of Sacramento, California, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2020 in Political Science, with minors in Public Policy and History. “She won highest honors in each discipline with a perfect academic record, along with numerous university and national honors and awards,” according to her Rhodes profile. At Oxford, she plans to do the MSc in Comparative Social Policy and the Masters in Public Policy.

Sarveshwar was elected President of the UC Student Association in 2019, representing more than 275,000 students. Additionally, she was a resident of the Cal Berkeley Democrats. 

Since graduation, she has worked as a Public Service Fellow and then as an executive assistant for Cabinet Affairs in the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom. She is a recipient of the 2020 Political Science Departmental Citation, the 2019 Travers Scholarship in Ethics and Politics, the Percy Undergraduate Grant for Public Affairs Research, and the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service.

In 2018, Sarveshwar managed Rigel Robinson’s Berkeley City Council campaign. Robinson received 56 percent of the vote in Berkeley’s student-supermajority district to become the youngest council member in city history. She has since served as an alternate member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, a delegate to the California Democratic Party convention, and a political staffer on Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s campaign.

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Devashish Basnet of Hicksville, New York, is a senior at City University of New York, Hunter College, majoring in Political Science. He currently serves as president of Hunter College’s student government. 

Basnet and his parents came to the U.S. as political asylees from Nepal. According to his profile in The Envoy, the student-run news site of Hunter College, Basnet’s passion for public service can be traced to his own immigration story. When he was born in 2000, Nepal was in the midst of civil unrest. Feeling that their country was not a safe place to live, Basnet and his family immigrated to Woodside, Queens in 2005.

Basnet told The Envoy that ever since then he has always been drawn to finding ways to improve the lives of those around him. “I explored different career options but I’ve always been drawn to public speaking and what it means to be a voice and a champion for others that don’t have the ability to articulate what they want to say, or what they want to convey,” he said. “So, I started thinking more deeply about the role I wanted to play.” 

On a trip back to Nepal in his senior year of high school, Basnet observed many people in his hometown living in poverty. He took his paycheck of about $250 he had just received from working at Chipotle, converted it to Nepali rupees and donated the money to his previous elementary school to help provide multiple students with school supplies for about a year. “And after he realized how far 250 American dollars could go in Nepal, he wanted to go even further,” The Envoy noted. 

With help from his high school, he started a one-time sponsorship initiative that allowed students in Nepal to attend elementary school without worrying about the costs. They raised over $1,000, or 116,000 Nepali rupees, and it was enough to cover all of the 125 students for a school year.

Since then, Basnet has worked extensively on international migration issues, including writing a senior honors thesis on unaccompanied minors and the criminalization of immigration in the U.S. An accomplished baritone, Basnet will perform the role of the Count in this fall’s Hunter College Opera Theatre Project’s production of the Marriage of Figaro. At Oxford, he will pursue an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and a Master’s in Public Policy.

(This story has been revised and updated)

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