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9 South Asian American Students Selected for 2020 Washington Leadership Program

9 South Asian American Students Selected for 2020 Washington Leadership Program

  • The program cultivates next generation of leaders by placing them in Congressional offices or government agencies for eight-week summer internship.

The Washington Leadership Program (WLP), an annual leadership development program for young South Asian Americans, has announced its class of 2020 scholars. Even though WLP is virtual this summer, it promises to be “an intense and jam-packed summer internship/leadership program.”

The WLP cultivates the South Asian American community’s next generation of leaders by placing them in Congressional offices or government agencies for eight-week summer internships and a structured leadership-training curriculum.

“We now have five South Asians elected to Congress and a number of South Asians in the government; we will offer you a chance to learn from them to benefit our community and your future,” says WLA chair Harin J. Contractor.

The program was founded in August 2008 in memory of publisher and philanthropist Gopal Raju, founder of both India Abroad and the Indo-Asian News Service.

This year’s WLP scholars include Vignesh Iyer, Ananya Kachru, Mihiri Kotikawatta, Rucha Modi, Shreya Pabbaraju, Vishwa Padigepati, Hillary Shah, and Krithika Shamanna. They will receive a total stipend of $2,000 and will be required to complete two to three short writing assignments during the internship.

The program was founded in August 2008 in memory of publisher and philanthropist Gopal Raju, founder of both India Abroad and the Indo-Asian News Service. Raju sponsored a program in 1995 that placed more than 170 students in congressional internships over 15 years.

WLP alumni have interned for notable elected officials, as well as for government agencies like the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce. Alumni have gone on to win scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, and Truman, as well as acceptances into top-notch medical, law, public policy, and other graduate programs. Several alums went on to become state elected officials, presidential appointees, and senior advisors to government officials.

Meet the 2020 WLP scholars: 

Vignesh Iyer

Vignesh Iyer (Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.): Iyer is a graduating junior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying Political Science and Economics. In his two years on the UC Student Association’s Board of Directors, he has worked with California State Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom on issues of financial aid, student basic needs, and racial justice. Off campus, he has worked on local campaigns in the Bay Area, and on housing and homelessness policy as a legislative intern for San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Ananya Kachru

Ananya Kachru (Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.): Kachru is from Woodbridge, Connecticut, and is a junior at Yale University, where she is majoring in Global Affairs. She recently led the 2020 South Asian Youth Initiative — where South Asian college students come together to have critical discussions on issues including mental health, intersectionality, and gender violence. She also leads the Yale International Relations Leadership Institute and is involved with its Board of Directors. Kachru is the incoming co-President of the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative and South Asian Society. She is involved with South Asian Americans in Public Service and is a Yale Campus Tour Guide.

Mihiri Kotikawatta

Mihiri Kotikawatta Congressman (Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.): Kotikawatta is a senior at the University of California, San Diego where she is studying Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and Global Health. She was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but grew up in Chula Vista, California. On campus, Kotikawatta works at the Women’s Center as a community liaison and is also co-vice chair of the South Asian student association. She hopes to attend graduate school and to pursue a career in public service and foreign affairs.

Rucha Modi

Rucha Modi (U.S. Agency for International Development): Modi is a rising senior at UCLA, majoring in Global sStudies and minoring in Public Affairs. On campus, she has served as the lobbying director for UCLA’s undergraduate student government and works for UCLA’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. Off campus, she is working on a documentary about the affordability and accessibility of California’s public higher education system, and a think tank research project regarding LGBTQ nondiscrimination and media rhetoric.

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Shreya Pabbaraju

Shreya Pabbaraju (U.S. Agency for International Development): Pabbaraju is a fourth year student at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in Political Science and English and Creative Writing. Previously, she has served as the Carter Center’s Human Rights Intern, and has also worked for the organization’s outreach arm with Emory, the Institute for Developing Nations. She currently serves as Lead Coder and Research Assistant for a project on militia violence in Northern Ireland, and is pursuing an honors thesis on violence against women in India.

Vishwa Padigepati

Vishwa Padigepati (Department of Commerce – ITA): Padigepati is a rising sophomore at Yale University where she is majoring in cognitive science and political science. She lived in India and France, before moving to California at eight. She is passionate about genocide prevention and international development and volunteers her time to serve as a youth leader for STAND and Plan International USA. On campus, she is on the board of Yale Review of International Studies and Managing Editor for The Yale Undergraduate Human Rights Journal. She hopes to pursue developmental infrastructure work and human rights law in her future.

Tarun Ramesh

Tarun Ramesh (Department of Health & Human Services – CMS): Ramesh is an Economics and Genetics major at the University of Georgia, interested in substance use disorder prevention and the disparate impacts of addiction epidemics on vulnerable populations. His work on opioid use disorder and rural hospital closures have been published by the Center for American Progress, the Roosevelt Institute, the Georgia Political Review, and the Undergraduate Economic Review, and his policy recommendations have been used by congressional campaigns, rural hospital boards, legislators, and correctional facilities. Ramesh has also investigated the socioeconomic determinants of addiction. He hopes to pursue a joint Masters in Health Economics and Medical Degree to help end the criminalization of addiction.

Hillary Shah

Hillary Shah (Department of Commerce – Office of Civil Rights): Shah is a senior at the University of North Texas where she studies Political Science and Economics, with a certification in Legal Studies. Shah is passionate about reinvigorating the American Dream and breaking down political, economic, and social structures that prohibit marginalized communities from reaching their full potential — whether that be through voter rights and mobilization work for historically disenfranchised groups, gun violence prevention, or education and resource distribution to first-generation and women of color. She hopes to attend law school and serve her community as a public advocacy lawyer and public servant.

Krithika Shamanna

Krithika Shamanna (Department of Commerce – Women & STEM Group): Shamanna is a sophomore at Rice University where she is majoring in Political Science and the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, while pursuing a certificate in Civic Leadership. On campus, she is involved with the debate team, the school yearbook, and a chapter of non-profit organization Deeds Not Words. She is interested in studying the intersection of law, women’s rights, and public policy.

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