Keerthana Velappan Receives Substantial U Award

By: Erika Dietrick, Undergraduate Director of Marketing and Communications

keerthana 3From the moment EC Scholar and Honors College student Keerthana Velappan stepped onto ECU’s campus, she was determined to change the world. It began with outstanding performance in her classes as a University Studies/Children’s Hearing Studies major and eventually transformed into leadership positions both on and off-campus: tutoring children of all ages in math, leading as treasurer of the Indian Student Association, and working as a summer research intern at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute (part of the University of Michigan Medical School). In between her service and research, she found time to make the Dean’s or Chancellor’s list every semester and was inducted into a number of honors societies, including Phi Kappa Phi, which nominated her for the Outstanding First-Year Student Award. However, something even bigger was brewing for this multi-talented scholar.

keerthana 5Her passion for feminism, education, and positive change eventually led Keerthana to establish the East Carolina University chapter of She’s the First during her sophomore year. The national non-profit organization sponsors girls’ education in low-income countries, allowing them to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school and to break the generational cycle of poverty. In an earlier blog post from April of this year, Keerthana describes the origin of this powerful organization and how the ECU chapter raises hundreds of dollars on campus. Just six months later, her leadership in the ECU chapter has already surpassed their initial goals: instead of sponsoring two girls in Nepal and Uganda for a year at $720, the organization is very near being able to support four.

It is for this reason that she was anonymously nominated for the 2015 Substantial U Awards. Presented by Substantial Magazine and NC Civil, the award seeks to recognize a college student who dares to be different in order to change the world. As is apparent to everyone who meets her, Keerthana’s genuine compassion, tireless work ethic, and unique perspective shone through–she was presented the award in October 2015.

In an interview with ECU, Keerthana explained that her initial motivation for starting a chapter of She’s the First was the confusion around the feminist movement and the power of education. “Over the course of this year, I have become more involved in and informed about feminism and the feminist movement,” she said. “I strongly believe that education is the key to change. Educating only half of the world’s population should not be an option.”

keerthana 4Her role model, Emma Watson, embodies a similar mission to Keerthana: to show the world that feminism is about equality between genders, not the overpowering of one or the other. The inclusive philosophy was a central topic of discussion at ECU’s first annual Day of the Girl Conference. Hosted by She’s the First*{East Carolina University}, the conference focused on redefining and owning the word feminism and included lectures from several guest speakers, including a keynote lecture by Honors College Faculty Fellow Dr. Liz Forgarty about today’s feminist movement around the world.

As She’s the First*{East Carolina University} nears its one-year anniversary, the Honors College at East Carolina University would like to commend Keerthana for embodying our mission of leadership and service to the fullest. She is a stellar role model in the Honors College Living-Learning Community, and we can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next. Undaunted by challenges and unwilling to compromise, Keerthana Velappan will continue to inspire others with her vision, her achievements, and her heart.

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Professional photography from the 2015 Substantial Awards. Use #Substantial Awards when sharing or reposting their photos to give proper credit and spread their mission statement! 

Click here to make a donation to She’s the First*{East Carolina University}. If you are an ECU student, you can e-mail to get involved in the chapter.


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