Eagan grad, students shine light on India’s issues

Viroopa Volla (far left front), a student at Harvard University, has expanded the college’s U.S.-India Initiative to her alma mater, Eagan High School, as well as Rosemount, Eastview and Eden Prairie high schools. About 25 students have joined the new program, which was created earlier this month. – Photo submitted

Viroopa Volla, a junior at Harvard University in Massachusetts, has spent the past two years working to solve societal problems in India, her birthplace.

Volla, who grew up in Eagan, serves as executive president of the school’s U.S.-India Initiative, which aims to address social, economic, environmental and political issues in India with help from college students in India and the United States.

Now the 20-year-old is bringing the program to her alma mater, Eagan High School, as well as Rosemount, Eastview and Eden Prairie high schools.

Volla said the move was inspired by her younger brother, Sylesh, who is a senior at Eagan High School and took an interest in the initiative.

“I found it interesting that there is all this talent in the high school that is under-utilized,” she said.

Like Volla and her brother, all the students involved in the high school program so far are of Indian descent and are interested in their roots.

“Many go back to visit family and don’t do much,” Volla said. “I think this is a good way for them to give back.”

Students involved in the Harvard program work together to spur social entrepreneurship and to solve water quality, transit congestion and limited access to health care in India. Social entrepreneurship includes projects or businesses that aim to create social change.

They connect with college students in India through social media throughout the year and attend two summer conferences in India.

Volla was inspired to join the group by a Harvard class that challenged students to develop solutions to a problem in Southeast Asia. The top two projects, including Volla’s, received funding and were implemented abroad. Volla’s initiate provided a digital library in rural India.

She hoped to continue her work in India and soon connected with the U.S.-India Initiative program.

Volla is studying economics and global health policy at Harvard, and said she hopes to promote innovative solutions for global health.

The group of 25 high school students will address these issues on smaller scale by creating a semi-annual magazine, published by Harvard, that focuses on India’s ills and solutions to those problems.

Topics in the first edition will include U.S.-India relations, social entrepreneurship and social issues in India, said Volla, who plans to keep in contact with the students via email and occasional meetings.

“This isn’t just a high school activity,” she said. “It’s something they can take ownership in and make a difference.”

The first issue, which will be distributed at the high schools and on Harvard’s campus, is expected to be published in late January. An online version will be created around the same time, Volla said.

“The greatest challenge will be getting everything submitted and making it look professional,” she said.

Volla said she hopes the program will build confidence among the teens and reassure them that student too can bring about change.

The students will also be able to apply to attend the U.S-India Initiative’s two summer conferences in India.

“It will be a great opportunity for high school and college students to connect,” Volla said.