Kinjal Gandhi (first row, right-most) interned with Duke Talent Identification Program (by Duke University) this summer and shares her memorable internship story with us. Kinjal is a student at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. Read her enthralling experience in her own words.
Summers have come to an end but the memories refuse to fade. It was and will always be one my most favorite experiences- Duke TIP 2014 at OP Jindal University, Delhi. Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) is a three-weeks learning camp organized by Duke University, USA and supported by Educational Initiatives, Ahmedabad. The program is designed to identify academically gifted students from all over India, who are given a learning opportunity to study a subject of their choice ranging from Architecture, Physics and Engineering, Cognitive Psychology, Cryptography, Social Entrepreneurship, Genetic Engineering (DNA) and Forensic Sciences. Duke TIP is an opportunity for young, academic geniuses to study advanced subjects and learn with peers who are as talented as them. A pair of American faculty and Indian Teaching Assistant (TA) teaches each subject and the class strength is a maximum of 18. Students were taught using interactive methods involving debates, role-play, live projects and demonstrations.
This year was my second year as an intern with Duke TIP; the previous year I was holding the position of a Residential Councilor (responsible for managing the residential activities- activities beyond academics, for a group of 10 students). This year, I was selected to be the Academic Program Assistant, after two rounds of interview- a personal interview with Educational Initiatives and a Skype interview with Duke TIP’s director.
The entire staff of 50 people including the American faculty, Program coordinators, Indian Teaching Assistants, Residential councilors and Administration reached O P Jindal University, Delhi on May 5, 2014. The next week was the Orientation Week for all of us where we were trained in our respective roles. The host campus was new, the size of the program was bigger and my responsibilities were different from previous year. Change is often resisted at first, and I did so too. I wanted the previous year’s campus back!
However, it was Duke TIP! And I was aware that the program’s energy and culture un-necessitate such ‘sustenance’ issues (Yes! Even the food matters lesser!). The Orientation week for the staff started off with Ms. Mara Shurgot (Duke TIP Director) and her exuberance instilling life into the program. The orientation ensures each staff member is over prepared to an extra inch so that action begins the moment kids arrive.
As the Orientation week came to an end, Mara, the Program Director called me to the office to discuss some ‘issues’. What was waiting for me was a proposal to hold the position of the Operations Coordinator for the program, because the initial recruit who was supposed to fly down from US had troubles with his visa. Sad. Unfair to him, but, I was amazed! I was being given an opportunity to be responsible for all logistics of the program for 200 people! Of course, I agreed!
Lo and Behold, I was the Operations Coordinator! My responsibilities involved managing the on-site office, organizing Arrival and Departure days for students, updating the TIP India blog with program happenings and handling parent communications. The “Parent communications” were the most difficult and most entertaining aspect of my job. One incident clearly comes to my mind with this. It was 2 in the night and I was sleeping in my hostel room, peacefully after a long 9-to-9 workday. I had the office mobile phone with me, which “should” ring only during the office timings given to parents for communication (2 a.m. in the night was NOT office timing). Yet, the phone rang. I picked up, saying a sleepy but courteous ‘Hello! Duke TIP Office. This is Kinjal, how may I help you?’ On the other side of the phone, an anxious mother says, “My daughter’s stomach was aching yesterday, I wanted to know what you put in the chapattis, Maida or Atta (flour)?” I need not say more. This question at 2 in the night seemed a little…redundant! It was a challenging task to handle parents of 12-year olds who have sent their kids away from home for so long for the first time. But, I loved my job and I loved the kids!
The ‘Talent Show’ was the high of the program. It is there, that I witnessed sheer genius! The students have immense confidence in their skill and their stage flair can make an experienced performer feel time-worn. The kids sang, danced, played their original compositions, performed satirical plays, comedy and mimicry acts. The residential staff had put their heart out to manage this event and their tireless efforts gave a spectacular outcome!
My favorite sight was watching kids, during mealtimes, solve Rubik’s cube within 5 minutes! And, if this wasn’t enough, they had progressed to solving the 8×8 Rubik’s cube and Rubik’s pyramid. Wait for it! One of them could also show the solution to the cube by simply enacting the shifts with his fingers, without having the cube, physically, in his hand. My mouth hungrily gaped at the spoon in my hand, while I sat benumbed with the sight!
The next two weeks passed in a jiffy and I witnessed the brightest and smartest 12-14 year olds of my country discussing geo-politics, genetic engineering and social entrepreneurship! These were kids writing novels, giving TED talks and building bridges, parachutes and solar powered boats (working models) at the age of 12 or 13! After this internship, I no longer doubt the “bright future” of my country.
The Most Memorable Experiences:
The Office: The Duke TIP Office was a luxurious room, the kind that you imagine in a large corporate house, probably even better! The admin team’s quirky whiteboard humor and Shaun’s (On-Site Director) mimicry acts never let the spirits die down.
The Salsa Workshop: I taught the kids Salsa as part of an evening activity. The biggest challenge in a dance workshop surprisingly, was not the dance! It turned out to be the teenagers’ hesitance to hold hands and waists of their partners (Boys and Girls at 13, I tell you!) After repeated failed attempts, we had to let them dance in same sex pairs. And, what made them dance was another lesson from human psychology. We rewarded the students TIP-Stars for participating in certain activities, the Salsa workshop being one of those. And, rewards made even the left-footed boy do the salsa.
Duke TIP 2014- THE TERM: I believe the program is a must for kids who are academically progressive. The interactional and hands-on approach to learning helps them understand the WHY rather than just mugging up the WHAT. Being with students of similar academic potential makes them push themselves to learn more than they usually do.
Since long, we have seen programs for the kids who face difficulty in academics. But, an inclusive growth of education should see programs like these which help kids who are brilliant in academics develop their skills further. ‘Growth’ is possible for everyone, every time. And, Duke TIP is one such program that is giving opportunities to Indian geniuses, irrespective of their economic status. The program supported and sponsored 15 kids from NGOs and rural schools to participate and learn with students having similar academic potential, giving them access to world-class education and providing an impetus to their journey of knowledge and discovery.
The experience at Duke TIP lives up to, and beyond expectations, every time. There is a difference between regular summer programs and Duke TIP, that being of ‘balance’. With all the academic and residential schedules designed to complement each other, none of the students looked overworked (or overplayed).
The work-culture at TIP is what makes it my most favorite workplace. The roles and responsibilities having been clearly defined make one take full charge of the allocated task and perform maximally. Daily meetings helped immensely by making all members aware of what was happening with a student on the academic as well as the residential side. There is always a personal touch to work in TIP, and when everybody tries to bring himself/herself to the project, wonderful things come out.
It was my first time as the Operations Coordinator and I was learning new skills everyday. This experience has helped me grow, personally and professionally. As they say, challenges only make you learn more. I will be forever grateful to Duke and Educational Initiatives for providing me the opportunity to be a part of Duke TIP, once as an RC and then as an OC. TIP has been an integral part of my life since the past two years and now the mention of TIP reverberates good feelings just like those you feel for ‘Home’!
This experience has made me believe, strongly than ever, that every talent needs a springboard and efforts should be made not just to help academically challenged but also academically gifted students.
If Kinjal’s experience motivates you, you can view the latest international internships.
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