Queen's welcomes Karta Scholars

Queen's welcomes Karta Scholars

The international Karta Initiative provides access to university for promising students from rural India.

November 30, 2021


Photograph of Karta Scholars at Queen's.
Sahana Nayaka and Akshay Desale are the first two students to join Queen's through the university's partnership with the Karta Initiative. (University Communications)

Talented students are everywhere in the world, but, for many, a university experience is well out of reach.

Queen’s has committed to a range of programs to help address this challenge, including its partnership with the Karta Initiative, an international charity that works to transform the futures of students from developing and emerging economies. In 2019, Queen’s signed an agreement with the Karta Initiative to support up to five Karta scholars from under-resourced areas in rural India to study at the university each year. Although the pandemic has limited this number so far, the university is pleased to be supporting two scholars this year.

Sahana Nayaka joined Queen’s as its first Karta Scholar in 2019, and Akshay Desale became Queen’s second Karta Scholar this fall. Since arriving on campus, they’ve been busy adjusting not only to life at university but also to life in Canada more broadly. The Queen’s Gazette connected with Sahana and Akshay to learn more about how they came to Queen’s and where they hope their education will take them after they graduate.

The Karta Initiative offers a wide range of programs for students in rural India. You’re both a part of the Karta Catalyst Scholars program, which provides students with financial and personal support to study at leading universities. It is open to only a select group of talented and community-oriented students. What was your path to becoming a Karta Scholar?

Sahana: It started for me in grade 11, when my school was selected to take part in the Karta Initiative. Several of us were selected to apply based on our grades, then later we had a series of interviews with the Karta mentors and had to write about ourselves, our background, and why we want to be part of Karta. A few of us were then officially selected as Karta members, which opened up opportunities like summer school and workshops on English. After two years of being members, we were then assessed again to determine if we could move on and become Karta Scholars. The main thing you’re assessed on is your values, specifically flexibility, integrity, perseverance, and service. Not every member is able to become a scholar. If you’re selected, you’ll have an opportunity to study at a university. It was a very proud moment to find out I’d been selected to become a Karta Scholar.

Akshay: My path was very similar to Sahana’s. I became a Karta member in grade 10, which gave me the chance to learn a lot about life at universities and how they work. Then I became a Karta Scholar in grade 12.

As a Karta scholar, you had the option to pursue an undergraduate education at many universities in Canada, the United Kingdom, and India. Why did you choose Queen’s for your studies?

Akshay: Queen’s is a world-class university, and it provided me with a very good scholarship. I also knew that Queen’s was going to be a very supportive environment to study in. Through Karta, I got the chance to speak with Sahana about her experiences at Queen’s and she told me how welcoming the community is here and how much mentorship you can find.

Sahana: I didn’t know much about Queen’s except what I found on Google. But I knew I liked the subjects offered here, and I liked the flexibility Queen’s gives you in the first year find out what you want to study. I come from a science background and really enjoyed taking classes in all subjects, like physics, chemistry, biology, and math. So I wanted to continue to explore different subjects until I found out which one fits well for me, and Queen’s offered that opportunity.

How have you been settling into life at Queen’s so far? Sahana, you’ve been here a few years now so maybe you feel like you’ve been comfortable here for some time.

Sahana: I do feel comfortable, and in large part that’s because Queen’s has a great ecosystem of support for us. It makes us feel like we are a part of a community. Coming from a very rural area in India, it’s a big transition to study at a university in Canada. For myself, and I think for Akshay too: we never imagined we would be here when we were growing up. To help us make this transition, Queen’s has provided us with support throughout our journey, especially from the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) and other units in Student Affairs. At the beginning there was definitely some culture shock and language adjustment, and Queen’s has helped us through it all.

Akshay: My experience has been pretty similar to Sahana’s. I also come from a rural background in India, so studying at a university like Queen’s is huge for me. And it’s a very huge transition. The cultures are different. People and perspectives are different. Everything is different here. But people come to Queen’s from very different backgrounds. And everyone is open to every kind of background. This has helped me a lot. So I feel I have been settling in really well in terms of making friends here, and sharing my culture with them and learning about their cultures. And like Sahana said, we have access to all kinds of resources and moral support at Queen’s through QUIC, Student Affairs, and other offices on campus. We’ve been getting help whenever we need it.

Since you’re feeling so supported that probably helps you have the energy to focus on your coursework. What subjects are you studying at Queen’s? Have you had any favourite courses yet?

Akshay: I am in the computing program, and I really enjoy coding. So one of my favourite courses this term is CISC 101, where we’re being introduced to coding and learning Python, a programming language. What I really enjoy about coding is the sense of completion I get from it, the sense I’m really building something and creating something of my own. I find that very satisfying. When I study other subjects, I feel like I need to take a break after two or three hours. But when I study coding I feel like I can do it forever. Everything can be done in different ways when you’re coding. That’s one of the best things about it.

Sahana: I am a mathematics major, and one of my favourite courses has been one I’m taking this term, Introduction to Finance. I like working with numbers and learning how money works. It’s really interesting to see what happens when money moves from one place in the economy to another. Finance also gives me the chance to blend my interests in math and economics together. I took economics courses my first two years and really enjoyed them. Since I’m in third year, I feel like I need to start figuring out what I want to do, and my interests are starting to move more towards finance.

So you’ve started to talk about what you might want to do with your life. You both obviously still have a lot of time to figure things out, but as of now where do you see your career or education going after you graduate from Queen’s?

Sahana: For now, I’m not really sure, but I think I want to pursue graduate studies. Maybe a master’s in finance or an MBA. I would also be open to working. I still need to figure out my path and where I want to be after graduation.

Akshay: Within the computing program, I’ll be focusing on artificial intelligence. And I’m also learning data science. By the end of fourth year, I’m hoping to start studying higher level machine learning and other subjects related to data science. After I graduate, I’d like to try to find a job working in data science for a big tech firm like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon.

Earlier, you both noted how coming to Queen’s from rural India was a big transition for both of you. What’s one thing you were really surprised by when you arrived in Canada?

Akshay: I knew a lot about Queen’s and Canada from Sahana before I got here. But I was still surprised by how warmly accepted I was by the other students. I knew everyone would be kind to me, but I still wasn’t sure if I’d really be accepted and make friends easily. But I was surprised that my background made no difference when it came to making friends. People welcomed me and included me from the start.

Sahana: Coming from a huge country like India with one of the highest populations in the world, I was surprised by how few people there seemed to be here when I first came. I remember asking myself: “where are the people?” And like Akshay I was surprised by how nice the people are. Then winter was a big surprise too. The first time it snowed, I was very excited. But each time it’s snowed after that I think I’ve found it less exciting.

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