Indian Americans Newsmakers of the Week


Natasha Peri

11-year-old girl among world’s brightest students

Natasha Peri, an 11-year-old Indian American student at a New Jersey school has made the cut for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) “High Honors Awards.” A student of Thelma L Sandmeier Elementary School in New Jersey, she won the honors for her exceptional performance on the SAT, ACT, or similar assessment taken as part of the Johns Hopkins Search, according to a CTY statement.

“This motivates me to do more,” Peri said, adding that doodling and reading J.R.R Tolkien’s novels may have worked for her. She was one of nearly 19,000 students from 84 countries who joined CTY in the 2020-21 Talent Search year. US colleges require students to take either the standardized Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) and submit their scores to their prospective universities. In some cases, companies and non-profits also use these scores to award merit-based scholarships.

Peri took the Johns Hopkins Talent Search test in Spring 2021, when she was in Grade 5. Her results in the verbal and quantitative sections leveled with the 90th percentile of advanced Grade 8 performance.

Besides Peri, another Indian origin student, Priyamvada Deshmukh, 12, a student of GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai, was honored for her exceptional performance on the SCAT assessment taken as part of the CTY Talent Search.

Deshmukh took the Search test in Spring 2020, when she was still in Grade 6. Her results in the verbal sections leveled with the advanced Grade 10 performance. Due to the Covid19 induced delay in global logistics support, she finally received her much awaited “High Honors” pin this week, which she lovingly kept in front of her grandparents’ photograph as tribute to her roots.

The delay in officially getting the certificates did not stop her from attending the summer program at John Hopkins University’s CTY in English literature where she studied the confluence of Art and Science in literary writing and completed the course scoring ‘A’ Grade.

She followed up with top scoring the second level of Asset Talent Examination which also qualified her for summer program at NorthWestern University this year, where she is learning about world building in fiction writing this year.

Portrait of Jainey Bavishi, Director of the NYC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, shot on Friday, June 15, 2018. CREDIT: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

Jainey Bavishi

Biden names climate expert for a key role at NOAA

President Joe Biden has announced his intent to nominate Jainey Bavishi a leading Indian American expert on climate change, to a top leadership position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If confirmed by the Senate, she will serve as Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere in the Department of Commerce under NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, an ocean scientist.

Bavishi’s appointment at an agency responsible for environmental prediction and monitoring and protecting the nation’s coasts, oceans and fisheries is in tune with the Biden-Harris administration emphasis on confronting climate change as one of its top priorities. “Bavishi currently serves as the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency,” the White House said announcing her nomination with two others on July 28.

“In this role, she leads a cross-disciplinary team that prepares the city for the impacts of climate change through science-based analysis, policy, program, and project development, and capacity building,” it noted. “The Biden administration has picked a tremendous climate champion to serve the American people,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in statement.

“Jainey’s leadership and vision has transformed New York City’s coastline and has helped to protect New Yorkers from destructive flooding and deadly heat waves.”

During the Obama Administration, Bavishi served as the Associate Director for Climate Preparedness at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Director of External Affairs and Senior Policy Advisor at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Bavishi also served as the Executive Director of R3ADY Asia-Pacific, focused on enhancing disaster risk reduction and resilience in the Asia-Pacific region, based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Previously, she was the Founding Director of the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, a coalition of community-based leaders in the Gulf Coast region that focused on recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, at the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.

Bavishi has a Master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor’s degree in public policy and cultural anthropology from Duke University.

Rashad Hussain

Biden names Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

President Joe Biden on Friday announced his intent to nominate Rashad Hussain as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. He will succeed Sam Brownback, a former Kansas governor and U.S. senator from the state.

Hussain is currently director for Partnerships and Global Engagement at the National Security Council. If the U.S. Senate confirms him, the Wyoming-born Hussain will become the first Indian American and first Muslim to serve in the position.

Hussain, 41, is the first Muslim to be nominated to serve as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. “Today’s announcement underscores the President’s commitment to build an Administration that looks like America and reflects people of all faiths,” the White House said in a press release.

A veteran of the Obama administration, Hussain served as a Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications from February 2015 to January 2017. In that role, he facilitated, on behalf of the United States, the expansion of global engagement and partnerships in order to counteract violent extremism. Prior to that, he served as America’s Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Before that, Hussain worked as a Deputy Associate Counsel to Obama, focusing on national security, the fields of science and technology and news media.

In addition to Hussain, Biden named three other individuals to serve in different roles at the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar in modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, was nominated as “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism with the Rank of Ambassador.” Pakistani American Gold Star parent Khizr Khan and Sharon Kleinbaum, spiritual leader of the Beit Simchat Torah congregation, have been appointed as commissioners of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Richard Verma

Former envoy sees India leading the world in 2030

First ever Indian American US ambassador to India says two top democracies can do much together. Describing India-US relationship as “the most consequential relationship of this century”, Richard Verma, the first ever Indian-American US envoy to India, has said it was now time for it to deliver.

The modern US-India relationship was quite young, he said in his commencement address Monday at Jindal University School of Banking and Finance on ‘Driving Shared Prosperity — A 21st Century Priority for US-India Ties’.

“We mark the start of this era with President (Bill) Clinton’s visit to India in the year 2000. It was a breakthrough visit after decades of being somewhat distant, and even at times, estranged,” Verma told students of the Sonepat, India, based institution. Asserting that it was now time for the relationship to deliver, he said, “We can no longer look decades into the future. The time to deliver results for our people is now – it’s today.”

“That’s a big challenge, but it’s also exciting, for us here in America, and for all of you in India, especially as you start out on your studies and then careers,” said, Verma, currently Executive Vice President & Global Head (Public Policy & Regulatory Affairs) at Mastercard.

“The reason I care about this subject so much and want to talk to you about it today is that I do think this is the most consequential relationship of this century. We can do so much together,” he added.

“Whether it’s battling a pandemic, countering terrorism and proliferation, or bringing to market all those new innovations and solutions that will make people’s lives easier, safer, greener, more prosperous, more inclusive and more secure,” Verma said.

“We can do that. We are not there yet, but can we get there,” Verma said recalling how he first-hand witnessed the picture of India on a dramatic rise when he travelled to every Indian state. “It is why I am so excited for all of you. You have the world at your fingertips,” he said.

“Your country will have a leading seat in international institutions, your businesses will continue to power economic growth and innovations globally, and all of you can choose what role you want to play today and in the future.”

By 2030, India might lead the world in every category, Verma said noting India has the youngest workforce in Asia “…and you’ll hold that advantage until 2050. That’s pretty formidable.”

“I look out at the year 2030, for example, and I see an India that may lead the world in almost every category…the most populous nation, the most college graduates, the largest middle-class, the most cell phone and Internet users, along with the third largest military and third largest economy, all coexisting in the world’s largest democracy, with 600 million people under the age of 25,” he said.

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