Finding Your Why : One Student's Journey from TAISM to Neurotechnology
Ananya Chawla, TAISM Class of 2020
Meet Ananya Chawla (Class of 2020). As a TAISM student from age four til High School graduation, Ananya traveled internationally to SAISA Basketball tournaments as a TAISM Eagle, played the lead role in High School musical Bye Bye Birdie, sang as a part of AMIS honor choir, participated annually in Discover Oman, and simply couldn’t select a “favorite” from the thousands of memories she recalls from TAISM, before graduating in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
After graduating, Ananya joined the University of California Berkeley, where is now studying Neurobiology with a minor in Computer Science. She is the new Lead of Operations and Relations of the Neurotech club, a huge honor and responsibility. The club is one of the most prestigious Neurotech clubs in the world, with over 80 members.
You go to a great school, Ananya! Did TAISM help prepare you for college application, selection, and a right fit, even amidst the pandemic?
Encouraging us to think about college or careers started in 8th grade. The teachers started to ask which of us was interested in college, and we had personal meetings about our plans, with a heavy emphasis on the pathway in 12th grade.
So many things happen in college that make me think, ‘Oh my gosh - I am so grateful for Ms. Mac!’ In health class, she had us sit down and write our own values, things that are important to us. We ranked each one and put them into sentences…These sorts of activities made me feel that I can understand myself, my priorities and my values. I was able to make my decisions with the right things in mind, and I believe this is what made me a good candidate for the university I entered. I was inherently the right candidate for the sorts of universities I applied to because my applications were a reflection of myself.
I was able to make my decisions with the right things in mind, and I believe this is what made me a good candidate for the university I entered. I was inherently the right candidate for the sorts of universities I applied to because my applications were a reflection of myself.
You chose University of California, Berkeley. Where else were you accepted?
UCSD for BioTech and Bioinformatics, Boston University, Wellesley College (where I considered enrolling for a dual degree at MIT), I was waitlisted at Barnard (under Columbia University). I can’t remember them all!
You were known as an exceptional singer and performer at TAISM. So I’m curious -- why did you choose to go into science and technology? What do you want to be after all your studying is done?
I wanted to go into medicine for a personal reason. My grandfather started to lose his memory when I was young. It was a difficult experience, watching my mom lose her dad slowly – we’d come each summer and he’d remember her less and less. I thought, ‘I don’t want what happened to my family to happen to anyone else.’
It’s painful – with memory loss, you lose the person before they’re even gone. So I was looking at the medical field as a way to help others. While at Berkley, I had the chance to meet the CEO of a company called Clarity. They work on curing Alzheimer’s through a non-invasive, neuromodulation, at-home procedure. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! They’re developing it right now. This is what I want to do, so let me go and get the experience.’
So – you’ve chosen Computer Science to go along with Neurobiology. How does that combination work?
Yes – so I want to work in Health Tech and specifically, Neurotech. I’m in the Neurotech Club at Berkeley, and there’s really cutting-edge stuff going on! The club put together a headset that allows you to play the “no internet game” on Google without physically hitting your spacebar! When you blink, the stimulus gets processed and the little dinosaur jumps! Companies sponsor and work with our club on projects – for example, we have another headset we’re helping develop that reads your brain waves, and can predict what song you might want to play next, based on what you’re listening to and how your brain is reacting.
That is crazy! You’re creating mind-reading headsets at age 20! What an interesting time to be in technology.
Yes – I love it. And with neuro, I’m getting to the point in my classes where they say, “Okay, that’s it. This is all we know about it.” And I get excited about that! I think – ‘This is amazing! You go to school and wonder, ‘why do I need to know all this stuff?’, but it’s setting you up for this moment. Now I’m here, at the forefront of Neuro, getting this tech under my belt – and it’s cool. I feel like I can piece it together.
Some people would get to that point of “That’s it - we don’t know any more about it” and close their books and be fine with that. Why do you think it excites you?
Ok, so some of it could be my personality, but I think TAISM really fostered this in me. If you’re passionate, and you have questions, teachers will answer anything, go off on a tangent, take time – it reminds you why you’re getting the education in the first place. You want to take the information and do more with it, to elevate it.
I saw TAISM adapt their curriculum while I was there to a goal-oriented program. We’d start each class discussing what the goal of the class was, and why we needed to learn it. In college, there’s hundreds of classes you can take to satisfy your major. At that point you ask, ‘What do you want to learn?’ TAISM did a great job of preparing me to control my own education, and to ask the right questions.
In college, there’s hundreds of classes you can take to satisfy your major. At that point you ask, ‘What do you want to learn?’ TAISM did a great job of preparing me to control my own education, and to ask the right questions.
From four years old, teachers would sit with me and take me seriously, feeding my curiosity, and treating me like a real person. They never treated me as ‘little’ or ‘less than’ for my ideas, and there were no stupid questions in class. There was never a point where I was nervous to ask something. If I could describe my teachers in one word though, it would be thoughtful. They were so encouraging and thoughtful.
Sounds like your career is off to a flying start. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself in the Bay Area because I’m involved in Tech. I am dedicated to my career and really want to do something meaningful. I have a strong why for Neurotech – it’s not just a job and source of income, but I want to put out good into the world. The future for me will depend on where I can do that the most.
Any advice to current students at TAISM?
Take the most out of the experiences you are given. At TAISM, the teachers love you! You feel cared for. I didn’t know until I met roommates and friends who had different experiences, that this is not the case in every school.
If you take this school seriously, participate in the community with sincerity and vulnerability, open up to what they’re putting out there for you, and listen to what the teachers are saying, it’s a wonderful opportunity. (I know it’s hard to see if you haven’t got anything to compare your school to, but it truly is a unique opportunity for you.)
It is also okay not to know what you want or what you are going to do. Through TAISM, I feel the right things now come to the forefront for me when it comes to approaching goals. You are prepared to approach any career goals even if that job does not exist. Your experience each day at TAISM helps create the mindset.
If you try to get as much out of it as you can, you can and will benefit so much. You can reject things, or take the experience for granted, but if you dive in and really accept what you’re being offered, it’s such an opportunity.
Any final thoughts to share?
I’ve been reflecting on the school a lot lately, as I talk to friends at Berkeley. For many people, especially in Computer Science, they want to make money and get out. I’ve found a great group of people who want to give back, and I surround myself with them. I try to think about what made the difference – and I think it was TAISM that made that difference in me, in seeking to create something meaningful - striving to rise to the challenge.
It’s not a word, but “Figure-outabilty” – TAISM gave me that. I may not know everything, but I will sit there and figure it out. I’ll carry my core values, and as long as I keep them in mind, I won’t make the wrong decision.