Puzzle solver and word game player Sulochana Devadas: from software engineer turned Telugu teacher to director of Shishu Bharati and promoting girls’ math

Sulochana Devadas

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LEXINGTON, MA–Sulochana Devadas holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Birla Institute of Technology in India. After earning her master’s degree in the same field at Northeastern University, she held various positions in the software engineering industry for 15 years, then took a break in 2010 to devote herself full-time to her passion for helping young learners.

In 2001, she started teaching Telugu and Indian culture at the Shishu Bharati School of Indian Languages ​​and Culture. In 2017, she took over the management of the Lexington site from Shishu Bharati and continues to play this role.

In the fall of 2016, she began working with the non-profit organization vision aid Incorporated to coach and teach Python programming to visually impaired people in India and USA. In 2022, Sulochana added another job to her portfolio that aligns with one of her goals – to promote interest in math among high school girls. She assumed the position of program administrator for Mathematics Prizes for Girls. This is an annual math competition exclusively for high school girls in the United States and Canada, organized by the Advantage Testing Foundation.

Here is a Q/A with Ms. Devadas:

INDIA New England News: Tell our readers about your work and what you like the most?

Sulochana Devadas: Since leaving my job in the software industry, I’ve been fortunate enough to come into contact with three organizations that match my passion for helping young people learn. Each of these organizations serves a niche group that has specific needs or challenges.

At Shishu Bharati, I feel I can help students understand their Indian heritage and do so in the context of their experience of growing up in this country. For example, when I taught the Indian constitution to 7th grade culture students, we compared it to the American constitution and the students were intrigued to find out how similar the two were. As director, I seek to extend this to various aspects of the program.

At Vision Aid, introducing visually impaired schoolchildren to the joys of programming has been very enjoyable. I’m just getting started with Math Prize for Girls and can’t wait to meet young women who love math.

INE: If you are involved with a charity or non-profit organization, please tell us why this organization and what you do for it?

SD: Shishu Bharati is a school of Indian languages ​​and culture. It is a unique school that teaches its young K-8 audience about India as a whole, from its ancient history to current achievements, from its vast and varied geography and traditions to its rulers, past and present. Along with learning the history and geography, philosophy and traditions of India, students also study a language of their parents’ choice, not only learning to read, write and speak in this language, but also the regional culture associated with the state or states that the language is spoken. I have taught various levels of Telugu in Shishu Bharati for 11 years and various levels of culture for 12 years. I also helped create the textbooks we use for Telugu. In 2017, our dear Director, Sipra Shah, resigned due to health issues and, at her request, I have been the Director of the Lexington site ever since. In this role, I mainly interact with teachers and parents. I am very involved in hiring new teachers and training them. When we had to move to online learning during the pandemic, I ran workshops for teachers on Google Classroom and Zoom features. I meet with our teachers throughout the year and work with my team of vice principals and administrative director to help them succeed in the classroom. I speak with parents regularly to solicit their feedback on our program and teaching style and respond to any concerns or issues they may have.

At Vision Aid, I first started mentoring visually impaired adult students on programming in Python through weekly Zoom lessons. Two years later, I realized that while there are plenty of resources for teaching Python to young learners both in print and online, there was nothing suitable for people with visual impairments. Most of the material intended to teach beginners the basics of any programming language is very visual using block diagrams or building blocks like Legos, for example the Scratch platform. To fill this gap, I created a course for visually impaired students to learn Python. Course materials include a textbook, PowerPoint lessons, audio lectures, and sample code. This has been used successfully to teach blind middle and high school students as well as beginning adult learners.

At the Math Prize for Girls, I work on processing student applications and answering all their questions. In the summer I work on planning the logistics and details of the contest and during the weekend of the contest I will work with other volunteers to organize the event.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

SOUTH DAKOTA: I like solving puzzles and playing word games. My morning routine starts with NYT crosswords and ends with Wordle, with a puzzle thrown in every once in a while. I also like to make photo albums of family memories and travels.

INE: In what way do you think you have most positively influenced or served the local community, your business/organization and your professional field?

South Dakota: When I started work as the manager of Shishu Bharati, Lexington, I had very big shoes to fill. Sipraji, who served as a director for over thirty years, is an incredible leader and she continues to be my role model. I strive to ensure that the school remains a place where children learn their Indian identity and instil a sense of community and belonging. I work with a fantastic team of vice principals, teachers and volunteer administrators to continually evolve our school in line with changing demographics. The President of Shishu Bharati, Dr. Seshi Sompuram, has been a pillar of support. Today, our relatives include not only second generation immigrants, but also former students of Shishu Bharati. We take great care to be socially conscious and to promote diversity and inclusion. I miss my days teaching in class and connecting one-on-one with students. Now, instead, I show a short video to the congregation each week highlighting a unique or inspiring story from India. These videos range from how some children go to school in India on a boat to how there is a group that employs marginalized women to recycle unused soap from hotels to make new bars of soap for children. who grow up in the slums. My challenge is to find something that 5 and 6 year olds can follow and understand while being interesting for 10 to 12 year olds. The pandemic has thrown other challenges our way, just like in other educational institutions. We were able to transfer all of our learning to the Zoom classroom and even conduct group assessments and projects. I evolved the assembly tradition by creating the assembly video that was shown at the beginning of the first lesson and the teachers used it as a starting point for their lesson.

INE: What is your rare talent?

SOUTH DAKOTA: I’m not sure if it’s rare or considered a talent, but I’m pretty good at short cooking. I’m always looking for recipes or techniques that allow me to cook great food with less effort. My favorite is to make bhaturas by frying taco style tortillas. My family loves them too.

INE: Your favorite books?

SOUTH DAKOTA: Although I love reading and re-reading fantastic series like the “Harry Potter” series, the “Hunger Games” series and the “The Old Kingdom” series, two books that have stood out to me in recent years are “Cutting for Stone” . ‘ by Abraham Verghese and ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. In these two books, I felt immersed not only in a story but also in a culture that was new to me. My favorite Indian authors are Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

SD: Richard Bach, another of my favorite authors, said, “We design our lives through the power of choice. »

INE: Who inspires you the most?

South Dakota: My family inspires me the most, starting with my parents who are both my role models, and continuing with my husband and daughters who inspire me every day with their confidence and courage.

INE: Your fundamental value that you try to respect?

SOUTH DAKOTA: My new mantra is not to judge others. Whenever I’m annoyed by someone for what they say or do, I remind myself that I don’t know the full story of what’s going on in their life and I say to myself, “Keep calm and move on. something else.