North South Foundation: National Bee Champions Start Here

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At 25, Nonprofit Academic Group Spells Success for Indian-American Students

North South Foundation Supports Indian-American students

Sriram Hathwar, co-winner of the 2014 National Spelling Bee. Hathwar marked the seventh consecutive year that a Spelling Bee winner was groomed through North South Foundation spelling tournaments.

We believe every child is a winner, and even ordinary children can do extraordinary things; it’s like transforming coal into a shining diamond.

Sriram Hathwar. Arvind Mahankali. Snigdha Nandipati. Sukanya Roy. Anamika Veeramani. Kavya Shivashankar. Sameer Mishra.

They are by no means household names, yet they’ve graced American television screens. And they will forever be linked, as winners of the past seven National Spelling Bees.

But they have something else in common: all became champions after ascending through academic tournaments sponsored by the North South Foundation. A nonprofit organization that fosters education among Indian-American pupils and provides scholarships for high school graduates in India, North South Foundation is on a tear. It has groomed national winners (including Sriram Hathwar, one of this year’s co-winners) in the Scripps contest every year since 2008, and routinely sends pupils to other major academic tournaments and bowls.

“We only provide the platform and the opportunity for success. The kids are the ones who work so hard to make it happen,” said Dr. Ratnam Chitturi, founder of the North South Foundation. “We believe every child is a winner, and even ordinary children can do extraordinary things; it’s like transforming coal into a shining diamond.”

Celebrating its 25th year, the North South Foundation runs local and national tournaments encompassing six academic areas besides spelling: vocabulary, geography, math, science, essay writing, and public speaking. There’s also an all-encompassing “Brain Bee.” All told, 85 chapters across the United States host competitions during March, April and May, with national finals held each August. More than 17,000 contestants typically compete.

“These contests help children improve their communication skills and self-confidence and empower them to become better citizens for tomorrow,” Chitturi said.

To that end, North South Foundation in 2013 introduced Universal Values, a 30-week program consisting of a one-hour-per-week online workshop to hone values in daily life, not just for the children, but for their parents and NSF’s legion of volunteers.

“This is highly relevant in the globalized world of today, as technology brings the entire world to our front door in a matter of seconds, day and night,” Chitturi said.

The foundation has given out more than $2.5 million in scholarships in India since 1989, at the rate of $250 per student for each of four years. That’s not much by U.S. tuition standards, but in India $250 pays for a year’s tuition at most government colleges. NSF has also opened three contest centers in Hyderabad since 2001 and offers spelling, vocabulary, math, and science bee competitions to 1,700 participants.

“So far the experience has been quite positive, and we hope to expand to more centers as we get more volunteers,” said Chitturi. “This is a direct example of Indian-Americans serving as a bridge between American learning platforms and India.”

NSF pupils made 2014 a signature year, garnering championships in five major national competitions: Spelling Bee, MATHCOUNTS, Geography Bee, Science Bowl and National History Bee.

In addition to Hathwar, the Spelling Bee co-winner, 8th grader Swapnil Garg from Sunnivale, CA emerged as the victor in the 2014 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition in early May. NSF participants Akhil Rekulapelli, an 8th grader from Dulles, Va., and Ameya Mujumdar, a 5th grader from Tampa, Fl., captured 1st and 2nd places, respectively in the 2014 National Geographic Bee. Snigdha Allaparthi from Westborough, Mass., and Abhijeet Sampangi from Andover, Mass., captained their team to 1st place in the 2014 Middle School National Science Bowl conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Siddharth Kamannavar, a 3rd grader from Santa Clara, Calif., in 2014 became the youngest champion on record in the National History Bee, in the Elementary School Division.

To what does Chitturi attribute the NSF kids’ astounding track record of success?

“Immigrants from India tend to be highly educated. As first generation immigrants, they are ambitious and hardworking. In turn, they place a very high priority on their children’s education. With parents’ support and drive, children tend to focus more on academics,” he said, adding that Indian-American youths tend to be more aware of the need to effectively compete with other countries in a highly globalized world.

Success begets success. Chitturi notes that earlier champions become role models and mentors in motivating and inspiring children in succeeding years. One of NSF’s first batch of students won a college scholarship in 1990 in India, came to the U.S. after graduating, then returned to India 15 years later where he established a trust. He has since awarded hundreds of scholarships to financially challenged students.

The North South Foundation 2014 National Finals will be held on Aug. 16-17 at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, TX.

About North South Foundation
Established in 1989 and entirely run by volunteers, North South Foundation’s mission is to develop human resources by giving scholarships to brilliant but needy students in India entering college, regardless of religion, gender, caste or creed; promote excellence in human endeavor by organizing educational contests for children in the United States; and help people achieve success by giving hope to those who may have none. The foundation has awarded over 12,000 college scholarships so far. For more information, visit

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Gary Frisch

Dr. Ratnam Chitturi
North South Foundation
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