Interview with TEDIndia Fellow – Neha Gupta

Neha Gupta is the third TEDIndia Fellow to be interviewed in this series (Other two – Lisa Heydlauff and Pulkit Gaur ). She is the Chief Inventor of EachOneTeachOne (facebook) – a web-application designed to facilitate volunteer tutoring and learning. She is also very multi-faceted.

In this interview she talks about her various roles, her role models, the future of EachOneTeachOne and more…

You are pretty multi-faceted – Computer scientist, humanitarian, entrepreneur, dancer and co-founder of EachOneTeachOne. Which is your favourite role? Honestly!

Not to boast about myself, I m a very versatile person from childhood and have always been active in extra-curricular activities. I like each and every role of mine and sometimes get bored if I keep on doing one role for a while. Technology excites me and I am always eager to learn and be a part of it. Dance makes me happy; though dancing on stage requires a lot of discipline and hard work. For me entrepreneurship and humanitarian work are a pat on my shoulder and give me a reason to smile.

Unmentioned roles were, you being a wife and a student too. We all have the same 24 hours, how do you manage to juggle all these roles?
It is really difficult sometimes, being a wife comes with an additional responsibility of a home-maker and being a student demands 24 hour attention. But I am lucky to have a husband who shares my dreams and is supportive. At the same time he’s critical about what I do and that makes me succeed in my endeavours.
I would also like to mention that my PhD advisor Dr. Ashok Agrawala has been extremely supportive and a fatherly figure for me.

Let’s talk about Eachonteachone, a web-application you created to help some to teach and some to learn. Tell us about it – how it began and what inspired you to start this interesting program.

My husband and I come from very humble backgrounds and we both had a dream to help underprivileged children particularly those from low-income families to get good education.
I wanted my PhD topic to be use of Information Technology for Education. I did a lot of reading of related work but could not come across anything novel. One day I was browsing through Facebook and I got this idea of using Facebook or any other web-application for online education for free. The idea seemed very obvious and easy and I spoke to my husband and my advisor about it.
My advisor was offering a class at that time which was a seminar level course of use of IT for Quality of Life improvement. We decided to build this application as a part of class project and this is how it started.

Now that eachoneteachone is gaining momentum, what’s the next step? From here, where?!
I’m talking to students at different high schools and various other voluntary organizations which require extra tutoring to know more about their needs and requirements and taking their feedback.
I’m starting with Math education but would like to spread to Science and English too. I want EachOneTeachOne to grow virally and also have a global outreach.

I’m sure every one of us has a role model. Who is yours?
I would say my role models have been my father and my advisor.
My father is a retired banker & a social worker and helps everyone whether he knows them or not.
My advisor is also like my father in the USA. It’s like he adopted me when I came to USA and has been by my side always.
Their hard-work and the goodness of their hearts inspire me to be the same.
I am also influenced by two great women in Indian history – Rani of Jhansi and Kiran Bedi. They have been my icons for bravery and they inspire me to not give up in any circumstances.

On a whole different note, you had had linked a post in your blog to a Washington post article on the “The disappointing performance of U.S. teenagers in math and science on an international exam”. Isn’t it ironic how people flock from India to the US to do their post graduate education?
I think the post-graduate education especially the research done in USA is world class and no other country in the world can beat that.
Yeah it is definitely ironic that there has been a disappointing performance of U.S teenagers in maths and this is the reason that a large number of post-graduate students are from other countries.
Talking about students from India who come for post-graduate education, a lot of them think that pursuing a higher degree will give them a way to come to America and this number has been increasing. But many still do come for research, which is the strength of American Universities.

Now you are a TED fellow too, congrats on that again! I am certain that a lot of people consider you to be their role model, what message would you want to give them?
Thanks a lot!!
I am humbled by the fellowship and would like to thank TED for offering it to me.
I am just a girl-next-door and the thought that I’m someone’s role model is a bit scary but still the message I would like to give to everyone is -“No matter how much you fail, rise after each fall and keep going. And don’t be afraid of failures because failures teach you the most”.

Tell us about one thing in the past that you would do differently, given a chance.

One thing in my past that I would do differently is to live my years at my under-graduate school. When I cleared IIT-JEE and joined Electronics Engineering at IT-BHU in India, my seniors fed into my ears that we (all the new students) have studied enough and need not work hard & everyone will get a job in the fourth year no matter what we study, since 2000 was boom time for IT industry. My tendency became taking studies as a burden and I studied only as and when required; mostly two days before the exams.
So I would like to change that part of my life and enjoy my coursework which I now think was interesting.

Joseph Sam Jayanth

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