Puzzle Solver and Word Game Player Sulochana Devadas: From Software Engineer-Turned Telugu Teacher to Principal of Shishu Bharati and Promoting Math Among Girls

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Sulochana Devadas
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LEXINGTON, MA–Sulochana Devadas has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Birla Institute of Technology in India. After earning her master’s degree in the same area from Northeastern University, she worked in various roles in the software engineering industry for 15 years, and then took a break in 2010 to focus full-time on 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 as the Principal of the Lexington location of Shishu Bharati and continues to serve in this role.

In the fall of 2016, she started working with the nonprofit Vision Aid Incorporated to mentor and teach Python programming to visually impaired persons in India and the US. In 2022, Sulochana has added another job to her portfolio which aligns with one of her goals – promoting interest in math among girls in high school. She has taken on the position of Program Administrator for Math Prize for Girls. This is an annual math competition exclusively for high school girls in the US and Canada which is run by the Advantage Testing Foundation.

Here is a Q/A with Ms. Devadas:

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Sulochana Devadas: Since I quit my job in the software industry, I have been extremely fortunate to connect with three organizations that match my passion of helping young people learn. Each of these organizations serves a niche group that has specific needs or challenges.

At Shishu Bharati, I feel that 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 7th grade culture students about the Indian constitution, we compared it with the US constitution and the students were intrigued to find how similar the two were. As a principal, I look to extend this across various aspects of the curriculum.

At Vision Aid, introducing visually impaired school children to the joy of programming has been very enjoyable. I am just starting out with Math Prize for Girls and am looking forward to meeting with the young women who enjoy math.

INE: If you’re engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this organization and what do you do for them?

SD: Shishu Bharati is a school for Indian Languages and Culture. It is a unique school that teaches its young K-8 audience about India as a whole nation, from its ancient history to current achievements, from its vast and varied geography and traditions to its leaders, both past and present. Alongside learning about India’s history and geography, philosophy and traditions, students also study one language of their parents’ choice, learning not only how to read and write and speak in the language, but also the regional culture associated with the state(s) that the language is spoken in. I taught in various Telugu levels at Shishu Bharati for 11 years, and different Culture levels for 12 years. I also helped create the textbooks we use for Telugu. In 2017, our dear principal, Sipra Shah, stepped down for some health issues and at her request I have been the principal of the Lexington location since then. In this role, I interact mostly with teachers and parents. I am very involved with hiring new teachers and helping to train them. When we had to shift to online learning during the pandemic, I organized teacher workshops on Google Classroom and Zoom features. I meet with our teachers throughout the year and work with my team of vice principals and admin director to help them succeed in the classroom. I regularly converse with parents soliciting their feedback on our curriculum and teaching style and I address 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 in, I realized that though there are a lot of resources for teaching Python to young learners both in print and online, there was nothing suitable for visually impaired people. Most material aimed at teaching beginners the basics of any programming language is very visual using block diagrams or building blocks like Legos, e.g., the Scratch platform. To fill this gap, I created a course for visually impaired students to learn Python. The course materials include a textbook, PowerPoint lessons, audio lectures, and code examples. This has been successfully used to teach blind middle and high school students and also adult beginner learners.

At Math Prize for Girls, I work on processing the student applications and answering any questions they may have. In the summer, I work on planning the contest logistics and details and during the actual contest weekend, I will work with other volunteers to run the event.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

SD: I enjoy solving puzzles and playing word games. My morning routine starts with the NYT crossword puzzle and ends with Wordle, with a jigsaw puzzle thrown in occasionally. I also like making photo books of family memories and travel.

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

SD: When I started the job as Principal of Shishu Bharati, Lexington, I had some very big shoes to fill. Sipraji, who was Principal for over thirty years, is an amazing leader and she continues to be my role model. I try hard to keep the school as a place for children to learn about their Indian identity, and to instill a sense of community and belonging. I work together with a fantastic team of vice principals, teachers, and admin volunteers to continually evolve our school to match the changing demographic. Shishu Bharati’s President Dr. Seshi Sompuram has been a pillar of support. Today, our parents include not just second-generation immigrants but also Shishu Bharati alumni. We take a lot of care to be socially conscious and promote diversity and inclusion. I miss my days of teaching in the classroom and connecting individually with students. Now instead, I show a short video at assembly each week highlighting some unique or inspiring story from India. These videos range from how some kids go to school in India on a boat to how there is a group that employs marginalized women to recycle unused hotel soap to make new soap bars for the kids growing up in slums. My challenge is to find something that 5- and 6-year-olds can follow and understand yet is interesting for 10- to 12-year-old students. The pandemic threw some more challenges our way just as at other educational institutions. We were able to switch all our learning to the Zoom classroom and even conduct assessments and group projects. I evolved the tradition of assembly by creating the assembly video that was shown at the start of the first class and teachers used this as a starting point of their lesson.

INE: What is your rare talent?

SD: I’m not sure this is rare or qualifies as a talent but I’m pretty good at short-cut cooking. I am always in search of recipes or techniques that allow me to make good food with less effort. My favorite is making bhaturas by deep frying taco style tortillas. My family love these too.

INE: Your favorite books?

SD: While I love reading and re-reading fantasy series like the ‘Harry Potter’ series, the ‘Hunger Games’ series, and ‘The Old Kingdom’ series, two books that have made an impact on me in recent years are ‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese, and ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. In both these books, I felt immersed not just 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 favorite author of mine said: “We design our lives through the power of choices.”

INE: Who inspires you the most?

SD: 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 fortitude.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

SD: My new mantra is to not judge others. Whenever I am annoyed with someone for what they say or do, I remind myself that I don’t know the whole story of what is happening in their lives and I say to myself, ‘Stay calm and move on.’

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