Washington: Kolkata-born Ritankar Das, a bioengineering and chemical biology double major at the University of California at Berkeley, has become the youngest student to receive the University Medal in more than a century. The medal is given to the year's top graduating senior. Das, who began his freshman term when he was 15, will be graduating with more than 200 credits and a GPA of 3.99, which includes eight A+ marks, in three years, according to the university news centre.
He will receive the medal and give a speech at Commencement Convocation on May 18. Das, 18, is also the first student from the College of Chemistry in 58 years - and the first ever from the Department of Bioengineering - to earn the honour, which includes a $ 2,500 scholarship.
After graduation, Das, who is fluent in Bengali and Hindi, and conversational in Spanish, will head to Oxford University to pursue a master's degree in biomedical engineering with a fully funded Whitaker Fellowship. He will then continue his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has been admitted to the chemistry PhD programme.
Das's academic and community service achievements have earned him more than 40 awards totaling more than $ 300,000. These include prestigious Goldwater, Udall and Pearson scholarships, as well as a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
Off campus, Das serves on the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, which awards $5 million annually to service-learning projects. He also analysed entries for the Presidential Green Chemistry Award at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC.
Das credits much of his success to dedicated parents and teachers who propelled him forward. "I had parents and teachers who invested in my education early on," said Das. "Without that help, I don't think I would have succeeded through the education system. I think a lot of students deserve that opportunity and don't always get it."
Das has taken on many educational outreach projects. Most notably, he founded See Your Future, a student-run non-profit that presents scientific content to middle and high school students through in-class demonstrations, videos, interactive activities and games.
His goal is to encourage disadvantaged students in schools with limited resources to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Das expects to expand See Your Future nationwide and to find new ways of reaching out to underrepresented communities.
Das moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, at the age of 7 with his parents, Sankar and Kakali Das. Das grew up with limited financial resources, often walking several miles with his mother to elementary school in the freezing cold.
Das and his parents moved to Fremont, California, a year before he started college. When it came time to choose his school, Das picked Berkeley because this campus offered an appealing "culture of mutual appreciation where people were genuinely curious across fields," he said.
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