Shriya Patnaik

2010 - Cornell Tata Scholarship

Shriya studied at Welham Girls’ School and DPS RK Puram. She secured
admission into Cornell with the Cornell Tata Scholarship, in the year, 2010. In 2012, she
was selected for a year’s study abroad at Oxford.

Shriya Patnaik says: Mrs. Seema Patnaik is my mother. However, during the application process, I shared a rapport with her primarily as her being a mentor, guide and confidante before a mother. It was working with her that I truly developed my skills of creative writing, analytical reasoning and above all original thinking. Growing up in an Indian education system, there would be times in I would find my abilities to think critically, compromised by the structured and methodical curriculum that we had to abide by. However it was with Mrs. Patnaik that I truly learnt how to reason and think for myself. As a mother, not once did she compromise on teaching me to analyse creatively by myself, over the easier route of revealing solutions. Instead I found that for every clichéd, subpar essay that I wrote, she would tell me to go back, reconstruct my thoughts and frame something innovative. Not once did I find her spoon-feeding me or narrating ideas to me. Instead we would spend invaluable hours discussing a myriad of topics in the sciences, philosophy, literature, poetry or history. With time, I would find dabbling in visionary thinkers like Sartre, Camus, Sallinger, Nietzsche, Tolstoy and Kafka amongst others, which inculcated in me a flair for developing prolific ideas. My mother would often refer to Robert Frost’s writings:


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”


I truly believe that it is this capacity of Mrs. Patnaik to motivate her students to think differently and not conform to stereotypical methods of learning, which makes a difference. In our preparation for the SAT’s and essays, we would discuss concepts in the woods adjacent to our house, on long walks in the picturesque settings of parks, over a conventional classroom setting. This fuelled my insatiable curiosity and I have found myself turning into an incorrigible doubting Thomas. I have started to believe that in education, what takes precedence over all else is the power of original thought. In an American university, where the curriculum focuses on creative analysis, this experience of mine with Mrs. Patnaik play a tremendous role in preparing me for my academic future and well as help develop life skills.


Moreover, Mrs. Seema Patnaik taught me the invaluable lesson of reaching out to the less fortunate. Growing up, she accompanied me to Basundhara, a shelter home for victims of trafficking and prostitution in my home state, Orissa. I was aghast to find some of them were barely a few years older than me. Interacting with them, counselling them, becoming a part of their healing and helping them search for solutions for a meaningful existence, has helped me to evolve as well. Mrs. Patnaik’s beliefs that the greatest curse on earth is not poverty, but the feeling of abject neglect, has enabled me to understand better the philosophy of submergence of individual hedonism in the larger interests of humanity. From thereon, Community Service has become an integral part of my education. From bird watching trips in the wee hours of the morning to writing stories at the drop of a hat to celebrating Easter at the Old Age Home in Delhi, every day for me has become a veritable exercise in Thanksgiving. I believe that this experience of mine enabled me to appreciate the philanthropic spirit of education at Cornell University, and reach out with sensitivity and empathy.


In lieu of the above factors, working with Mrs. Patnaik was not merely an academic process. It was a holistic experience that enabled me to evolve as a person, inculcating in me virtues of creativity, sensitivity and leadership. Throughout the application process, she constantly taught me to leave no stone unturned to seek and strive, to probe and question, to reach out and make a positive difference in the lives of others. Above all, she taught me to believe that in life, it is important to have a vision…a dream fuelled by creative endeavour, and fanned by the flames of dedication, veracity, commitment and hard work.

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