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An Interview with TIME Magazine's Kid of the Year

JAN 08, 2021 • 11 min read

Last month, Gitanjali Rao was selected out of more than 5,000 nominees to be named TIME Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year. At 15 years old, she introduces herself as an “author, innovator and promoter of STEM” — but even these titles seem to fall short in describing her.

Gitanjali was a recent guest on Crimson’s Top of the Class podcast, where she shared insights into the activities she pours her passions into, what she hopes to do after high school, and what the Kid of the Year title means to her. In the full episode, she also discussed how she has become part of the solution to a range of social issues, from the Flint water crisis to opioid addiction to cyberbullying.

Below is an abbreviated transcript of the podcast interview between Gitanjali and podcast co-host, Alex Cork. Some quotes are edited to remove vocal filler. Click here to download the full episode.

Alex

Hi Gitanjali. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Gitanjali

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I'm Gitanjali Rao and I am 15 years old. I'm an author, innovator and promoter of STEM. So I essentially use science and technology as a catalyst for social change. But recently, a lot of my work has also moved to global outreach. So helping other youth and students just like me understand, you know, their inner passion for innovation and making a difference in society.

Alex

An author, innovator and promoter of STEM. When did you settle on that title?

Gitanjali

I guess, like a week ago, because everything is constantly changing. So, yeah, that's my title now, I guess.

Alex

Yeah, it's a great way to think of yourself. And I guess it gives you that breadth and flexibility to do what you want to do and explore a whole lot of different areas, because I know there's a lot of different strings to your bow that you've developed apps, and you have developed Tethys as well. And you have written a book, and now you're learning to fly as I saw by your Twitter feed yesterday. So there's a lot of different things going on! Is there any particular body of knowledge or skill set that you think has enabled you to step forward and become such a great innovator in STEM?

Gitanjali

Yeah, I think honestly, beyond all the technology skills that I've personally developed over the years, it's also a strong sense of community and realizing the reason for innovation and the reasons behind innovating and coming up with ideas. Like obviously, there is the aspect of creating a device or coding something. But I think beyond that, it's more important to understand how coding something can lead to an impact on the world. So most of all, it's just my curiosity and being aware of what's going on around me because I can fully tell you that you can create an idea without knowing how to code or knowing complicated cam concepts. But I think the more important thing is developing a curious skill set in which you can, you know, continue to maintain your passion — the power that you put in everything you do.

Alex

That is an interesting point! I was going to ask you about whether you think it's a mindset or skill set that enables you to do what you do. And what are some of the goals of TIME Magazine's Kid of the Year?

Gitanjali

I was telling someone the other day, I was like, I hope I haven't hit my peak. I don't know what could do that’s better than the cover of TIME! But I think it's almost like a go with the flow situation. And I guess we'll just see what's in store for me in 2021. The biggest thing is, I do want to keep coming up with ideas — whatever I'm doing, I want to keep innovating. I will obviously still be a high school student. I'll keep innovating, coming up with ideas, breaking up the lab, and just see where the world takes me.

Alex

Obviously university is something that is in your sights. And I know you've been an avid reader of some of MIT's publications in the past. Which universities are you potentially aiming for?

Gitanjali

Yeah, so there's a lot actually. I'm still looking and I do change my mind a lot based on the different programs. But I think obviously, the bigger schools like MIT and Stanford are long shots for everyone but I love their programs. And I love the campus as a whole. I've visited MIT a couple times, actually, and I love it there. I'd love to go there one day, but I'm also really loving local colleges — like the Colorado School of Mines, which has a fantastic bio engineering program. And I've worked with a lot of people there as well, so it's fun for me to go in every day, but I think it ranges a lot right now. I do have a couple more years, but hopefully around this time next year, I'll have a closer idea.

Alex

Well, who knows? I mean, Stanford, MIT, you can't go wrong with these kinds of schools. But for someone who's already done so much, and is already working at labs, what value do you see in a college degree?

Gitanjali

I think so many things are important about higher education, schools are just so hard to pick out! But the biggest thing about how higher education will evolve is, I think, you have that opportunity to be able to do research full time while working on school. And that's the kind of lifestyle that I would love to live — using what I learn in class for real world experience. So like, doing a unit on gene editing and then going to the lab after class and trying it out. That sounds so fun to me. But what’s also so important for our future is being able to use what we learn in school for the real world. So I think that's the most important thing about higher education that prepares you to go out there and do whatever you're going to do after college.

Alex

Fantastic. My last question for you, Gitanjali, is: what do you think the world or educational science will look like in 2050?

Gitanjali

Oh, in 2050. It's so far out, it's kind of hard to think about! But hopefully, we’ve basically sorted out the education idea and we're going for a more problem-based learning approach. And I definitely want to see education for everyone. I know we're really struggling with that right now, especially in third world countries. So I don't think education should have a price put to it. So hopefully, we see education widely distributed. And apart from that, I hope we're living in a much safer and cleaner world. Like, I hope contamination of natural resources is the thing of the past. And of course, everyone is just looking together towards one common goal, because I think that's what we need right now — people who are all passionate about making change and coming together for something bigger.

Alex

Well, thanks so much. It's been great to chat and enjoy the rest of your afternoon there in Colorado!

Gitanjali

Thank you so much for having me!

***

At just 15, Gitanjali has already achieved impressive feats! Just like scores of successful Crimson students, she has a robust list of extracurriculars and leadership activities to bolster the university applications she’ll be submitting in just a couple short years. Do you aspire to follow in her footsteps? The first thing to do is start putting your passions to use in any capacity you can — and as you can see from Gitanjali’s young success, it’s never too early to start!

To learn more about how Crimson can help set you on the right path to achieve dreams from university and beyond, click the link below to schedule a free one hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.

Alex is the co-host of the Top of the Class Podcast

Written by

Alex C.

Alex Cork manages the Top of the Class podcast and has worked in the education sector for 10 years. He has interviewed more than 300 students and has a genuine curiosity in student achievement whether this be in sport, music, extracurriculars, academics, business or activism.