Anish Chaluvadi decided he wanted to become an engineer after visiting family in India and seeing them prepare for daily power outages, a dramatic difference from the life he knew in South Carolina, where electricity flowed into his home with rare interruption.
“I realized if I ever wanted to work with others to fix this problem, I needed to be an engineer,” Chaluvadi said. “I needed to be someone who could apply what I learned from research and take it to people who needed it the most.”
An engineer he has become. Chaluvadi will be heading to the graduation stage this week to collect a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from Clemson University. Not only that, but he’s doing it with a Triple Crown of academic awards under his belt.
Chaluvadi is receiving the internationally competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Clemson University’s Norris Medal and the J. Wesley Davis Leadership Award from Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
The scholarship, the most prestigious of the three, will allow him to pursue a master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, all expenses paid. He will have about a year to choose a dissertation topic, but he knows he wants to apply computational modeling to nanoscience and nanotechnology for use in batteries and other energy storage devices.
Chaluvadi is the first student from Clemson to win the scholarship.
“It was reaffirming to what I was doing at Clemson and even before,” he said. “The things that I worked hard for are starting to pay off.”
Chaluvadi said what he will remember most about Clemson is the network of friends he made, especially through extracurricular activities, including the Clemson Debate Society and the Indian Cultural Association. He also was a member of the Honors College and co-founded Tigers for Green Innovation, a student organization that promotes sustainability and other environmental issues.
Lindsey Dixon, the director of the Clemson Debate Society, said that Chaluvadi is smart but also compassionate, kind and funny. For him, debate was about more than winning or losing– it was about growing as a person, Dixon said.
The awards, she said, are well deserved.
“He doesn’t do these things to get recognition,” Dixon said. “He does them because he knows they are the right things to do and they are the right things to care about. It just shows the character he has and the wonderful person he is.”
When Chaluvadi leaves for England in September, he will be returning to the city of his birth. Chaluvadi and his family lived in Cambridge until he was 2 while his father was pursuing a Ph.D. in turbomachinery.
But when Chaluvadi thinks about home, the place that comes to mind is Stonewyck subdivision in the Five Forks area of Greenville County, where he was raised by his mother, Purnima Chaluvadi, a pharmacist at Prisma Health, and his father, Siva Chaluvadi, a mechanical engineer at GE Power.
He attended Mauldin Elementary School and Langston Charter Middle School. In 8th grade, he was a top-10 finalist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, giving him an opportunity to be mentored by one of the company’s scientists.
Chaluvadi attended the international baccalaureate program at Southside High School for two years and then transferred to the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville.
When it came time to choose a college, he had options. He said he picked Clemson partly for the in-state tuition but also because he wanted “the whole college experience.”
“The research opportunities I got at Clemson were unmatched, especially the amount of experience I got as an undergraduate,” Chaluvadi said. “Also, the football atmosphere is amazing. I’m a big football fan.”
It wasn’t always easy. Chaluvadi started off as a chemical engineering major and received a stinging 32% on his first exam. Chaluvadi remembers talking to the professor and went on to get an A in the class.
But the grade was an eye-opener and led him to explore other options. Chaluvadi decided to switch to materials science and engineering in the beginning of sophomore year, finding the fundamental science involved to be a better fit for his interests.
The ironic part is that Chaluvadi’s experience came full circle, back to chemical engineering. When he started looking for research experience, he was introduced to Rachel Getman, the Murdoch Family Endowed Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Chaluvadi ended up joining Getman’s lab and mentoring other undergraduates who worked as interns.
“It’s a huge impression on me and what I want to do in the future,” Chaluvadi said. “Dr. Getman has been influential in shaping my understanding of what research truly is. She showed me how to pivot and how to learn from my mistakes. She has been a great mentor and a support system when the class load and extracurriculars were getting too heavy. She was understanding about who I am as a person.”
Getman said that she has watched Chaluvadi mature as a researcher and that he blends in well with the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows around him.
When the Getman lab conducted research with colleagues in materials science and engineering, Chaluvadi was able to bridge the gap, acting as an interpreter between the two disciplines.
“He understands that research is a process,” Getman said. “It’s not just getting the right answer and moving on. What we’re setting out to learn starts out with a hypothesis, and that hypothesis is probably at least partly wrong. The whole point is to get data that provides evidence, and you adjust your methods as you go along.”
Chaluvadi was one of 24 students nationwide to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which was established in 2000 by the Gates Foundation. The Norris Medal is Clemson’s highest honor for an undergraduate. The J. Wesley Davis Leadership Award is given to a senior engineering student for outstanding scholarship, leadership in a student engineering organization and high potential for success in the engineering profession.
Over the summer, Chaluvadi plans to work an internship for 3M’s materials informatics team.
His first day of class at the University of Cambridge is Oct. 1. As he heads out into the world, he’ll have a sea of solid orange rooting for him back home in South Carolina.