Using her scientific knowledge and a passion for social reform she learned as a child, Sruthi Narayanan is helping young female students achieve academic equality in her hometown in the Kerala state of India.
Narayanan, a Clemson University associate professor of crop ecophysiology in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, is using money she earned from receiving awards such as the Early Career Award from the Crop Science Society of America to fund educational expenses for eight female students. Her gift is a way to “give back” to residents from where she grew up.
“I am a public education product from India,” Narayanan said. “I feel so much indebted to our government for the educational opportunities I was given while growing up, I wanted to give something back. This is my way of saying ‘Thank you for your support.’”
Indian girls often are raised to become homemakers. United Nations data shows India has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world – 21% vs. 53% global median. Narayanan’s parents were both schoolteachers and taught her, from a young age, to promote social reform.
“It really started with my grandfather, my mother’s father,” she said. “He was such a social reformer. He believed in and supported equal education for all.”
Narayanan’s grandfather, Govindan Nair, was a schoolteacher and became a rice farmer when he retired.
“He is the reason for my passion for plant science,” said Narayanan, who holds both doctorate and master’s degrees in agronomy from Kansas State University, and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Kerala Agriculture University in Thrissur, India.
Her parents, Narayanan Kutty and Sreedevi Narayanan Kutty, have continued her grandfather’s legacy and are active in organizations to promote science and scientific literature. They campaign to make science accessible in rural communities and believe in their work to bring about change to benefit these communities.
“We dream of an enlightened world of humanity,” Narayanan Kutty said. “All of our efforts regarding social reforms are based on charity to humankind.”
They encouraged their daughter to become involved in community affairs when she was young.
“We are happy to say that from very early in her childhood, Sruthi was given opportunities to learn about her neighboring children,” her father said. “In certain cases, poverty was an obstacle to continuing education. We were strong in the opinion that brilliant students should be given free education. Sruthi also participated in the activities of helping deserving children.”
They are proud to watch their daughter encourage young females to become involved in and learn more about science.
“Equal opportunity should be given to females regardless of gender, race, financial status or any other factors so that all deserving women have the ability to reach new heights and excel in their fields,” Sreedevi Narayanan Kutty said. “We tried to instill the idea of gender equality in Sruthi’s mind from the time she was a child. We are happy to see she is carrying that idea forward.”
Narayanan’s gift will support educational expenses of eight female students from the Thrithala constituency for their 11th and 12th grade, courses. High school in India ends with the 10th grade. Students who enroll in 11th and 12th grades can study specialized areas, similar to college courses.
Scholarship criteria include: an A+ in all subjects for the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) examination and an annual family income less than Rs 1 lakh ($1,260 in American dollars). Special consideration will be given to students who have no house or who have both parents or family members suffering serious ailments. In India, students must obtain an SSLC to officially complete secondary schooling.
Narayanan sought the partnership of the local government to support female education. Her proposition was put into action by the honorary speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly in India, M.B. Rajesh through the ENLITE (Empowering and Enlightening Thrithala’s Education) program. A screening committee has been formed to determine who will receive the scholarships.
Back in Clemson, South Carolina, Narayanan receives support from her husband Predeesh Chandran. Her husband said he always supports his wife’s “good intentions and generosity toward underprivileged girls.” Chandran is an entomologist in the Clemson Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter, Mizhi.
“Sruthi always stands for making high-quality education accessible for poor students,” Chandran said. “In India, girls are often more underprivileged than boys, especially in rural areas. She wanted to give at least a few of them some support to move forward in their journey for a better life. She shares her thoughts with me and I try to support and assist in her efforts.”
In addition to the Early Career Award from the Crop Science Society of America, Narayanan also has received the Kansas State University 2022 Distinguished Young Alumni Award. In 2021 she received the Association of Agricultural Scientists of Indian Origin Early Career Agricultural Scientist Award, Clemson University Provost Junior Outstanding Teacher Award, and Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences’ (CAFLS) Teaching Award for Excellence (for faculty with fewer than six years of experience).
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