This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 Harker Quarterly.
In late April, the 2016 John Near and Mitra scholars were honored at a reception in the Nichols Hall auditorium. Then in May, six Harker teachers were announced as grant awardees from the Raju and Bala Vegesna Teacher Excellence Program, allowing them to pursue a variety of professional development opportunities.
Near and Mitra Endowments Established in 2009 and 2011, respectively, The John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund and the Mitra Excellence in Humanities Endowment have allowed students to pursue research on a wide variety of topics.
Donna Gilbert, upper school history and social science chair, opened the Near and Mitra event by remembering beloved history teacher John Near, who passed away in 2009, saying, “He inspired in his students a love for the excitement of historical exploration, which lives on in this special program.”
Gilbert also shared her appreciation for the Mitra family, “whose vision and kindness extended the scholars program to allow students opportunities to study topics in the broader disciplines of the humanities and social sciences.”
This year’s John Near scholars were seniors Jasmine Liu (“A House Divided: Residential Segregation in Santa Clara County”), Sadhika Malladi (“Graphic Soldiers: Popular Sentiment as Reflected in Captain America and Spider-Man”), Zarek Drozda (“Learned Lessons: Financial Innovation and the Panic of 1873”) and Sahana Narayanan (“‘Bee-Boppa-Doe’: The Sounds of Musical Revolution”).
The 2016 Mitra scholars were seniors Elisabeth Siegel (“Ideology Through Subliminal Propaganda: A Critique of Portrayals of Palestine and Palestinians in Israeli and Western Online News Media during Operation Protective Edge”), Kaitlyn Gee (“Pretty in Punk: An Examination of European Female Punk Rock of the 70s and 80s Through a Feminist Lens”), Natalie Simonian (“Whispers in Russia: The Influence of the Rumors Surrounding Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on the Russian Revolution and Their Role in the German Effort to Overthrow the Tsarist Regime”) and Kavya Ramakrishnan (“The Eggleston Effect: Color Photography as Fine Art”).
These eight seniors conducted “hundreds of hours of research that led … to scholarly analysis of musical scores, journals, maps, images, song lyrics, interviews and on and on,” said library director Sue Smith. All of the scholars took the stage to share their thoughts on their research and thank their mentors for their invaluable guidance.
Malladi also thanked her parents “for almost believing me when I said I was reading comic books for research. “Being a Near scholar has been an incredible experience,” she continued. “I realized it was my responsibility to think critically about what I read.” Gee also had kind words for her mentors, upper school English teacher Ruth Meyer and Smith. “Their encouraging, patient and accommodating nature is beyond compare,” she said. She also expressed her gratitude to Harker “for providing me with 13 years of outstanding education.” A video of the entire reception is now available for viewing at https:// harker.wistia.com/medias/asuuh39xd1.
Vegesna Teacher Excellence Program
The 2016-17 awardees in the Raju and Bala Vegesna Teacher Excellence Program were also recently announced. Launched in 2015, this program awards grants to teachers seeking professional development opportunities.
It is the most recent opportunity provided by the Raju and Bala Vegesna Foundation, which has also supported the summer tech grant program and the Harker Teacher Institute. Scott Kley Contini, middle school director of learning, innovation and design, will use his grant to provide Harker teachers with a special class on design thinking, taught by a professor from Stanford University’s d.school.
Preschool science teacher Robyn Stone will work with the Lawrence Hall of Science in a series of workshops about early childhood education, titled “Physics and Engineering Design.” Galina Tchourilova, upper school French teacher, will attend a program in Vichy, France, that instructs French teachers from around the world on teaching methodologies.
Upper school history teacher Andrea Milius will travel to Greece to attend a summer session at The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Finally, upper school science teachers Kate Schafer and Chris Spenner will head to Alaska to participate in a program at the Inian Islands Institute to learn how to improve student understanding of climate change.
To learn more about the Near and Mitra grants, visit http://library.harker.org/upperlibrary/ nearmitra. For more information on Harker’s endowment giving opportunities, visit https://www.harker.org/giving/ endowment-planned-giving.