From a young age, Aashi Tyagi nursed a passion for problem-solving and STEM. The teen remembers spending summer vacations "burying my head in encyclopaedias, coding a website for my fictional event planning business or teaching myself advanced mathematics at age 14". One of her dreams materialised when she set up her school’s first Coding Club and began volunteering to teach robotics at STEM camps. Keen to empower students, the Grade 12 student at the International School of Choueifat in Abu Dhabi believes STEM offers her an opportunity to make a tangible impact in the community. To that end she set up AIxEntrepreneurs, a movement that leverages AI tech for social good.
The seeds for this social initiative were sown when she was in high school and working on a research project that applied deep learning to detect and mitigate distracted driving, thereby preventing motor accidents. Realising she could use AI for social good, Aashi began delving deeper into the subject to hone her skills and broaden her knowledge. "I began scouring the internet for resources, enrolling in college-level online courses on machine learning, reaching out to professors and applying for tech programs," she says.
Keen to share her passion with others, she began motivating and inspiring young people to advance AI innovation in an effective and responsible way through education and mentorship.
Aashi’s mission is to create pipelines for young talent in CS/AI and empower an inclusive and diverse tech future. "Through AIxEntrepreneurs, we aim to inspire young people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and voices to explore AI and unlock its potential to solve humanity’s most challenging problems," she says.
Her initiative has already notched up several success stories: One student who had extremely basic knowledge of AI, went on to be part of the winning team of AIxEntrepreneurs’s Startup Pitch Competition. Another who participated in AIxEntrepreneurs’s summer programs released his own AI-generated album on SoundCloud.
"One student is currently pursuing a research project applying AI to diagnose diseases like skin cancer," says Aashi proudly.
"Interested students can apply on our website (aixentrepreneurs.com). Our only prerequisite is passion, persistence and a desire to learn," says Aashi who plans to major in computer science.
Set up AIxEntrepreneurs, a global movement that empowers the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators by teaching young people to leverage AI technologies for social transformation. The student-run platform holds workshop, seminars, webinars and startup competitions.
Her efforts have been appreciated and recognised by the Youth Hub of UAE, Hub 71, StartAD, among others.
Aashi’s tips for aspiring entrepreneurs
• Jump in! There’s no better time to start than now.
• Be fearless and yet open to failure – you learn from failures and experimentation.
• Be open to learning - seek guidance and support from others.
• Stay true to your core mission and values – even when it’s the longer, harder road!
• Embrace and value the differences you bring to the table.
Ashwin Prashanth is on cloud nine. The 17-year-old grade 12 student at Indian High School, Dubai, has just topped the JEE Main (one of the toughest exams in the world) in the ‘Outside India’ category.
"Even though I expected to do well after [writing] the paper, I never expected such a good score. I’m delighted with my results. Two years of effort has paid off," he says.
While admitting hard work played a huge role in his success, he credits his family – father Dr Prasanth K, an Internal Medicine Specialist, mother Dr Sajitha PN, a pathologist, and sister Ashwathi Prasanth, a medical student in Kerala – and his teachers for helping him with all their support and advice.
Ashwin, who regularly figured among the top achievers in his class, says he began preparing for the JEE exam when he was in grade 11. "I enrolled at Knowledge Planet where I received immense help from the faculty. I attended classes, solved previous question papers, and gave occasional mock tests at Knowledge Planet and a few other online institutions – all of which were essential for a good score in JEE."
Since most of the content of his regular school curriculum was pretty much the same as for the entrance exam, his JEE preparation largely covered his schoolwork too, he says.
Ashwin’s regular day would include waking up around 6am and revising the day’s topics. After his online school classes, he’d have lunch, take a short nap, before sitting down to study that usually involved revising notes and solving a lot of questions. "Some evenings, I also attended online classes conducted by Knowledge Planet. In the last few months of my preparation, I tried to give at least one mock test per day in the morning," he says. "My parents always made sure that I had everything required for my studies and constantly provided me with support and motivation. My sister, having written an entrance examination herself earlier, provided me with useful tips and advice."
A regular topper in Science, Math, Cyber and English Olympiads over the past four years, not to mention grabbing awards at quiz contests, he also earned good scores in SATs and IELTS examinations.
Ashwin’s dream is to pursue engineering in one of the top Indian Institutes of Technology or a major university in Singapore or Canada. "For this I still have to crack the JEE Advanced examination which will be conducted in July. I have to work hard for another three months to secure a good rank in the exam," he says.
Topper in JEE Main in the ‘Outside India’ category scoring 99.9 percentile in the March 2021 attempt. Score includes a complete 100 percentile score in math and 99.9 in chemistry.
Ashwin’s tips for students preparing for entrance exams
• Know the exam pattern, syllabus, and weightage of marks for different topics. This will help you plan your studies more systematically.
• Get guidance. Although it is not impossible to clear JEE by self-study, it is a hard task. Seek guidance from experienced persons/institutes.
• Practise what you learn: JEE and similar entrance exams are all about solving questions. Studying theory alone will be of no use; implement this theory in questions.
• Revise regularly: Revise notes and important questions.
• Do not get distracted: Stay on track until the finish line.
Mehdi Raza Asaria
Ask Mehdi Raza Asaria, a talented cricketer with several sports accolades under his belt, what are his three greatest achievements to date and he will tell you the first was when he and his friend Mohammad Afsal were awarded a scholarship in sports back when he was in 8th grade at Our Own English High School Sharjah. "We were the first students from our school to receive a scholarship in sports," he says. Mehdi was captain of the school cricket team and Afsal his deputy; the team would go on to win many prestigious matches including the MaxTalent Cup U13.
His second, he says, was when he represented his school for athletics at the CBSE Nationals in India. "I’d just started my athletic career but was keen to make a mark so would train alone during my summer holidays every day. That paid off."
His third biggest achievement was to represent the UAE through Heriot-Watt University Dubai for the Red Bull Campus Cricket World Finals where we played against international and domestic players from other countries. The feather in his cap was winning the Man of the Match award for taking five wickets and scoring 30 runs.
A fourth-year student of MA (Hons) International Business Management with Enterprise at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai, Mehdi believes sports polishes one’s personality. "I’ve found sports the best way to keep myself fit and to gain many soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and leadership," he says, keen to experiment and constantly learn new skills.
To that end, the young man is all praise for Heriot Watt for offering "a wide range of opportunities to students ranging from sports and social activities to academic and professional support. They have given us the tools and the platform so students can excel in whatever they feel passionate about", he says.
Students at Heriot Watt, he says, are encouraged to participate in not just sports but also in other areas where they can sharpen their skills – from budgeting and managing resources to ideating and working as a team. These skills, he is sure, would stand them in good stead in life.
Two of his greatest mentors are his father and Atif Khan, regional finance controller at Stantec. "I learnt a lot of lessons from them, including the value of being persistent [to achieve your goals]. I also learnt the importance of following your passion (it keeps your mind and soul in the right place while motivating you); diving into the unknown (that’s how you grow, learn new skills); being humble and respectful; and always staying positive."
What were the challenges he faced in making a mark in cricket?
"Over the years, I realised there is no ‘good form’ or ‘bad form’. It’s all in the mind; if you go out there to play with a positive mind-set, you will fetch positive results." He believes self-motivation is extremely important in sport.
Mehdi has also learnt to perfectly juggle academics and sports. "You have to make choices as to what aspect you want to give your time to," he says.
While he loves the sport, Mehdi doesn’t plan to take up cricket at a professional level. "I plan to support my dad in his metal scrap business once I graduate."
Represented Sharjah in U-19 Inter-Emirate Cricket (Domestic). Represented UAE through Heriot Watt University for Redbull World Finals. Named best batsman and man of the tournament in University Premiere League and University Gulf Cup.
A year 13 student of Sharjah English School, Thendral Kamal, when not busy indulging in her passions – scuba diving (she holds a PADI Rescue Diver license), acting and reading manga – enjoys scanning the sky. An extremely active member of her school’s Astrophysics Club, she spends hours almost every day researching and expanding her knowledge of the universe. "Every new thing I research, I present at my Astrophysics Club, where we debate the validity of existing theories and go on stargazing trips to the Sharjah Planetarium," says the Sharjah resident.
A certified Emergency First Response person, she is as fascinated about stars as she is of seas. A keen participant in the local ocean conservation efforts, she has also spoken about the importance of sustainable diving with her team, the UAE Falcon Divers, at various events at the Sharjah Aquarium.
Focused on a purely STEM curriculum, with A-Levels in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, this teenager is fascinated by space and all things related to the cosmos, and to that end, two years ago Thendral presented a TEDx talk, "We Choose to Go to Mars," at Amity University, Dubai.
One of her proud honours was being chosen one of 14 winners of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s UAE Zero Gravity program where she successfully tested her experiment, ‘Upthrust in Microgravity’ onboard a parabolic flight, in Florida, USA. "That was a great honour."
But an achievement of hers, which quite literally was out of this world was when her prize-winning short story ‘The Greatest Adventure Ever Witnessed,’ was carried to the International Space Station by the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa Al Mansoori. "Next, I look forward to becoming the first Indian woman on Mars," says the teen.
What was her paper that was published in Columbia Junior Science Journal about? "Globular clusters are spherical collections of tens of thousands (sometimes millions) of the oldest stars in the universe," she says. These clusters are usually situated at the centres of dwarf galaxies. "In a nutshell, my paper investigates a research method for spotting these globular clusters within the dwarf galaxies of the Virgo Cluster, a massive galaxy cluster that is some 65 million light years away from Earth."
The paper was a joint effort between Thendral and two others who were mentored by four eminent international professors.
Thendral also landed a University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Science Internship Program in March 2020 and got to work on an ongoing research project at UCSC on globular clusters with two senior professors. "SIP mainly taught me that collaboration and teamwork form the essence of research. Thanks to SIP, I walked in a high schooler and am now a researcher."
Apart from being a regular speaker on science and space, Thendral also volunteers as a guide every Saturday at the Sharjah Astronomy for Space Sciences and Technology.
"For the last three years, I have been detailing on Instagram (@thendralkamal) some of my accomplishments as I take my steps towards the Red Planet."
Published a paper on cluster dwarf galaxies in the prestigious Columbia Junior Science Journal. Presented research at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Was named The Mars Generation’s 24 Under 24 Leaders & Innovators in STEAM and Space.
5 pieces of advice I received
1. It is OK to walk the road less travelled.
2. Prepare floats for every project in life, my father said. A float is a free period of time before the deadline of a project that can be utilised in an unlikely event that causes the project to become delayed. Every good project has multiple floats to prevent a pressure for time on its members.
3. Keep your faith. You are your #1 supporter.
4. Question everything. All theories can be disproven with sufficient evidence.
5. It is never too early or too late to begin learning something new.