Antarctic Odyssey of Alumnus BITS Pilani Proud to be BITSian Divya Nawale - BITSAA Makes Dreams Happen
Some of the greatest stories of modern exploration are those of attempts to reach the White Continent which in summer is roughly half of the size of the United States and in winter when the useable area expands due to snow and ice, the continent can be more than double in size. It is an incredible journey that few have had the privilege to experience. To quote the Guardian “The only thing more frightening than an advancing glacier may be one that is shrinking and raising sea levels round the world.”
Antarctic Odyssey of Alumnus BITS Pilani Proud to be BITSian Divya Nawale - BITSAA Makes Dreams Happen
For this dare devil girl Divya Nawale, every day is a new dawn, a new adventure, a new challenge and a new moment that was never before. In 2009, she became the first BITSian woman and was the youngest BITSian (until 2018) to step on the seventh continent, Antarctica. But she probably wouldn’t have gone to Antarctica if she didn’t go to Pilani.
This story is about how BITS Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani Rajasthan inspired her to go to Antarctica and helped her find her way to a life of meaning and purpose. It’s been 8 years since her first time to the frozen continent; and in February 2018, she went back to serve as the Head of Special projects for 2041 Foundation, the same organization that took her there the first time.
Divya Nawale’s story starts in the Lecture Theater Complex (LTC) that opened in Pilani in 2003. She was a part of the first ever batch to experience sitting in those large gallery classrooms! However, she was a lost soul at BITS. She didn’t want to do engineering but ended up at the then top ranking institute in the country for mechanical engineering by her merit. Yet, going to Pilani has also been her life’s biggest blessing. She is indeed proud to be a BITSian and it has been her identity no matter where in the world she has been.
It was at BITS Pilani that she found her greatest passion for dancing as a Dance clubber and her biggest mission in life- to help make the world a better place, while working with the construction workers and teaching the local kids through the on-campus clubs like the National Service Scheme (NSS) and My India (later re-named to Nirmaan). She learnt more about practicing resilience, building self-esteem, developing confidence, and making real friends than she ever did in her entire life.
It was her third year at Pilani during 2006, when one of the alumni SJR Silver jubilee Reunions that brought back alumni from different parts of the world to their alma mater 25 years later, took place on campus. On a fine Sunday morning, she went to attend a guest lecture in the LTC of a particular alumnus who was visiting for his reunion, Mr. K.C. Ramakrishnan of the 1976 batch, who worked for BHEL and had been on a mission to Antarctica testing non-conventional energy sources (solar panels!!) at the Indian polar station Dakshin Gangotri, carrying out research there in 1988.
She vividly remember till this day, looking at the big screens with the images of the icy continent calling out to her. She knew it in her gut that she was meant to go there. That presentation inspired her to write down three dreams for life: to visit Antarctica someday, to work for renewable energy / sustainability to make the world a better place, and come back to Pilani someday with an inspiring story like that during her silver jubilee reunion.
She just didn’t know that one of those dreams would come true only 3 years later in November of 2009. In the summer of that year, she was working on a story for publicizing the global event called ‘Earth Hour’ in The Hindu new paper Young World section, as a freelance features editor. During her research, she stumbled upon the website http://www.2041.com/ , which looked too good to be true.
This was pre-Facebook era in India, so she had no way of checking out their Facebook / Instagram page to confirm the authenticity of the program that took young leaders from across the world to Antarctica on annual expeditions to make them environmental champions. Nor could she easily reach out to other people who had already been because they didn’t have facebook / or even Orkut profiles.
Despite the audacity, it for her took to believe that this was a real genuine program and could be the biggest opportunity of her life, she knew somehow this is what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be. So she applied. And she got selected. Sir Robert Swan OBE, who is the first person in history to walk unassisted to both the South and North Poles and the Guinness record holder of this feat, somehow thought that a young 22-year old girl from India had the potential to change the world.
While BITS made her dream this dream, it was the indomitable BITS Alumni Association BITSAA who helped her make this dream truly come true! Earlier that year, she had helped BITSAA with a bit of media and outreach for the projects they were working on (again this was for The Hindu; some of these articles are available online). When she had to raise funds for her own expedition, she wondered if BITSAA would help her as a recent graduate.
Divya got in touch with Mr. Viggy Mokkarala, who was the Chapter leader for BITSAA Silicon Valley chapter back then. She had worked with closely over the summer for the outreach bit so she hoped that Viggy would see she was credible enough and that she imbibed the “Never Say Die” BITSian spirit. He immediately agreed to help (That’s why she absolutely loves that the most popular Facebook group for students and alumni of BITS is called ‘BITSians for each other’)! And with the coordination with Mr. Kartik Bandhuvula who was the Fundraising coordinator for BITSAA back then, she was provided funds to travel to Antarctica (covering my flights, gear and insurance). Dream no. 1 achieved.
Going to Antarctica changed her life. She came back with the clear purpose and idea to work in the sustainability space and embrace eco-friendly living. While she already knew she wanted this, the expedition gave her a sense of direction and provided her with resources and a network. She was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, to engage with 2041 Foundation in 2010/11 and got the opportunity to work for them in India for multiple projects.
Once again, BITSAA recognized this during 2012 in the form of a 30-Under-30 Award for Divya Nawale under the category “Social Entrepreneurship and community building”. This way she kept pursuing relentlessly for Dream no. 2, which she continues to do today and is her life’s mission.
In 2014, a version of dream no. 3 came true when BITSAA approached her again- this time to speak and share her Antarctic story at the BGM BITSAA Global Meet taking place at the BITS Hyderabad campus. In front of many of her own personal BITSian heroes like Dilip D’Souza, Dean Nattu Prof. B. R. Natarajan, and sharing stage with other inspirational seniors like Phanindra Sama, in her very own hometown of Hyderabad, She shared her story – with the very first slide, being a picture of our beloved LTC in BITS Pilani where it all began.
Dream no.3 will become a true reality when she goes back to Pilani for her silver jubilee reunion, and her work may help inspire more young minds at Pilani then, to dream their dream and follow it, and know that BITS and BITSAA will always have their back. A BITSian a heart, this is Divya Nawale 2003A4PS297 story, and she owes it to her Alma mater BITS Pilani.
To quote Sunil Nanda yet another Proud alumnus of BITS Pilani who spearheads the multi crore PRC Pilani Resource Centre Atma Nirbara Campaign http://www.atmanirbhara.org/ "Divya is undoubtedly a Role Model for the GENNext BITSians."
For this champion of Save Antarctica, every day is Earth Day and Divya’s inspiring story deserves to be published as a book and hence it is befitting that this newswire appears on 23 Apr 2018 which coincides with World Book & Copyright Day
For more details see https://www.bitsaa.org/
About BITSAA: BITS Alumni Association (BITSAA) has emerged as one of the strongest alumni networks of any university. BITSAA International engages in charitable and educational activities by raising funds for setting up endowments, creating scholarships, rewarding teaching and research and generally promoting the development of resources at Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani, Dubai, Goa & Hyderabad campuses. BITSAA International also aims to strengthen the ties, friendship and communication amongst former students, alumni faculty and friends of the Institute. BITSAA International provides a number of channels for people to stay connected with each other and with Birla Institute of Technology & Science. Notable other alumni initiatives for BITS Pilani include Guru Dakshina program by 70-75 batch to honour former faculty members, Prof Venkateswaran Faculty Excellence award by Karthik Krishna, Prof SSR Memorial Teaching Excellence Award, Atma Nirbara multi crore Pilani Resource Centre by 75-80 batch alumni and many more.
Prof BR Natarajan
BITS Pilani Alumnus
Pilani Rajasthan India 333031
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