Eighteen-year-old UC Berkeley junior Ritankar Das has yet another accomplishment to add to his impressive list: the highly prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.
Das, who was awarded the scholarship in March, will now receive a scholarship of up to $7,500 annually. Each year, a campus committee of faculty members nominates four undergraduate students pursuing careers in math and science to compete with a wider pool of students from around the country.The award is considered to be one of the most prestigious of its kind, and competition for the scholarship is exceptionally intense.
“I think it’s very important to find something in the world you’re really passionate about and work for it without any immediate benefit — not for a grade but for something more than that,” Das said. “I really took that to heart.”
Having begun his freshman year at UC Berkeley at only 15 years old, Das — a chemical biology and bioengineering double major with a minor in creative writing — seems an ideal candidate.
Since starting at UC Berkeley, Das has served as a teaching assistant in the chemistry, biology and African American studies departments. He is the founding president of the American Chemical Society chapter on campus as well as the editor in chief of the Berkeley Chemical Review research journal.
Das is also the founder and chair of See Your Future, a nonprofit organization that uses digital learning techniques such as YouTube visual demonstrations and Skype tutoring to encourage disadvantaged students to pursue STEM careers.
Despite his expertise in chemistry, Das said he feels that science alone is not enough to bring about the social change needed to solve multifaceted problems such as water scarcity and climate change.
“Almost certainly, these problems won’t just be solved by science,” Das said. “How do you get alternate sources of energy into a community? How do you convince young people to enter into these science fields? There’s a lot of art involved in that.”
A published poet and author, Das argues that there is a need for artistic creativity in addition to traditional scientific methodologies.
“I think that he is very knowledgeable, and I enjoy working with him,” said Wenyuan Bao, head DeCal facilitator and director of public relations for the Undergraduate Chemical Society. “He deserves to win the scholarship.”
Das, who attributed his success in his academic and artistic ventures to resilience, emphasized the importance of thinking independently and learning from failures.
“My parents played a very critical role in shaping my worldview and making sure I was challenging myself, working hard and wasn’t afraid to fail in the process — making sure I could learn from my failures and not just pursue a traditional path that society set up but to follow your own and think about things in your own way,” Das said.
Contact Mia Shaw at [email protected].