UC Berkeley senior Lavanya Jawaharlal has already made campus history as a member of the first all-female ASUC executive slate, and on Friday, she will be the first UC Berkeley student to appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
“Shark Tank” features aspiring entrepreneurs who deliver pitches to a panel of potential investors — the “sharks” — who may then choose to invest in the business or product presented to them. The sharks are not required to provide funding, however, and contestants may ultimately leave the show empty-handed.
Jawaharlal is the president and co-founder of STEM Center USA, a robotics outreach program aimed at inspiring youth by providing after-school programming and selling robotics kits for hands-on learning.
According to Jawaharlal, it was clear from a young age that she was destined to be an engineer. When she received her first Barbie Doll horse, she recalled, she immediately took it apart to figure out how it worked. By middle school, she had become active in her school’s robotics team and began tutoring her peers in robotics not much later.
Jawaharlal and her sister Melissa Jawaharlal founded STEM Center USA “almost by accident” in 2011 after their parents decided that the informal robotics classes they held in the family’s living room for neighbors and friends should expand to its own location.
Four years later, STEM Center USA is housed in Claremont, California, where Melissa Jawaharlal works full time and Lavanya Jawaharlal travels at least once a month in between classes and her ASUC responsibilities.
The Jawaharlals have watched “Shark Tank” together since its earliest episodes aired. But it did not cross the sisters’ minds to audition for the show — Lavanya Jawaharlal said that “it seemed like a far-away dream” — until clients and family members began to suggest it.
According to Lavanya Jawaharlal, she and her sister hope that an offer from the sharks will allow STEM Center USA to expand its centers to locations throughout the country.
As ASUC executive vice president, Jawaharlal is already a recognizable face on campus. In addition to chairing and overseeing the ASUC Senate, Jawaharlal’s office played an integral role in facilitating the completion of the Lower Sproul Redevelopment Project and allocating space to student organizations.
On top of it all, she is working toward a degree in mechanical engineering.
“I describe it as organized chaos,” she said. “While they’re all so separate, they weirdly tie in together. The politics I’ve learned in the ASUC have helped me in corporate meeting rooms, and being president of a company drives me to be a leader on campus.”
Jawaharlal expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support she has received from the UC Berkeley community, including friends both in and out of the ASUC. ASUC President Yordanos Dejen is slated to host a viewing party for the episode — which airs Friday at 9 p.m. on ABC — in Eshleman Hall for friends and colleagues to attend.
“I’ve watched her accomplish so many milestones, and they get bigger every time,” said UC Berkeley senior and Jawaharlal’s roommate of four years, Wendy Xue.
While they are not allowed to reveal the outcome of the episode before it airs, the sisters are determined to expand STEM Center USA whether or not they receive an offer from the sharks.
Lavanya Jawaharlal hopes to ultimately stay with STEM Center USA beyond graduation.
“ ‘Shark Tank’ isn’t an end goal,” Melissa Jawaharlal said. “We’re hoping that it’s a beginning.”
Despite appearing in front of millions of television viewers, Lavanya Jawaharlal remains dedicated to her academics and her role in the ASUC. Whether leading a senate meeting or studying late into the night, she can be easily identified by the “I <3 Sharks” decal on her laptop.
“Sharks have always been my favorite animal,” she said. “Ironic, no?”