In this month’s issue IAGB is proud to introduce the 5th term President of Sishu Bharati Schools – Dr. Seshi Sompuram. Dr. Sompuram is a scientist and faculty at BU Medical school and has devoted a large part of his life volunteering for Sishu Bharati in a leadership role. IAGB Director Sanjay Kudrimoti met with Dr. Sompuram over the Zoom to discuss his scientific work, his volunteering experiences, his family and his hobbies and other interests. 

Perceive, Preserve and Promote

IAGB: Hello Dr. Seshi Sompuram. We welcome you to the IAGB SPOTLIGHT. To start, we would like to know your Life Journey to date.

Seshi Sompuram: I come from a very small village – Sompuram at the edge of Telangana bordering Karnataka. I started my schooling in my village and then for education I moved around – elementary school in the rural side then to Gadwal for my high school and Junior College. I did undergrad in Hyderabad (Osmania University) and finally moved to the US to do my Masters at Boston College and PhD and Post Doc at Boston University Med School. I did my PhD and Post Doc in Molecular Biology and Immunology. My PhD thesis was on Creating Antibodies for Therapy. Immediately after my Post Doc year, I started working as a faculty member at the BU Medical school. I also worked at a startup company CytolLogix, which was soon acquired by DAKO/Agilent Technology. Dr. Bogen and I, along with Vani Kodela, started a new start up: Medical Discovery Partners. Only recently we changed the name to Boston Cell Standards. Boston Cell Standards is a specialized biotech company dedicated to improving Cancer Biopsy Clinical Diagnostic Testing Technologies. I am the Vice President of Research and Development and co-inventor of the company’s core technology.  Over the years, as a group we developed a technology solution that would enable the integration of quantitative quality systems to immunohistochemistry (IHC) testing. Along the way, we published over 30 papers, and authored chapters in two books. We were awarded several U.S. and European patents. We have been fortunate to be able to get several National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health) grants (5 – 6 million dollars) over past few years. Presently, we have a product that is being tested in clinical trials in the US (Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, etc), as well as in Canada and Europe. Only recently we sought private investments. Incidentally, TiE Boston through its Life Sciences division is the first outside private investor in our company. The other professional hat I wear is as an Adjunct faculty at BU Medical school (in Pathology Department). 

IAGB: How did your association with Shishu Bharati start and how did you progress over the years?

Seshi Sompuram: My association with Shishu Bharati started almost 20 years ago when I enrolled my son at the school and signed up to teach 1st grade Telugu. Over the next few years my role in the administration became more involved and I was elected as a Secretary. Two years later, I was elected as the president of Shishu Bharati. Currently, I am in my fifth 2-year term (9th year) serving the school and community. Looking back over the last twenty or so years, I would say with great joy that my association with Shishu Bharati is the best thing that ever happened to me. 

IAGB: What should our readers know about Shishu Bharati as an organization?

Seshi Sompuram: Shishu Bharati is a 43 years old, non-religious, non-profit, and non-commercial institution. We have three-locations: Lexington, Walpole and Nashua (N.H). Some of the Shishu Bharati senior members are still around, and they inspire and make us humble every day. While in my role as the President, I do juggle work across the spectrum for the school. The real work is done by the 200 plus very dedicated, compassionate volunteers. The school runs smoothly because our teachers and administrators recognize their roles and work together. I am blessed to be working with this amazing and selfless group of volunteers who put service above everything else. I am privileged to be part of the Shishu Bharati mission.

We have elections every two years. We elect about 20 directors for each location. This board has a division of labor between various activities such as registration, public relations, education council and so on. Each school has a principal and two vice principals (one for language and one for Indian Culture) and a Director of Admissions as the chief administrators. These four individuals (they are nominated based on experience and skill set and not elected) form the Education Council for each school. At the executive level we have a President, Secretary and Treasurer. The Directors, administrators and the executive committee meet every month to discuss the agenda items. Summer happens to be the busiest time as a lot of planning for the new academic year happens during this time. Grading, graduation, signing up of new leases, teacher sufficiency, training and much more of the behind-the-scenes work happens during these three months. So yes, the commitment is needed for more than just the weekend activity. The volunteers have two main objectives: one is to aid in imparting education about our language and culture to our next generation and the other is to help build a cohesive and kind community. Hence the motto I coined – Perceive, Preserve and Promote. Teachers and volunteers raised the bar when the pandemic hit us and adapted to the challenging new circumstances. Shishu Bharati is what it is today because of our volunteers and I am personally grateful to them. I am also thankful to the parents for their desire and passion to bring their children. I would say I am surrounded by wonderful people.

IAGB: Can you shed light on student experiences. 

Seshi Sompuram: We serve about 900 students across these three locations. Experiences of the students has also been extremely heartwarming. Yes, it is true that initially the kids are apprehensive about the school and its curriculum but very soon they adapt and get engaged intensively in the learning. They learn to appreciate our roots and feel proud about it. I have observed that they come in without any biases and learn many cultural lessons with an analytical and critical mind. They understand the good and not so good aspects and promote what they understand are the right lessons. 

IAGB: What should a new student (or parent) expect if they are considering joining Shishu Bharati?

Seshi Sompuram: We start with an assembly every Sunday morning where we sing both the American and Indian national anthems followed by a small presentation about India. After this they have two hours of lessons with a small break between the two classes. We have a strict grading scale and require a minimum of 70% overall grade to advance to the next class. Children start at a kingergarten level and graduate by the time they are in 8th grade. In addition to learning culture and language, students of Shishu Bharati form lifelong friendships. Their graduating essays and projects are quite insightful. The association for some of our alumni doesn’t stop with graduation. Almost all of them come back as student volunteers after they graduate. Student volunteers are some of our strongest assets. They assist the teachers and administrators and help younger students during classes.   

One of the biggest advantages to our graduates has been that many of the colleges have started to accept our language graduation certificate as a waiver of 3 college credits in the foreign language requirement. Some of the noted schools in this category are UMass, Boston University, Boston College, Dartmouth college, Brandeis University, and a few others. Two years back we even formed an Shishu Bharati Alumni association. We have created a handbook to help the alumni with all the benefits and connections they can develop through this network. 

IAGB: What is your revenue model and what are your major expenses?

Seshi Sompuram: We do charge fees to our students. The fee revenue is primarily to cover our biggest expense which is the rental fees for the three high schools we use. We pay almost a few hundred-thousand dollars annually for the school rental fees. Additionally, we spend some money on snacks for children. The other big-ticket item on our expenditure is our Bi-Annual event that combines all three schools. Almost two to three thousand people attend this event and we invite folks from all walks of life. We have no paid staff. We do often reimburse our teachers for any incidental expenses they may incur that aids them with their teaching and on rare occasions we give out token gifts of appreciation to our teachers and volunteers. We also have a formal graduation ceremony and invite both a keynote and alumni speaker.

IAGB: Does Shishu Bharati work with other organizations in the community?

Seshi Sompuram: Absolutely. Shishu Bharati has benefited from an eco-system of likeminded volunteer organizations in the greater Boston area such as IAGB, Hindi Manch and many others. For instance, we coordinated with IAGB to present a Learning Series during last year’s India Day celebrations. Hindi Manch Baal Yuva Bhag has encouraged us to send team entries from each school every year during their annual event. Further, every year they recognize and honor one of our teachers at this event. Similarly, TAGB also recognized many Shishu Bharati teachers. We strongly believe in building our community and our work has helped to add to the rich texture of the New England population.   

IAGB: What can you share about your personal life and how has your family supported you in your community work?

Seshi Sompuram: I met my wife Sandhya Raja in college and she too is a Ph.D graduate working for a Biotech/Pharma company. We are blessed to have a son and a daughter. Our son double majored in Economics and Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and he currently works as a Product Manager at a tech company. Our daughter, a rising junior, is working on her undergraduate degree at Northeastern University in Business Administration. They both are Shishu Bharati graduates themselves. I am very thankful for the support of my family throughout the years of my association with Shishu Bharati. 

IAGB: Any hobbies you pursue besides being a scientist, faculty and a President of nonprofit organization.

Seshi Sompuram: I enjoy singing and listening to music. I have used every opportunity to work and showcase my singing. I have participated in the Hindi Manch organized Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and once I was the finalist (second runner up). Another hobby I enjoy is painting and sketching.

IAGB: Who and what influenced your life’s philosophy?

Seshi Sompuram: My story starts in a small village. My father had very minimal education. But he was very kind and knew the value and respect for education. Not only did he ensure that me and my siblings got good education, but he also helped anyone in our village who showed interest in going to school. He passed away just before my son was born. Now to keep his spirit and tradition alive, me and my younger brother Jeevan have started a foundation on my father’s memory. My childhood friends, who are the principals at four colleges, identify four students who are economically struggling but have the passion to study beyond their junior college level. We support them financially through their four years of professional undergrad education. We have been doing this for past 13 years. This way I honor my dad’s memory. Additionally, we also hand out 25 merit scholarships as an encouragement to students. Our children are our source of strength. Despite the personal challenges we endured, we have committed ourselves even more to community service as it is the true source of our happiness. 

-For IAGB Team: Sanjay Kudrimoti