Aadi Nashikkar, a Colorado Knowledge Bowl state champion, a Stanford University-bound young man and a Colorado Springs School senior with a 4.499 grade-point average, lost his name sometime during the eighth grade.
In Sanskrit, Aadi means “beginning.” When Nashikkar first ran for student government in eighth grade, he was quite unenthusiastic about his first name, because it seemed nearly everyone had their own pronunciation for it.
“I never corrected anyone,” Nashikkar said. “It was easier to fit in if I let people take my name and mold it to their liking. I was no longer saying even my own name correctly.”
When he recounted his disappointment about losing his first election, Nashikkar’s mother, Kshama Belsare, stopped him and asked him what he had just called himself. Nashikkar pronounced his name wrong. His mother set him straight.
“Having ignored the pronunciation of my name for so long,” Nashikkar said, “I had played into my own whitewashing. When I confidently embraced my name, my leadership improved. I could fight for others because I was fighting for myself.”
Nashikkar became treasurer in 10th grade and went on to be elected student government president two years in a row. When members of student government questioned the necessity of a mental health initiative, Nashikkar defended the measure, reminding them that there were people who were unable to stand up for themselves.
Nashikkar’s commitment to standing up for those without a voice became the founding principle of his organization, All in AI. Inspired by his own experience struggling to find artificial-intelligence resources designed for high schoolers, Nashikkar developed his own curriculum to teach absolute beginners how to code.
“The goal is to inspire students,” Nashikkar said, “especially those from underrepresented groups to consider futures in AI."
The former student is now teaching AI at his former high school. “I am continuing what my mom did for me so many years ago, and my students will continue after me,” he says proudly.
Nashikkar is adamant that his organization All in AI will not cease to exist while he is in college. He believes it is vital that those creating technology that diverse groups of people will be using should also themselves be diverse.
“If we use peer-to-peer education to propagate AI at the high school level,” Nashikkar said, “we generate a new generation of diverse AI developers and professionals. Statistics say that groups like students in underserved areas and minorities won’t have their voices heard at tech companies, discouraged by various social and economic obstacles.”
In addition to his work with All in AI, Nashikkar has been involved in Model United Nations, Matchwits and Academic World Quest. He was a state finalist in Colorado’s National History Day competition, creating a documentary about the Bangladeshi genocide. As a part of the documentary, Nashikkar interviewed a survivor of a Pakistani internment camp.
“We cannot separate ourselves from our history, especially when terrible tragedies like this are so recent, and still happening today, Nashikkar said. “It makes you feel that you must take action to right injustices that you are aware of.”
David Benson, history department chair at the Colorado Springs School, calls Nashikkar one of the “most passionate, dedicated and brilliant scholars and young leaders I have had the pleasure of working with in my 25 years of teaching.”
Benson said that Nashikkar is trusted and respected by his peers and teachers and in addition to his rigorous academic schedule and All in AI work, he’s also taken on the responsibility of helping ninth-graders adapt to the stresses and challenges of COVID-19.