Ishana Desai did not think she would be admitted to Vanderbilt University, let alone be named a Chancellor’s Scholar. “My mom and I thought it was a mistake when we got the letter,” she laughs. “It wasn’t until I came in to talk to Mr. Long that I realized it was true.”
Ishana has a reason to pinch herself. The Chancellor’s Scholars program is one of Vanderbilt University’s most prestigious merit-based scholarships. It is awarded annually to applicants who demonstrate exceptional accomplishment and intellectual promise. There are just 50 Scholars named each year and they represent the top 1 percent of all applicants to Vanderbilt. Recipients receive full tuition, plus a one-time summer stipend for an immersive experience during their sophomore or junior summer.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” she says. While Ishana initially had her heart set on UCLA, USC, or Berkeley, a visit to Nashville and Vanderbilt’s campus changed her mind. “I knew I wanted to attend a liberal arts school and I wanted a school that was in a city but had a real campus with open spaces like Hun. Vanderbilt’s campus is beautiful and the people are so sweet.”
It should come as no surprise that Ishana climbed to the top of Vanderbilt University’s admissions list. After all, this senior, who has been a member of the tennis and crew teams all four years, is an avid hiker. Her passion for seeing the world from a bird’s eye view is what led her to Machu Picchu for her Capstone project. “I come from a hiking family and a few years ago, my parents and four aunts hiked Machu Picchu. They told me I was too young then, but I always knew I wanted to do it,” she explains. She finally got there this May and spent four days hiking the Incan trail. “I really like history and want to see all of the wonders of the world.” While altitude sickness could have derailed her (“I thought about canceling after getting really sick.”), she is delighted that she prevailed. “It is amazing what you learn by walking in the footsteps of the Incas.” After hiking for nine to ten hours per day, she and her aunt, who joined her on the journey, spent time getting to know the nine other people hiking with them. “You spend so much time together getting to know each other.”
Getting to know people and understanding their cultures is something that drives Ishana, who credits a class with Cultural Competency Director Otis Douce as transforming her Hun experience. “He saw that I was interested in diversity and suggested I be part of the executive board of cultural competency.” From throwing an Indian wedding to planning International Week, Ishana thrives on spotlighting the worldview of different cultures. Her dedication to shining a light on issues of diversity is just one of the reasons she received the Beacon Award at the Senior awards ceremony.
Ishana, who looks forward to moving south this fall, has Hawaii on her mind as of late. She and her family will spend a month there this summer enjoying the beaches—and hiking, of course.