A passion for science, altruistic nature help this Olathe teen win national DAR award
Folks at Olathe North High School already knew that Arjun Garapaty was a good citizen in the Olathe community, but now people all over the country know it, too. The 18-year-old recently won the national Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen award.
He had steadily climbed the ranks on the competition, first winning the local competition, then the state and regional ones, too. This latest award netted him a $5,000 scholarship on top of the $1,800 from the lower-level competitions to help with his future studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Each school nominates a student candidate. To enter the contest, Garapaty had to submit his resume, recommendations, prepared essays and a spontaneous essay on how actions of good citizens keep the nation moving forward. For the latter, he had two hours to write to the prompt without consulting any reference materials.
“The things about history that appeal to me are those inflection points. (You) look at society today and think about the ripple effects those have had,” he said.
His essay cited themes of the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements and quoted the late Rep. John Lewis, who said “get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
“I think that (quote) really directly answers the prompt right there, about how it’s important for citizens to …. really speak out, even if it’s something that goes against the grain, if it’s some they believe in,” he said.
A group of community members who are not DAR members judge the entries.
Only one girl and one boy in the country win the national prize. Normally, Garapaty would get to fly to Washington D.C. for the DAR’s annual Continental Congress in the summertime. It’s going to be virtual this year, so he’ll be making a video to be shown instead.
The last time the state winner from Kansas won the national contest was 1983, and the Olathe chapter has never had a national winner before now. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the chapter.
“It starts with the school and the student. They’ve done something throughout their academic career that makes them shine,” said Kathy Hays, regent for the DAR’s Olathe chapter. “Arjun did that by himself. He’s recognized at the school as being an exemplary young man.”
One thing that made him stand out is his volunteer work teaching science to young adults with developmental disabilities. Garapaty got involved three years ago when he volunteered for an Inclusion Connections summer camp. The next year, he was inspired to start a science class.
“I wanted to marry my passion for science with my passion for volunteering. The fun I’ve had going to Inclusion Connections — I’ve connected so much with the participants there,” Garapaty said. “Most of them had science in high school, but it wasn’t taught in a way that made it very accessible to them or very exciting. A lot of times, science is reduced to memorizable facts and terms, but it is a process of discovery.”
During the pandemic, he adapted the class to go online, sending out materials for experiments in advance. That also led him to get creative in addressing some topics.
“It’s been really fun. I taught about inertia by setting my dinner table with a bunch of ceramic dishes and glass cups on a tablecloth, and then pulling the tablecloth and just praying the dishes didn’t fall down. And they didn’t, and I was like, ‘See? That’s because of inertia.’ And I got to explain that topic from my own kitchen.”
When he’s not teaching science, Garapaty is doing his own scientific research. His project on inhibiting a fungus that attacks farm crops recently won the Regeneron Biomedical Science, Joseph Shipman and Pioneer in Science awards at the Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair.
Outside the lab, Garapaty loves playing sports such as soccer, flag football and table tennis.