Math, music are passions for home-schooled Intel finalist | February 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 1, 2013

Math, music are passions for home-schooled Intel finalist

Palo Alto's Sahana Vasudevan attended public school until schedule snafu prevented it

by Chris Kenrick

The world is a classroom for 15-year-old Palo Alto resident Sahana Vasudevan.

On a given day the home-schooled teen — recently named a finalist in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search — might study French and chemistry at home, attend a math class or two at Stanford University, then head over to Palo Alto High School for after-school math team activities.

She may also spend time singing or playing violin with fellow devotees of Indian classical music.

Vasudevan attended public schools until the age of 14, when her unusual schedule of advanced math classes became too difficult to reconcile with a regular high school day.

"Instead of being in one place, for me school is a lot of different places," she said in an interview with the Weekly.

"I meet a lot of people, so I don't really feel I've missed out on the social aspect of anything."

Paly math teacher Suz Antink called Vasudevan an "enthusiastic" and "innovative" member of the school's Advanced Problem Solving team.

"She loves to discuss how to solve the problems as much as she enjoys finding the solution," Antink said.

"Discussions with Sahana are animated and lively. She smiles easily and appreciates the insights of others. She's great on team contests, too."

Born in Mountain View, Vasudevan went to preschool in Bangalore, India. She began kindergarten at a public school in Buffalo, N.Y., Country Parkway Elementary School.

When her parents — both software engineers — returned to the Bay Area, she transferred to Vargas Elementary School in Sunnyvale in third grade. Her mathematics was so advanced that she already was taking classes at Stanford by the time she graduated from Joaquin Miller Middle School in San Jose.

At that point the family moved to Palo Alto — partly to be closer to Stanford — and Vasudevan completed her freshman year at Paly.

"Paly was awesome," she said. "It was really nice. I wish I could have continued there, but the reason I'm home-schooled is that I wanted to take multiple math courses at Stanford in the same quarter."

Vasudevan and her parents chose the name "Gnyanam Academy" — "gnyanam" is Sanskrit for knowledge — for their home school.

"My parents are more my supervisors than my teachers," she said. "They make sure I do what I'm supposed to be doing, and I usually teach myself stuff.

"My parents occasionally administer tests and stuff like that, and at the end of the year I take AP exams."

Though she hasn't yet been to France, Vasudevan has studied French since middle school. At home, the family speaks Tamil.

She's currently taking Functional Analysis and Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics in the Stanford Math Department.

"It's hard to quantify the amount of time I spend on math, but I do spend a lot of time doing math and on music," she said.

"Since I was young I was interested in math, and I don't ever remember not liking it."

Vasudevan also began learning vocal music and violin before the age of 5 and travels to India twice a year to study and perform — and to visit relatives. Early in her musical study she began focusing on Carnatic music, a genre from southern India.

"When I go to India I focus on music," she said. "Just like math, I've been interested in music since I was really young."

Vasudevan said she embarked on the Intel contest after making progress on a problem given to her by Stanford math professor Persi Diaconis.

Her project, "Minimizing the Number of Carries in the Set of Coset Representatives of a Normal Subgroup," was chosen to be one of 40 finalists in a contest that initially drew 1,700 entries.

Next month, she and the other finalists will present their projects to judges in Washington, D.C., for a crack at the top prize of $100,000.

"I'm kind of nervous and kind of excited," she said. "It will be really nice meeting the 39 other finalists."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by Charlie, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

She sounds like a delightful young lady, as well as being brillant. Best of luck to her at the Intel competition.

Posted by Nice story, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 1, 2013 at 10:55 am

Another positive story about a hard-working, balanced, and talented young person. Wonderful! Thank you.

Posted by Reader, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Awesome to hear about this bright and inspirational young lady. Awesome also to hear how she found a unique path to customize her education through a variety of options available to her in our community.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm

There is geometry in the humming of the strings ... there is music in the spacing of the spheres -- Pythagoras

Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Wow, what a brilliant youngster! I truly hope she wins the competition.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Congratulations to Sahana! She sounds like a bright, balanced young lady, I'm sure she will go far! Good luck in the competition and enjoy!!

I wish we had more flexibility in our schools to allow students like this to blossom without leaving school or forcing them to take classes they will never need or use just to fulfill requirements... My son would love to skip the Voc Ed, Visual/Performing Art, Living Skills and PE requirements to take more math and science (he would also like to skip English, but he will need the writing skills).

Posted by Kasi's Coworker, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

Your uncle is very proud of you. He has told us all about you at the office. Sahana, you sound like a very bright, yet humble person. Keep it that way. Good luck in Washington DC! We are all "rooting for you"!

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