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A Brief Look at the Bees

July 2010
A Brief Look at the Bees
In the last 25 years, there have been 10 Indian American Spelling Bee champions. The most recent was 14-year-old Anamika Veeramani, who won the 2010 trophy after correctly spelling ‘stromuhr’ (an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow). One of the three spellers to tie for second place was 13-year-old Shantanu Srivatsa.

Here’s the complete list of Indian American winners:

1985: Balu Natarajan of Illinois
1988: Rageshree Ramachandran of California
1999: Nupur Lala of Florida
2000: George Abraham Thampy of Missouri
2002: Pratyush Buddiga of Colorado
2003: Sai R. Gunturi of Texas
2005: Anurag Kashyap of California
2008: Sameer Mishra of Indiana
2009: Kavya Shivashankar of Kansas
2010: Anamika Veeramani of Ohio

And what are the reasons for their success, especially over the last decade? Here they are, according to observers: (1) Intense parental involvement. (2) Indian American champs become role models, inspiring other kids. (3) Focus on academic achievement. (4) Films like Akeelah and the Bee, Spellbound and Bee Season. (5) A love for English. (6) NSF.

Only the last one would need further explanation. Founded by Ratnam Chitturi, North South Foundation is a U.S.-based nonprofit voluntary organization that awards scholarships to needy students in India. What it’s better known for are the regional educational contests it sponsors to promote excellence among Indian American students. With a staff of almost 1000 volunteers, the North South Foundation operates 75 chapters in this country. Their Bees include Math, Geography, Vocabulary, Essay Writing, Science, Brain, Public Speaking and, of course, Spelling, which has the biggest contest.

The Spelling Bee has gotten tougher over the years because of the increased participation and higher profile at the national level (there is a live primetime broadcast of the finals on network television). But the words also have become more difficult. The winning word from 1985 (‘milieu’) is widely used. By contrast, the winning words from 2008 and 2009—‘guerdon’ and ‘Laodicean,’ respectively—are fairly obscure.

Moving on to the Geography Bee, which three states did this year’s Indian American finalists represent?

ANSWER: Florida, Idaho, Georgia.

13-year-old Aadith Moorthy from Palm Harbor, Florida, answered the following question correctly to win the top prize: “The largest city in northern Haiti was renamed following Haiti’s independence from France. What is the present-day name of this city?”

For those who are curious, it is Cap-Haïtien.

Karthik Mouli, who won the third prize, is a 12-year-old from Boise, Idaho. And 13-year-old Pranav Bhandarkar, the other Indian American finalist, is from Bogart, which is west of Athens in Georgia.

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