How it all Started
In 1986, the Indian community in Southern California, organized a convention at the Anaheim Marriott hotel, with Inder Singh as the Convener and Prof. Rajen Anand as the Executive Secretary. The convention was organized under the banner of the National Federation of Indian American Associations – a nation-wide umbrella body of Indian American organizations. In one of the conferences of the three-day convention, speakers including many young people in the panel, discussed issues important to the Indian American youth. The overwhelming participation of young people in the conference convinced the organizers to establish a forum where youth could openly participate, express freely, discuss and deliberate on issues of a contemporary nature.
With that in mind, the Indian American Cultural & Educational Foundation was started in 1987. One of the objectives of the Foundation was to recognize, honor and reward excellence of Indian American high school graduates. Inder Singh contacted Prof. Frank Chookolingo who, after retirement from Pierce College in Woodland Hills, had donated a substantial amount to the University of Southern California for the promotion of Indian culture. After protracted negotiations, Inder Singh succeeded in obtaining seed money of $5000 from Prof. Chookolingo.
High school graduation is an important milestone in the life of all students. For some, it may be an end of the formal education; for others, it may be a time to join a university for higher education leading to their chosen career. The executives of the Foundation decided to organize a befitting event to honor the Indian community’s brilliant graduating students and give scholarships to qualified applicants. They also raised additional funds for the first event through donations from the community.
The Premier Event
The first Awards banquet was organized on Saturday, August 29, 1987 at the Airport Marriott Hotel, where eight high school graduates were selected, honored and given scholarship awards. The scholarships were based on the academic achievements of the applicants as evidenced by their GPA transcript and SAT scores, extracurricular activities and the applicants' knowledge about India and the Indian American community. All these components are part of the assessment criteria for the awards even today.
The event was preceded by a whole day Youth Seminar on “The challenge of growing up under the influence of two cultures”. It was a hot topic then and many young people and community leaders actively participated in the seminar. The then matinee idol Kabir Bedi along with his children, Siddhartha and Pooja, also played an active role in the daylong deliberations. The organizing team comprised of Inder Singh, Rajen Anand, Ajay Malhotra, Asha Anand, Deepi Singh, Dr. K. Krishna, Kailash Narang, Mahesh Parekh, Mangu Rohit, Dr. Pravin Syal, Rita Vaswani, and Dr. Satinder Swaroop.
Since then, the volunteers of the Foundation have organized an annual event recognizing brilliant and the brightest students of the Indian American community in Southern California. The annual event is a tribute to Prof. Frank Chookolingo who provided incentive initial donation, continued financial support of committed sponsors and dedication of many volunteers who have tirelessly worked to organize the annual event, to recognize the very best among the Indian American school graduates.
In 2003, the Foundation name was changed to Indian American Heritage Foundation without any change in its objectives.
Expansion of the Event
Many parents from Northern California persuaded the organizers in 1988 to arrange a similar program in the San Jose area or allow participation of Northern California students in the Los Angeles program. In 1989, Ramesh Murarka, publisher of India-West Publications was persuaded to start a similar program in Northern California. For eight years, Murarka did a spectacular job in organizing the Youth Awards Night. In 1998, he passed the baton to Niraj Baxi, who took over the leadership and organized the program successfully for a few years but eventually gave up for lack of sponsorship from the community.
The Foundation started with eight scholarship awards and the amount ranged from $200 to $1,000 for the winning high school graduates. Over the years, the number and amount for scholarship awards has been gradually increased. In 1998, the scope was expanded and five scholarships for middle school graduates were instituted. In addition, an applicant in the high school category, who obtained perfect score in the quiz on India and Indian American community, was given a special prize. An applicant who got perfect score in SAT also got $100 as a special prize. Subsequently, the amount was increased to $200.
In 2001, three Outstanding Achievement Awards for high school applicants excelling in Community Service, Sports and Visual & Performing Arts, respectively were instituted. In 2005, another Outstanding Achievement Award in Math, Science and Technology for high school graduates and a special award for visual and performing arts for middle school graduates were instituted.
In 2004, Dr. Pammi Bevli provided funding for one year for a scholarship award for the second place winner in the high school category in memory of her parents, Mr. Vinod B. Lal Bhatia & Mrs. Kamal K. Bhatia.
In 2006, Sanjiv Chopra instituted an ongoing scholarship award for the first place winner in the high school category in memory of his parents Sarla & Kishan Gopal Chopra.
In 2010, Jack Khangura instituted the Award of Excellence in sports in memory of his wife Rajinder Khangura.
In the middle school category, Rachna Singh instituted a special award in 2005 for Visual & Performing Arts in honor of “teachers, parents and the family.”
In 1991, the "Profiles in Excellence" trophy was instituted for the top awardee in the High School category in Southern California by Dr Pravin Syal and family. Since 2003, Ashok Madan & family have been funding the trophy in memory of their parents, Thakar Singh & Shanti Rani Madan.
In 1998, the “I.A.H.F. Founders’ Trophy for Academic Achievements" for the 1st place winner in Middle School category was instituted by Dr. Awtar Singh, philanthropist and businessman, in memory of his late wife, Teji A Singh. In 2014, after the demise of Dr. Singh, his niece, Sonia Batra started funding the award and trophy.
Visual & Performing Arts trophy was instituted by Kumar Jawa of India Sweets and Spices, in memory of his father, Jiwan Dass Jawa and funded until 2012. In 2016, Uka Solanki took over funding of the trophy in memory of his mother Kadviben.
Community Service trophy was instituted by Dr. Rajesh Kadakia in 2002 in memory of his mother Maniben Manilal Kadakia and funded until 2014. Satpal Jandial started funding Community Service trophy since 2016 in memory of his parents Mani Ram and Gian Dai.
Sports trophy was instituted by Uka Solanki in memory of his brother Bhikhubhai G. Solanki and was funded by him until 2009. The Award of excellence in sports was instituted by Jack Khangura in memory of his wife Rajinder Khangura.
Math, Science and Technology trophy was instituted by Dr. Mani Bhaumik in celebration of the most important numeral ZERO invented in India. Dr. Bhaumik continues to fund the trophy.
The scholarship awards and trophies continue the rich tradition of honoring excellence and rewarding accomplishments of the Indian American graduating students of Southern California.
Criteria for Scholarships
The awards recognize excellence and are not need based. Also, SAT and GPA scores alone do not qualify the winners. In the beginning, SAT and GPA scores accounted for 60% of the weightage; 15 % for the quiz on India; 15 % for essay on diverse topics and 10% for extracurricular activities. Ten years later, the essay requirement was eliminated and percentages for the other three elements were rearranged.
An applicant for the scholarship must: -
- Have a GPA equal to B or higher (C or higher for outstanding achievement awards in sports, Visual and Performing Arts, community service and Math, Science and technology);
- Have at least one parent or grandfather of Indian origin; and
- Be a graduate from an accredited Southern California school.
The evaluation criteria for scholarship awards is as follows:
35% GPA and 35% for SAT
10% - Extra-curricular activities.
5% - Difference between weighted and unweighted GPA.
15% - Quiz on India and Indian Americans, based on material provided by the foundation.
40% GPA and 30% for Standardized test score
15% - Extra-curricular activities.
15% - Quiz on India and Indian Americans, based on material provided by the foundation. For Senior High applicants: .
The extra-curricular activities are further broken down into the following sub-categories:
- Special Hobbies (Dance, music, painting, writing, etc)
- Volunteerism and Student Government
- Miscellaneous (Honors, Awards and anything not covered under the above sub categories).
Panel of Judges
Every year, an independent panel of judges is organized to grade the extracurricular activities of the applicants. A group of three to five judges evaluate extracurricular activities as provided by the applicants in their applications and then the average score is worked out for each applicant. The judges also verify the accuracy of the quiz grading and computer data entry for final computation to computer select the winners.
In 1987, the first panel of judges, predominantly academicians, included Prof. Rajen Anand (chair), Prof. Shiva Bajpai, Prof. Prem Saint, Prof. Nirmal Mishra, Prof. Satyanarayana Upadhyayula, Prof. Pinaki Chakraborty (all from California State University system), Prof. C.R. Viswanathan, Prof. Medha Yodh, Prof. Nazir Ali Jairozbhoy (all from UCLA), and Prof. S. Sadhal and R. Balasubramaniam, M.D. (both from USC). In subsequent years, owing to a lack of participation in the event by the academicians, the organizers called upon members of the community and parents of the past winners to assume that role.
The panel of judges in the past has included Dr. M.C. Gupta, convener of a highly successful national convention of Indian American physicians, Chandu Patel, former president of FIA/NFIA and a highly successful hotelier, Harshad Patel, a well known architect in Beverly Hills, Ajay Dube, Former FIA president, Gorakshakar, former FIA chairman, Raj Pakianathan, a community leader of Inland Empire, Kewal Kanda, former president of FIA, Dilip Butani, former president Indian Lions Club and several others.
Judges are expected to exercise independence in grading the applicants, so they have not been part of the organizing committee. A few judges were taken from the organizing committee when, in a particular year, enough judges from the community did not come forward to undertake this grueling work of grading applicants.
Judging applicants is a time consuming and exhausting activity. Several volunteers find it difficult to spare that much time. Still, over the years, many have volunteered their time, some more than once. The organizers are grateful to the judges for their spirit of community service as the grading and evaluation of the applicants by an outside panel of judges has ensured impartiality. The volunteers who have served on the panels in the past, include:
Ajay Gupta, Abdulgani Shaikh, Ajmer Singh, Amrit Bhandari, Anil Verma, Anne Tahim, Aparna Hande, Ashok Madan, Bobby Kumar, Chalat Krish, Dinesh Lakhanpal, Deepa Bevli, Dr. Kavita Shankar, Dr. Lakhbir Singh, Dr Manoj Shah, Dr. Satinder Bhatia, Dr. Syed Samee, Gurdip Grewal, Harbir Hayreh, Joginder Sidhu, Kavita Puri, Kewal Kanda, Laxman Koka, Manjit Singh, Manju Madan, Pali Grewal, Payal Pancholi, Payal Singh, Prakash Pancholi, Pritam Singh, Prof. Keshav Patel, Rajesh Chander, Rajesh Dhunna, Rajinder Dhunna, Rami Madan, Ranjit Bhatia, Raman Chadha, Ramesh Bhatt, Simran Singh, Suma Hareesh, V.J. Singh, Vandana Shah, Vasant Iyer, Vineet Puri, and Yash Singh.
The principal objective of the awards function has been to highlight the achievements of Indian American high school graduates. The organizers avoided bringing elected officials, such as congressmen, etc. to preside over the annual event. Thus, the graduating students were given the importance they deserved at the function. However, the foundation has invited educationists, preferably accomplished Indian Americans as keynote speakers. During the last few years, Prof. C.R. Viswanathan, then Chair of California wide U.C Academic Senate, Dr. Kumar Patel, Vice Chancellor, UCLA, Prof. Arnold Kaminski, Director Yadunandan India Center, California State University, Long Beach, Dr. Mani Bhaumik, Laser Scientist and philanthropist, Prof. Vijay Dhir, Dean of Engineering, UCLA, Prof. Anil Puri, Dean, California State University, Fullerton, Prof. Bala Sardesai, Chair, UCLA department of History, to mention a few, have delivered the keynote address.
The organizers also were privileged in having Honorable Inder Kumar Gujral, who later became the prime minister of India, as the chief guest in 1993. Similarly, Ambassador B.S Prakash was the chief guest in 2005 and Ambassador Susmita Thomas in 2009. In 2014, Dr. K.J. Srinivasa, Deputy Consul General of India, San Francisco became the chief guest.
The Indian American community is perceived to rank amongst the most affluent in this country. However, when it comes to honoring excellence in the youth of the community in America, the Indian American community has not paid much attention.
Raising funds for the scholarship program has always been an uphill task. In the beginning, the organizers believed that after a few years, the parents and the awardees on completing their education and joining the workforce, would start funding the program. A clause in the application is signed by the applicant and his/her parent, saying,
“We also commit to contribute funds on applicant’s finishing education and on his/her joining the workforce to support the continuity of the annual Awards program.”
The organizers are looking forward to the day when the awardees and/or their parents honor their commitment. In the meantime, the Foundation continues to award the scholarships by receiving donations from well-meaning and committed members of the community in the greater Los Angeles area. The annual organization of the award function is an acknowledgment of the continued generosity of the donors and sponsors who have steadfastly supported the cause.
The organizers salute the following sponsors for their sustained commitment and continuous support. Several of these sponsors have been providing financial support for over 10 years and some – Sanjiv Chopra, Dr Bhaumik and V.J and Simi Singh – have contributed in excess of $25,000 while Avadhesh and Uma Agrawal, Ashok and Manju Madan, Jack Khangura and Dr Satinder and Ranjit Bhatia and Vanguard Charitable have donated $15000 or more for the cause. Without their support, it could not have been possible to organize the annual event year after year.
Sanjiv & Renu Chopra
Dr. M.L. Bhaumik
Ashok & Manju Madan
Avadhesh & Uma Agarwal
V.J. & Simi Singh
Dr. Satinder and Ranjit Bhatia
Dr. Mahesh and Usha Gupta
State Bank of India
Sonia Batra (since 2014)
Satpal Jandial (since 2015)
Uka Solanki (Restarted from 2016)
Bhupesh Parikh (since 2017)
Bob Bawa (since 2017)
Dinesh Gala (since 2017)
Naresh Solanki (since 2017)
We sorely miss Dr. Awtar Singh who was a major long time sponsor but left for his heavenly abode in 2012. Luckily, his niece, Sonia Batra of Spice Affair restaurant, Beverly Hills, took over the sponsorship.
The organizers acknowledge the following individuals who, in the past, provided financial support for at least three years or donated $2,500 or more:
Dr. Rajesh Kadakia, Kumar Jawa of India Sweets & Spices, Rachna Singh Anil Kashyap, Anil Verma, Bhindi Jewelers, Hamilton Brewart, Harshad Patel, Kamini & Anand Chopra, Nishat Ahmed, New York Life, Northwestern Mutual, Ryan Arjun Daluvoy M.D, Sikhpoint.com, Sudesh Sood, The Syal family, Dr. Vinod Patwardan, Tri-Valley Indian Medical Association, Tilak Dhir, Sunil Tolani, Harbhajan Singh Samra, Prof. Viswanathan and Uka Solanki.
In addition to the above, there have been many more people and corporate donors who have supported the cause and facilitated the organization of the annual function in the past:
Dr. Pammi Bevli, Dr. Naren and Deepali Gurbani, Paramshaktipeeth of America (Ramji Bhai Patel), Dr. Yogesh and Chander Arora, Dr. Ajit Singhvi, Dr. Onkar S. Marwah, Dr. Syed Samee, Federation of Indo American Association of Southern California, Dinesh Lakhanpal, Dr. H. Sahota, Vas Arora, Suresh Iyer, Hab Bank, Naresh Solanki, Munish Makar and Dr. Krishna Reddy.
In the beginning, the organizers had to find performers to provide entertainment. However, soon it was found that several applicants had learnt folk and classical dances and could perform on stage to demonstrate their talents. The applicants who have spent several years learning performing arts showcase their talents and entertain the audience. Occasionally, the organizers do get one or two items from outside but generally talented applicants have come forward to showcase their talents at the annual event.
An individual, howsoever brilliant, intelligent and smart, would find it difficult, if not impossible to match the collaborative efforts of an effective team.
Although, in the beginning, Inder Singh and Rajen Anand played a key role in convening and organizing the seminar and awards function, still several volunteers including Dr. Pravin Syal, have actively participated in organizing the annual event. For the last several years, the core team which has been organizing the annual function includes:
Inder Singh, Ashok Madan, Deepi Singh, Kewal Kanda, Simi Singh, Abdulgani Shaikh, Dilip Butani, V. J. Singh, Amrit Bhandari, Ajmer Singh, Rajinder Dhunna, Aparna Hande, Navin Gupta, Vasu Pawar, Smita Das, and Keshav Patel.
The organizers acknowledge the support of several volunteers who, in the past, played a key role in organizing the events. They include:
Prof. Rajen Anand, Dr. Pravin Syal, Ajay Malhotra, Ajoy Dube, Asha Angela Anand, Bobby Kumar, Dr. Chandrakant Khetani, Gurdip Saran, Harshi Syal, Mahesh Parekh, Mangu Rohit, Dr. Nalini Natarajan, Dr. Pammi Bevli, Prakash Pancholi, Raja Swamy, Ranjit Bhatia, Rita Vaswani, Dr. Satinder Swaroop, Somi Rehil, Dr. Suresh Sawant, Surendra C. Patel, Swaran Debgotra, Dr. Yogesh Arora, Annaswamy Natarajan, and Usha Raja.
The continuity of the annual event is a tribute to the dedication and commitment of many selfless volunteers who have subscribed to the Foundation ideals and have been helping organize the yearly event.
We sorely miss Dr. Mallappa Yerasi who has been integral part of the organization for many years but left for his heavenly abode in 2014.
Changes after 25th Anniversary
For the first 25 years, the annual event was organized with a view to have parents and applicants come only once. The applicants would come an hour early to take the test; the parents during that time were kept busy enjoying the snacks before the start of the function. After the test was over, the judges got busy grading the quiz, entering data in the computer and auditing the accuracy of data entry while the audience had the opportunity to watch the applicants display their talents by performing on the stage. By the time the performances ended, the judges were ready with the list of winners. One by one the winners were handed over the scholarship check, while disappointed parents sat through to see unhappiness grow on the face of their children who did not get the award.
After the 25th anniversary, the organizers made a major change in the way the function had been organized in the past. For the 26th edition and thereafter, the test was conducted a week ahead of the function, the result was announced prior to the event and only winners and their parents attended the function. Although the attendance at the annual event decreased drastically, there were no unhappy faces of applicants who did not make it. The organizers also accommodated those who had been coming from longer distances and reaching back home past midnight. A dinner banquet was replaced with a luncheon event. The smaller attendance however, provided an opportunity for winners, their parents and organizers to have a more informal meet and greet opportunity.