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Student Spotlight: Nandini Agarwal, at 18, Working, Researching, Studying Beyond Her Years

By Keith Morelli

Nandini Agarwal

TAMPA (April 11, 2018) -- Nandini Agarwal is two years away from graduation, but already she is working to better the lives of women in her native India. The freshman at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business is working on an undergraduate research project for her Business Honors thesis titled "Impediments to Indian Women's Financial Literacy and Participation."

"Women in India have lower financial independence and participation due to several reasons including social stigma, legal impediments and lack of constructive government programs," she said. "My thesis introduces solutions to bring more awareness and education about gender inequality."

A USF Provost Scholar and Honors College student, Agarwal proposes implementing grassroots efforts such as country-wide campaigns to instigate conversations with those who oppose women's rights and introducing high school educational programs, which teach young minds about gender equality. She believes that these efforts will ease the struggles that women have to face and give them a voice in determining the quality of their lives.

This summer, she will head back to her native India to intern with the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, an organization globally recognized and supported for being focused in social research and advocacy. There, she said, she will get a chance "to work more closely with the activists and researchers who are fighting the battle of women empowerment every day and to gather, first hand, statistics and interviews to make my thesis more credible."

Agarwal is 18 years old.

She's also working to help newcomers in her newly adopted home of Tampa. She soon will begin working with Project Prosper, a local grassroots organization, to help immigrants and refugees with financial education and integration into the local culture.

"I will use their financial boot camp's study material and make it more pertinent to America's financial intermediaries," she said, "and put everything in an informational app."

She hopes the app will revolutionize the struggles refugees and immigrants face to acclimate themselves to the American financial system and social structure. Her inspiration for the project was this: When she was 15, she took a 24-hour plane journey to the United States for a better education. She fought through extreme circumstances including living in the homes of other families because her family, with no credit history in the United States, could not arrange lodging. She believes "there is a loophole in the process of immigration" and her aim is to create an app to help refugees and immigrants navigate the complicated world of U.S. financial and social structure.

In spite of all these projects, Agarwal is a candidate for dual degrees in accounting and finance while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average. On campus, she is a whirlwind force that is hard not to notice.

She recently made a presentation at the Intercultural Student Leadership Conference, and was the only presenter who wasn't a professional or faculty member. Her presentation was titled "Global Citizen: Jumping Out of the Well."

"I spoke about why people are afraid to communicate with individuals of other cultures," she said, "and about how the exchange of communication is beneficial and what one has to be mindful of when instigating conversations."

Agarwal also has connected with her cultural roots while attending USF. She is an ambassador for the Students of India Association, one of the largest multicultural organizations on campus. She serves as director of the International Ball, put on by the International Students Association and serves on the Muma College of Business Analytics Team.

In a recent letter of recommendation, Business Honor's Program Director Kerry Walsh wrote that Agarwal has a heavy course load, but that hasn't stopped her from reaching higher.

"She is one of the most dedicated students we have seen," Walsh wrote. "With a passion in her heart to succeed and a work ethic to achieve every goal, she has continued to outshine in everything she does."

Accounting Instructor Jennifer Cainas similarly has high praise for Agarwal: "She attends every class and is easy to remember in a class of 400-plus students because of her positive, cheerful attitude. She works extremely hard and has earned some of the highest grades on all of my exams and assignments."

Agarwal also has found time to volunteer with the American Red Cross and she has participated in a project that offered disaster preparedness education to more than 1,000 school children in more than 50 elementary schools.

She says her penchant for giving back stems from her time as an instructor at a JPM School for the Blind in New Delhi, when she taught English to poor visually impaired children. She says this experience changed her life.

When Hurricane Irma swept through Florida last year, Agarwal pitched in at a shelter, helping set up emergency operations.

With all these projects and activities, something had to go.

She was working as an accountant with J Squared Invest, a cryptocurrency investment start-up firm, but had to give that up when the firm asked her to put in a few more hours in its St. Petersburg office. That would interfere with her heavy class schedule, she said.

She recently won a Golden Bull Award, a remarkable feat for someone her age, and is planning a trip to London over the summer as part of the Muma College of Business study abroad program. Her focus, along with taking a couple of classes, is this:

"I'll be attempting to research the effect of colonialism on women's rights in commonwealth nations. This will help me define the preexisting social stigma against women before colonialism and if the practice of colonialism intensified or reduced this social stigma.

"USF," she said, "has given me a plethora of resources and opportunities to help me succeed."