Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Anika Ayyar

Anika Ayyar

As a leap day baby, I suppose it has always been in my blood to want to be unique. As a child, I could never be caught doing what the other kids in the class were doing- I invented my own games and convinced others to join me, joined the boy’s flag football team as the only girl, and learned to write with my left hand because all of my friends were right-handed.

In high school, this same desire to forge my own path led me across the country to Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in rural New Hampshire. Though it killed me to leave my family and friends and the warmth of my home in California (I am incredibly close to my parents and sister, and all four of my grandparents have lived with me since I was born), I was drawn to Exeter by the school’s unconventional approach to education. Each of my classes took place around an oval “Harkness” table with 11 other students, instead of in rows of chairs facing a whiteboard. My teachers, rather than lecturing me and my peers about science or history, joined us at the table and led us in stimulating discussions that would often push us from the worn type in our textbooks to the very boundaries of philosophical deliberation. It was my investigations at the Harkness table that fortified my interest in biology and medicine, and convinced me to spend my high school summers conducting pancreatic research at a developmental biology lab at Stanford. Vivid, dynamic discussions with my peers in Latin class illuminated for me the unmatchable succinctness of the ablative absolute and the brilliance behind Vergil’s words, and helped me discover my love for the Classics. The heated ethical debates in my senior elective taught me to value the power of my voice, and to respect the voices of those around me. And it was the conglomeration of all these realizations- the collection of things I learned, the ideas I gathered from those around me, and worlds I experienced through the guidance of my teachers- that reinforced to me how truly lucky I was to have been privy to such a wonderful education.

Not far beyond the Harkness table, in the backwoods of New Hampshire, I developed a passion for running, and eventually, for the outdoors. My sophomore year, I ventured to The Island School on an island called Eleuthera in the Bahamas, and spent a term exploring marine biology and sustainability. My months at the Island School were some of my most exciting and rewarding- I earned my SCUBA certification, swam four miles with my friends in the graceful Caribbean, and spent time with the local middle schoolers refurbishing a run-down library and stocking it with books. Once again, as I left Eleuthera to head back to the States, I was struck by what a privilege it was to be able to study such a wide range of subjects in such diverse environments.

And now, at Duke, that notion stands taller than ever before me, urging me to appreciate my time at yet another amazing institution, and maximize its worth. As an aspiring computer science and biomedical engineering double major, I hope to pair the knowledge I gain from my courses with the resources and support from the Baldwin Scholars program to create educational opportunities for others, specifically women interested in technology. I can’t wait to spend the next few years getting to know all the Baldwins, discovering what the program has to offer, and offering a bit of myself back to the program in return.