Leading the Way: New Barji and Gulab Scholarship for Women in Computer Science Launches in 2022

Monday, January 10, 2022

Barji and Gulab

A few years ago, one of Trisha Kothari’s sisters asked their aging grandmother a thought-provoking question: “If you were reborn into our generation, what would you do with your life?”

Their grandmother, Barji, who had grown up in India at a time when women had few rights and even fewer opportunities, wasted no time answering.

“Oh, I’d definitely not get married. I would study and start a business,” she told her.

Kothari, now CEO and co-founder of a growing Silicon Valley tech start-up, Unit21, points to both of her grandmothers’ inspiring worldviews as a driving force in her life – as well as in the lives of her two sisters, Namrata and Juhie, and younger brother, Aditya Shivam Kothari (BSC’20), who graduated from Waterloo with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. And it’s precisely why the family decided to create and fund a new scholarship for women in their grandmothers’ honour: the Barji and Gulab Scholarship for Women in Computer Science.

Valued at $15,000, it will be awarded to a full-time female undergraduate student who is currently living in India and entering her first year of a Computer Science program in the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science (excluding Software Engineering). It’s meant to give women a leg up in programs in which they’re underrepresented.

It’s a cause dear to the family’s heart, particularly after Barji passed away last year. Despite completing only primary school and getting married at 12 and 14, Kothari credits both women with instilling the family with not only a strong work ethic and drive, but also a vision for what is possible as women.

“We really wanted to pay homage to our grandmother, Barji, as well as honour Gulab, because without them and their thinking that inspired both my father and mother, we would just have had a very different life,” says Kothari, a University of Pennsylvania engineering and computer science graduate who grew up in India before moving to the U.S. “They were really open to change and were huge believers in women’s rights, equality, education and advancement.”

But why Waterloo? Kothari says the family chose the university after watching how her brother Aditya thrived during his co-op terms at companies like Lyft, Coinbase and Superhuman, which The New York Times has called Silicon Valley’s “buzziest start-up.” If that real-world learning was able to give him a sense of accomplishment and confidence before even graduating, what benefits would it give women who are underrepresented in the field?

After all, Kothari points to her own experiences as a university intern as a launching pad for her success leading a rapidly growing anti-fraud and anti-money laundering company of 100 employees today. Co-op helps build equity for all students as they network, discover their passions and quickly jump in and learn on the job. She says Aditya, an ally who also deeply believes in women’s rights, is firmly behind the family’s scholarship and recommended they look at Waterloo in the first place.

“I think my brother is the biggest feminist of us all,” she says, laughing. “It’s important to have everyone truly motivated by the cause.”

Interested in applying for the Barji and Gulab Scholarship for Women in Computer Science? Candidates must submit an application by February 9, 2022.

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