Rupini Shukla is a natural born altruist, dedicated to helping young people in her community become better students.
"It's a feeling of satisfaction; it makes me really happy that I volunteer," said Shukla, a senior at Oakland Mills High School. "I've lost track of how many hours I've done because it's not something you think of when you're really doing it from the heart."
Once a week, the 17-year-old can be found at the Howard County Library's East Columbia branch tutoring middle school students in math and science through the Teen Time after-school program.
"When I started volunteering at Teen Time, I was assigned my very own homework group," she said. "I taught them what they needed help with and they all had A's and B's the first quarter that report cards came out. And I'm like, 'Wow this really works.' "
Shukla's passion for educating her peers has not gone unnoticed. In late October, Shukla was named the Youth Volunteer of the Year by the Howard County government.
"This award just made me feel great, it was just amazing," Shukla said. "Getting recognized for the time that you commit and how you help people, the feeling is just unsurpassable."
Carmen Albuerne, the director of Teen Time, nominated Shukla for the award. She has watched Shukla develop as a leader since she joined the program in 2006.
"I have never met someone so focused and perseverant," Albuerne said. "It has been a pleasure to see her grow up; she started out shy and introverted. I've seen her come out of her shell. She is a wonderful student and an excellent volunteer."
And Shukla brings that same attitude to the classroom
"Rupini sometimes led her group members through the labs, in case they did not understand," said her former science teacher, Barbara Stromberg. "She was asked questions by her classmates, and would try to help them understand the material."
Shukla was a student of Stromberg's as a freshman taking Biology GT and is now her lab aide.
"I am not surprised to hear that she won this award," Stromberg said. "She has been involved in many activities in school and in the community. Rupini appreciates the fact that she has so much to offer to others and can share her time and expertise in many ways."
Shukla takes Advance Placement classes and tutors in math and science as a member of the National Honor Society. She also writes for her school newspaper and is learning sign language.
"Basically it's school, homework, volunteer. That's the only job I have really," Shukla said.
Shukla was born in Texas and relocated to Maryland at the age of 8. She has always been motivated by her family and her culture. Her multiculturalism — her Indian background and American upbringing — has allowed her to become more open-minded, she said, and has given her a sense of pride.
She is following in the footsteps of a long line of engineers and intellectuals. Her father works as an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency and her mother works in IT for Wells Fargo. Her grandparents were professors in psychology and economics, she said.
Shukla would like to pursue a career in medicine, and was considering colleges close to home be remain near her parents and younger brother and sister..
An avid reader with a passion for Shakespeare, Shukla and her friends created a club at Oakland Mills called The King's Men.. She also finds time to support her school at athletic events, and even participates in an unconventional recreational sport.
"Being Indian, I'm really into cricket…I try to beat everyone in the house. That's where my competitive spirit kicks in," she said.
Shukla is looking forward to the challenges of college life and meeting new people. Her high school achievements should provide a strong springboard for what's ahead.
"She is very driven and intelligent and she has an amazing family that offers tremendous support," said Albuerne. "Anything she sets her mind to, she can do."
Shukla uses praise like that as motivation.
"They're really proud of me and I'm proud that I can make them proud," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun