Keerthana Velappan

This Pirate advocates for
women's education in low-income countries.

Keerthana Velappan brought an organization to ECU to sponsor women’s education

Keerthana Velappan, an EC Scholar and sophomore in East Carolina University’s Honors College, is the founder and president of ECU’s chapter of She’s the First, a national non-profit organization that sponsors women’s education in low-income countries.

“The organization gives girls the chance to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school,” said Velappan. “Where you live should not determine the education you receive.”

Velappan hopes ECU’s chapter of She’s the First will begin assisting two girls this summer from Nepal or Uganda and sponsor them throughout the duration of their education. “It would give me immense pride to say that it was because of the scholarships sponsored by our chapter that the girls were the first in their families to graduate,” she said.

Since she discovered She’s the First last year while looking for a summer internship near her native India, Velappan made it her personal goal to start a chapter at ECU before her senior year.

“In addition to sponsoring girls, I would like other ECU students to become aware of and recognize the important issue of women’s education,” she said.

Velappan presented about ECU’s chapter of She’s the First at the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 5. She also received the initiative award at the inaugural Leading Examples of Achievement and Determination award ceremony, sponsored by the Elite Pirates and the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement.

According to the She’s the First web site, there are 125 chapters in 10 different countries. The chapters are responsible for sponsoring the education of 450 girls.

During her freshman year, Velappan decided to change her major from child life to speech and hearing sciences. “Although I personally have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, I never considered audiology until coming to ECU,” she said.

After learning that she would only have two classes directly related to audiology, Velappan switched her major once more, this time to university studies, a customized degree which allows students to take classes in their specific interests.

“Being able to achieve a well-rounded sense of audiology with courses from communication sciences and disorders, biology and psychology ¬– along with a minor in child development – is truly a blessing,” she said. “I could not be more excited for the remainder of my coursework.”

Velappan is expected to graduate in 2017. After graduation, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in audiology and work as a pediatric audiologist..

What was your inspiration to bring She’s the First to ECU’s campus?
Over the course of this year, I have become more involved in and informed about feminism and the feminist movement. I strongly believe that education is the key to change. Educating only half of the world’s population should not be an option.

How has being an EC Scholar changed your collegiate experience?
Without having to worry about the financial aspect of college, I have been able to challenge myself in both academics and extracurricular activities, taking a variety of courses and getting involved in service and cultural clubs. This benefit extends to the summer, too, as I have taken classes to get ahead, without having to worry about incurring additional tuition costs during the school year.

Additionally, I am afforded a multitude of networking events and leadership trips, as well as the opportunity to study abroad with a scholarship. I am planning to go to Singapore for the spring 2016 semester. Lastly, I am blessed to be surrounded by people with like-minded values and goals, all hard working, ambitious and equally inspirational. When in need, I know I can go to any member of my EC Scholar family, and I look forward to only getting closer with them over the next two years.

Why did you choose to attend ECU?
I chose to attend ECU primarily because of the Honors College faculty and staff, all of whom made me feel like I was more than a number; I was someone who would be valued and cared for. The first time I came to campus during Selection Sunday, I fell in love. More so than seeing what ECU had to offer, I perceived the situation as what I would be giving up if I didn't choose ECU. Now, two years after that initial decision, it is safe to say I made the right one, as I wouldn't trade the support, resources and opportunities here for anything.

How has having hearing loss affected your college experience?
If anything, my hearing loss has been a blessing in disguise. I was able to get purple and gold ear molds, and I can turn or take them off to have it be quiet in noisy settings or when my ears need a break. It also plays a part in my intended career of being a pediatric audiologist, as I look forward to sharing my personal experiences with children and their families.

Photography by: Jay Clark
Written by: Grace Haskin


Department:  Academic Affairs

Major: University studies with a thematic core in pediatric audition, minor in child development and family relations

Age:  19

Class:  Sophomore

Hometown: Cary, North Carolina

Hobbies & Interests:  Reading, baking, playing with kids and online shopping

Clubs & Organizations: She’s the First, Indian Student Association, Honors Ambassadors, Omicron Delta Kappa, Leadership Honor Society and child development tutor and study skills mentor for athletics academic support staff


Place on Campus: Cynthia's Lounge

Hangout: Mamie Jenkins Honors College building

Place to Eat: The Scullery

Class:  Honors seminar on pain and its paradoxes taught by Dr. Daniel Goldberg

Website: Elite Daily, HelloGiggles and BuzzFeed

TV Show: "The Mindy Project" and "MasterChef"

Musician/band: Ed Sheeran

Movie: "The Princess Diaries"


Most Influential Professor: Dr. Daniel Goldberg

Dream Job:  Bollywood singer or food critic
and creative director

You Can’t Live Without: Food and family

Role Model: Emma Watson

Words to Live By: “If it’s not OK, then it’s not the end.”

Advice for Fellow Students: Get to know your professors outside of the classroom; they are people too.

Something cool about ECU you wish you knew during your first year:  I honestly did not know about the spring football game, but it should be an exciting day this year.

Words of Wisdom

“Get to know your professors outside of the classroom; they are people too."

– Keerthana Velappan