June 9, 2007

Ambitious, She Graduates at 15: Her Plan: Start Med School By 18

By Benjamin Niolet, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jun. 9--RALEIGH -- There's a lot to learn in this world, and Sindhu Sevala is eager to get going.

That's why the 15-year-old is graduating from Green Hope High School today. That's why she's headed to N.C. State University with plans to get a degree -- or two -- in three years.

She wants to start medical school when she's 18.

Those who know her say there's more to the driven girl than studying and grades. At the heart of her achievements is a sincere desire to learn and to do well.

"She's not your typical bookworm," said Elizabeth Martin, who taught Sindhu in a civics and economics course and advanced placement comparative government and politics. "I think that might be the difference in what makes her so well-liked among her peers. She's not doing it to outdo them. She's doing it because she enjoys it."

Sindhu has interests outside the classroom. She likes dance, films, music -- she played the violin in a chamber group -- and sports. She admits she'd like to be better at basketball and figures that if she had more time to practice she'd make a few more baskets. That attitude -- that she can excel in anything with enough effort -- is part of what drives her.

"If I ever tell myself I can't do things, I don't do as well," Sindhu said.

She was born in Toronto. The family was visiting relatives in India when Sindhu, then 6 months old, became ill and had to stay in the country. Her parents moved to the Triangle in 1995 while Sindhu stayed in India with her grandparents and aunts.

In 2000, when Sindhu was 8, she left India and now lives with her parents in Cary. Sindhu is now a U.S. citizen. Her parents, who are Canadian citizens, have permanent residency here.

Her mother works in a transplant research lab at the UNC School of Medicine. Her father does research on the central nervous system in Boston, and spends his weekends in the Triangle.

They've long known their daughter was driven.

When Sindhu left schools in India, she was performing at a sixth-grade level. School officials here had her start in the fifth grade, in part because they worried about her ability to make friends. She has been racing ahead ever since.

Her mother, Mayura Sevala, said she and her husband have worried about their daughter moving too fast. They have discussed the benefits and disadvantages of early graduation, she said. The choice was Sindhu's.

"By graduating a year early, she's kind of missing some things," Sevala said. "My daughter, she's a very strongly motivated kid."

Sindhu's friends at school tend to be older, she said. Her teachers don't often think about her age.

"I didn't realize until she turned 14 how young she was," Martin said. "The way she carries herself is not like a 14- or 15-year-old."

She's not alone in getting an early diploma. Several students at Green Hope are graduating early, said Allison Tibbetts, a school counselor. It requires extra credits, which can be earned through a university or through online or correspondence classes. Sindhu took classes at NCSU.

On her first day at the university, Sindhu was just 12. Her parents, worried about their sometimes shy daughter, decided to wait outside. Sindhu walked into the classroom then turned to her parents.

"She just waved and said, 'I'll be OK,' " Sevala said.

Sindhu said that at NCSU she intends to pursue degrees in biomedical and chemical engineering. She wants to become an anesthesiologist after medical school. For now, she said, she plans to live with her parents. She said she may try living in a dorm later.

Sevala said that her daughter's early graduation is not an unheard-of achievement. They expect Saturday's graduation to be the first step.

"Right now we are both extremely happy," Sevala said. "Always there is room for some more excellence."

Sindhu is bracing herself for larger classes, high expectations and the bustling pace of university life. But first she hopes to get her learner's permit.

Staff writer Benjamin Niolet can be reached at 829-4521 or [email protected]


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