Young scholar aspires to improve the lives of others through the power of knowledge

Smriti Natarajan

Smriti Natarajan once dreamed of being accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so she could concoct potions and learn charms to improve the lives of others. She’s now a high school senior and headed to the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) this fall, but the Harry Potter nostalgia remains.

“Instead of harnessing the power of a magic wand, I’m using the magic of knowledge to do the same thing I wanted to do when I was 8 – improve the lives of others who need help the most,” she said.

Smriti, the daughter of TIer Nat Natarajan and his wife, Chellammal, is one of 28 2018 Junkins scholars – recipients of a one-time $5,000 scholarship given to National Merit Scholarship® finalists who are children of employees. The scholarship, named in honor of former Chairman, President and CEO Jerry R. Junkins, is funded by the TI Foundation.

Smriti’s desire to effect change began early in her high school career. She decided to start an American Red Cross club at McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, when she was a freshman. She saw a need to help homeless residents in the McKinney area and decided to collect hygiene kits, including for a homeless student and his family when they needed it the most.

“That sparked the question – ‘How can I help people at a time when they need help the most?’ I wanted to take this idea of providing immediate relief to those in need and to grow it,” she said.

That spark ignited Inspire, Aspire, Desire – a nonprofit organization that Smriti and her father manage. Beneficiaries of its fundraising efforts include a childcare center at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and those affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, who received hygiene supplies and blankets while in Houston-area shelters.

Not one to sit still, Smriti also launched an initiative at her high school to promote STEM subjects. She brought in a computer science professor from UTD, who lectured about the basics of computer science and led students through interactive lessons. Smriti also convinced the biology department at Southern Methodist University to create research internships for McKinney Boyd students.

“I’d be in biology labs after school and my friends thought I was weird,” she said. “I tried to tell them how cool and interesting biology was, but it just didn’t click for them. So I thought that I should start something that really showed them how STEM fields can be fun. I wanted to spread the same passion I have for STEM subjects to others.”

Smriti – who is interested in both the practical and research sides of medicine – plans to major in biology at UTD.

“I’m not sure where I’ll be in 10 years, but I do know for certain that I’ll be doing something in the medical field to help people in need,” she said. “We’ll see what’s next.”