Varun Jain '17
I'm Indian by heritage, but I was born in Australia and lived there until moving to Singapore when I was six. We spent three years in Singapore, then four in Switzerland, then back to Singapore, where I graduated from UWCSEA East in 2017. I’m now at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the US undertaking a double major: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and in Mathematical Decision Sciences. I am lucky enough to be on a full Morehead-Cain Scholarship.
As of now, I'm in taking courses to fill the prerequisites for these majors, so mostly intro courses, or intermediate level courses. Campus life has been phenomenal so far. With such a large campus and an incredibly spirited student population, it's felt like home from day one. The types of classes, the extracurriculars, and the opportunities available on and off campus have allowed me to continue with passions from High School, such as service projects in South East Asia and Model United Nations, while I explore new things, such as building drones or rocketry certification. This kind of flexibility - which I was used to at UWCSEA - has given me time to ease into the American education system, whilst fully experiencing all that this place has to offer. That being said, it has been a culture shock simply due to vast differences in the demographics between Singapore and North Carolina. Getting used to dorm life has been unique, and you quickly pick up on small hacks like not to leave your laundry in the washing machine even a minute over time, otherwise, someone might dump it on the floor!
All in all, with the support of the Morehead-Cain Foundation, the 20+ UWC family, and the structure of UNC as a whole, I've really been able to find my home here in Carolina, and it's made the large campus seem so much smaller, and warmer.
I'm incredibly grateful to have received the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, which offers four academic years and four summer experiences fully funded. It is the oldest undergraduate merit scholarship program in the United States at the first public university. To give some detail about the summers, the first one is Outdoor Leadership, which is a month-long expedition somewhere in the wilds of the US or Canada. I went to Sierra Nevada in the summer of 2017 and hiked, with 25kg backpacks, 100 miles across mountain peaks, for 22 days at altitudes of 11,000 - 15,000 feet. The second one is Public Service/Civic Collaboration, which saw me spend a summer in Louisville, Kentucky - which was the midsize US city I was assigned to spend time in, doing a deep dive to learn more about the endemic problems facing their urban atmosphere, and advising the public and private sector. My team looked at Immigrant Small Businesses and how they can better leverage opportunities to succeed. Next summer will be research or an internship, "Private Enterprise", where you can begin researching in something you are interested in, or work for a company in your field as you prepare for the job world. The final summer is an internship at a firm in your industry, of your choice.
My motto is dream big but work hard each day on each step along the way. I am inspired by the concepts of innovation and sustainability converging. Due to my upbringing in Australia, Singapore and Switzerland, I took on the principles of sustainability without even knowing it.
Circle was originally founded while I was still a student at UWCSEA. It is now a consultancy currently working with the East Campus to streamline waste management practices, using the principles of the circular economy. I founded Circle after learning about the Circular Economy in my Design Technology class under the guidance of my teacher, John Zobrist . We devised a business model, where we would buy waste material from consumers, redesign it into consumer goods, and the sell the goods. This then led to the consultancy arm, as we realised our knowledge could also be applied to dealing with waste from the start of the value chain. We were asked to speak at the Disrupt Innovation Festival, hosted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, and were the second most viewed video during the conference. Circle is now hoping to combine the two business models into one and expand further as a platform that schools, organisations and governments can use.
I was part of a team that reached the Regional Finals of the Hult Prize, which we entered with "Veera" - a solution to solving post-harvest losses in developing countries because of a lack of cold storage. We were inspired by the 5000-year-old Zeer Pot, and designed a box that could keep fruits and vegetables cold, at every level of the supply chain, using solar energy and consistently adapt to changing environmental conditions like heat and humidity. We received a special mention from the judges during the awards ceremony and were the youngest team at the competition.. While we’re not able to take the project forward, we were accepted into the 1789 Venture Labs, an incubator in Chapel Hill, and the experience provided me with another layer of understanding about how the world works in real life.
I'm a true believer in the capacity for positive transformation that can be realised at the intersection of sustainability and innovation. At UWCSEA I was fortunate to have amazing teachers, mentors and peers who frequently believed in what I was doing, and were honest and constructive in giving feedback when they didn't. The mutual trust the school has with its students allowed us to understand that failing is a necessary part of the learning process. I was encouraged to take existing concepts and add my beliefs and values to them and was then provided with space, resources, and mentorship to go from ideation to realization. UWCSEA didn’t just provide me with opportunities; I was encouraged to create my own.