Humans of Harker: Beyond surface level

Kaushik Shivakumar delves into the works of the world

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Vishnu Kannan

“If there is something I don’t understand, I will spend as long as it takes for me to get enough of an understanding about a topic because I can’t stand knowing that I don’t know something that I could know,” Kaushik Shivakumar (12) said.

Many people would take the workings of a table tennis ball for granted, but not Kaushik Shivakumar (12).

As he leans against the Dobbins stairwell, Kaushik begins to describe the effect that aerodynamics and pressure have on the motion of a table tennis ball, unconsciously transferring his weight to his right knee. He fiddles with his zipper on his grey hoodie before tucking his hands away in his jacket pockets, weight shifting between legs once more. Using his hands to simulate the motion of the table tennis ball, Kaushik effortlessly manages to convey his point in an effective manner.

Kaushik’s desire to have a deeper understanding peaked after taking AP Physics C with physics teacher Chris Spenner in his junior year.

“I think taking AP Physics C with Mr. Spenner was really eye-opening. He talks about not just physics but drawing connections between physics and other larger issues. And through that class I learned a lot about how you can extrapolate what you learn in the classroom and always keep the bigger picture problems in mind. Also, seeing all the calculus behind the equations that I had previously taken for granted was really interesting,” Kaushik said.

Kaushik’s manages to utilize physics not only in table tennis, but also to logic through some of his other interests, including robotics and programming. After watching some First Lego League (FLL) tournaments in 4th grade, Kaushik started his own robotics team in 5th along with a few friends, before starting a VEX Robotics team in 7th grade.

“We’ve come a long way since we started VEX Robotics in 7th grade. Since then, we’ve won several regional competitions and state competitions for 2 years in a row. It’s really been a continuous evolution and every year we learn new techniques,” Kaushik said.

Being able to understand concepts at a deeper level doesn’t come easy, and as Rithvik Panchapakesan (12) puts it, it’s Kaushik work ethic “tenacious” personality that allows him to do.

“I think one of his strengths are that he is very hard working, and once he fits his mind to a task, he always continues doing it. I remember last year, we were in robotics and debating something about physics relating to how to design a mechanism. I know he went to his teacher to talk about it, did some theoretical testing, to actually figure out what the actual physical relationship was. Tenacious is another word I would use because once he finds a problem, he is going to go a long way to fix it,” Rithvik said.

Kaushik attributes these qualities to his upbringing.

“One ideal that I have been raised with is working hard and whenever there’s a problem that I am facing, the fact that I should not back down and persist in solving that problem. Also, I’ve acquired a fundamental desire to understand what I am doing and really gain intuition and understanding of all of the concepts I have learned. For example, in physics, if there is something I don’t understand, I will spend as long as it takes for me to get enough of an understanding about a topic because I can’t stand knowing that I don’t know something that I could know,” Kaushik said.

This deeper level of understanding enables Kaushik to convey his knowledge in a way that is easy to understand for others. This ability hasn’t gone unnoticed by Kaushik’s peers, particularly Ashwin Rammohan (12).

“If you want him to explain something to you, he’ll be ready to do it no matter what. He does a better job than most people than I’ve met to actually convey his intelligence while staying modest. Kaushik does a better job of balancing those two things than most people I’ve met. He is also able to understand the broader connections, and I think that’s one really useful skill he has where if you ask him to explain something to you, he can outline every aspect of it in a very clear, calm, reassuring manner,” Ashwin said.

Putting his knowledge to use, Kaushik seeks to impact others by reducing the gender gap in robotics.

“As a team, we work to do some outreach in order to get more girls involved in the competitions because there’s a large gender imbalance currently,” he said. “We host all girls robotics workshops. At those workshops, groups of girls come in and they work to build their first robot and the goal there is to inspire them to start a team. The results have been pretty good as well, and we have helped over 40 new teams start.”

Kaushik wants other people to experience robotics because of the impact it has had on him.

“I know how much robotics has done for me personally, and I know how much I’ve gained from having the privilege to explore science and technology through robotics, that I really want as many people to experience that as possible,” he said.

Despite being disappointed by Kaushik’s “lousy frisbee skills”, Dr. Mathew Harley, Kaushik’s Honors Biology teacher in 11th grade, pointed out that Kaushik’s desire to learn a concept beyond surface level extends beyond physics.

“I think, from the get-go and throughout the course, he showed great insight. And certainly both with the questions he asked in class, but then coming into office hours wanting to know more about that one topic that especially interested him. He loved the depth of knowledge on the topics,” Dr. Harley said.

Underneath his relatively reserved demeanor hides a portion of Kaushik’s personality that many of those not in his friend group would not have witnessed.

“Kaushik is very humorous and entertaining. I think one thing that we have is a discord server with a few other friends in other schools for robotics, and he’s created some code which spews jokes that you wouldn’t normally see in the academic setting,” Rithvik said.

Dr. Harley got to learn more about Kaushik’s personality after getting to know him better.

“Seeing him with his friends and with the interactions I’ve had with him, and when he opens up, he is a really humorous guy that loves to talk about things in depth but to include humor,“ Dr. Harley said.

Ashwin admires Kaushik’s willingness to help and selflessness.

“Overall, I’d say his personality is definitely one where he is not afraid to put others’ interests above his own,” Ashwin said. “You’ll always know that he is doing the best he can to achieve whatever goals he has set, but at the same time, if you have some activity you are dedicating time to and you want his help with it, he’ll be completely willing to do that and put in the hours.”

In the end, Kaushik wants to be remembered for more than his academic prowess.

“I would want to be someone who contributed a lot of things to different clubs and organizations,” he said. “I want to be remembered as someone who learned not for the sake of grades, but for the sake of gaining knowledge. And also just as a good friend.”