Many students at the University of Georgia pay for college with the help of the Zell Miller and Hope Scholarships, but University of Georgia sophomore Pooja Ramchandani is getting some help from a more unusual source.
Ramchandani received the Taco Bell Foundation’s Live Más Scholarship during her senior year of high school in 2016, which afforded her $25,000 to attend her college of choice.
Additionally, Ramchandani was flown to Chicago along with several other top Live Más winners to take part in a creative workshop with Taco Bell over Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2016.
Aside from the atypical source of funding, the scholarship is distinct from others in it’s focus on factors other than the standard academic profile of a candidate.
According to the scholarship’s website, “The Live Más Scholarship is not based on your grades or how well you play sports. No essays, no test scores, no right or wrong answers. We’re looking for the next generation of innovators, creators and dreamers.”
The application takes the form of a two minute or less video, and contestants are instructed to share the story of their passions in life.
“It was different, it was very open ended,” Ramchandani said. “I liked that part of it and that’s why it drew my attention.”
Ramchandani is a management information systems major looking to attend law school, and she said that one of the initial draws of the scholarship was its high funding potential. Awards for the scholarship range from $5,000 to $25,000 and over 200 people won some award alongside Ramchandani in 2016.
Though not a video expert herself, Ramchandani enlisted the help of her friends to put together a video retelling what she described as a formative moment for her professional aspirations, which involve the intersection of the law and American Sign Language (ASL).
This interest was born out of a single incident her freshman year of high school, when Ramchandani walked into an ice cream shop and saw some people signing. She said what struck her about the incident was her ignorance about the deaf community, and from then on she strove to learn more about ASL and deaf advocacy.
“It’s not offered at my school or anything so it was very weird to see that in my community, it’s not talked about but it’s a really big [community],” Ramchandani said.
“It’s not offered at my school or anything so it was very weird to see that in my community, it’s not talked about but it’s a really big [community]."
-Pooja Ramchandani, UGA sophomore
Throughout her high school studies, Ramchandani took ASL classes at UGA’s Center for Continuing Education at the Gwinnett Campus, and maintains the belief that more people should learn how to sign.
Since becoming a student at UGA, Ramchandani has been unable to engage in large scale deaf advocacy or continued sign language classes, but it remains an important subject in her work and future plans.
As a part of Ramchandani’s dreams of becoming a lawyer, she hopes that she will be able to accommodate the deaf community in her work, whether that means maintaining her own ASL abilities or pushing for a full staff of interpreters at her place of business.
Luke Bundrum, the president of ASL Dawgs, said accessibility is major issue for the deaf community at large.
“There are many issues that the Deaf community faces in regard to accessibility,” Bundrum said. “In hospitals and courts, physical interpreters should be provided for doctor appointments, emergency situations, jury duty, and court visitations.”
ASL Dawgs is a community organization for the deaf and hard of hearing at UGA, as well as those interested in sign language. Even on campus at UGA Bundrum said accessibility at various events is a major issue.
“[A problem] I have experienced is the lack of interpreters for major events at UGA, such as Homecoming, Glory Weeks, Founder's Week, or anything University Union related,” Bundrum said. “If UGA is dedicated to ensure equal opportunity for all, where are the interpreters for the Deaf? How can we enjoy these events if we have no idea what is going on?”