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Radha Narayan '05

Radha Narayan '05. Photo: Provided.

You don't have to be rich to give big

"Cornell is the best school for someone who is an explorer," says Radha Narayan '05. Driven by intellectual wanderlust, she earned a double degree in philosophy and computer science while taking as many electives as possible – from Hindi to French, literature to art history, politics to creative writing.

"The thing that excites me is that I haven't exhausted the possibilities," she adds.

Right after graduation, Narayan joined Google as a software engineer. In six years, she was promoted to technical program manager in charge of large projects – including the redesign and launch of Google Maps in 2013, which involved teams in the United States, Australia, Japan and Switzerland. Narayan loves her challenging job and enjoys the perks of a flexible work schedule as well as the ability to go on extended excursions like the monthlong trip she took in December 2011, when she roamed Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, rode on horseback from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and camped out in the desert.

"I was a woman on my own, conquering the Middle East before I turned 30," she says, laughing.

At Cornell, Narayan blazed a different trail by establishing, in 2010, the Radha Narayan International Scholarship for Women in Engineering. "The lack of women in engineering majors is a problem, especially in computer science, which is my field. I can at least help ease the way financially for those who choose engineering," she explains.

For three years, she also ran Google's Computer Science Summer Institute – an all-expense-paid, three-week computer science "boot camp" for college-bound women and underrepresented minorities.

Born in India and migrating with her family to Iraq and then Saudi Arabia before settling in Canada, Narayan was herself an international scholar who benefited from Cornell's need-based full-tuition scholarship and work-study grants.

"I felt like I should do something for other people," she says. "Having my name attached to the university is important, and I like that another student might possibly know that I was there, too."

The scholarship she established was facilitated through a challenge match campaign, which augmented gifts of at least $75,000 (usually spread out over five years) with $25,000 in Cornell funds.

"I thought that you had to be a multimillionaire before you could do something, but I was able to start this scholarship less than five years after I graduated. I thought that was pretty fantastic," she says.

Also a published author of short fiction, Narayan is at work on a young adult novel featuring a rebellious 14-year-old girl growing up in Saudi Arabia and setting out on a long voyage of self-determination – a portrait with an uncanny resemblance to Narayan herself.

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