Northeastern Student Gets 2022 Mitchell Scholarship

Growing up, Vivek Kanpa never wanted to be a computer scientist like his parents. They would try to teach him how programming works by showing him the “Hello, World!” program or Java language.

“And every year I just didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘I am never going to do this,’” Kanpa, 21, told Northeastern Global News.

But he did become interested in solving big human problems at a young age. While visiting his parents’ home country of India for the first time at age 7, Kanpa noticed that some children had to drink water from ditches and puddles, swarmed with flies.

“That really affected me,” he says. “I just didn’t enjoy seeing the inequality for water resources there.”

When he got older he started thinking about how water filtration in developing countries could be made more sustainable and cheaper. Luckily, he was going to a STEM-heavy public high school in Livingstone, New Jersey, which allowed him to focus on water filtering research for about two years. 

“I presented at a couple of conferences and applied for a couple of awards,” he says. “That was a very prominent phase in my life that was my starting point in research.”

Now a Northeastern senior, Kanpa was recently awarded the 2022 George J. Mitchell Scholarship. The scholarship was founded in 1998 by Trina Vargo, a former foreign policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, during the critical years of the Northern Ireland peace process, to allow future American leaders to develop interest in Ireland.

In August, Kanpa will travel to Ireland with the other 11 awardees to do a year of graduate studies in artificial intelligence for medicine and health-related research at University College Dublin.

It took Kanpa some time to figure out the direction he wanted to go with his undergraduate studies at Northeastern. 

vivek kanpa working on laptop
Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When he first arrived on the Boston campus, he was determined to study environmental engineering and maybe go to medical school. 

“When I was thinking about careers, it was always driven by what problem do I want to solve? And then, how do I want to solve it?” he says. “For me, it was always medicine, and so for the longest time, I thought I wanted to solve that problem by being a doctor.”

At Northeastern, Kanpa realized that he could be making a difference in people’s health in other ways. He had changed his major a few times before he nailed down what exactly he was interested in.

“I wanted to work more on the numbers side of things,” says Kanpa, who will graduate with degrees in data science and biology, and a minor in mathematics.

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