YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Yorktown High School senior Pranav Burugula developed his curiosity for science and technology at an early age.
Born in Sleepy Hollow, Burugula was halfway through kindergarten when his family moved to Yorktown. Throughout elementary school, Burugula read science encyclopedias and magazines to complement what he learned in school.
Burugula said he enjoys developing and theorizing “far-fetched” ideas, including “laptops that could fold down to a phone or an optical processor that used light instead of electricity.” His “idea book” has many more.
Burugula was selected into the Gifted and Talented and Advanced Math programs, where he improved his thinking skills and learned about more-advanced science and math concepts.
Aside from academics, Burugula enjoys playing soccer and the piano.
When he was 6, Burugula’s parents took him to a robotics competition, the FIRST—“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”—Tech Challenge.
“I cannot remember much of what happened back then, but my mom says that I remained glued to the robot game field for the entire three hours of our visit,” Burugula said. “Little did I know that this would grow to become one of the most significant parts of my life.”
His parents soon bought him a LEGO Mindstorms robotics kit and signed him up for a FIRST Lego League team, where he began developing his programming, building, research and presentation skills. Despite a lack of early success, his parents started a team with Burugula and some of his friends, called the Hotshot Hotwires. The students found success, to the state level.
When he was in seventh grade, Burugula and his family moved to India for two years. There, he ranked first in school and 128th internationally in the International Cyber Olympiad. He also competed in eighth grade in a FIRST Lego League, advancing to the Asia-Pacific FLL Championship in Sydney.
His family returned to Yorktown four years ago. At Yorktown High School, Burugula said, he takes as many honors and AP courses as he can fit into his schedule, challenging himself academically while increasing his depth in science and math.
His non-academic life in high school revolves, he said, around five pillars: robotics, science research, entrepreneurship, community service and music.
Burugula helped launch the school district’s robotics program, beginning with a FIRST Robotics Competition team in the high school. Last year, he led the team to the 2018 World Championship in Detroit in only its first year. He was recognized for his leadership efforts with the Dean’s List Finalist Award at worlds, which is awarded to the top 128 FIRST leaders around the world. This year, participation in the program has nearly tripled, from 21 to 59 members.
For two years, Burugula has been conducting a research project titled, “Developing a Novel Hybrid Deep Learning Algorithm for Continuous Seizure Prediction.” He presented his research and won first place in category and grand finalist awards at the Westchester Science & Engineering Fair (WESEF) and advanced to the International Genius Olympiad in Oswego, where he won the first place Gold Medal award. He plans to continue his research in college.
Burugula’s interest in technology and engineering led him to apply to a highly selective high school entrepreneurship summer program called LaunchX at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT selects 80 leaders and innovators worldwide, groups them based on personality and interests, and provides the educational resources and networking connections to build a real startup in a month.
There, he launched a smart-home energy-efficiency startup which creates smart vent systems that direct airflow between rooms, not floors, as traditional zoning does. Using sensors and machine learning, it also prevents unused rooms from being heated or cooled.
To help spread STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) awareness, he conducted community-service events. One, a robotics after-school program in Mount Vernon Hamilton Elementary School sought to prevent kids from joining a gang. He designed a robotics curriculum and taught it to fourth- and fifth-graders students in weekly sessions for 10 weeks every year. He was also the founding president of the first and only robotics 4H club in Westchester. He also volunteered at many FIRST robotics competitions, helped organize the Yorktown FLL regional competition in January, volunteered as a leadership intern at Camp Invention and as a technical assistant at a language and culture camp.
Academically, Burugula has received a National Merit Scholarship Letter of Commendation. In college, he looks to study electrical engineering, computer science and management/entrepreneurship.
What is your favorite subject in school and why?
AP Physics, as I am interested in applying science and math to the physical world as an engineer, and physics is exactly defined by that.
What is a typical week for you at Yorktown High School?
I look forward to every day. I’m taking AP Physics, AP Calculus BC, Science Research, SUPA English, AP European History, Orchestra and Civic Internship, and I enjoy each of those classes. After school, I head to the robotics workshop and spend the next three to six hours working with my team building and programming our robot. I often get home at around 7 or 8 p.m. after robotics and my job as a center assistant at Kumon. I spend the remainder of my evening doing homework, communicating with the robotics team and practicing piano. While this means I often don’t get much free time, I enjoy all of my activities.
What is your most memorable high school experience?
The time I spend in the Science Research room is my most memorable experience. I enjoy talking to the others in the program and the teachers, Mr. Blueglass and Ms. Koenigstein. Being able to speak freely in a group of scientifically curious people usually led to some very humorous (and unusual) conversations. But most importantly, I feel part of a close-knit family, with the teachers as the “parents.” My experience in this community is one of the factors that inspired me to attempt to build a similar community for robotics in the high school and the district.
What are your plans after you graduate from Yorktown?
I plan to go to college for electrical engineering and computer science, with a minor or dual major in management and entrepreneurship, followed by a master’s degree in engineering and an MBA. My career plans have always been in the technology/automation industry, but over my high school tenure, I have also gained interest in technology entrepreneurship. I hope to eventually build a successful business to apply technology to improve the lives of people.
What are some of your favorite hobbies/extracurricular activities?
Robotics is, of course, my favorite extracurricular. Other than that, I enjoy playing music (both piano independently and violin/bass/tenor saxophone in the school orchestra/band), teaching robotics/programming to younger kids in workshops, acting as tech support to my friends/relatives, Science Olympiad.
What do you enjoy most about the Yorktown schools and community?
The most attractive part for me is the community of students and faculty. I felt that I always had a lot to learn from my peers, since Yorktown schools provide paths for us to explore various interests ranging from STEAM to humanities to sports.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Yorktown?
Maria’s Pizza and Salsa Fresca
Tell us something about you that people would be surprised to learn.
I generally have a more-reserved personality. However, I have the tendency to become EXTREMELY talkative and active if a topic I am interested in rises. This also helps me in presentations and public speaking.
Is there a place you’d most like to visit?
I would like to visit European icons in France, Italy and Greece, including monuments of classical civilization as I have always been amazed by historical architecture. In addition, I would be able to test my French skills.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
Chopin and Imagine Dragons
What is your favorite show to binge?
What is the go-to app on your phone?
Quora (a user-generated Q&A website)
Student Spotlight was launched in collaboration with Yorktown and Lakeland schools to highlight students who excel in the classroom or on the stage, are leaders in the school community or have a passion for community service. Do you know a teen who qualifies? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.