In her own words: A Golden Bull from India tells her story

Intro by Mark Schreiner of WUSF Public Media at this fall's USF Muma College of Business annual Scholarship Luncheon:

Nandini (Nohn-the-nee) Agarwal (Ag-ar-wall) is two years away from graduation, but already she is working to better the lives of women in her native India.  

As a freshman, she worked on an undergraduate research project for her Business Honors thesis titled "Impediments to Indian Women's Financial Literacy and Participation." She wanted to look into ways to help bring more awareness to the inequality, particularly when it comes to financial matters, in India. So she spent the summer interning with the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, an organization globally recognized and supported for being focused 
in social research and advocacy.

She's also working to help newcomers in her newly adopted home of Tampa, working with Project Prosper, a local nonprofit that helps immigrants settle in the U.S. She aims to help the organization develop a revolutionary app to help immigrants and refugees with financial education and integration as they acclimate themselves to the American financial system and social structure.

Nandini is a Provost Scholar who is also part of the Business Honors Program.  She is a member of several student organizations, a resident of the Bulls Business Community and she’s a volunteer with the American Red Cross, helping on a disaster preparedness program that educates 1,000 children in more than 50 elementary schools each year.

She is 18 years old.
Let me say that again.  She is 18 years old.
Can you imagine what kind of future is ahead for her?

Her parents could. But let’s let Nandini tell you that part of the story.

Nandini Agarwal's story as told to donors at the scholarship luncheon
Good afternoon! I am very excited -- and a bit nervous -- to be your opening speaker today. I gained a bit of public speaking experience while volunteering with the Red Cross, but I never really had to talk about myself then.  So this is a bit different. USF's Mark Schreiner introduces Nandini Agarwall.

When I was two years old, my parents began to picture a new life for me. We had a good home in India, but they wanted more for me. They wanted me to get a good education. They wanted me to have choices.

They filled out an application for a green card and in 2015, when we got one, we boarded a plane in New Delhi, India and headed to Orlando.  We stayed with a very kind family and began looking for a home.
Back in India, my parents had saved every rupee they could so that we had a little bit of money when we arrived here. We left our large extended family behind. It was scary – and exciting – to picture our small little family living in America.

We knew it would be challenging to leave everything behind and start fresh.
We knew that it would take some time to get stabilized.  

We knew it was going to take some hard work.

But there was so much that we didn’t know we didn’t know.  

We didn’t know that America runs on credit and that even if you have great credit scores in another nation, it doesn’t count here. We didn’t know that credit was more important than paying up front. We didn’t know that without that credit score even setting up the basics such as utilities, can also be a challenge.

When we set out to rent a house, we were denied due to the lack of a credit history.
We were on the verge of homelessness.
We had a hard time buying a car, too. For six months, we didn’t know a single soul in town and since we didn’t have a car, we spent hours traveling in HART buses to buy groceries and such. There were months where I had to choose between an additional sandwich or an additional notebook. But it was all worth it.

Once we were able to get a house and car, my father needlessly paid thousands of dollars extra in insurances. Because we didn’t know any better, we were paying much more for things than we should have.
Here, we were trying our level best to make new friends and back home we had my elderly grandparents who were miserable after we left and were longing for us.  

In India, we had a large family and celebrations such as Diwali were huge gatherings, but here, with just the three of us, they were small events. That took some adjusting, too.
It took a lot of work -- I mean a lot of work -- but we began crawling through the legal, social, and banking systems, establishing credit and building a life. We had a picture of our future.

We were so excited to be able to eventually call Riverview home [in Southeast Hillsborough County] and I enrolled in Newsome High School. I graduated with honors -- and with 60 college credits!

My parents were so excited.

I was, too. Because now I had choices.
I had the high SAT scores, excellent GPA and the extracurriculars.  Now the challenge was to figure out where to go to college.

My parents made one thing very clear: They had sacrificed everything to help me get to this point. They didn’t make that kind of sacrifice for me to attend a second-tier school. They were willing to sacrifice even more -- as long as I was getting the best possible education that would prepare me for a job.

Together, we chose USF over several other universities.  

It wasn’t easy at first. But I moved into the Bulls Business Community where I found friends who have the same dreams and ambitions. Because I have found everything I wanted here.
I wanted a place where I fit in, where I could find a new extended family, where I could get a respected education and where I could really get involved on campus.  

I have found that at USF. I’ve found faculty and administrators who treat me like family. I am recognized and I am given guidance and exceptional opportunities to shine. I am encouraged to do research -- which I’ve been able to do as a freshman.  I am encouraged to discover, to learn, and to imagine my future. I’ve found a home.
All USF students, even ones who didn’t start their lives in America, are encouraged to study abroad, which I did this past summer in London, a city I wanted to visit since I was a little girl. 

I was also able to briefly return to India and while I was there, I served as an intern in a domestic violence center. Meeting the victims there reminded me of all my parents gave up for me. Many of the girls there don’t have a say in decisions regarding their education, marriage, children or separation. Many lacked hope. Or a vision for their future.

Here, I have choices -- as do all of the students in this room -- thanks to your support. I have chosen my own career path and have a vision for my future. I picture myself as a CPA, and eventually as a foreign service officer and American citizen.
I picture myself as a donor at this very luncheon one day, doing my part to make this world a kinder place.
Thank you for helping me imagine such a future.

Follow this link to learn more about USF's Golden Bull Award and its recipients.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.