November 13, 2020
Caltech has awarded the third annual Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize to alumna Nivetha (Niv) Karthikeyan (BS ’20) for her proposed project “Intersections: Building Solidarity Through Community Archives,” which intends to construct and share a new online community archive recording how people of color have historically created alliances, coalitions, and communities with other racial minorities in the United States.
This new community archive will focus particularly on instances of non-Black people of color standing in solidarity with Black people to create joy, find support, and fight for freedom and justice. Karthikeyan plans to work with a diverse group of archives and libraries to coalesce existing sources, connect with minority communities to collect new ones, and ultimately share the new archive online.
“I feel not only honored, lucky, and thankful to receive the Chang Prize — I also feel hopeful,” says Karthikeyan. “The opportunity to work on ‘Intersections’ is an opportunity for me to meet the current moment and work on something that matters both to me and to my communities.”
The Chang Prize was established by Milton Chang (PhD ’69) — a Caltech Distinguished Alumnus and senior trustee — and his wife, Rosalind, to provide recent alumni with the freedom to explore careers outside of academia and build their skills as leaders and advocates.
To determine the 2020 Chang Prize recipient, a committee comprised of Caltech alumni reviewed more than 20 project proposals, cast votes for the proposals, and met to discuss their votes and perceptions. The committee was not provided applicant identities to ensure an unbiased process.
“The Chang Career Exploration Prize Committee chose the winning project nearly unanimously, with all committee members ranking it as our first or second choice in anonymous ballots," says Chang Prize Committee Chair Evan Tsang (BS ’99). "We felt that the recipient was making a clearer departure than most other applicants from their current career—in keeping with the spirit of the Prize—and that the work could make a significant impact to society.”
The Chang Prize awards up to $65,000 in funding to recipients to support their work on career exploration projects that intend to make a meaningful societal impact — an aspect that is undeniably central to Karthikeyan’s project.
“Working with primary sources and immersing myself in the voices and experiences of the past have shown me that systems of oppression are not permanent and are instead constantly being rewritten,” says Karthikeyan. “What we perceive to be "normal" here and today has not always been the default state of things, and does not always need to be. I hope ‘Intersections’ will imbue others with that same sense of possibility, and encourage us all to ask new and different questions about the problems of our age and conceive of new and different paths forward into our shared future.”
Karthikeyan’s focus on making a meaningful societal impact was greatly recognized and appreciated by the Chang Prize Committee.
"We all certainly felt that the project was especially timely in its mission to record the history of those who are less documented so as to amplify their voices, given the context of the events of the past year," says Tsang. "We congratulate Niv on winning the Chang Prize this year with a proposal that was well-written and that exceeded our expectations!"
By leveraging lessons she learned at Caltech in Humanities and Social Sciences courses, discussions with the HxS community, and advocacy work in the Equity & Title IX Office, Karthikeyan plans to use this opportunity afforded by the Chang Prize to not only inspire meaningful societal impact, but also expand her career horizons and learn new skills in leadership, advocacy, and community engagement.
“‘Intersections’ is not a project I could feasibly complete in a few weeks or on my weekends, wedged into the spaces between a full-time job. Nor is it one I could fit within the confines of a traditional discipline and work on under a specific institution,” says Karthikeyan. “The Chang Prize is allowing me to push past the boundaries of what I previously thought were possible or practical to pursue a project of ambitious nature and broad societal reach, while simultaneously pursuing my own personal and professional growth.”
About the Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize
The Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize is an annual award open to Caltech graduates who have received their BS, terminal masters, or PhD from Caltech within the past ten years (with a preference for those who graduated in the past five years). Caltech alumni who are interested in fearlessly exploring a new career are encouraged to apply. The application cycle for the 2021 Chang Prize will open in the spring. Learn more at alumni.caltech.edu/changprize.