A Checkered Path

Meet Devanshi Chowdada, a middle school Launch student whose long-term goals include attending Harvard, becoming a pediatrician and mastering the game of chess.
By Savannah Waszczuk

Access Launch: How did you learn about Launch?
Devanshi Chowdada: We were researching when I was going to start sixth grade—I was so excited for middle school, but I wasn’t sure where to attend—and we happened to notice Launch when we were looking at the MOCAP vendors. I was homeschooled before sixth grade, and I’ve done Launch for sixth grade and now seventh grade.

Access: What was it like transitioning from homeschool to online?
D.C.: I won’t say it was pretty easy, but at the same time, I won’t say it was really hard! The technology part was pretty easy, and I liked how I got to interact with my classmates and my teachers and had that in-person, in-the-building feeling. I’ve been able to maintain a 4.0 GPA in my academics. I’m also a part of Mensa, a program for gifted and talented children, which I qualified for because my IQ is among the top 2% of the general population.

Access: How did you first become interested in chess?
D.C.: My parents took me to The Magic House in St. Louis when I was 5 years old. I was playing on a chess set, moving pieces randomly, and some boys came in. I’ll never forget what they said—one of them said, ‘You can’t come in here, chess is for boys!,’ and the other boy said, ‘You’re not supposed to be here, this is just our kind of game.’ After I thought about what they said, I felt otherwise. Not just for proving that they were wrong, but I also had a deep interest in learning what the game was, how it was played, and why it was there in the first place.

Access: How did you learn how to play chess? 
D.C.: I actually had no trainer. I learned this game by myself by getting books from the library, and also watching videos online. I would have a board in front of me, and I would work to understand how it was set up, how to play and how each piece moved. Slowly but surely, I got a better understanding of the game.

Access: Describe how you grew your skills.
D.C.: As the years passed, I started getting involved in chess tournaments. I started to gain a chess rating, which I was really proud of! Before I knew it, I started getting invitationals from some of the best chess Grandmasters, including women Grandmasters, in the world.

Access: Have you played in many tournaments?
D.C.: Yes. I first got an invitation from Ms. Susan Polgar to play in her all-girls tournament, and I did really well. I also got an invitation from another Grandmaster for the Kasparov Chess Foundation and went to nationals 2 times for that. I was able to participate in the Global Chess Festival thanks to an invitation from Miss Judit Pulgar, who is Miss Susan Pulgar’s sister, and I tied for first place overall in that tournament. And I had an invitation for the very first C4K-Call for Kindness All-Girls Chess tournament—the very first of the series—and I secured first place.

Access: What are your long-time goals for chess?
D.C.: My long time goal for chess, of course, is to achieve an International Chess Federation (FIDE) title and play higher rated opponents. I don’t like just playing with low-rated opponents—I want to get out of my comfort zone and play higher and higher so I can get to a higher position and a higher ranking, and play with other Grandmasters.

Access: What are your other hobbies?
D.C.: I started piano, because music really moves my soul. I’ve played piano for the last 7 years—I started playing the same time I started chess. You know, when you play such things as chess, it feels really good to just relax, listen and play some music sometimes! I’ve started playing in piano competitions, too.

Access: When you aren’t busy with school, chess or piano, what do you do?
D.C.: I like swimming—I’ve been learning more about swimming, and it’s a pretty exciting sport. I also actually love to construct Legos! If I’m not playing chess or piano, I’ll be like, ‘Let’s work on some motor skills!’ I’ll build cars, trucks, those kinds of things.

Access: Do you have any animals?
D.C.: I used to have a beta fish—a really long time ago—but sadly, it passed away after 3 months. But I’m looking forward to getting a new beta fish in memory of my first one!

Access: Do you have a favorite Launch class?
D.C.: Yes, I do, but it’s actually 2 classes because I have both Accelerated Math and Algebra. Math is my overall favorite subject. I like reading, writing, science—and you know, they all connect—but my favorite subject would be Math if I had to pick.

Access: What’s your dream job?
D.C.: I’ve always wanted to be a doctor when I grow up, or if not a doctor, just anything in the medical field. I’d really like to be a pediatrician, for kids!

Access: Do you have any plans for college?
D.C.: I’ve always wanted to go to Harvard, but it depends. Thanks to Launch’s Naviance course, I get to set goals, see inspirational interviews, and learn how much experience I will need to have and how much finances I will need to have. And also, while I have an idea of what I want to be, I still have an open mind, thanks to Naviance!

Access: What’s your favorite thing about Launch?
D.C.: What I like the most about Launch is the flexibility, especially with my involvement in chess. Because I get to do my extracurricular activities, and at the same time, balance my education. So far, it has been a really great experience.