Students of India loses founder, mentor

In Indian culture, a guru is something akin to a teacher, a leader or a mentor.

The Students of India Association has lost its guru.

A.N.V. Rao has been all of those things and more to countless students at USF as faculty adviser to SIA since forming the club in 1986. The math professor’s passing last week at age 70 left a seemingly irreplaceable void for the club.

Rao organized programs through SIA that help Indians who come to USF with things like finding accommodations and bringing them free groceries until they can get settled.

“When you come from India it’s a totally new country for you and you don’t know anyone,” SIA Special Events Director Darshan Divakaran said. “What he wanted to do was really make sure that the students, when they come here, they don’t get any cultural shock.”

SIA has grown from just three members when Rao started it to being one of USF’s largest student organizations, with around 500 students.

Divakaran described Rao as a “pillar” for SIA and its members.

“When people have problems, anyone could go to him and say, ‘You know, I’m having this problem,’ and he’d help you out.” Divakaran said. “He’d make sure that problem didn’t exist.”

He said Rao was always there for SIA and its members, no matter what arose – such as when a member died while swimming at an off-campus apartment complex several years ago.

Divakaran said Rao comforted the students, told them not to worry, covered many of the costs involved with the incident and even handled sending the remains to India.

“He was there throughout it,” he said. “For SIA it was a new thing. We don’t know what to do when a person dies – how to send him back home.”

Rao’s colleagues in the math department had only kind words to describe him.

“Dr. Rao was a kind and selfless man whose immediate question on hearing of any difficulty was, ‘How can I help?'” Mathematics and Statistics Department Chair Marcus McWaters said.

Along with his contributions to USF, Rao also started the Urban Scholars Outreach Program (USOP), which is geared toward academically helping disadvantaged minority youths.

“USOP was designed to help students in grades K-12 develop the math, reading and writing skills that would carry them into college and beyond,” McWaters said. “It targeted African-American and Hispanic students in urban communities, and is a free educational supplement available to all.”

As proof of his impact on the community, Divakaran estimated that 500 people of all ethnic backgrounds attended Rao’s recent memorial service.

The USF Foundation is in the early stages of making a scholarship in Rao’s name and has starting collecting donations.

“It’s not really just for Indians, but for anyone who is deserving – good in their studies, but they can’t keep up with the money,” he said.