Gujarati's Perfect Record Was in Classroom
May 10, 2012
NCAA Championship schedule of events
Friday, May 11 | First Round
RALEIGH, N.C. – While his men’s tennis teammates are in Malibu, Calif., preparing for Friday afternoon’s NCAA Championship match against No. 26 Washington, senior Akash Gujarati stayed home, taking the last of his final exams in preparation for Saturday’s graduation exercises.
He put the final touches on a perfect academic career, in which he had a 4.0 grade point average in electrical engineering, with a concentration in renewable energy -- certainly two of the most difficult academic pursuits the university has to offer. He’ll celebrate the accomplishment with his mom, Madhavi, who flew to Raleigh from the family’s home in Pune, India, and his brother, Kshitij, who will drive down this weekend from his home Washington, D.C., to complete a perfect Mother’s Day weekend.
As much as he would have liked a trip to California and the beaches of Malibu, Gujarati wanted to stay home to revel in receiving the diploma in which he has invested so much time and energy.
Gujarati was not a highly recruited international player, even though he was ranked in the top five among under-18 players in India. He pursued playing professionally, but decided he would rather follow in his brother’s footsteps to play collegiate tennis in the United States. Kshitij Gujarati, five years older, played one year at UNC Greensboro before deciding to concentrate on academics.
The younger Gujarati did not arrive in Raleigh thinking about a perfect academic career. In fact, he was more intrigued by college tennis and bored by the Indian system of education. He won the first tournament he played in as a freshman and was ready to contribute to Jon Choboy’s Wolfpack program. In his first two seasons, he posted a 23-16 record in singles play and a 13-8 record in doubles play.
He also made all A’s his first semester at NC State. When an advisor told him what a rare accomplishment that was, it inspired Gujarati to become a more serious student.
“Because the educational system in India is so rigid, I'd kind of lost interest in academics, because I thought it didn’t make sense,” he said. “I came here and started enjoying the more hands-on style of education. You get to go to the lab and actually do experiments. You don’t just take an equation sheet for an exam. It made more sense to me.
“I started enjoying academics more. One of the advisors the first semester of my freshman year said to me, ‘That’s impressive – not many people graduate with all A’s in their college career.’ For some reason, ever since then, that became the goal for me. I had to do it. It’s just something that made me want to do it.”
Last fall, after playing only seven fall matches during his junior career, Gujarati had to make a difficult choice. He wanted to enhance his graduate school resume by working on a research project within the College of Engineering. When he found the right opportunity, working for fellow Indian-native Dr. Subhashish Bhattacharya, an associate professor of electrical engineering. The project, called Memristor Modeling, involved creating a memristor emulator, a device that mimicks passive circuit elements like resistors and inductors.
Guarjarti needed to commit at least 20 hours a week to the project, along with his regular studies. That didn’t leave enough time in the week to participate in college tennis, which runs from the start of the fall tournament season in early September to late May for the spring dual-match season.
He and Choboy discussed how he could continue to help the team and still work on the research project, but there was no easy resolution.
“Tennis is not an easy sport. If you want to contribute, you can’t be halfway in or out,” Gujarati said. “You have to be in there with both feet. We agreed that if I was going to continue in my field of study, the research opportunity I could not let go. Coach Choboy was very supportive about it.
“He let me still be a part of the team this semester, even though I haven’t been able to participate, which means a lot to me.”
Meanwhile, Gujarati was one of three NC State athletes to receive the prestigious Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship from the ACC, a $5,000 grant for ACC student-athletes who plan to pursue graduate studies.
He also applied for graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley and NC State. He was recently accepted into the engineering Phd program here and has decided to stay put and pursue his doctorate in Raleigh.
“I’ve coached in the Ivy League and down at Florida and a handful of other places that are known for having strong academics,” Choboy said. “Akash may be the brightest player I have ever coached anywhere.
“He is a great example of what a student-athlete should be.”
With 12 other players on the roster, Choboy wasn’t hurting for options this season. He welcomed three accomplished freshmen who found immediate playing time, to go along with the three seniors who have been stalwarts in the lineup for the last four years. The Pack (20-9) has the second-most victories in school history.
But that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for Gujarati to contribute.
“He could have helped us, sure,” Choboy said. “But the research project was an important part of his academic career. We both realized that, and that it would have been a burden for him to try to continue playing tennis and do all of the other things he had to do.”
After playing competitive tennis for 16 years, Gujarati has no regrets about the end of his athletics career. He’ll still be pulling for his teammates on Friday at 2 p.m., when they take on the Huskies in the program’s fifth NCAA appearance.
“I’m proud of what I have done, in tennis and in academics,” Gujarati said. “There’s no place I’d rather be than here getting that diploma on Saturday. It’s something that will make my mom proud.”