Sonu Kapoor ’17 has a keen mathematical mind. When you ask about her favorite concept in mathematics, she won’t hesitate to answer: “Fourier transforms, for sure. They feel like magic!” A Fourier transform is a mathematical operation that converts a signal (like a melody) from the time domain to the frequency domain (its individual notes and intensities).
Such a fascination makes sense for this recent Dwight alum who graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS and an accelerated Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Cornell University in December. She is now looking forward to applying to PhD programs to continue her engineering studies, specifically in the math-heavy fields of signal processing and information theory.
Sonu credits some of her success at Cornell to her Dwight education. “Just taking IB Higher Level Math alone was a challenge in and of itself,” she recalls. “It was really a college-level course that helped me a lot in my engineering classes.”
Sonu arrived as an eleventh grader at Dwight in 2015 after moving from Mumbai to New York. She was enthralled right away by the opportunities the School offered students to find and pursue their sparks of genius. The seemingly endless possibilities appealed to Sonu, whose own spark of genius is her ability to draw knowledge from different disciplines to create something new.
Coming from a traditional academic curriculum in India, Sonu was grateful for the chance Dwight gave her to explore different topics and to merge her various interests. “I knew Dwight was the right place for me from the get-go,” she recalls. Sonu appreciated, for example, how students could create their own way to fulfill the CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) requirement for the IB Diploma Program. For her CAS project, Sonu, together with a few classmates, designed a simulated business-planning experience in which members of the Investment Club (of which she was one) were presented with a series of problems and asked to solve them in different ways. Sonu drew on knowledge she had gained in a summer business and entrepreneurship program at Yale between her junior and senior years, part of which was similar to Dwight’s own Spark Tank.
In addition to the Investment Club, Sonu also was a member of Dwight’s Honor Council, Boxing Club, and Prom Committee. “There were so many activities to choose from, I wanted to do them all,” she recounts.
Finding the right balance between academics and extracurriculars might have been a challenge for her, but through regular trimester reflections and check-ins with her advisor, Bentley Ferraina, who is also Dean of Grade 10, Sonu was able to assess her progress. “Mr. Ferraina would always ask me two questions: ‘Looking back on the trimester, what are you most proud of?’ and ‘Looking forward to next term, what do you hope to achieve?’ This really helped me to stop and evaluate myself instead of just being in constant motion,” she recalls.
Memorable Dwight Learning Experiences
One of Sonu’s most indelible classes was Theory of Knowledge (TOK). A cornerstone of the IB DP, TOK is a two-year course in which students examine the nature of knowledge, the many ways people obtain it, and challenge assumptions. “TOK really challenged my way of thinking,” Sonu says. “I learned to remove myself from situations to properly address them and to hold multiple points of view while making decisions.”
At college, Sonu made valuable use of what she learned in TOK in the leadership positions she held in the Cornell Student Assembly, as the representative of the College of Engineering, and in the Language House where she lived. Proficient in Hindi, Marathi, Spanish, German, English, Sindhi, and Sanskrit, Sonu plans on adding Mandarin to her repertoire soon.
At Dwight, Sonu’s favorite class by far was physics with Barry Gragg, Head of the Upper School Science Department. “He really made physics fun and spontaneous — it didn’t feel like work,” she explains. Sonu has many fond memories of that class, including observing the moon and different galaxies from Dwight’s rooftop telescope. She also recalls an intriguing internal assessment she worked on with Mr. Gragg in which she calculated the age of the universe using redshifting, a change in color frequency of stars that can be used to determine the rate of the universe’s expansion after the Big Bang. Sonu says, “Mr. Gragg made me laugh a lot, too, and he’s one of the reasons I ended up being so interested in engineering.”
At the time, Sonu had planned on studying business in college. That was before she had a conversation with Chancellor Stephen Spahn, which ended up being seminal to her choice. Indeed, like so many Dwight alumni over the years, Sonu can trace her trajectory back to a single interaction with Chancellor Spahn about her future. “When I told him that I wanted to study business because I love solving problems, he said, ‘How can someone run a business well before first knowing what problems that business is trying to solve? And the best way to know what problems to solve is to study engineering, a field in which you face problems every day.’ This advice really resonated with me. Solving problems is what gives me extra energy and motivation in everything I do.”
Business remains a strong interest and Sonu has her hand in several ventures, including one she’s launching with her father to provide talent acquisition solutions in the fields of technology and finance. “Our goal is to empower companies to hire quality talent. Typical recruitment agencies go into the market and hunt for talent and then charge their clients a fee, which is normally a percentage of the candidate’s salary. Our product is available for a flat fee, which is better for the client’s budget. The interface we offer also allows clients to select candidates from a curated database directly.”
Another entrepreneurial pursuit in the works is a personal finance service. “It’s a single solution that manages assets, debt, income, taxes, and everything in between,” Sonu explains. The idea came to me when I thought about engineers and people in similar fields who don’t have enough time to think about their finances.”
As if pursuing a PhD and starting several businesses aren’t enough, Sonu also manages real estate for her family. Of course, she’s already thinking of innovative ways to automate many real estate protocols. “I’d like to make things more efficient, as the steps a person needs to take to rent, sell, or buy a single property are just too many and too complicated.”
Taking a Seat on Dwight’s Alumni Council
Among her many accomplishments, some of Sonu’s proudest experiences include the friendships she forged and has maintained with Dwight classmates and teachers. She remains close to her alma mater and recently joined our Dwight, Franklin, Anglo-American Alumni Association’s Alumni Council. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to work on projects with classmates. At Cornell, I did a lot of event planning that brought people together. I look forward to doing that at Dwight as well,” she says. Sonu also hopes to become involved in Spark Tank and inspire students, like herself, who are solving problems in innovative ways.