Jeeva Senthilnathan, a sophomore mechanical engineering student at Colorado School of Mines, has a built a resume most veteran community leaders would admire.
Besides her academic pursuits, the 19-year-old from Clarke Farms in Parker is the executive director of Privando, a nonprofit that employs technology to fight sexual abuse in India. Senthilnathan has led the Parker March for Our Lives/Students Demand Action over gun violence, and the as well as Denver's U.S. Youth Climate Strikes.
She has volunteered to help out on every political campaign she could squeeze into her packed schedule. Along the way, she was the legislative intern for state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat from Centennial, during her junior year in high school.
Senthilnathan graduated from the Colorado Early Colleges Parker, collecting her high school diploma and an associate's degree at the same time.
In July, she was the spokesperson for Colorado Youth Climate Coalition rally in Denver, when hundreds of young people called for cutting off investments in fossil fuel development, targeting JP Morgan Chase.
And in April, she collected 9.3% of the vote in a seven-way race, but missed out on a seat on the Parker Town Council.
We grew exhausted trying to keep up with her busy itinerary, so we asked this rising leader what makes her tick:
Colorado Politics: Tell me about Privando, which I understand is working to prevent sexual violence against women in India. How did that start, how's it going and how can people join or donate?
Senthilnathan: Privando has three areas of focus: education, legislation, and technology. I started Privando after reading news every week of a woman in India who experienced sexual violence. I felt very frustrated to see what was happening in my home country. We mimicked the technology from an emergency blue light box from university campuses into wearable products. And then our team expanded by addressing these issues at their institutions with education surrounding respect, gender equality, sexual health, and coping mechanisms.
As someone who recognizes the importance of understanding one’s rights, given freedoms, and privilege, it’s important to bring justice to the innocent schoolgirls and working women who merely want to make their way safely home, so that they can continue putting in their best efforts to help their family. Parents who raise their daughter, should be planning out her success and thinking about the positive change she will make in the world. They should not be wondering who captured her or if she is alive after running a few minutes late when coming home.
The impact the Privando has made over the years has been tremendous, we will continue to work towards bringing justice to the families who were affected by these tragedies by enforcing legislation to release victim names. We realize that this issue has become even more so prevalent over the pandemic and are organizing efficiently to address male doctors in India who bribed Indian women of their virginities, putting women in a situation to force themselves to compromise to these doctors’ liking in order to save their fathers, brothers, and husbands to provide them oxygen cylinders and oxygen tanks for their survival.
Please donate here to help provide oxygen cylinders and oxygen tanks for India’s third COVID-19 wave. Funds will also be distributed for direct actions and technological and policy research from the Privando team. We thank you for your support.
CP: You are one of 40 Global Teen Leaders. How proud were your parents?
Senthilnathan: My Indian-immigrant parents were definitely surprised when I became a Global Teen Leader from Nile Rodgers' We Are Family Foundation. Throughout high school, I often brought awards home from speech and debate, Future Business Leaders Of America, Technology Student Association and basketball, so they weren’t quite aware of how prestigious this recognition was, but they have come to understand, after I explained to them the story of Nile Rodgers and Nancy Hunt.
CP: Why do you care so much about all these things? Most people don't care as much about one thing as much as you do about everything — human rights, climate change, politics, March for Our Lives.
Senthilnathan: I care so much about all these things because I am by nature extremely sincere. My father also lectured me often about being a servant leader before I was dropped off at school.
I would personally have to say that my experiences have shaped who I am today. Being bullied in middle school, seeing the lack of motivation/incentive to teach from our educators, attending community college with students who struggled to pay for their classes, being forced to partake in shooter drills at school, going to therapy to find out that it is truly in-genuine, that therapists who can’t even remember your name, and constantly look at the clock are really only there for your $15 co-pay, shows me that we have much change to make.
I personally hate seeing the inequalities within the world I am living in. Having white male presidents for over 200 years, the crooked politicians, who have rooted their American ideologies off of white supremacy, but will talk of gladly incorporating the American Dream for “all,” who have crafted the rules so cunningly to fit their wants, needs, and their agendas, to have all the people be smart enough to only do the hard work, that look like the minuscule tasks, they are simply thinking of the people as not the people, but as a project, as an asset for them to use for their benefits.
I strongly believe and want the people to believe that we will no longer live by these unjust rules. These crooked politicians are the reason why America has become such an unwelcoming country to other colors, and why there is so much hate deeply ingrained within the people here causing domestic terrorism as well. It was these same crooked politicians who forced and taught their people to hate and to work till death, but not educate, for the people should never be a pinch smarter than the politicians in the power process.
CP: Who inspires you? Why?
Senthilnathan: To be honest, all the wives of billionaires who left their husbands to make good change, to solve global problems is whom has inspired me the most.
Makenzie Scott and Melinda Gates, who are contributing billions of dollars to organizations and people in need give me hope. It was never the woman who was scratching her head, feeling confused on ending child hunger or launching themselves into space, but it was always the man. It’s that same mentality from these crooked politicians that Jeff Bezos has, and it is of course, extremely shocking to me that it is once again a male.
Most importantly, alongside these larger figures, statewide, I have a community behind me that I cannot express my gratitude enough for. There are so many members in this community that have lifted me in different ways, whether that be elevating me for a new opportunity, receiving the harsh truth in the world of politics, providing me a space to critically think about new political initiatives, or putting me down for me to recognize my worth and value in society. I have a whole evolving gratitude list as I advance in my political career to come back and say thank you to these members. I will carry this list with me as I campaign when I run for office again in the future to remember who I am, where I come from, and those who have helped me so far. People should know their names because I was able to become who I wanted to be and am today.
CP: You've been involved in a lot for such a young person, more than most people do a much longer lifetime. What drew you into public service?
Senthilnathan: Both of my Indian parents immigrated to the United States in 1998, and I had to accept that my parents were growing in different standards just as much as I was, accepting a different culture other than my own. Adjusting and adapting to a new life was never easy, and it took a couple years to fit into the molds of new change. I knew that my parents always wanted to give my sister and I the best lives, the best kinds of opportunities. Growing up, I’ve understood that my father was by nature an introvert, he wasn’t really the type to speak out, or to get involved in risk heavy actions. He would typically accept the racism and often times stay quiet for the well-being of my family. I’ve noticed that my mother is more of the social type and tries her best to stay educated on recent news topics, but is still definitely quite innocent.
What drew me into public service was not only my experiences of growing up within Douglas County, hitting me with the ugly reality face-first, but also to be that living proof of what my parents had to sacrifice for me to become a better educated woman existing freely in the United States. They wanted me to do better and rise, and so I am.
Where did you grow up? I was born in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up in the town of Parker for 18 years.
Best show you ever saw at Red Rocks? Most people don’t know that I am a hardcore '80s fan! The best show I ever saw at Red Rocks was Stevie Wonder performing in 2019.
Favorite getaway-from-me place in Golden? Evergreen lake to go canoeing!
Are you a loner or a group thinker? I am a loner because I am an originator when it comes to inputting new policies. I know that when I get elected, I will become a group thinker as the people will see eye-to-eye with my policies, lifting everyone, guaranteeing a voice and a seat at the table.
Outdoors or indoors? Books or mountains? As a Sagittarius (my zodiac sign), I am clearly an outdoor person! I love to go hiking in the beautiful mountains of Colorado! I spent a lot of my childhood reading in the library, so books! My favorite kinds of books to read are historical fiction, philosophical fiction and thrillers!
What did you miss most during the pandemic? I missed not being able to have my moment for the traditional graduation ceremony. I am a class of 2020 graduate, and I had this whole day planned out since sophomore year of high school.
When you were 5, what did you want to be, and are you there yet? I wanted to be a doctor, so that I could help people and treat a variety of conditions. My interests have definitely changed, but I found a passion more so for biomedical engineering, but am covering the broad-base, aka mechanical engineering to be more well-rounded and knowledgeable within STEM fields. I am not there yet, but I am getting very close!
Why Mines? We are the best engineering school in state! Colorado School Of Mines provides a real education to students who truly want to learn and not just “pass.” Students at Mines don’t party, we are quiet, and we work hard. We understand the importance of education, the reality and the difficulties we must face from life, and we are very mature in the decisions we make. Growing up, education has been so valued within my Indian family. Education to me is not just a priority, but we practically breathe education. Knowledge is power, of course!