Aashaka Desai earns Colonial Athletic Association John Randolph Inspiration Award

Aashaka Desai, a recent University of Delaware graduate and four-year member of the Blue Hen women’s golf team, earned the prestigious Colonial Athletic Association John Randolph Inspiration Award on Monday, July 20.

The award recognizes individuals who through strength of character and human spirit serve as an inspiration to all to maximize their potential and ability for success. It is named after former William and Mary athletic director John Randolph, who died from cancer in 1995. Desai was the CAA women’s winner, while Towson football player Yeedee Thaenrat was the men’s recipient.

Desai, who is deaf, graduated from UD in May with a double major in computer science and cognitive science. A native of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, she competed in eight tournaments for the Blue Hens during her career and captained the team as a senior.

“I’m really honored (to win this award),” Desai said. “This experience has given me a lifelong purpose and opened me up to a world I didn’t know existed before. And it has — but there have also been days where I was scared and overwhelmed, and looking at the big picture or the long run was too uncertain. I’ve had to remind myself to take one thing at a time, to be optimistic and brave and committed, lessons golf has been teaching me for longer than I can remember. To be told I inspire is such a contrast to helplessness I’ve felt. I’m so grateful to friends and family, teammates and coaches and teachers…all those people that adapted on this journey with me, making this world just a little bit more accessible — I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Desai worked within the UD SLAM (Speech Language Acquisition and Multilingualism) Lab to research and learn how artificial intelligence technology can assist people with hearing loss in daily life activities. She took research and wrote software to analyze eye-gaze participant videos for experimental studies that use the Preferential Looking Procedure.

Desai also worked with an anomic aphasia independent study project where she conducted research to identify gaps in literature. Additionally, she devised experiments for data collection and worked on an app to help with word recall using semantic networks, vectors and clustering techniques. Anomic aphasia (also known as dysnomia, nominal aphasia, and amnesic aphasia) is a mild, fluent type of aphasia where individuals have word retrieval failures and cannot express the words they want to say (particularly nouns and verbs). Anomia is a deficit of expressive language.

Desai will begin as a doctoral student in computer science this fall at the University of Washington.

“I’m so very proud of Aashaka and all that she has accomplished,” UD women’s golf head coach Patty Post said. “She exemplified everything we would want in a student-athlete. She never gave up on herself, her teammates or her coaches. Aashaka left a legacy of hard work dedication, honesty, passion for the game of golf and passion to be the best teammate possible.”

A consistent Dean’s List and CAA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll recipient, Desai was also a member of Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honors Society and the Association for Computing Machinery — Women in Computing Chapter. Additionally, she served as a UD Student Services for Athletes Student-Athlete Tutor, was a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year finalist, and volunteered with numerous organizations around campus.

Desai is the sixth Blue Hen to win the Randolph Award, joining Heather Hartman (field hockey, 2014), Steven Vincent (cross country/track and field, 2011), Kevin DuPrey (cross country/track and field, 2006), Julia Shapiro (women’s tennis, 2005) and Mandy Welch (softball, 2001).

| Photo by Mark Campbell