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Chico State

Bollywood Dance Club Founder Finds a Sense of Home at Chico State  

Aishwarya Gowda poses against a brick pillar on campus, wearing a white shirt and jeans.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Since 2016, approximately 1,600 Wildcats have studied abroad at one of 200 locations across 35 countries. In the opposite flight path, Chico State welcomes over 250 students from 54 nations annually. The following article is one of six student profiles included in ‘Passport to Self Discovery,’ a feature article in Chico Statements, Spring 2023.

  • Name: Aishwarya Gowda
  • Traveled from: Maharashtra, India
  • Major: Electrical Engineering
  • Minors: Math, Management Information Systems, Computer Engineering

Before she left India, Aishwarya “Aishu” Gowda only knew two things about Chico: it was a small town and somewhere in California. Those were among the main reasons she chose to transfer to Chico State—in addition to the University’s renowned engineering program and affordable tuition.

After a 15-hour flight and a lengthy Uber, she arrived carrying the weight of her family’s expectations and her own feelings of apprehension. She anticipated the work to be difficult and the environment challenging. Transferring to Chico State midway through a semester at her previous university, much of her coursework would need to be restarted, and this added to the pressure she felt.

“I was nervous about whether faculty members would accept me because I’m an international student, whether they’d like me or get to know me,” Gowda said.

She quickly learned that professors were helpful, approachable, and fully invested in her success, especially her academic advisor, Kathleen Meehan. With her support, Gowda was able to endure a bumpy first year filled with lots of hard lessons, ranging from language difficulty to testing formats that were completely new to her.

Covered in celebratory paint, Bollywood Dance Club founder,
Aishwarya Gowda, center, performs
with geology major Alinkar Nyein
(right) and public health major
Valinda Arnold (left) at Holi. The Hindu festival of colors,
love, and spring was hosted by the
Cross-Cultural Leadership Center and the Indian Students Association.
Aishwarya Gowda, center, performs with geology major Alinkar Nyein (right) and public health major Valinda Arnold (left) at Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, love, and spring. (Matt Bates / University Photographer)

“In America, where you build and make things rather than focus solely on theory, I realized that coding is not for me,” Gowda said. With Meehan’s guidance, she changed her major from computer science to electrical engineering, because of its relationship to math—she is also minoring in math, management information systems, and computer engineering.

These simple adjustments have added up. Now a sophomore, Gowda is on track academically and very much at home on campus. She is on the board of the Global Student Society and a member (and former social media and event coordinator) of the Indian Student Association. She is also the founder and president of the Bollywood Dance Club. The club has roughly 50 members, including students from a variety of nations and close to 50 percent from Chico, and operates according to a radically inclusive code.

International students in the Global Student Society pose at their table during the annual Choose Chico event on campus during a sunny April afternoon.
Aishwarya Gowda and friends tabling with the Global Student Society at the Choose Chico event on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

“We support all types of dancers, regardless of your body type or abilities. We believe there are no non-dancers in the world. Everyone can dance and it’s just fear that keeps it away,” she said.

As she heads into her junior year, Gowda is steadfast in her personal mission to create connections—for herself and others—on a campus that has become home to her.

“Some of the faculty members have become a family for me, some have become mentors. Everyone in their way has helped and supported me mentally, academically, and emotionally,” she said. “I realized that family doesn’t have to be your bloodline or relatives.”

Aishwarya performs with the Bollywood Dance Club during the International Festival on campus. (Matt Bates/University Photographer)

This realization is best summed up by an interaction that took place after a performance by the Bollywood Dance Club at a multicultural event last year, when staff from the IEGE office surprised her with their attendance.

“As soon as we came off stage, we saw Tasha (Alexander) and Cindy (McKay) with their moms, and they had brought flowers,” Gowda said. “We international students grow up quickly here, but we still miss being loved by our elders. This small gesture from our faculty and staff is what makes Chico home.”