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La Jolla student named national design contest finalist for app that brings kids together through stories

La Jolla Country Day School senior Sohan Chunduru is one of three finalists in the National High School Design Competition.
La Jolla Country Day School senior Sohan Chunduru is one of three finalists from among more than 700 entries in the National High School Design Competition.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Country Day School)

For La Jolla Country Day School senior Sohan Chunduru, storytelling is a way of opening minds to different cultures. At age 17, he is the author of five children’s books and recently created an app prototype that enables children worldwide to connect for collaborative storytelling.

The creation of that app, called Whale Tales, earned Sohan one of the three finalist spots in the 2022 National High School Design Competition presented by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.

The competition drew more than 700 entries from across the country and named the finalists and honorable mentions April 7.

Sohan, a Del Mar resident, is the third La Jolla Country Day student named a finalist since the program was launched in 2016.

Renee Wang, a sophomore at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, earned an honorable mention this year for her self-sustainable, environmentally sensitive and deconstructable tiny home for homeless people.

As a finalist, Sohan will move on to the next stage of the competition with a virtual “mentor weekend” with lead mentor Kenneth Bailey, co-founder of the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston, and judging weekend, when the finalists will present their designs to a panel of judges. The winner will be announced in June.

This year’s entrants were tasked with designing something that contributes to “a more peaceful and just world.”

Whale Tales is designed for children around the world to create stories together. With the app, children can add text and images to a digital storybook and share their storybooks with their peers.

“Whale Tales exposes children to different cultures and teaches them the values of teamwork and cooperation, building a community of empathetic future global citizens,” according to Sohan. “Enabling children to interact with peers from other countries increases cultural awareness and provides hope for a more peaceful and just future world.”

A screen capture of Sohan Chunduru's presentation shows how the Whale Tales app prototype works.
A screen capture of Sohan Chunduru’s presentation shows how the Whale Tales app prototype works.
(Courtesy of Sohan Chunduru)

“I worked pretty hard in creating the app, so I’m happy to have been named a finalist,” Sohan told the La Jolla Light. He said he was introduced to the competition through a teacher and that the concept sparked his interest.

“I have always been interested in other cultures and always liked learning about them,” he said. “Kids are more willing to engage with that type of learning than adults, so I wanted to feature that [in my submission]. A lot of negative recent events have roots in ignorance of other cultures, so learning about other people is a good way to combat that issue.”

He said learning about other cultures has made him more “open-minded” and that he wants the same for the next generation. As part of that mission, Sohan authored five children’s books centered on different cultures and countries.

“I always liked writing in a journal about different countries when I traveled,” he said. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions were placed on travel, his options were limited.

“A lot of negative recent events have roots in ignorance of other cultures, so learning about other people is a good way to combat that issue.”

— Sohan Chunduru

Plus, he said, he witnessed an uptick in hate crimes targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In response to that, and to feed his need to write, he authored “Ni Hao, China!” about two children who travel the world learning about Chinese cultures, customs and languages.

“Shalom Israel,” “Namaste India,” “Kia Ora New Zealand” and “Ola Brazil” soon followed.

“I like the idea of using books to expand the scope of cultural awareness,” he said. His next book will center on Kenya.

Beyond that, Sohan will attend Stanford University in the fall. Though he hasn’t yet declared a major, he said he thinks he will pursue design or political science.

Learn more about Whale Tales or Sohan’s books at sohanchunduru.com. ◆