Westwood High School senior Pooja Enagala always has been an achiever.

Her kindergarten teacher at Laurel Mountain Elementary in Austin suggested Pooja be put into more challenging classes. After testing, she was placed in the gifted-and-talented program in first grade. She was a regional spelling bee champion for five years, placing sixth at nationals one year. She is a third-degree black belt in the Korean martial art Taekwondo, co-president of her school’s choir, secretary of the school’s National Honor Society and ranks among the top 4 percent of her 616-member senior class.

Now, the 17 year old can add another accomplishment to the list. She aced all three college entrance exams: the ACT, the SAT and the Pre-SAT. She may be the only Central Texas student to accomplish the feat (officials at several area school districts said they weren’t aware of another) and joins the ranks of perhaps just a handful of other students nationally to do so over the years.

Pooja waves off the achievement as “not a big deal,” chiding her mother for notifying the media.

“I didn’t think of it as much of an accomplishment on my part,” Pooja said. “My success on these tests, if anything, is owed to my school and my teachers who prepared me.”

Only a fraction of 1 percent of the millions of students who take the ACT or SAT annually score perfectly on either of the exams, though the separate entities that oversee the college entrance exams don’t collectively track the data to determine who aces all three. More than 2.1 million students in the class of 2018 took the SAT and more than 1.9 million took the ACT. Just a few thousand hit the highest scores on each.

“She has always showed promise,” said Pooja’s mother, Vani Ramagiri. “We are very pleased she got all three. Everything has to come together. I believe luck plays a role also, and someone watching from above, I guess.”

Extracurricular focus

Pooja laughs easily and listens intently.

“She’s a natural leader and people gravitate toward her,” said Andre Clark, the Westwood choir director. “But her style is a quiet leadership, and she leads by example.”

Pooja is a National AP Scholar with distinction, achieving the highest scores on all six of her Advanced Placement exams, which gives her college credit for those courses. She was awarded “top speaker” at various debate tournaments during her high school career.

Pooja said attending the nationally-ranked Westwood, in the Round Rock district, she is surrounded by “so many other talented students who are so accomplished.”

“But I learned that I don’t have to push myself to get the best grades when there are so many other things I can focus on,” Pooja said. “You can compromise and still do well at it all. For me having that one number, that one rank, isn’t worth compromising all the other things I’m passionate about.”

Because of her class rank, she has automatic admission to any Texas public university, but hasn’t decided where she will attend.

She has studied Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance since she was 7, and last year completed the Arangetram, a debut solo performance of 10 dances that spans over three hours. She performed in front of an audience of 350, among them 20 extended family members from India who flew to the U.S. to watch. She practiced dance daily for a year, and in the final months, six hours a day, to build her stamina.

She has been teaching dance for about a year, now co-directing an Indian version of Alice and Wonderland, teaching choreography to other dance students.

“It’s a big part of my life and it’s connected me to my culture, connected me to my roots,” Pooja said. “Fine arts is my favorite form of expression because it’s something naturally ingrained in me.”

Volunteering

She has volunteered for years, preparing elementary school students for the annual Math Pentathlon competitions, counseling middle school students through a Peer Assistance and Leadership program, and performing in dance productions to raise money for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

Last year, during winter break, Pooja worked with a nonprofit to help educate more than 30 women in a South Indian village about economics and financial literacy. Though she regularly visits family in India, it was her first exposure to rural India. Pooja said she was shocked to see the differences; almost none of the women work and attended school only through about eighth grade. Many of the houses lacked toilets, so Pooja helped dig six-foot sanitation holes and connect the outhouses to the holes. While there, she also worked on farms planting and making fertilizer.

She was awarded the Presidential Volunteering Service Award bronze medal, a national award, this year for that effort. She developed a menstrual health and hygiene curriculum for the women, and plans to go back again during spring break to help teach it.

“Pooja is a young lady who goes about her business and does things the right way because that’s who she is,” said Westwood Principal Mario Acosta, who described her as joyful, full of life and caring. “She’s not doing any of this for recognition or show. She’s just trying to be the best person and student she can be. She’s not an attention, ‘look-at-me’ kind of person. She’s humble and does the right thing and excels at them because she’s a good person.”