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How One Phi Rho Sister Went from Spelling Bee Contestant to Crew Member

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

As the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in an unprecedented eight-way tie, Yashna Nainani was watching off to the side of the stage. Despite having competed as a contestant herself years earlier, she felt that something truly special was happening. She recalls this exact moment as her favorite Bee moment of all time simply because “it was really awesome to be a part of history.”

Yashna, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying bioinformatics and health sciences and a member of Phi Sigma Rho’s Omega chapter, had been selected to be part of the 2019 Bee’s College Crew, a group of students who work behind-the-scenes to make the Bee as memorable as possible for the spellers, their families, and all other attendees. 

The Bee’s College Crew is only a small fraction of the people who work diligently to put on the televised Bee, but the work they do is crucial to the success of the overall event. Members of the Crew are tasked with helping with registration, filling favor bags, directing crowd flow, and guarding over the “Bee-Hive,” a gathering space for the spellers and their families to hang out and socialize with others. Yashna laments that the Bee’s TV viewers “don’t see the amount of effort that gets put into making Bee Week such a fun and wholesome experience for everyone that attends.”

While being a previous participant is not a requirement for being a Crew member, Yashna was alerted to the opportunity via an email sent to past competitors encouraging them to apply. As a past participant, it’s understandable why Yashna would be so passionate about wanting to put together a memorable event for the spellers.

Yashna’s earliest memories of the Bee go back as far as 2005, when she first watched it live. She quickly became enamored and began to compete along from home every year. Yashna’s proficiency at spelling won her success not just at home, but at school, as well. She won her first school-wide competition in third grade and didn’t stop there. She was her school’s champion each year from third through eighth grade, with the final of those victories sending her to the National Spelling Bee.

Yashna appreciates the experience she had as a contestant, but she has a real fondness being part of the Crew. “I met and became friends with the coolest group of nerds who get just as pumped as I do about spelling, and we still keep in touch to this day,” she said.

And if you thought the Crew members would leave the spelling to their under-age-15 counterparts, well, think again.

“We even had our own College Crew spelling bee one night,” she said.

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