Ever since she attended her first science fair on IUPUI’s campus in sixth grade, Fort Wayne native Nirupama Devanathan knew that she wanted to attend college here.
“Every year, I returned to IUPUI for science fair, and was so impressed with the campus and the faculty members that I spoke with during the course of judging,” she said. “IUPUI is a small-knit community and everyone here is very friendly. Throughout middle school and high school, it felt like a home away from home.”
With that feeling in mind, she applied and was happily accepted. Upon arrival, Devanathan decided to major in biology and enrolled in the pre-medical track. She also added a minor in Spanish and certificates in Latino Studies and Fundamentals of Data Analytics from the computer science program. However, something was still missing.
After taking a sociology course last fall, she became interested in social determinants of disease.
“I realized that a lot of social inequity was responsible for disparate health outcomes,” Devanathan said. “When I learned about the philanthropic studies program and talked to Pamela (Clark, director of student services and admissions), I realized that the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy not only focuses on how social inequities exist in institutions, but also addresses how we can allocate funds and other resources from the community to help address those inequities.”
So, the rising junior decided to add a philanthropic studies major to her plethora of studies, and this fall, she’ll take her first two courses in philanthropic studies. With two years of biology and computer science classes under her belt, Devanathan is looking forward to the humanities-related courses.
“I’m excited to write essays and engage in critical thinking and group discussions with classmates,” she said. “I also am looking forward to building a better framework on what philanthropy truly means in an academic context. It’s one thing to go and talk to an advisor about it. It’s another to actually take a class and engage with the material.”
While new to the philanthropic studies program, philanthropy has played a strong role in Devanathan’s life.
“I’m very involved in my place of worship, so being a part of that and raising awareness about issues that are affecting the Fort Wayne community and community abroad has been very impactful,” she said.
In addition to her Indianapolis classes and Fort Wayne community involvement, she finds ways to stay involved in the IUPUI community as well. A general member of the Medical Humanities Club last year, she was elected as vice president for the incoming year.
“(The club) tries to bridge the gap between humanities and medicine and studies the impact of different societal perceptions on medical concepts,” Devanathan said.
This past spring, Devanathan presented research at the club’s annual conference on how linguistic barriers to health care result in adverse patient outcomes.
“I compared these effects and how they impact the elderly vs. middle aged adults and children, and how there is a cultural and linguistic component to negative health care,” she said. “Utilizing humanities is essential in building empathy and utilizing diverse tools for our patients.”
She also served as an intern for the Multicultural Affairs department at Ezkenazi Health. Devanathan mainly shadowed medical interpreters, but also had the opportunity to conduct quality control calls in Spanish.
“I talked to previous patients to determine how their ER visits were and if they had any questions or concerns about it,” she said. “They were happy because of the interpretation we provided, but also expressed satisfaction with the aftermath of care and the resources provided during that time.”
In addition to Devanathan’s internship at Eskenazi, she interned in a protein lab and studied biological determinants for disease through the Life Health Science Internship with Dr. Yuichiro Tagaki, and also worked with Dr. Ann Kimble-Hill on another project relating Type II diabetes with epithelial-based cancers and how genetic determinants influenced those diseases.
“I worked on that research throughout the year and had the opportunity to get that research published,” she said.
And if that weren’t enough, Devanathan also worked as a teaching assistant for general chemistry, explaining that she “enjoys mentoring other students.”
While she stays quite busy during the school year, Devanathan also had plans to volunteer this summer through the Global Medical Brigades.
“The organization pairs 25 to 30 undergraduate students with medical students and trained physicians to go to a country in Latin America for the promotion of public health and the treatment of short-term infections and diseases,” she said. “The whole program is meant to be sustainable and focused on what the community needs.”
Although the planned trip to Nicaragua was canceled due to political instability in the country, Devanathan plans on continuing to stay involved, albeit from a different angle: “I’d like to be involved on the fundraising level at home.”
Even with her busy schedule now and beginning philanthropy classes in the fall, she has no plans on stopping. In the future, Devanathan plans on studying pediatrics and using her love of computer science to handle big data and study demographics and population to see how those factors impact disease.
“In the long run, I’d like to combine a role of scientific research in epidemiology with a practice in pediatric cardiology, which would include studying the social influence of food deserts, childhood obesity, and other social determinants that affect Type II diabetes and other diseases,” she said.
With her plan for the future, she sees a role for all of her interests. She has a particular vision for her training and study in philanthropy.
“The humanities training will teach me about factors like policy, zoning, and funding, and will help me understand how to navigate such barriers better,” Devanathan said. “That way, I can be a better advocate for my patients as well as act as a physician investigator studying both the social and biological determinants of disease.”
And her final reason for coming to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy?
“This is a place where you can really make an impact on your community,” she said. “If you have even an inkling that you want to serve, this is the place where you can take that inkling and transform it into something big.”
Abby Rolland is the content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.