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From the College of Natural Sciences
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Natural Sciences Council President Leads by Serving Others

Natural Sciences Council President Leads by Serving Others
Photograph by Matt Wright-Steele.

Shilpa Rajagopal is a biology and marketing senior who wants to work in health care, but you won't find her glued to a textbook.

Instead, she's stocking shelves at the Micah 6 food pantry, helping underserved communities access donated goods. Or she's volunteering at the C.D. Doyle clinic, referring patients to local care regardless of their residency or insurance status.

Rajagopal also serves on the college Diversity, Equity and Inclusion community and leads the Natural Sciences Council, a student-run organization that serves the science student body and helps lobby for institutional changes.

You and the NSC helped lobby for a new name for the Robert Lee Moore building, which this summer got renamed the Physics, Math and Astronomy (PMA) building. How do you think about that victory?

I think in some ways it's a beginning. I think renaming has been a really powerful example of how communities across campus, including People for PMA, PMA Board for Student Advocacy, NSC, and UT Senate, can come together and successfully advocate for change. It's a symbolic change and an important one. But there are broader issues in the sciences, whether it's recruitment of students of color, hiring processes, admissions policies. There are some next steps we can take to be more inclusive. [Editor's note: Dean Goldbart announced last month a series of next steps the college is taking.]

In addition to volunteering with a food pantry and a low-income health clinic, you also worked as a hospice care volunteer. What was that experience like?

I remember visiting a woman who was non-verbal, and I played Frank Sinatra music to her. Even though she couldn't speak, you could see in her eyes, by the way she moved… she was captured. Connecting with her meant the world, because end-of-life patients at hospice centers can sometimes face neglect and loneliness.

Why do you think volunteering will help you become a better doctor or public health professional?

I think medicine is defined by its humanity. It's fundamentally rooted in empathy and being able to form relationships. Whether that happens through volunteering, exploring the humanities or going out and experiencing things. It informs your perspective so much more than staying in your own bubble.

Why do you get involved in so many different ways?

There's this [Audre Lorde] quote that speaks to what I do that says: "There's no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we don't lead single-issue lives." That shaped my perspective and helped me understand how so many challenges overlap – whether that's poverty, food insecurity or access to health care.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2021

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