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Student Employee of the Year Helps Community Through Her Research

Student Employee of the Year Helps Community Through Her Research

Since her time as a freshman, biochemistry graduating senior Tanvi Ingle was focused on two activities that, at first, seemed unrelated: doing research and helping community members who were experiencing homelessness. When the pandemic caused the clinic where she was volunteering to close temporarily in 2020, she soon found a chance to do both at once.

Tanvi ingle. Photo taken by Kevin Vu.

At the time, public health guidelines called for staying home and practicing social distancing, something Ingle knew that people experiencing homelessness would struggle with, given that they had few safe places to isolate. She soon joined the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium and the lab of Lauren Ancel Meyers to help work on this problem.

Not only did Ingle wind up as first author on a paper published in PLOS ONE about the research, Austin Public Health and the city would use that work to determine Austin's approach to safely housing the homeless who tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier this spring, Ingle was selected as the 2022 campus-wide recipient of the President's Student Employee of the Year Award – the first undergraduate research assistant to win the award in years.

"I had the privilege of collaborating with physicians at Dell Medical School, public health officials in the Homeless Services Department and epidemiologists at UT Austin," Ingle said. "Everyone on the team had a unique perspective to share and different insights into the research question. That was one of the most incredible parts of this experience – just seeing firsthand how people with different backgrounds can come together to solve a common problem in novel ways."

Opportunities in Research

An Austin native, Ingle always knew she wanted to come to UT Austin. Interested in doing research since high school, she knew that UT was an amazing research institution with great opportunities for her.

"When it came to deciding, I really couldn't imagine myself anywhere but UT Austin," Ingle said. "As someone who would like to go into research, I just really connected with the community here at UT and really connected with the opportunities that are available at this institution. And for me, it was just a no-brainer, I had to be a Longhorn."

During her freshman year, she joined Elizabeth Ilardi's Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) stream, Synthesis & Biological Recognition, where she worked on leveraging synthetic organic chemistry to repurpose small drug molecules. She also joined the research group of Molly Bray, chair and professor of nutritional sciences, where she worked on studying whether regular eating and exercise habits could correct disrupted circadian cycles.

"Those were some really interesting opportunities that I wouldn't have gotten to be involved in if I weren't at a place like UT," Ingle said. "In the end, I soon realized that I'm really interested in questions about the intersection of infectious disease dynamics, health equity and community health."

She soon joined the lab of Claus Wilke, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology, where she worked on modeling elements of the viral infection cycle as it happens within a single cell. She also joined the Meyers lab around this time, soon after the pandemic temporarily suspended her volunteering at the C.D. Doyle Clinic, a student-run free clinic affiliated with the Dell Medical School that serves primarily people experiencing homelessness.

"Pausing our clinic was a really tough decision because we knew so many underinsured and uninsured people relied on our services," Ingle said. "I wanted to help support this community – and if I couldn't do so in the clinic, I wanted to try with research."

When she joined the Meyers lab, helping the City of Austin make plans to repurpose hotel rooms into safe spaces for people experiencing homelessness to isolate and stay safe during the pandemic was her first project. Working closely with a research associate, Ingle helped create the mathematical model that would help the city decide how many hotel rooms it would need for people who are homeless and test positive for COVID-19.

Service and Leadership

Ingle graduates this month as one of 30 Dean's Honored Graduates and with CNS Distinctions both in research and in service and leadership. She chaired the Dean Scholars honors program, working with her peers and faculty to improve students' access and experiences in scientific research, especially during the pandemic.

"I had the opportunity to work with an amazing team of student leaders through Dean's Scholars," Ingle said. "Together we created an online mentorship training course, helped lead student-run outreach events in underrepresented areas of Texas, and even partnered with professors to revamp seminars to include DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] and student-wellness topics. Many of these initiatives have been adapted by other student organizations on campus."

Ingle's next stop is medical school, where she will further her interests in medicine, research, clinical informatics and clinical decision-making. Her recommendation for others is if you have an interest, go for it, and don't hold yourself back.

"Through my experiences at UT, I have learned that there is power in passion," Ingle said. "If you care deeply about something, advocate for yourself, and don't hesitate to get involved."

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Wednesday, 29 June 2022

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