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‘A Serendipitous Experience’ Everything has fallen into place at W&L for Alankrit Shatadal '21, who complemented her academic experience with research, peer counseling and membership in University Singers.

Alankrit-Shatadal-21-0651-3-scaled-800x533 'A Serendipitous Experience'Alankrit Shatadal ’21 in the Science Center

“I have had so much freedom in the realm of designing my own projects, and I am so grateful for that.”

Hometown: Verona, Wisconsin
Majors: Biochemistry, Sociology and Anthropology
Minor: Poverty Studies and Human Capabilities

Q: Why did you choose to attend W&L?

W&L was a serendipitous experience in my case. It was my dad who found the name of the school and mentioned the hallmark scholarship opportunity. I wrote a special essay to be considered, hit send, and went on with school thinking, “I gave it a shot!” A few months later, I was lucky enough to be on campus for Johnson weekend for my first look at W&L. My takeaways were that students here could hold each other accountable without being “cutthroat,” that faculty always had their students in mind, and that the quality of education I could gain here would be beyond what I had hoped.

Yet I was still very hesitant to enroll, even upon receiving the amazing news that I had been selected for a Johnson Scholarship. I could not have attended this school without that gift. I knew, though, that attending W&L would come with some social territory to navigate. It took several conversations with students and even a couple alumni to convince me that despite its namesakes, W&L was a place that has the capacity to listen, accept and grow.

Q: Why did you choose your areas of study?

Frankly, I love science, and I knew it was something I needed more of during my college career. I have been fortunate to have had many excellent science teachers over the years, and that is something that took off exponentially at this school. I cannot say enough good things about the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. I realize classes in our department have a reputation, but I think it’s not one that should dissuade anyone from pursuing them! Consider it like this: If biology explains ‘what,’ chemistry explains ‘how,’ and physics explains ‘why.’ With practice, learning those answers becomes really satisfying.

The Poverty Studies program was something an alum told me about originally (thank you Ms. Seaton!), and as soon as I was introduced to the department, I knew I had to incorporate it into my four years here. It brought a sense of awareness and grounding to class lectures because I had opportunities to examine how complex systems (and by that I mean society) actually play out and face challenges, and furthermore, how helping is within our capacity. This interest of mine was further encouraged by research opportunities in the Sociology and Anthropology Department. Tackling issues while armed with knowledge from science classes as well as social science classes helps me to approach those issues with a balanced perspective.

Q: You’re on the leadership teams for Peer Counseling and Diversity Peer Counseling, and you are a Women in Technology and STEM mentor and peer tutor. What do you enjoy about your counseling, mentoring and tutoring? And why is that important to you?

These encapsulate some of the most rewarding interactions I have on a daily basis. To answer directly, what I enjoy about these activities is the empowerment I get to help facilitate. The common denominator for all four activities is the metaphorical handing-over of the reins after lending a little support, which makes me so happy to see.

The Peer Counseling and Diversity PC programs in particular deserve further comment, because they not only represent empowerment and education, but also the chance to contribute to campus culture. I mentioned that when I came to W&L, I was apprehensive, and I will readily admit that there’s still a lot of progress we need to make in terms of creating a welcoming environment here. Hearing first-hand what issues exist and being in a position to enact change (even if those initiatives start out small) provide a chance to help our school become a better version of itself.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in the Science, Society, and the Arts Convention. How did SSA go this year?

I have been a part of the SSA committee since my freshman year! Having an opportunity for all students, from any discipline, to present their work is so important for a university. I think events like this one help to create the vibrant academic environment of this school.

SSA is a biannual event, so my experience of the two I was involved in vary widely. I remember running a lot during the 2019 one! SSA typically begins with a night devoted to the arts, featuring the dance, music and studio art departments. We then transition to a day of poster and presentation sessions, with a guest speaker and fun little quirks like the giant blocks. You know the ones.

We like for SSA to have many panels so everyone can identify something that interests them. This even carried over into our 2021 virtual format. It was a challenge to coordinate, for which the technology team deserves huge kudos. It was very heartening to see that many students participated, even in the asynchronous sessions! In some ways, the format may have made the event more accessible. As an added bonus, we got Hank Green as our guest speaker!

Q: What did your time with University Singers bring to your W&L experience?

I credit my love for singing as the reason W&L picked me during the intensely competitively Johnson selections. My essay for the scholarship was entirely about what lessons singing has imparted to me, and I think what came across was probably the most honest version of myself I could convey on paper. Needless to say, there was no way I could be at W&L without being in its choir! I can still vividly picture the moments after I got the email saying audition results for the University Singers were posted on Dr. Lynch’s office door. I had been doing homework in Reid Hall, and I tried to convince myself, “No big deal, I’ll go check after finishing this.” And before I knew it, despite my best attempts to remain calm, I was packing my bag and speed-walking down to Lenfest to check the results. I remember laughing at my lack of restraint, but after spending a few years with the University Singers, it’s really no wonder I was so excited about it.

When I try to answer this question, my mind rephrases it to “What hasn’t this experience brought?!” Choir is a place to work hard and learn, to feel safe and comforted, to constantly embrace chaos, and to connect with others on a level that feels unearthly. It gives me strength; when we found out campus was closing last year, the choir was about to step onstage to perform “Considering Matthew Shepard.” The concert we put on after that announcement was so raw and pure, I can never forget it. Those feelings are one of the few things in the world for which I don’t want an explanation. I love the magic it holds.

Choir is also a wonderful opportunity for adventure. University Singers, I look forward to joining you on tour again next year!

Q: What other opportunities have you had at W&L, and how has that enhanced your college years?

I have had so much freedom in the realm of designing my own projects, and I am so grateful for that. Even for my Shepherd internship, I was able to propose an idea which united my love of music with my passion for pediatrics.

There has also been so much great research I’ve been a part of during my time at W&L! Some of these endeavors were also designed as independent work. For example, the work I did in travel-safe years, based in India (made possible by the Leyburn Fund), and the work for my honors thesis, which took a combination of biochemistry and anthropology ideas on inequality and applied them to survey the United States’ infant mortality patterns.

I have been very fortunate in my biochemistry research as well, in that my research adviser was willing to take me on as a first-year! I haven’t left the lab since. Our work looks at messenger RNA stability as it relates to codon optimality.

I also appreciate that research for classes provides so much flexibility; investigating effective implementations of school lunches for elementary schoolers, or getting to sit on the stage of the Blackfriars Playhouse to compare derivatives of Macbeth to the original, were both real opportunities afforded to me by classes I took here!

Finally, I am happy to have had the chance to help out on campus through the Kathekon alumni association and prospective student events like Johnson Weekend. I like seeing the circle of college life!

Q: Has anyone at W&L been a mentor to you?

Absolutely, and I am so thankful to have met him early on during my time here: Dr. Kyle Friend! He has been my research adviser for four years, and when I had to pick an adviser for the biochemistry major, I didn’t feel the need to single him out because I knew his door would always be open no matter what. Not only for science, but also as someone to talk to. And when I say talk, I’m saying Talk with a capital T.

Dr. Friend is also an incredible teacher, and has this remarkable ability to make you feel encouraged and supported after just a short conversation. I have never watered down anything in conversations with him, and I hope that goes both ways. If you read this, Dr. Friend, please know that you have helped me realize the amount of change one person can make.

Q: What are your post-graduation hopes or plans?

In the upcoming year, I will be part of a new health care initiative for the local homeless population in my home community. I’m also looking forward to pursuing some of the opportunities which were postponed due to COVID-19. One example of that is the generous Kendrick Memorial Fund for outdoor experiences through W&L. I am also currently applying to medical schools! I hope to become a doctor and pursue academic medicine alongside clinical practice.

More About Alankrit

What’s your favorite shop or restaurant in Lexington and what do you get there?
The pet shop, and I get a lot of free serotonin.

What film do you recommend to everyone?
“Lord of the Rings”

Favorite W&L event?
Diwali!

Favorite place you’ve ever been?
A shallow sandbar called Annie’s beach in the Florida Keys. The water was so reflective there, I could walk through the reflection of a cloud and feel like I would fall off. Oh, and Universal Studios is a close second because they have dinosaurs!

What’s something about you that not many people know?
I really like acting, and I finally managed to be a part of a W&L Theater Department production this past year!