Service to others — a requirement for all University Scholars — is at the heart of Anika Porwal’s ’23 philosophy as a student, and has also shaped her career path in medicine.
Porwal was a student in Jeremy Marchese’s SCH 101 Fall 2019 class, the introduction to Stony Brook course all University Scholars are required to take as freshmen. Her contributions to the class discussions were described by Marchese as “eloquent, on-point, and developed in a way that is rarely seen in a freshman.”
Marchese was convinced that Porwal should apply to the Fellows Program for University Scholars, a highly selective training course in student mentoring and positive role-modeling. Fellows act as teaching assistants and mentors to new freshmen during their first semester.
“Anika took this role very seriously, making time to get to know each of her students and get them off on the right foot not only as college students, but specifically as Stony Brook students, because incoming freshmen very often underestimate the rigors of the coursework offered here,” Marchese recalled.
The breadth of research being conducted at Stony Brook University and its prestigious University Scholars program were what drew Porwal to Long Island from Arizona in the first place.
“Throughout my childhood, I was taught to keep an open mind when it came to trying new things,” said the dual biology/Spanish major. “That’s what led me to discovering my interest in research and service during high school.”
“It was keeping an open mind that allowed me to realize my genuine interest in the Spanish language and culture, and led me to add a Spanish major upon arriving at Stony Brook,” she said. As current president of the Spanish Language Club, she and the club’s executive board strive to host events for the Stony Brook community, regardless of their Spanish fluency, to become more engaged in the language and culture.
Learning Spanish further solidified her already rich cultural heritage of learning Hindi from her parents and family. Porwal said growing up bilingual helped her more easily learn Spanish and played a role in her interest in learning different languages.
In addition to the Spanish Club, Porwal is actively engaged in “The End of the Stigma Club,” a new club that is working toward destigmatizing menstruation.
“As the co-research chair, my responsibility is to work on the research components of the videos we make surrounding the stigma and the lack of menstrual hygiene awareness in different regions of the world,” she said. “As part of my role, I also contact organizations working towards the same mission in regards to potential partnerships and collaboration.”
Porwal also volunteers with the nonprofit organization Paper Airplanes, which helps refugees in North Africa and the Middle East by providing higher education, developing professional skills and English fluency. As part of the English program specifically, she tutors a Syrian refugee she is paired with for an entire semester.
Volunteering as a Spanish interpreter for SB HOME, a student-run free medical clinic whose patients are primarily composed of Spanish speakers, Porwal has served as the middleman between physicians and medical students and patients for the past year-and-a-half. “People are best able to convey their health, symptoms, thoughts, health history, and anything about themselves in their native language,” said Porwal. “As an aspiring healthcare professional, I find being fluent in Spanish crucial with the nation’s growing Spanish speaking population and in order to provide proper care as well as equal access to healthcare.”
This blending of her interests led her to new opportunities, such as her position as lead content contributor for her current internship for a startup company called Easylabs. “Curating one blood test analysis at a time, the company’s mission to provide preventive care and patient empowerment truly captivated me,” Porwal said. “Through volunteering at SB HOME and at my county hospital in high school dedicated to caring for underserved populations, I saw the need for greater preventive care due to the lack of it that many patients had previously faced, and hence the potential Easylabs holds in this area.”
Beyond these on- and off-campus activities that have helped Porwal grow as a person and give back to the community, she is focused on her goal of becoming a physician-scientist. As much as she enjoys the in-person contact nature of medicine, she realizes and appreciates the role of scientific research.
While in high school, Porwal began researching in a behavioral neuroscience lab at Arizona State University, where she was exposed to Alzheimer’s disease studies, and the disciplines of neuroscience and endocrinology. Arriving at Stony Brook, she continued to follow her passion for medical research.
“As a research assistant in a neurobiology lab at the Renaissance School of Medicine, I’ve been able to broaden my exposure to the several fields within neuroscience while learning about parallels to other disciplines outside of neuroscience as well,” she said. Her research into stroke and potential molecular therapeutics has furthered her love for the interdisciplinary nature of the biological sciences.
“I know that my passion lies in the healthcare field, and even more so now specifically in being a physician-scientist,” Porwal said. “My desire to practice translational medicine, translating findings from the research bench to the patient’s bedside, has fueled my interest in pursuing an MD-PhD and my aspirations to be at the forefront of providing precision and translational medicine.”
— Glenn Jochum