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I-Health student Anjali Patel stands on the University of Illinois campus.
I-Health student Anjali Patel received a 2023 Summer Undergraduate Psychology Experience in Research fellowship

Student Spotlight: Anjali Patel forging her path


Like the millions of other high school seniors who applied for college during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anjali Patel made her choice of campus sight unseen.

Hailing from Memphis, Tenn., she hadn’t set foot near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign when she was accepted to the College of Applied Health Sciences in spring 2020.

“I guess I got here by luck,” said Patel, now a rising senior in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences. “I didn’t have a particular reason other than I just loved what this major was.”

Patel often credits good fortune for guiding her college experience, from deciding to go to Illinois to landing in the research lab of Kinesiology and Community Health Associate Professor Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo.

But chance alone can’t explain the continued academic rise of this first-generation AHS student, who’s heading for a prestigious research opportunity this summer.

As she progresses toward her goal of medical school, Patel is satisfied with her choice of major.

“You do learn the science as part of your prerequisites for whatever path you want to follow,” she said. “But then also you get to learn about health disparities and organizations of health care—there's just so much more that you learn with this major that makes it different from all the others.”

Patel’s next stop is a 2023 Summer Undergraduate Psychology Experience in Research fellowship. Patel and a cohort of 24 other American and Canadian undergrads from underrepresented backgrounds were selected from a competitive field of applicants to spend nine weeks in laboratory settings for psychological science.

Patel will continue a critical study documenting the experiences of women living with postpartum pain and depression, work she began in Lara-Cinisomo’s Laboratory for Emotion and Stress Assessment.

The I-Health major found the lab in the second semester of her freshman year. “She hit the ground running,” Lara-Cinisomo said, adding that Patel helped grad students in the lab prepare materials for new studies.

“It was evident that Anjali was eager to learn more about research,” Lara-Cinisomo said.

Patel has already conducted participant interviews with intense research studies, such as a broad look at how COVID-19 affected Latina and Mexican American mothers in the U.S. With the subjects at hand, many interviews become emotionally difficult.

“There’s a learning curve in trying to understand how to respond to someone who’s sensitive to what they’re talking about while trying to complete your job,” Patel said.

But her role is also an exercise in empathy, discussing issues such as pregnancy and medical complications in an academic setting.

“It was just very eye-opening to listen to all those experiences, and even now with my current interviews, it’s interesting to learn so much about mothers' experiences,” she said.

Lara-Cinisomo will continue to be Patel’s mentor through the summer fellowship.

“She takes every role seriously and is diligent,” Lara-Cinisomo said. “The summer research experience will build on Anjali's passion for research. I am confident Anjali will excel.”

In addition to her studies on the pre-med track, Patel will serve as president of the student organization Mentors in Medicine next year, which pairs upperclassmen and underclassmen interested in healthcare careers.

“As a freshman, I didn't know what I needed to do. Now, I feel like as a junior I have so much to tell people to help them,” Patel said.

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