Akshayaa Chittibabu ’19 (CLAS)
Akshayaa Chittibabu is, among other things, a STEM Scholar in UConn’s Honors Program, a 2016 Holster Scholar, a 2017 Newman Fellow, a UN Foundation Global Fellow, and a 2018 Truman Scholar. After she received the Truman, a highly selective national award that honors our next generation of public service leaders, Provost Craig Kennedy said, “She represents everything we at the University of Connecticut challenge our students to be.”
With a dual major in biological sciences and sociology, Chittibabu is planning to pursue both MD and public policy graduate degrees. But if things don’t work out for her on the science end of the scale, she could always take her bona fide artistic skills and become a poet or a painter. Better still, she could try being a stand-up comic because this high achieving scholar has a quick wit and a keen sense of timing when it comes to delivering a punchline. Yes — she is funny, too.
Photos provided by Akshayaa Chittibabu
You grew up in Westford, Massachusetts, and graduated from the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science. Why UConn?
I initially wanted to study physiology and neurobiology, and UConn is one of the few colleges with that undergraduate major. Once I came for a visit, I fell in love with the campus. Everyone I met was warm and enthusiastic, and it just felt right to be here. Plus, I look great in navy blue!
You are interested in many things. What drew you to the sciences?
My mom is a computer science engineer and my dad specializes in materials science and nanotechnology. I was full of questions when I was a kid: Why are leaves green? Why is the sky blue? They always answered me in a matter-of-fact, but scientifically correct, way. I am grateful that they always encouraged my questions and they explained things in a way that made science non-intimidating.
Have you a favorite class or teacher?
I have so many. But a class that literally changed my life was Sociology of Health with [assistant professor] Kathryn Ratcliff. In that class, I realized that if I wanted to create change in health care, I would have to look upstream, not just at the clinical level.
How did you put that realization into action?
With Professor Ratcliff’s encouragement, I helped organize the first Global Health Symposium in Connecticut. It was held here on campus on March 24, 2018, with the theme “Think Global, Act Local.” We had speakers presenting global health research, and others who explained local engagement opportunities for students. Our goal was to bring the global health conversation to UConn and to expose
our peers to ways they can get involved and become leaders in the field. I think
we did that.
How many languages do you speak, and what’s the story behind them?
I speak five. Because of my parents, I speak Tamil and Telugu. I learned Tamil as a child — it is an Indian language and one of the official languages of Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Singapore. Telugu is an Indian language that I grew up speaking natively. I also speak Korean because in eighth grade I had a Korean-American science teacher, and I fell in love with the language and culture of South Korea. I taught myself the alphabet and went from there. Finally, I learned Spanish at UConn and, of course, I speak English — that’s important!
Favorite restaurant in Storrs?
Does Sgt. Pepperoni count? And I love the spiced chai latte at Dog Lane Café.
Interests when you are not studying?
I trained in watercolor painting for several years, so painting is something I love doing. In my first two years at UConn, I was also involved with the spoken word slam poetry space. That was a great community where I met a lot of people and grew as a poet. I also love all kinds of music. I really stretch my student Spotify subscription.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
Well, maybe people do know this, but I’m pretty outspoken. I may even come across as brazen. As soon as a thought pops into my head, I say it. The thing is, I get all my energy from other people, and that’s what drives me. I live my life with no expectations, and I’m almost always pleasantly surprised and rarely disappointed by the way things turn out.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m planning on medical school, but first I’m going to take a gap year. Through the Truman Scholarship, I will be able to spend eight weeks in Washington, D.C., next summer as an intern working in a government agency or think tank. After that, I hope to work for nine more months as a Truman-Albright Fellow working on public service problems on a full-time basis, before heading to graduate school. Eventually my goal is to help build equitable and accessible local and federal health programs. I’d like to take my clinical experiences as a physician to inform public health policymaking and program building.
When do you sleep?
I love my sleep and I’m a great desk napper. You can find me in Babbidge [Library] taking desk naps any time during the semester. —Sheila Foran ’83 (BGS), ’96 ph.D.
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