With a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in hand and medical school on the horizon, Shivani Thakur has returned to Stanislaus State.
Specifically, she raised $10,346 through donations from businesses to create a scholarship for students of color in the Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner program. It comes four years after, as a high school senior, she raised $10,000 to establish a College of Science scholarship and two years after younger brother Ashish, now a sophomore at Stanford University, raised $10,000 to establish the Ashish Thakur Science Foundation Scholarship.
“I read a lot of articles and research on the shortage of health care workers in the Central Valley,” she said. “I thought I could make the biggest impact by helping increase the number of health care workers in the Central Valley and the nurse practitioner program would be the best place to start. It’s a great program at Stan State, and I wanted to support it.
Thakur specifically made the scholarship for students of color because they were disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
“I truly believe it’s important for patients to see health care providers who look like them, speak the same language as them and understand their culture so they’re able to get the best health care possible and achieve, ultimately, the best quality of life.”
Shivani and Ashish grew up in Turlock and are the children of physicians who enrolled in other universities, but remain tied to Stan State after they participated in programs and research projects during their high school years.
“We couldn’t have done it without Stan State,” she said. “It’s such an integral part of our community and really shaped the people Ashish and I have become. We’re really grateful for the University and for having the mentors we do there.”
For Shivani, that means, particularly, Professor of Biological Sciences Mark Grobner.
She first met him as a junior high school student attending Stan State’s science preparatory academy. As a junior in Modesto High School’s International Baccalaureate program, Thakur joined Grobner’s new study on the effect of cigarette smoke exposure in blood vessel formation in chick embryos.
“It was my first exposure to developmental biology,” Thakur said. “I loved it so much. It was so incredible to see, in real time, the development of an embryo and learn so much from it. From that experience, I went on to major in human developmental and regenerative biology at Harvard.”
Thakur spent three years at Harvard working in the lab of Jason Buenrostro, and wrote a 60-page thesis for graduation with honors.
“He works on a type of blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and the project I worked with him on was to use a type of technique he’d developed called single-cell ATAC-sequencing,” she said. “My work explored cells in both healthy and diseased states to help us better understand how dysregulation of normal hematopoietic cells leads to the development of AML.”
Thakur, who wants to be a neonatal surgeon, hopes to continue clinical research.
“I enjoyed the wet lab research, but I’m more of a people person,” she said. “I empathize with people’s problems, learn from them, and learn with them.”
During her gap year as she is applying to medical school, she is working in two Turlock clinics to mitigate COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the Central Valley. Currently, she is collaborating with the Merced Department of Public Health and the Central California Alliance for Health.
She began with surveys to learn who was not getting the vaccine and why and discovered Hispanic and Portuguese populations have the lowest rates of vaccination in the Central Valley.
“I think the reason for that is a language barrier and a cultural barrier,” she said. “I wanted to work to improve that.”
She created a video of a Spanish-speaking patient sharing her story of the suffering she experienced with COVID, the effects on her and her family and her recommendation that others be vaccinated.
Thakur hopes it inspires those who watch it in clinic waiting rooms to get vaccinated and to encourage their family and friends as well. Six years of studying Spanish made her comfortable creating the video, and she’s working with a Portuguese-speaking patient to help facilitate a video in that language.
In the meantime, she’s begun analyzing post-surveys to determine the effectiveness of their work.
“We have very early preliminary data,” Thakur said. “We have seen that among people that are vaccinated, they will go speak to their own families, tell them it’s not scary, it’s important, it’s FDA approved, it’s readily available and it’s free.”
The work has led Thakur to submit two abstracts for publication, and she’ll present her findings to the American College of Surgeons and to the Academic Surgical Congress.
“My research will highlight how medical clinics can implement the techniques in their own clinics,” Thakur said.
It’s a typically selfless response, which comes naturally to her.
Giving back seems a part of her nature, and Stan State is among those the richer for it.