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Class of 2023: Antra Patel A Heart to Serve in the Community and the Knowledge to Become a Physician

By Tiffany Whitfield

Antra Patel will have the unique opportunity to speak May 6, 2023, at Old Dominion University's commencement. Patel is no stranger to seizing opportunities whether doing research, serving on ODU's Board of Visitors (BOV), or volunteering in multiple student organizations and in the community. Patel has made strides to set the stage for a career in the medical field while always having the compassion to help those in her community.

"During commencement I will provide brief remarks by giving a 'thank you' and an overview of my time here at ODU," said Patel. "I will recall a few moments to cherish and end by thanking the faculty, students, professors, mentors and the leaders of the university."

"We do not traditionally have student speakers at graduation; however due to my engagement and involvement within the community and my close-knit professional relationships and my time on the (ODU) board, I was granted this honor," said Patel.

Patel has served as a student representative on ODU's BOV for one year as a non-voting member. Her term lasted from May 6, 2022, to May 6, 2023. She was first made aware of the board during her sophomore year when she founded a student organization called Health Occupations for Students of America. During that process, she connected with faculty who led her to ODU's former VP for Student Engagement, Don Stansberry. He ultimately encouraged her to apply to the BOV. After lasting three intensive rounds of interviews, Patel was voted onto the board.

While on the BOV, one of her initiatives focused on addressing food insecurity on-campus at the Monarch Pantry and in the community through Southeastern FoodBank of Hampton Roads. Also, some of her priorities and presentations included increasing student engagement and dispersing campus opportunities.

Not only has Patel remained steadfast in her commitment to helping those in the community but also to her education and on-campus involvement. Because of her upbringing and drive to excel, Patel continues to shatter the glass ceiling for women in STEM.

Patel was born in Ahmedabad, India and moved to the United States when she was nine months old. After arriving in America, her family lived in Connecticut for a few years before settling down in Hampton Roads.

She attended Chesapeake Public Schools. "For high school I was one of the 60 students who got accepted into the Science and Medicine Academy at Deep Creek High School," said Patel. Competition for this STEM academy is tough, but Patel relied on self-determination and a loved one's personal experience and began her journey into the medical field.

Both of her parents have been her role models. Patel's mother received a degree in microbiology, and her father earned a master's degree in business administration. Education was paramount in her household. But it was the frequent visits to the hospital to check on a loved one that set Patel on the path to want to study medicine.

After graduating from high school, Patel connected well with ODU. She chose to major in Biomedical Sciences with a pre-health concentration and a minor in Chemistry. "I was always fascinated in my science courses from an early age and being able to experience it on a deeper level at the science and medicine academy really enabled me to pursue an interest in medicine," said Patel. "Therefore, to fully immerse myself in the medical path I allowed myself to choose biomedical sciences as my major, giving me a greater depth of knowledge to appreciate."

That pathway to knowledge expanded during her time on campus. "I was always very intrigued by research and what it entails, however I was not sure where to begin," said Patel. But the summer after her freshman year, she read out to an ODU faculty member and hit the ground running.

Patel got involved in research in ODU Associate Professor Venkat Maruthamuthu's cellular mechanobiology lab in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, department of mechanical & aerospace engineering. "Dr. Venkat has been an inspiration, motivating me to excel in my passion for science and he was always there as a strong mentor to help his researchers succeed and I was able to ask questions at any time and learned so much throughout my journey in the lab," said Patel. One area of Maruthamuthu's research involves on the shear flow of cells.

"Antra spearheaded a project using microfluidics and enzymatic digestion to develop a method to quantify how sticky cells are," said Associate Professor Maruthamuthu. "Antra is a great undergraduate researcher because she is dedicated and always eager to learn. More importantly, she is a great person to have in the lab because she is helpful to and collegial with everyone.

Through the mechanobiology lab, Patel was able to partake in conducting research for nearly three years at ODU. "I was able to do an oral presentation at the Perry Honors college undergraduate research symposium and present at the national level at the Biomedical Engineering Society in San Antonio, Texas.

Also, she has done computational chemistry research where she calculated the affinities of different peptides in Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Jennifer Poutsma's lab.

"ODU has offered me amazing research and mentorship programs," said Patel.

Being challenged academically and well-supported has resonated well with her. "I always felt that I had someone to guide me whenever I felt in question," said Patel.

Her drive to commit to her education and those in the community propels her forward. "I feel empowered, and I want to be an advocate for the future voice of women."

She has been very active on campus at ODU and part of the following clubs and organizations:

President and founder of Health Occupations for Students of America

Vice-President second, Liason third, Civic 4th club

Active liaison between the Monarch Pantry and the Southeastern food bank of Hampton Roads

Peer mentor

Campus ambassador

Vice-President for public relations of the Global Brigades club

Active member of Pre-health club

Associate Chair Pre-Health Advisory Committee and Director of Advising in the College of Sciences said, "Antra Patel is a shining example of what it means to be a leader. With her heart for service and her commitment to her education, she has made a significant impact on the Old Dominion University community. Her dedication to the medical field and her passion for helping others are truly inspiring. Antra is a trailblazer for women in STEM, and I have no doubt that she will continue to make a positive impact on the world as she pursues her career as a physician."

As Patel approaches the end of her journey at ODU, she reflects on her choice of being a Monarch. "I chose ODU because I was able to see the connection that ODU had with the community and that unique connection to community engagement really provides the students with a holistic approach to their academic life," said Patel. "Students are not only able to get a great education but are also able to explore other areas of mentorship, leadership, and civic engagement."

Upon graduation, she plans to apply to medical school and has lined up a fulltime position at a dermatology clinic. Patel has plans on training to become a dermatology technician to perform various procedures involving skin lesions. "I will also continue to contribute to research alongside pursue traveling opportunities allowing me to provide service in underrepresented countries allowing me to a gain a deeper appreciation for community service."

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