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Meet Our Students: Prashasti Bhatnagar

August 9, 2017
Hometown: New Delhi, India

Major: Sociology BS with Honors and a subplan in Health Care & Careers
Minor: Public Health; Neuroscience; & Social Justice

Why did you choose to major in sociology? Was there a specific course, specific faculty member, soc research experience, study abroad, or other experience that helped you decide Soc was the major for you?

The cold morning of November 3rd, 1998 serves as a constant impetus for me to be actively involved in health equity and activism. My uncle lost his battle with Muscular Dystrophy on this day due to the inaccessible US healthcare system that didn’t allow for heart transplants for non-citizens. His story continues to inspire and guide my experiences as an international undergraduate student from New Delhi, India, in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). A rising senior in the honors program pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with minors in Neuroscience, Public Health and Social Justice, I have ambitious dreams of pursuing a JD/MPH and making healthcare a human right.

My first introduction to the sociology department was through an honors class in Introduction to Sociology (SOC 1011V) with Professor Ann Meier. The small group discussion style on various public health and sociological issues facilitated by Professor Meier allowed me to develop a systems-lens and explore a career law and public health.

Do you have any study abroad, internship, and/or research experience with a soc faculty member, and if so, how has that experience shaped your future career goals as well as your understanding/applying of sociological concepts/what you’ve learned?

My educational and advocacy experiences have consistently informed my research interests: navigating the intertwined relationship of law and public health by exploring the politics involved in genocides, and assessing interventions that redress inequalities in education, health, transportation, employment, and safety. All my educational aspirations have provided me with opportunities to work with renowned faculty such as Regents Professor Chris Uggen and Professor Joachim Savelsberg on projects to evaluate the effects of programs designed to close opportunity gaps and promote healthy transitions among low-income youth in Minnesota, and assess the relationship between bearing witnesses and providing humanitarian aid in the Armenian genocide respectively.

How does a major in sociology help you reach your post graduation goals?

My educational experiences have not only equipped me with strong research, interpersonal and analytical skills, but also allowed me to learn and work under pressure in culturally diverse environments. Through intellectually stimulating and graduate-level coursework in sociology, I have been able to explore various emotionally and politically charged issues such as immigration, mass incarceration and health injustices from a systemic and historic lens, and work towards challenging structural violence perpetuated institutionally. My comprehensive and encompassing liberal education in sociology, neuroscience, social justice and public health has allowed me to study the intersection of our identities, such as race, class, gender and national origin, and delve into wide-ranging issues in access to equitable and affordable health services. A social justice focus has helped me in pursuing the intersection of law and public health through service-learning and engaging projects. Moreover, the neuroscience minor provides a biological basis for studying inequities prevalent in our mental health system, while the public health coursework has helped me realize what support should look like for communities through a socio-ecological model - individual, interpersonal, organizational, community and societal levels. All in all, my educational experiences have equipped me with the necessary skills to not only think like a leader, but also provided me with the agency to work towards creating a healthcare system that provides stigma-free and structurally competent health services to vulnerable and at-risk populations. I plan to build on my educational experiences by pursuing a JD/MPH and making healthcare an affordable and accessible human right.

Multiple prestigious scholarships and honors will continue to support me in giving a voice to my dreams: to build hope and tangible strategies to empower minority communities and make healthcare an affordable and accessible human right for all.

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in declaring a sociology major?

The sociology department is huge and thus can be complex and overwhelming to navigate, I would encourage prospective majors to not be intimidated by the numerous options presented in front you; instead, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors and advisors to design your own plan - a plan wherein you can choose the best courses to help fulfill your goals and aspirations!

Have you worked part-time/full time while in school, and if so, how has balancing work and school impacted your path to degree completion (enriched your program of study, delayed time to degree completion, etc.)?

My comprehensive education has allowed for several diverse leadership positions, all of which have further prepared me to think outside of the box and embrace challenges positively. My internships with Office for US Senator Franken and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota have provided me with the agency to bring about change through leading initiatives for healthcare reform and engagement for LGBTQ+ communities. As an intern at Office for US Senator Franken, I proficiently handled casework in-take from the constituents of Minnesota, assisting with issues ranging from health insurance, housing, immigration, both through calls at the office and through outreach events at non-profit organizations. I also led a project on the feasibility and importance of a single payer healthcare system by comparing international health systems, which will be used by Senator Franken’s staff team for future presentations.

My interest in addressing mental health disparities propelled me to lead a project focused on informing healthcare professionals in all counties in Minnesota about virtual support groups for individuals suffering from mental illnesses. As an outcome of this project, NAMI Minnesota now offers about four virtual support groups for individuals across all counties. As a Policy Research Intern, I also designed and researched fact sheets for best practices to support and engage the LGBTQ+ communities, which will further inform structurally competent programs/services for the vulnerable communities.

As an undergraduate leader, I have not only enjoyed and celebrated the diverse people I have met, but have also had the opportunity to fill up a chest full of relationships, experiences, and memories. My experiences as a Community Advisor in different Living Learning Communities, coupled with my experience as a Lead Peer Advisor at Center for Community-Engaged Learning (CCEL), have allowed me to serve as a resource for students from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. From having one-on-one conversations focused on personal and professional struggles in life to advising sessions based on service-learning, diversity, power and privilege, I have been able to use my leadership positions to create safe and brave spaces on campus. My project, “The Racial Equity Discussion Partners Program” at CCEL is a manifestation of my passion for equity and diversity; it strives to foster a learning and inclusive environment to facilitate conversations around social justice, racial equity, and organization as change-making agents.

My experiences both on and off campus while in school have allowed me to develop my research and leadership skills, which will in turn help me in achieving my goals and aspirations. Furthermore, my educational and advocacy experiences and exposure as an international student both in CLA and in the communities of Minneapolis-St. Paul continue to inspire me to be self-aware and use my knowledge as a powerful tool to challenge inequities deeply rooted in our systems.