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ASU graduate inspired by father’s cancer diagnosis to pursue medicine

ASU graduating student portrait Navneet Kumar

Navneet Kumar. Photograph courtesy of Navneet Kumar.

April 16, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Navneet Kumar was in middle school when her father was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. It sparked a desire to learn everything she could about health sciences.

That passion carried into a college career at Arizona State University, where Kumar will be graduating in May with a Bachelor of Arts in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a Bachelor of Science in biomedical sciences from the School of Life Sciences. A Barrett, The Honors College student, she also earned a minor in computational life sciences.

When Kumar started at ASU, she intended to pursue solely biomedicine. But after taking a class called Poverty and Global Health as an elective, she found the subject fascinating and wanted to learn more. She added global health as a major because it provided a different way of viewing health — beyond diagnosis and treatment. 

She’s seen the factors that make up a person’s health firsthand. When her father received his diagnosis, Kumar’s family didn’t have medical insurance. They had lost both a house and a business in the economic crash of 2008.

Kumar said the staff at Mayo Clinic were extraordinarily helpful and offered assistance and guidance in additional areas of health.

Seeing the staff in action also inspired Kumar to get involved with the Mayo Clinic-Barrett Honors College Premedical Scholars Program. As part of the program, Kumar shadows hospital staff, attends special lectures and will receive help applying to medical school.

Kumar’s father is doing better now. After graduation, she will continue studying for medical exams, with plans to attend medical school and continue epidemiologic and scientific research. Someday, she hopes to be an oncologist. 

Kumar shared more about her academic experience at ASU.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: When I was first deciding what university I wanted to attend, a huge factor in my decision was finances. I was afraid of needing to rely heavily on loans to pay for my college education.

I applied to universities within Arizona to stay close to home so I would not have to worry about being too far away and paying for housing. When I received an acceptance letter from ASU, I was also notified that I was chosen to be an Obama Scholar, a scholarship program based on need and academic record. This scholarship helps to pay the direct cost of attendance for school, which includes tuition, college fees, housing and books. I was so grateful that I would not have to burden my family with loans.

What solidified my decision to attend Arizona State University was its immense variety of opportunities for students. For example, ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College has a direct association with Mayo Clinic, a hospital with staff that I look up to. It has been a goal of mine to be part of their Premedical Scholars Program, something that fortunately, I was able to attain this year.

Q: Did you experience a challenge or overcome an obstacle in pursuing your course of study?

A: Having to go home during my sophomore year was necessary for me to help my mom while my father was being seen for his recurring cancer. This also took a toll on how I performed academically. Furthermore, I was putting pressure on myself, forcing myself to overachieve in research and take as many science classes as possible to try to look like a competitive applicant for medical school. Apart from the overwhelming stress, I was beginning to dread and doubt my choices.

However, it was this obstacle that allowed me to set my priorities straight and learn to appreciate what I have done so far. There is always a moment in time that we will feel like we have not done enough, or just feel unsatisfied. I had to learn to overlook this, tell myself that I have done more than enough, and to let go of the aspect of “competing” against others and instead strive to improve myself.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My friends and I would study long nights together and order Domino’s at Noble Library to prepare for our organic chemistry exams. It was also just a great place to find other classmates and form larger study groups. I also have special memories of Noble because that was one of the places where I realized that I did not have to go through my hardships alone. I knew I had friends I could count on that were going on a similar journey as I was.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Learn to have an open mind, and that making changes is perfectly normal. I always thought I would begin my college journey with life sciences and end with that being my sole degree. But as I continued taking elective classes outside my major, I ended up falling in love with learning about health around the world and decided to add another major in global health. With time, I was able to try new things and gain new interests. You are not required to have your life figured out right away.

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