Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Maya Shrikant considers herself a science nerd with a twist. With her work in science communication and anthropology, she’s able to share her knowledge of the subject with others. While working as a writer for Knowledge Enterprise, a story assignment changed the trajectory of her science research. Already earning a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from the School of Life Sciences, that story led her to pursue another degree, a Bachelor of Science in innovation in society from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society in the College of Global Futures.
“I was interviewing Associate Professor Lekelia Jenkins for a story on the underrepresentation of women in research,” said Shrikant. “Hearing the way she talked about diversity, education and reimagining systems of care were eye-opening. I looked more into the SFIS program and learned it was an interdisciplinary space with many alumni going into policy work. I didn't know what any of the classes were about, and that challenged me. It made me want to explore what was in it for me, and it seemed like it was an experience that really could be shaped to my individual interests.”
The program not only complemented her biological sciences degree, it also furthered her goals. She was recently granted the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Research Award to Hungary, where she will work on a project shaped by her experience studying innovation in society.
“I will travel between the University of Debrecen and local Roma settlements, which are the largest underserved minority population in the country, and investigate issues of diversity, access and inclusion in their medical care. Looking at how the development of health care technologies or education curriculums can overcome barriers to minority populations to achieve better health has become a passion of mine within health care. It’s a passion that did not exist before I was an innovation in society major.”
Shrikant wants to be a physician-researcher in the future, as well as a leader and advocate in health care policy. Her research within the College of Global Futures has focused on health care technologies, genetic patent policy and discrimination in medical systems. Health care and innovation was also the subject of her Barrett, The Honors College thesis. She worked with ASU Health Services to study their telehealth platform.
“I did a demographic analysis of student patient use to see which sociocultural factors are translating to increased use of the platform and which populations may be underserved. Telehealth is this technology that carries promises of bringing medicine to unreachable populations, but innovation often doesn't work like that. Not everyone has internet access, some social groups do not trust the technology, or some conditions cannot be addressed over digital platforms. We need to evaluate the technical and the social systems these technologies lie in to identify and work to combat barriers to access.”
In her few semesters with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Shrikant has made a significant impact. She is a member of the College of Global Futures Council and a part of the SFIS Student Learning Group, which focuses on bringing students within the college and school together through peer mentoring and curriculum reform proposals. She cares about the culture of the school and wants to make sure students are engaged and have a voice.
“I really came into my own when I became an innovation in society major because I found the places that I was truly passionate about. I want to give back to the school that helped me realize what I wanted to do and help other students find those same opportunities.”
Her leadership and influence also extend outside of ASU. She is a mentor and tutor for refugee children in Phoenix and works as a volunteer medical assistant in a Valley clinic. Shrikant is grateful to the school for guiding her ambitions and fueling her curiosity.
“It's hard not to be curious in this school and college. There are so many amazing projects going on that demand your engagement, and the people in charge of them want your expertise.”
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Answer: I'm not from Arizona, so I was not familiar with the intimate history that ASU has with Indigenous and Latinx communities before coming to college. Learning that history was eye-opening, and now it’s a tenet I bring forward in meetings to think about issues related to these communities. I also didn't understand how universities really functioned. After working for ASU in a myriad of capacities, I understand how the university isn't just a school. ASU is vital to the community. It’s an enterprise and patenting all these technologies. In this system, you’re more than just a student if you want to be.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Assistant Professor Emma Frow has been one of the most impactful people in my life. Her class was the place I had my "aha" moment. She helped me decipher that I don't just want to be a practitioner; I want to be an innovator. I want to be someone that is helping to reconstruct the health systems around us. She has also helped me through the career navigation process and reminded me that it's never too late to change your mind and get involved in what you're passionate about. Also, Assistant Professor Lauren Keeler. In her class, she shared that everyone has expertise in their own experience. To have a professor value our knowledge as students and put us at the forefront was impactful. I use that message all the time in meetings or interviews because I truly believe everyone has something to bring to the table and a unique insight into our world. And finally, Heidi Gracie, my boss in Knowledge Enterprise. She’ll just call me, and we’ll talk for hours. She’s constantly encouraging me to own the power I hold in being an interdisciplinary thinker with a unique skill set.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Don't pursue something because you feel like you have to; do things you want to do. If you're trying and working hard, you’re not failing. Assistant Professor Emma Frow has told me that if you're doing something you love, with excitement, passion and hard work, it's going to benefit you. I think that too many kids come to college with this laid out plan, thinking they have to follow this yellow brick road that guarantees success, but those plans change. Just pursue whatever you’re excited about, and you will make your own success.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I think our country and the world are lacking robust public health infrastructure. I would invest it all into public health research and infrastructure construction because the pill-pushing, industry-centered health business in place now is only worsening the disparities prevalent in society.
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