May grad Yash Raka’s roles included mental health advocate, student government senator, researcher and volunteer


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Yash Raka, who is graduating from Arizona State University in May, is most proud of his advocacy for free mental health counseling for students at his alma mater.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Raka searched for counseling services, only to be discouraged by the cost of each appointment. As an Undergraduate Student Government senator throughout his freshman and sophomore years, he advocated for keeping counseling services free for all ASU students.

Photo of Yash Raka
Yash Raka is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical informatics from the College of Health Solutions, a minor in economics from the W.P. Carey School of Business and honors from Barrett, The Honors College. Photo courtesy of Yash Raka

He also was a health project fellow at the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, where he founded the Mental Health Equity Symposium, an event focusing on mental health equity and initiatives to make mental health care more accessible in underrepresented communities.

“I’ve personally experienced the obstacles associated with seeking mental care in Arizona, and I feel proud and satisfied to have played a role in lowering some of those accompanying pressures for others like me,” said Raka, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical informatics from the College of Health Solutions, a minor in economics from the W.P. Carey School of Business and honors from Barrett, The Honors College. He is a Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate for Leadership.  

He received scholarships from the National Honors Society, the National Merit Foundation Scholarship and the National American Scholarship from ASU.

Working on student mental health initiatives wasn’t all that occupied Raka’s time as an undergraduate.

He was a College of Health Solutions ambassador, representing students in monthly meetings with the dean and coordinating biweekly presentations at Arizona high schools to inform students about the benefits of pursuing a university education.

He was an ASU Prison Biology Education Program volunteer instructor working with students studying introductory biology at the Eyman-Florence prison complex. As a group facilitator at the New Song Center for Grieving Children, he assisted support groups for 8- to 10-year-old children who lost loved ones.

He was a research fellow in the School of Life Sciences, conducting research on Zika-carrying mosquitos, analyzing the impact of fungicide on honeybees, and modeling honeybee heat stress to predict the effects of global warming on beehives.

He worked in the ASU Luminosity Lab, implementing moonshot solutions and mapping hospital inequity distribution using geographic information systems. He was a clinical research intern at the Washington University in St. Louis' School of Medicine in the summer of 2022.

He co-authored two research articles, one on oncology patients and another on the impact of fungicide exposure on honeybees. He won first place in the Mayo Clinic Health Futures + CHS Clinical Solutions Competition in April 2023 and honorable mention in the National Academy of Medicine STI Hackathon last October.

As his undergraduate career at ASU ends, Raka took time to reflect on his experiences.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: In high school, I spent a good amount of time shadowing physicians. And while roughly 15% of this time was spent hearing from patients and learning about a career in health care, I spent the remaining 85% standing around while the provider worked on (and understandably, complained about) their computer. Seeing this, alongside the fact that I come from a background of software engineers, piqued my interest in biomedical informatics. This interest was solidified when I worked with electronic health records myself as an emergency scribe, seeing firsthand the potential for improvement in EHR workflows.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Something that almost immediately changed my perspective at ASU was the sheer amount of people shuffling in between classes. I come from a high school with a graduating class of about 55 students, so seeing what felt like a thousand different students walking to their classes in my eyeline took me aback at first. I remember feeling insignificant in a sea of that many people initially — but that feeling was quickly overshadowed by my excitement to meet as many people as I could. Since then, I’ve spoken to people with so many different backgrounds, ages and experiences, with each conversation altering my perspective in its own unique way.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’ve always joked around that I’ve been attending ASU since I was 12, since I spent almost every summer here at some program or another. From the Cesar Chavez Leadership Institute to Barrett Summer Scholars to SCENE, I’ve been interacting with ASU students for a long time. And even back then — as a middle and high schooler — I understood just how special the students here are. I participated in programs across completely different fields (computer science, health care, nonprofit management, etc.), but I consistently saw the passion my mentors and student moderators held for their craft. And I wanted to come to ASU to further develop my own passion in that regard. Also, given that I’ve spent so long familiarizing myself with Arizona, both professionally and personally, I wanted to spend these four years learning about, developing within and contributing to the state that’s given me so much throughout my life.

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

A: I learned early on that you should avoid prematurely limiting yourself to studying one topic in college — no matter how sold you are on your future career. Even though I’ve been interested in medicine for quite a while, I spent my time in college developing other interests as well: researching honeybees, participating in hackathons and volunteering in prisons. And even though these experiences might seem completely unrelated to my career goals, they have invaluably shaped the way I think, interact with others and, ultimately, perceive my future career.

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

A: I’ve always loved studying on the third-floor outdoor seating area of the Student Services building. It’s usually completely empty and super serene out there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to spend my next year working a job in health AI, with plans to go to medical school the following year. My hope is to then develop a career for myself as a practicing physician, while also following through on my desire to manage a nonprofit addressing mental health issues.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I’ve noticed that most people have an urge to help others — they just often lack the support, funding and time to make it happen. With $40 million, I would develop a philanthropic organization to subsidize costs and stipends for counselors who are willing to provide their services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Irrespective of whether they are interested in helping the homeless, it would be immensely difficult for counselors to provide billable hours free of service to others. However, an organization openly incentivizing this work can allow them to provide their services in this underrepresented population more comfortably. This would work to treat some of the 76.2% of homeless individuals who currently report a mental health condition to the help they need, while concurrently increasing the likelihood that they achieve the proper mental foundation to exit their situation. Hopefully, the positive results from this initial $40 million investment would speak for themselves, prompting others to follow suit and grant funding to this pursuit.

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