Taking Cue From Mentors, Pre-Med Lends a Hand in India

By schwartzsa | October 4, 2011

Photography JORDAN RICHARDS ’15

Hardworking and goal-oriented, Sneha Thomas ’13 knows that it often takes more than individual effort to arrive at a destination. Arcadia’s supportive faculty and programs have helped the Biology major begin fulfilling her ambitions, and that cooperative spirit is catching. So even though she is always on the move—conducting research, leading student organizations and completing internships—Thomas is never too busy to stop, listen and encourage a fellow student.

Translating a Passion

Thomas arrived on campus in 2009, admitted through the Gateway to Success program. Just three years earlier, she immigrated to the United States from Kerala, India, with her family. Since then, she has had a desire to give back to her country of origin.

With the encouragement and support of several mentors at Arcadia University, she was able to return to India this summer, logging hundreds of internship hours at SEWA Rural Hospital in Gujarat, where she shadowed health-care practitioners. The experience revealed latent talents and inspired her to change the focus of her Biology degree.

“I left [campus] as a Biology major and returned as Biology major with a Pre-Med concentration,” she says. “My internship gave me this incredible opportunity to witness and experience what it means to work in a hospital setting. It made me realize that not being a trained physician would limit my ability to help since the physician assistant profession has not yet reached the developing countries.”

“It’s the whole experience,” Thomas says of completing an internship abroad. “I was able to spend as much time as I wanted in the hospital with various doctors in the outpatient department, the Operation Theater, general and gynecology wards, and at the ultrasound facilities. I even witnessed a lot of diseases that we would not see here because of the vaccinations that we have available.”

Thomas was immersed in a different culture while experiencing the busy eight- to 12-hour days of a hospital physician. “They spoke Gujarati and Hindi—neither of which I could speak. I didn’t know anyone there.” So Dr. Foram Bhukhanwala, Assistant Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, helped Thomas make connections in the country.

Bhukhanwala put Thomas in touch with a cousin who was familiar with the area and could help her to acclimate to her surroundings and bridge the language barrier. Once settled, Thomas used the global language—hand gestures and expressions—and a couple of phrases she had learned to communicate with locals. “I didn’t know I had that talent in me until I went and used it,” she says.

When she returned from India, Thomas hit the ground running with her newly declared Pre-Med focus by completing an internship with St. Mary’s Medical Center in Langhorne, Pa. She was able to log in more than 150 hours of shadowing experience, spread evenly throughout all units.

Building More Than a Résumé

When she’s not pursing international experiences or completing internships, Thomas participates in a number of on-campus activities, including the Undergraduate Academic Programs Committee and the Student Government Organization. She serves as an advanced tutor for the Learning Resource Network and has been a peer mentor for Gateway to Success and the first-year seminar course Asian Culture: Moving Beyond Us and Them.

Thomas is known by both peers and professors as a model of excellence and achievement, but her ambitions aren’t limited to activities that she can cite on her résumé. She is dedicated to enriching the quality of life of everyone she meets.

Jamie Miller, Academic Adviser and Gateway Program Coordinator, first met Thomas during her first few weeks on campus and notes her voracious appetite for knowledge and genuinely caring heart.

“People mean a lot to Sneha, and she highly values relationships, as well as the act of helping,” says Miller. “She continually reaches out to others and touches others’ lives in sometimes subtle but very significant ways.”

Miller notes a particular case when Thomas happened upon a first-year student who was feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Though she was probably on her way to do research, study or simply take time for herself, Thomas spent more than an hour to listen and talk with him. “Just taking the time to listen made a significant impact on this student’s mood, perspective, and overall experience at Arcadia. And she does this despite a schedule packed with classes and work study.”

Collaborating With Faculty

In August 2011, Thomas finished up her second consecutive summer in the biology lab examining oviposition preferences in the Asian tiger mosquito under the supervision of Dr. Christopher A. Binckley, Associate Professor of Biology.

She presented her study “The avoidance of biopesticides by reproducing Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus)” at the 2010 Sigma Xi Symposium at St. Joseph’s University and currently is editing the paper for publication. Her research required her to create 34 experimental breeding sites containing three different biopesticides: VectoBac ® containing larvicidal Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), VectoLex® containing larvicidal Bacillus sphaericus (BS), a mixture of BTI and BS (BTIBS), and controls lacking biopesticide.

A total of 6,346 Aedes albopictus eggs were collected and significantly more eggs were laid in controls, which suggests that Asian tiger mosquitoes are developing a resistance to multiple biopesticides through adult behavioral avoidance, not increased larval survivorship.

Content with her results, she conducted the same experiment with another Aedes species during the summer of 2011 and investigated whether the age of BTI (how long they have been put in the water) has any effect on their oviposition behavior. Thomas currently is in the process of analyzing these results.

In the coming months, Thomas will continue to take on new challenges. During the upcoming winter break, she will travel to Jaipur, India, to complete a teaching internship with Sankalp Take a Pledge, an organization that takes international volunteers to supplement the shortage of teachers’ in Government Primary Schools in rural and remote areas. Thomas hopes to learn as much from the students as they will from her.