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Pooja Shah
Pooja Shah

Pooja Shah loves to have a positive impact on others, and ETSU’s Student Government Association is one avenue by which she may do just that.

Although the Knoxville native was never involved in student government in middle or high school, she knew she wanted to take part in it on the collegiate level.  “It just seemed like a great way to change and impact ETSU and the campus,” Shah said. 

She got drawn into it through meeting a number of SGA members when she attended Preview and learned more about the organization and how it works as a junior senator during her freshman year.  Later, she served as a senator, as well as attorney general, which gave her the experience she needed to be elected president of the SGA for 2016-17.

Shah says the priorities for SGA this year center on the issues of safety and education, as well as unity.  As a senator, she wrote legislation introducing Haven, an educational training program on preventing sexual harassment, for new ETSU students.  She hopes SGA will take that a step further by working to add an educational component on sexual harassment prevention to other parts of the freshman experience, including Preview, orientation and the introductory “ETSU 1020” course.  She also says SGA will look at expanding the existing Civility Week, which takes place each spring, to a semester-long observance.  “Instead of concentrating a lot of events into one week, this would spread it out over a semester so that more students can be involved, and it would show that unity isn’t just for one week – it’s for an entire year,” she said.

Earlier this month, Shah was elected vice president of the Tennessee Board of Regents Student Government President’s Council.  She will travel to Nashville three times to meet with this group of SGA officers from institutions across Tennessee.  The council looks at policies and legislation on the state level that affect higher education and takes a stance on them from the student perspective.

Shah also works to make a positive impact on others through her involvement with other student organizations.  She is a past president of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, in which members have given presentations on various countries’ health care systems and volunteered at medical clinics.  She shares her love and enthusiasm for ETSU as a longtime member of and current intern with the Preview and Orientation Leaders Organization, and encouraged her Alpha Delta Pi Sorority sisters in their academic endeavors as the chapter’s scholarship chair. 

In addition, Shah is working this year to establish a chapter on the ETSU campus of Nourish International, a non-profit organization she says is “geared toward helping different international communities, typically in underdeveloped third-world countries, with projects that benefit their people.”  She learned of this organization during a recent study abroad trip to Peru with Health Without Borders, in which she had the opportunity to interview families in small, rural communities about their beliefs in and use of medicine – both traditional and modern – and their beliefs regarding the origins of illness and the diseases they encounter most often.

This fits right in with her long-term goals.  The senior University Honors Scholar is majoring in health sciences with a concentration in microbiology and a minor in Spanish, and plans to go to medical school and pursue a dual degree program to earn both her doctor of medicine and master of public health degrees. 

“I came to college knowing I wanted to go into medicine,” Shah said.  “But going through college, I found myself being drawn more and more into global health and public health.  It’s a different side of medicine that a lot of physicians aren’t really involved in.

“I definitely want to use medicine to impact people who really need the most care, which, in my opinion, is the people in underdeveloped countries and communities here in America, because they not only lack the resources to preserve their health, but also lack education, both of which are key components to health,” she continued.  “No matter what specialty I go into, I want to stay true to that and help improve communities from the inside, allowing them to sustain themselves.”

After she graduates in May 2017, Shah plans to take at least one “gap year” before entering medical school.  During that time, she may pursue certification as a yoga instructor, so she can share with others a practice that has helped her.  “I’ve been practicing yoga for about seven years, and I absolutely love it,” said Shah, who also holds a third-degree black belt in and is a former instructor of tae kwon do.  “Practicing yoga helps me find balance, relax and gain a new perspective.”

Finding that balance between college life and personal time is something Shah would encourage her fellow students to work toward.

“I came to college and I completely changed, as I think most people do when they are thrown into this independence,” she said.  “I was a lot quieter in middle school and high school, but became very outgoing – my leadership skills developed so much.  I never would’ve seen myself in the position I’m in now four years ago.

“But one thing I’ve learned is that while college is such a social experience and such an important developmental experience – and you constantly have something to do and have people around you – some of the most important time to me is the time I have to myself.  I’ve really found value in introspection, kind of taking time to decompress and think through things.”

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