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OPINION | TRIPTI SHUKLA: Portrait of a grad

Pick the right university for you by Tripti Shukla Special to the Democrat-Gazette | May 13, 2022 at 3:03 a.m.

For a young person hoping to earn a degree, the question of which university is right for them can be daunting. I know it was for me.

Just think about everything choosing a college or university entails for a soon-to-graduate high-schooler. There you are, finishing up your senior year in high school, having weathered the social, academic and personal storm high school can be. And, at that very important crossroads in your life, just as many young people are learning how to make their own choices, you're expected to make a decision that could potentially impact your future, your family, your finances and your career for the rest of your life: Where should I go to college?

It's a decision you or your children may be struggling with right now. But, as I graduate with honors this month with a double major in biology and chemistry and four valuable years behind me, I can tell you that I am confident I made the right decision to attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The connections I made and the real-life experience I gained there have set me on a clear path to realizing my dreams.

I was born in India, but moved to Arkansas with my family in 2012 after my father was transferred to the U.S. While I considered attending other in-state institutions, I eventually decided on UA Little Rock because it was closer to home and because of the strength and accreditation of the school's chemistry program. UA Little Rock also had extensive research opportunities for undergrads, which I knew would be important in finding my way to a career as a medical doctor.

My research was on the folding of S. aureus MTA nucleosidase to analyze biological activities. It focuses on analyzing various biomolecules related to saMTAN's catalysis regarding their possible assistance to protein folding and utilizing kinetics assay to determine the ability of restored activity.

I learned English when I was younger, but I was not a very confident person before I came to UA Little Rock. The idea of both reading and writing major research papers was intimidating. But with the university's low student-teacher ratio and the personal, hands-on help of my professors and classmates, I found the confidence to blossom as a leader, public speaker and academic. They made higher education accessible to me, and I know that rings true for many others.

The relationships I've built with my instructors and peers gave me the encouragement I needed to consider new directions, strengthened my drive for research, and helped me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Not only that, but I see a future here in Arkansas, enabling me to invest in the community that invested in me.

I'm also very proud of my tenure as a senator with the UA Little Rock Student Government, including a bill I successfully co-sponsored that provides free caps and gowns so graduating students experiencing financial hardships can receive their diplomas alongside their classmates. That experience helped me better understand our government and created in me a desire to be an active participant in legislative issues once I graduate.

UA Little Rock offers students like me the resources we need to succeed. Even during the pandemic, on average 700 students were involved in internships, practicums or clinicals during the academic year. This demonstrates the vast amount of on-site, real-world experiences UA Little Rock graduates bring to the workforce.

My work at UA Little Rock has been rewarded with the American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry, ACS Outstanding Graduating Senior Award, Departmental Service and Scholarship award, Martha Couch Givens Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior by Biology Department, first place at the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence Conference, a 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and the UA Little Rock Signature Experience Award two years in a row. I'm also proud to have been named the recipient of UA Little Rock's 2022 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award, given to only one student per year.

After graduating from UA Little Rock, I plan to take a year to invest in my community while deciding whether to pursue an M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. During the year, I will do more research, volunteer and job shadow to gain even more practical experience before I go to medical school.

As I look to invest here in the state, I'm reminded that nearly 80 percent of UA Little Rock graduates stay to work or pursue additional education in Arkansas. I'm encouraged knowing I'll be joining the ranks of other alumni who are a critical part of the state's workforce.

Wherever my journey takes me from here, though, I'm ending my time at UA Little Rock very different from who I was before. I graduate with a network of friends, business connections and mentors I'll be able to draw on for the rest of my life, and be well prepared for the next chapter.

I leave UA Little Rock prepared for not just another job, but for a career.

Tripti Shukla graduates summa cum laude this month from UA Little Rock. In addition to many other honors, she is a recipient of the 2022 Alpha Kappa Psi Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award, which honors the top graduating student at UA Little Rock.

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