Unconventional students at Rice 2018: Leaving a lasting impact

For as long as she can remember, Varsha Sathappan knew she wanted to be a doctor like her mom. “My family likes to joke that I decided I wanted to be a doctor when I was still in her womb, because she was studying for her pediatric board exam while she was pregnant with me,” she said.

For Sathappan’s Girl Scouts Gold Award project in high school, she knew she wanted to combine her passion for medicine with the Girl Scouts’ promise of leaving a lasting impact. She addressed the public health needs of her native village in India that lacked bed capacity in its small outpatient clinic. She raised about $20,000 to construct a ward for women and children.

“It’s been one of my greatest accomplishments in life,” she said. “I’m really passionate about increasing access to medicine for underprivileged communities, because I see every day in the med center how much of a change medicine can have in people’s lives.”

Sathappan, who is graduating with a degree in psychology, knew Rice would be a natural fit for her with its location right next to the world’s largest medical center.

“I’ve had so many cool opportunities and have been able to get involved in research, even as a freshman, even when I didn’t have a car, because I could just walk across the street,” she said.

During her first few months at Rice, she missed Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance that she has performed since she was a little girl. After meeting other students who felt the same, they created Rise Rasikas, a club sport whose team travels around the nation competing against other collegiate teams.

“I really think the skills that I began fostering when I was a child — how to turn a passion into a project and into a purpose to help other people — those have been magnified at Rice,” she said. “It has been the perfect place for me to grow into the doctor and person I hope to become.”

About Brandon Martin

Greetings, I am a video producer at Rice University in the Office of Public Affairs. I became a Rice Owl in June 2011. Before that, I was at KPRC-TV in Houston as a special projects photojournalist for seven years, where I covered everything from hurricanes to sports. Southeast Texas has been my home my entire life. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two of the cutest girls I have ever seen. Go Owls!