Hi everyone! My name is Hetvi Patel and I am a rising senior at Pitt. I am majoring in Molecular Biology on the Biochemistry Track, minoring in Chemistry, and pursuing a certificate in Global Studies on the Health and Well-Being Track. For the past two years, I have been an undergraduate research assistant at the Chu Lab, where I study molecular pathways involved in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, I volunteer as a Patient Experience Ambassador at UMPC Presbyterian, where I provide friendly visits and diversional activities to patients in the trauma department. At Pitt, I am also a member of Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment (FORGE), which I joined the fall of my sophomore year. Outside of Pitt, I volunteer as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor with Literacy Pittsburgh and a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line. In my free time, I like to hike, cook, and spend time with friends and family.
Professionally, after I graduate in Spring 2021, I plan to attend medical school. In the future, I hope to provide care to underserved communities. During my time in Pitt, through both classes and extracurricular activities, I have been exposed to the various challenges faced by members of these communities. Academically, the classes I have taken while pursuing the Global Studies certificate have taught me the social determinants of health, as well as the various ethical issues present in medicine. Outside of classes, my involvement with FORGE truly showed me the experiences of real people facing challenges in our local community.
As a member of FORGE, I volunteered as an in-home tutor to a Syrian refugee. In particular, I taught her beginner English and helped her adjust to life in the United States. Initially, her goal was to be able to chat with other parents at her children’s bus stop. However, once one of her sons became sick, we began to focus on medical terminology, which she needed in order to communicate with her son’s pediatrician. While this experience revealed language barriers that can be present in patient-physician relationships, it also highlighted communication as a core component of a career in medicine. Additionally, my experience as an in-home tutor truly emphasized that English is fundamental aspect of everyday life (which is easy to forget as a native speaker). Ultimately, this experience inspired me to continue to teach ESL to immigrants and refugees through Literacy Pittsburgh.
This summer, I will continue tutoring ESL with the Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE). ARYSE is a local nonprofit that was started by refugee youth and college students in 2013. It seeks to support immigrant and refugee youth through year-round literacy development, community building, and storytelling programs in the arts. Every summer, ARYSE organizes the Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment (PRYSE) Academy. PRYSE Academy welcomes over 100 immigrant and refugee youth in the Pittsburgh area. Notably, it focuses on building personal confidence and a sense of belonging in a culturally affirming manner. This summer, due to the pandemic, the program will be entirely virtual, but still engaging. Students will spend time in either a Traditional, Newcomer, or Soccer classroom, and attend creative workshops.
I chose to volunteer with ARYSE because I am in awe of its dedication to supporting refugee and immigrant youth, which is increasingly important in today’s world. When I previously tutored a Syrian mother through FORGE, I often interacted with her five sons and helped them with their homework when needed. I realized that refugee youth are often not only responsible for their academic lives, but also household responsibilities. For example, in the family I tutored, the children often helped their parents navigate everyday experiences that required English, such as grocery shopping, doctor’s visits, and filling out forms. This is a great responsibility at such a young age, and I hope to aid refugee youth in any way possible. ARYSE offers an opportunity to do so through the unique PRYSE Academy. In the midst of this pandemic, I believe that it is more important than ever for youth to stay connected with each other. I am amazed at how quickly ARYSE has adjusted to these unprecedented times through the organization of a virtual summer camp.
Through ARYSE, I hope to aid youth by helping students identify and achieve their goals. As a previous ESL tutor, I feel that there is always room for improvement, and I can always learn from others; I look forward to learning any new materials, methods, and skills from ARYSE as well. From my previous experience, I enjoyed learning about students’ hobbies and interests outside of school. Whenever possible, I aim to connect learning materials to students’ interests so that the learning experience is more enjoyable (and to make the lesson more fun overall). Additionally, as a college student, I hope to serve as a mentor for any youth, especially girls interested in the STEM field.
ARYSE is an enriching organization for immigrant and refugee youth, but also for those who are offered this wonderful opportunity to interact with these bright and creative students. I believe that my involvement in ARYSE will help me grow as well. Personally, I love teaching ESL, especially seeing the “aha moment” on students’ faces when they finally understand a complex or difficult topic. While previously teaching ESL, I enjoyed learning about students’ cultures and shared experiences across cultural lines; I look forward to that aspect in this experience as well. Academically, I hope to further practice the skill of rephrasing complex words and phrases in multiple ways until they are comprehensible. I feel that this is an important skill to have in any career. I am also learning a second language myself (Spanish), and teaching English to non-native speakers often helps me see and understand parallels between my learning and theirs. Professionally, I believe that this experience will help me understand the diversity of people in medically underserved communities. Moreover, I believe that understanding of one’s background is instrumental in understanding their health and fostering communication.
I am ecstatic to intern with ARYSE this summer and can’t wait to start!