Penn Junior Mounica Gummadi Focuses on the Humanity of Health Care

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Media Contact:Katherine Unger Baillie | kbaillie@upenn.edu | 215-898-9194July 23, 2013

(This is the third in a series about University of Pennsylvania students who took their arguments in support of federal student financial aid to Washington this summer in a project organized by the Office of Student Registration and Financial ServicesOther profiles feature students Kristin ThomasMark HardingJessica King and Janee Franklin.)

As a high school student, Mounica Gummadi assumed she would stick close to her Charlotte, N.C., home when she went college. But a visit to the University of Pennsylvania campus quickly changed her mind.

“It was completely shocking to me,” Gummadi says. “I never expected that I would come here. Then I visited and found it great that the campus was so integrated into the city. I loved that we could go to Center City in just a matter of minutes. I loved the diversity of cultures that I saw when I came here.”

Gummadi, a biological basis of behavior major, has long known that she eventually wants to pursue a medical degree. But unlike some pre-meds who fill their electives with extra hard science courses, she has broadened her curriculum to include anthropology, global health and health care management courses. This broader look at the health field — with an eye squarely on how individual people experience health care — has also shaped Gummadi’s extracurricular time at Penn. In her brief two years in Philadelphia, the rising junior has availed herself of many opportunities for human connection and service, enriching her own education while giving back to city residents, young and old.

Gummadi’s focus on the human face of health care traces back to high school. When she was in the 10th grade, a volunteer coordinator from a local hospice visited her school. Gummadi was enticed by the descriptions the speaker shared about connecting with patients on a personal level. She soon signed on as a volunteer and devoted many weekend hours visiting with patients.

“I loved every minute of it,” she says. “Going into the assisted living facilities and talking to the patients, it was nice to see how much their day would be brightened to see a young person there, interested in talking to them.”

She also enjoyed hearing the elderly patients’ stories.

“That’s the best part, to hear about people’s lives,” Gummadi says. “At that age, I think you’ve gained a lot of wisdom.”

After arriving at Penn, Gummadi quickly found similar opportunities to relate to patients at the end of their lives. She got involved with SHOOP, the Student Hospice Organization of Penn, her freshman year and soon became its president.  She’s since worked to strengthen the group’s relationship with the Wissahickon Hospice of Penn Medicine, where Gummadi herself has spent considerable time volunteering.

Gummadi’s community service activities encompass more than just hospice visits. Through the Netter Center for Community Partnerships — which, in collaboration with the Office of Student Registration and Financial Services, organized a recent trip to Washington to visit Congress — she has engaged with Moelis Access Science, which connects Penn undergraduates to West Philadelphia classrooms, where they help improve science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education

Last year, she served as a mentor to a high school freshman who developed an award-winning science fair project under Gummadi’s guidance. And last summer, through her placement in the Penn Program for Public Service internship, Gummadi led a summer camp class for 3rd and 4th graders at West Philadelphia’s Alexander Wilson Community School.

The camp curriculum, which Gummadi helped design, encompassed lessons in social emotional learning and STEM. Giving the experience a novel twist, however, was the students’ immersion in a pilot program that exposed them to a fun take on engineering.

“The students got to design parachutes that could be used to conduct food aid package drops,” says Gummadi. “They had to figure out what materials would minimize the impact of hitting the ground and would keep the food products together.”

Taken together, Gummadi believes her unique blend of academics, community service work, and research (she assists in sleep and chronobiology research in David Dinges’s lab in Penn Medicine) will serve her well in an eventual career in hospice or end-of-life medical care.

“I don’t know exactly how it happened,” says Gummadi, “but I feel like things have fallen into place.”

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