2022 Riddle Prize winner Sonya Gupta

Sonya Gupta forged an academic path at UIC that uniquely merged her interests in the sciences and humanities.

Sonya Gupta
Sonya Gupta, 2022 Riddle Prize winner.
Photo: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago

She gained a first-hand perspective of Chicago’s medical deserts during the pandemic when she led an independent project exploring the potential for mobile health clinics to address the local gaps in care.

Fueled by her experiences learning geographic information systems and researching mobile health clinics and health infrastructure in Chicago, she co-developed a workshop curriculum and co-taught it in five undergraduate classes during the spring 2022 semester. Her goal was to increase data literacy and teach how environmental and lifestyle factors can play a significant role in disease risk.

“Through the workshop, I wanted to empower students to investigate health disparities and address structural health inequities within their communities by providing them with the background knowledge and data science skills to do so,” said Gupta, an Honors College member who will graduate this week with degrees in biological sciences and Russian from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In preparation for a medical career, she has been involved with several UIC-based undergraduate research opportunities and earned support through the Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative, Honors College travel grants and other departmental scholarships.

Away from UIC, she conducted a radiological sciences project at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, projects in neuroimaging and breast cancer therapies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an independent research fellowship exploring the politicization of state medicine in Russia.

Gupta’s demonstrated academic excellence, research and commitment to service propelled her to the finalist stage for the prestigious Rhodes scholarship last fall.

Now she leaves UIC with the Donald and Leah Riddle Prize for Outstanding Graduating Senior, one of the university’s top undergraduate honors, and fondly looks back on her experience.

“I am extremely honored and humbled to be selected for the Riddle Prize. It has been immensely insightful to reflect on my time at UIC and my journey,” said Gupta, who is also a member of UIC’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions Medicine program. “I have grown a lot in this collaborative environment, and it has helped shape me into who I am today.”

Russian language and culture have also been among Gupta’s academic pursuits at UIC. Her interest grew as part of a cohort of U.S. scholars selected by the Council on International Educational Exchange for a 2019 summer study abroad program in Moscow. It proved to be an influential factor in her wish to explore diverse cultural approaches to medicine.

Before matriculating to medical school, her next stop is Harvard University, where she’ll pursue a master’s degree in regional studies in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“One of the things that I love about UIC is its dedication to improving communities around us and its strong focus on social justice. This has helped me develop my passion for health equity and focus on environmental and societal conditions that lead to health disparities like Chicago’s 30-year life expectancy gap,” she said.

While at UIC, Gupta was active beyond the classroom and labs. She served as president of Women in Science and Engineering-Medicine, founder of the UIC Chicagoland Health Infrastructure research group, co-coordinator of the TEDx branch at UIC, vice president of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, a peer leader at the Math and Science Learning Center and UIC Biology Colloquium student leader.

Her contributions to the university through campus and community service have been recognized with multiple awards. This year, she was named a winner of the Eugertha Bates Memorial Award, which honors students whose volunteer activities in a campus or community setting demonstrate a high level of humanitarian commitment. She also received the Chancellor’s Student Service and Leadership Award in 2022 and 2021.

Gupta advises young students not to be afraid to follow a passion and try new things.

“Take every opportunity to expose yourself to a wide range of fields because this is one of the only times in your career that you have the flexibility to do so,” she said. “Whenever I had an interest or idea, I was always encouraged to pursue it. I will always cherish my time at UIC and miss the supportive community of my amazing advisors, peers, faculty and staff.”

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