UIC senior earns trip to Rhodes Scholar finals

Sonya Gupta
Sonya Gupta, an Honors College member majoring in biological sciences and Russian in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. (Photo: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

University of Illinois Chicago senior Sonya Gupta reached the finalist stage for the Rhodes Scholarship, the highly regarded and selective award that covers all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

Gupta, an Honors College member majoring in biological sciences and Russian in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was initially one of 826 applicants to be nominated by their colleges and universities. She then advanced to a select group of 235 applicants from 76 different colleges and universities in the final stage of the Rhodes competition.

She was among 16 candidates from Illinois and Ohio vying for the prominent international academic scholarship during the District 10 finalist interviews, which took place Nov. 19-20 via Zoom.

Gupta, a native of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, has research and career interests involving health equity and understanding different cultural approaches to medicine.

“It’s been an absolute honor to have made it this far. I’m really grateful for the opportunity,” said Gupta, who is also a member of UIC’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions Medicine program. 

She envisions working as a physician, both academic and clinical, with a focus on encouraging international and local collaboration in medicine and health equity promotion.

“I want to understand how societal factors also impact the onset and progression of disease,” she said.

Gupta’s academic career at UIC has featured various research projects, including a radiological sciences project at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, multiple projects in neuroimaging and breast cancer therapies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and an independent research fellowship exploring state medicine’s politicization in Russia with support from the U.S. Russia Foundation, an American nonprofit.

As a sophomore, she was among a select group of young U.S. scholars picked by the Council on International Educational Exchange for a summer study abroad program in Moscow. The exchange allowed her to continue her study of Russian language and culture, live with a local Russian family, and take part in co-curricular activities designed to increase intercultural understanding.

Gupta’s Russian interest led to her focus on understanding different cultural approaches to medicine.

“Being able to explore Russian language and culture has really expanded my world view. During my study abroad experience, I was exposed to different approaches to medicine and standards of care, which inspired me to investigate this further and led to this passion,” she said.

During the pandemic, she was inspired to look into local health disparities through an independent project researching medical deserts in Chicago and the potential for mobile health clinics to address these gaps in care. Her work was recognized with an award from the Mobile Healthcare Association.

“One of the things that I love about UIC is the dedication to improving communities around us. This has helped me develop my passion for health equity,” she said.

Gupta’s undergraduate research has been supported by the Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative, Honors College travel grants and other departmental scholarships. She is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Student Service and Leadership Award.

At UIC, Gupta manages to balance rigorous academics with a significant amount of campus engagement. She serves 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 was a student leader for the UIC Biology Colloquium.

Gupta, a 2018 graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, credits UIC for helping her grow as a student and future leader.

“Through UIC I’ve had the amazing opportunity to have great mentors and advisors that have helped shape who I am today,” she said.

One of the campus supporters she highlights is Kim Germain, director of UIC’s Office of External Fellowships, a unit that provides advising and assistance to undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants.

“I am thrilled that Sonya made it to the finalist stage due to her leadership, service, and academic strengths. I’ve had the great pleasure of advising Sonya since her first semester, which is one reason I think I have the best job at UIC. It’s wonderful to see Sonya’s hard work enable her to reach such great heights,” Germain said.

Gupta is the fourth UIC-affiliated scholar to reach the finalist stage for the Rhodes scholarship since 2019. In 2000, Rudyard Sadleir became the university’s first student chosen from the U.S. constituency. UIC alumnus Sami Alahmadi was selected in 2019 as the second Rhodes Scholar to represent Saudi Arabia.

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