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Simran Handa BA ’19 Awarded Healthline-NORD Scholarship

October 26, 2018

  • Simran Handa BA ’19
    Nina Johnson

by Dawn Mist Movich-Fields BA ’20

Healthline, in partnership with the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), has awarded Simran Handa BA ’19 a $5,000 scholarship to help her pursue her studies and dedication to helping those with autoimmune diseases.

Handa, who grew up in Mukilteo, Washington, first became passionate about science in her eighth grade biology class. Handa’s specific interest in studying autoimmune diseases started when her younger sister was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She set her sights on becoming a physician-scientist and examining the science behind autoimmune diseases.

“Many autoimmune diseases are not well-studied, or even if they are well-studied, it’s still unclear what the mechanisms are behind everything. So when my sister was first diagnosed, it was really frustrating for her and my family to be told by doctors that they didn’t know what was going on,” explained Handa. “That’s what got me interested in not only being a doctor, but actually trying to research the mechanisms behind these kinds of conditions.”  

Handa, a first generation college student, arrived on the Lewis & Clark campus aware that she wanted to major in molecular biology, and quickly found her ideal fit in the school’s biochemistry and molecular biology program. A key factor in her decision to attend Lewis & Clark was the assurance she would have the opportunity to do first-hand research. Starting as a first year, she began doing research with Professor Greg Hermann in the biology department and has been working in his lab ever since.

“This research experience has been incredibly rewarding since I have been able to see and experience what I would otherwise learn about in textbooks,” said Handa. “Though our research question may be quite niche, I am learning broad scientific skills that will be essential to my future in research.”  

Handa’s accomplishments extend beyond the classroom and the lab. Through her various extracurriculars she has found communities important to other facets of her life including
Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement (IME) and Gender Minorities in STEM club. She has also taken advantage of the chance to take classes in many different subjects.

“I came into L&C knowing what I wanted to major in, but I quickly became interested in other departments as well,” said Handa. “At a liberal arts college, we have a great opportunity to take classes across many different departments and draw interdisciplinary connections; seize this chance while you can!”

After graduating, Handa plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Physician-scientists typically split their time between research and the clinic. “I see myself eventually specializing in immunology, infectious diseases, or internal medicine,” Handa told Healthline. “As a physician-scientist, I’ll still be able to connect with patients—like my sister—on a weekly basis, but also work on understanding their disease on a molecular level.” As a cornerstone of her practice, Handa aspires be empathetic toward those who come from different backgrounds and provide more culturally competent care, as this aspect of healthcare can often be overlooked.

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