By Kimmie Collins
Jul 21, 2021
At one o’clock in the morning, Indiana State University’s campus slumbered. The lights of Cunningham Memorial Library and a few residence hall rooms shone with late night studies, but the normally bustling quad was deserted.
Senior Tejas Kandharkar admired the quiet, then blinked as he stepped into the fluorescent lighting of a science building lab. For two years, he has been a lab assistant using fruit flies to research genes involved in heart development with Shaad Ahmad, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biology.
“The fruit flies don’t have a regard for human work hours,” Kandharkar grinned. “They’re going to lay their eggs when they want to lay their eggs. To have the embryos at the correct stage for our research, we need to collect the eggs at the right time.”
Ultimately, the researchers’ goal is to apply their findings to human heart development; human hearts and fruit fly hearts are genetically similar, so the research may enable scientists to find solutions for congenital heart defects.
Kandharkar first connected with Ahmad in 2019 through Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), a paid program that helps students gain a faculty mentor and research experience in a field of their interest.
Kandharkar was again accepted into the SURE program for the summer of 2021. He’s now conducting chemistry research with Assistant Professor Fan Zuo, Ph.D, to develop transparent solar panels and optimal catalysts for fuel cells.
His time in the lab builds soft skills critical to his career. The biology and chemistry double major from Columbus, Ind., aspires to become a doctor.
“When you really care about something, you want to make sure you’re doing it correctly. You’re not just trying to discover something,” Kandharkar said. “You’re trying to really come down to the fundamental truth about it.”
Research opportunities were only part of what drew Kandharkar to Indiana State. For him, coming to Indiana State was a “no-brainer decision.”
“I knew I’d have people supporting me and helping me get into medical school,” he said.
Having a Sycamore support system and sense of community was important to Kandharkar. His family moved to America from India when he was eight years old. At first, the transition was major – he didn’t eat the same foods or play the same sports as his new friends – but it shaped Kandharkar into who he is today.
“The help I got from other people during my transition to America taught me the importance of compassion to others and made it one of my core values,” he said.
Kandharkar’s core values aligned well with Indiana State’s commitment to community service. Kandharkar, like many Sycamores, experienced community engagement at State at Donaghy Day. He also joined Alpha Phi Omega, the University’s service fraternity, and led the organization as its vice president of service.
Kandharkar also gives back to the Sycamore community by planning events through the Honors Council and representing his peers on the Honors College Council.
“I think the whole culture of service [at Indiana State] and wanting to be compassionate and beneficial to other people is essential as a healthcare professional. It’s what underpins great doctors,” he said. “If you don’t have that compassion to serve other people, you’re going to be less diligent about making sure you’re a good healthcare provider.”
As a President’s Scholar, Kandharkar is passing that mindset to future generations of doctors through the
University’s Rural Health Program, a partnership with the Indiana University School of Medicine – Terre Haute. In addition to peer mentoring, the program provides professional development opportunities for aspiring physicians, including MCAT preparation, job shadowing, research, and a scholarship.
“My favorite thing about the program is the connections I’ve made with other students,” Kandharkar said. “The program has years and years of students who’ve all gone through the process and are willing to help you. The camaraderie is just amazing.”
Kandharkar and other members of the program recently partnered with the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) to teach an anatomy lesson and dissect pig hearts with students at Marshall Junior High School.
“Dissecting the pig heart in high school was probably the thing that really started my interest in medicine, so I was glad to recreate that experience for those students,” Kandharkar said.
As he applies to medical school this year, Kandharkar believes his experience at Indiana State and in the Honors College will give him an advantage over his peers.
“So many times, people go to college and feel like they’re just a number and don’t have a genuine connection with their professors,” he said. “Here at ISU, I’ve been able to get really connected with amazing professors who’ve worked with the National Institutes of Health.”
“My entire story has led up to Indiana State,” he said. “I think that encapsulates my whole journey as an immigrant. Now I can call a place in America my home that isn’t just my house.”