Growing up in Kolkata, India, Aasthika Das had always assumed she would attend a university in India. That is until her sister, who is five years older, returned from her higher education studies in the U.S. and shared the style of education she received, how different it was from India, and the many opportunities that were available.
Aasthika was inspired by what she learned and turned her attention to universities in the U.S. To help narrow her prospects, she designed a rubric comparing academic excellence, budget, SAT entry scores, and opportunities to utilize biology in both medical services and research, her intended academic focus. Her research identified nine U.S. universities that met her criteria. She applied and was accepted by each, but ultimately committed to the University of Iowa citing the affiliated hospitals as the deciding factor. “When exploring Iowa, I found that the hospitals are conducting exciting research in immunology, neurology, and many other areas I find very interesting. Whether I chose to pursue a field in medical practice or research, it was clear that Iowa provided the best opportunities,” she said.
“When exploring Iowa, I found that the hospitals are conducting exciting research in immunology, neurology, and many other areas I find very interesting. Whether I chose to pursue a field in medical practice or research, it was clear that Iowa provided the best opportunities”
Aasthika Das in India
Aasthika started her freshman year at the UI in the fall of 2019. She describes the level of support offered to students as remarkable. “In the U.S. education system, at least at the University of Iowa, the instructors are so good and so helpful. It’s very different in the Indian system, where a lot of the onus is on the student to master the subject. Of course, if a student reaches out to a teacher for extra help, they can get it. It's just not a common practice, for whatever reason,” she explained.
To highlight her point, Aasthika shared a personal experience from her rhetoric class. “I would typically devote a lot of time to the papers because they were analytical and required research. But in one instance, during a hectic time in my studies, I turned in a paper I had quickly put together,” she said. “Soon after, my instructor, Professor Dhruba Neupane, offered me the opportunity to rewrite the assignment, saying he knew I could do better. I was absolutely shocked,” shared Aasthika. “The next day I spent 18 hours straight at the library working on this paper; researching, creating citations, working so hard, even eating my meals at the library. I received an excellent grade on my revised paper, which is wonderful, but what amazed me is that I had never had this experience in education before. No teacher had ever gone out of their way to individually acknowledge me, give me so much encouragement, and have this level of faith in me. It is something I will always remember.”
During her high school years in Kolkata, Aasthika was active in many student organizations and clubs, including the writing club, where she served as president, and various roles in student government, eventually being nominated to serve as prefect. Aasthika’s altruism continued at the UI, volunteering as an international student ambassador in admissions, where she was able to share her insights with other international students interested in attending the UI.
Aasthika also hopes to have the opportunity to serve on student government at the UI. “I have always had a strong passion for student government and was involved throughout high school. Prior to coming to Iowa, I saw a video on their YouTube channel featuring the student government president addressing the entire student body. I was so inspired and all I could think was, ‘I hope that can be me one day,’” she shared with a warm smile.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and campus was forced to shutter, Aasthika returned to India to continue her studies. Given the eleven-hour time difference, her typical class hours took place late in the evening through early morning hours.
Aasthika credits faculty for her successful transition to online learning. “I'm one of those people who does better in a face-to-face format, so it's a little difficult for me to do online, especially because all of my classes had a lab component. But my professors were wonderful. They transitioned so seamlessly that I didn’t really face any problems,” she said.
With the fall semester quickly approaching, Aasthika looks forward to returning to the UI and assuming her new role as resident assistant. “I love being home, but I really hope I’m able to get back to campus this fall. The flights and travel logistics are a bit complicated due to COVID-19. There are many countries on the travel list, so depending on my connection, I may be required to quarantine for 14 days in another country before flying on to the U.S. But I hope to find a way to travel. I’m ready to be on campus, attend classes in person, and be around other people my age.”