Shilpa's interests in public health and the special needs population fluorished after a touching encounter at Hazelwood Rehabilitation Center, a government facility for individuals with profound intellectual disabilities. At this time, Shilpa began to see the beauty in the special needs population and was inspired to help integrate these individuals into society. Coupled with these blossoming interests, Shilpa was also interested in health education and the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Through her 12 years in dance classes, Shilpa quickly realized that nutritional meals and the monetary stability needed to support daily physical activities was a lifestyle opportunity unavailable to many children. Fueled by these experiences, Shilpa created and directed an after-school Dance and Creative Movement Program at Americana Community Center, a center for low-income immigrant families in the Louisville area. With a commitment to introducing young girls to both the athletic and artistic aspects of dance, Shilpa taught hip-hop and modern dance classes to girls ranging from 5-14 years.
The summer before beginning college, Shilpa worked with Best Buddies Kentucky, an organization dedicated to providing one-to-one friendship and job opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Shilpa developed and implemented an evaluation system for the College Buddies Program. Additionally, Shilpa developed a campaign for the Audi Best Buddies Challenge, one of the organization's premier fundraising events. Though Shilpa enjoyed this organizational aspect of service, it is the strong friendships she formed with individuals with IDD that fueled her passion to work in this field.
Upon entering Vanderbilt, Shilpa continued her involvement with Best Buddies as a College Buddy. She worked closely with the Hartman Community Center to maintain a friendship with a young girl with Downs Syndrome. Additionally, Shilpa began to volunteer with the Nashville Mobile Market, a social enterprise that brings healthy, affordable vegetables and fruits to the "food deserts" of Nashville. Throughout the following summer, Shilpa began to work with Autism Speaks, an international autism advocacy organization that provides resources for families affected by autism and sponsors autism research. Because this organization provides funding for a majority of the ongoing autism research at Vanderbilt, Shilpa wanted to stimulate funding for this organization in order to promote a cycle of giving between these two institutions. As a solution, Shilpa organized a Vanderbilt team for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. Shilpa and 34 Vanderbilt students were able to raise over $4,500 for autism research and participated in the annual event.
With the advent of her sophomore year at Vanderbilt, Shilpa began to narrow her philanthropic interests and take a larger leadership role in her service endeavors. As a Membership Coordinator for Vanderbilt Best Buddies, Shilpa helped match Vanderbilt students with individuals with IDD in the Nashville community. Shilpa facilitated these friendships through the Best Buddies model and became increasingly active in the Best Buddies Vanderbilt Board. Additionally, Shilpa became a Team Leader for the Nashville Mobile Market (NMM) and ran a weekly volunteer shift in the John Henry Hale neighborhood. Inspired by the positive effect NMM had on the community, Shilpa helped organize and promote numerous publicity campaigns as a Board Member. In addition to public health endeavors, motivated by Vanderbilt's nurturing of her personal growth, Shilpa wanted to give back to her school and help first-year students adjust and contribute to the Vanderbilt community. In the fall semester, Shilpa became a VUceptor, a mentor for Vanderbilt first-year students, and led weekly sessions designed to ease the transition into college. In these sessions, Shilpa facilitated the transitional growth of her VUceptees and encouraged them to become more involved in service activities at Vanderbilt.
Though these experiences allowed for significant community development, Shilpa felt that her passions in service were divergent and was constantly searching for ways to bridge her interest in health and exercise education with her desire to work with the special needs population. In the spring semester, Shilpa began to work with the Nashville Promise Neighborhood, a newly-funded government initiative to improve schools and community in the Stratford cluster of Nashville. This initiative is provides services to improve child education and public health. Within this initiative, Shilpa has been able to work closely with many of the residents of the Stratford cluster and help develop partnerships within this community. In her junior year at Vanderbilt, Shilpa will continue to volunteer with this initiative and hopes to develop a Health Education program for special needs classrooms within Nashville elementary schools. Additionally, Shilpa will continue her involvement with Best Buddies, Autism Speaks and the Nashville Mobile Market.
Shilpa is beyond excited and honored to join the Ingram Scholasrhip Program family and looks forward to learning from her fellow Ingram Scholars, mentors and alumni!