Shilpa's interests in public health and the special needs population flourished 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 hidden beauty and talents of people with disabilities and was inspired to become a special needs advocate and help integrate these capable individuals into society.
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. 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, has since served on the Membership Committee and is the current ACTS Committee Chair, which is devoted to promoting disability awareness and advocacy on campus.
Additionally, as a sophomore at Vanderbilt, 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 organized a Vanderbilt team for the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks event and raised funds for autism research and advocacy.
Coupled with these blossoming interests in special needs populations, Shilpa was also interested in health education and the growing obesity epidemic. For this reason, Shilpa began to volunteer with the Nashville Mobile Market, a social enterprise that brings healthy, affordable vegetables and fruits to neighborhoods with little or no access to fresh produce. 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. The following year, Shilpa became the Nutrition Education Coordinator for NMM and organized the Community Kitchen series at the Martha O’Bryan Center. These nutrition and cooking workshops promoted dialogue in the community regarding nutrition and wellness and helped improve confidence in the kitchen. Throughout the upcoming year, Shilpa will continue to work with NMM as the Nutrition Education Coordinator and is interested in expanding educational outreach on the Market.
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. With the incredible resources within the Ingram Scholarship Program, Shilpa was blessed with the opportunity to complete a summer project centering on nutrition education among special needs populations in Nashville. Shilpa partnered with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center to develop varying nutrition education curricula that meet the unique needs of various disabilities. After creating these modified curricula, Shilpa had the pleasure of teaching nutrition and general health classes within a large variety of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center summer camps. As the school year begins, Shilpa greatly looks forward to analyzing the data she collected throughout the summer camps and utilizing it towards improving health education in special needs classrooms around Nashville. In addition, Shilpa hopes to devote her career towards studying health and wellness in special needs populations and improving quality of life for individuals with disabilities.
Shilpa is excited for another exciting year with the Ingram Scholarship Program and is beyond thankful to the Ingram family, Marshall Eakin, Anne Gordon, Bryn Sierra and her fellow Scholars for mentorship, incredible conversations, constant support and generous resources of the program.