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Biological Sciences Alum Mallika Kodavatiganti ’21 Combines Passions for Co-op Success

By Christina Papadopoulos '23

Mallika Kodavatiganti

July 12, 2021

As a biology student with a passion for arts and humanities, Mallika Kodavatiganti ‘21 found a way to integrate her extracurricular and creative experiences into her work during her co-ops with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education. Combining her passions was a recipe for success, as Kodavatiganti was recently honored with a 2021 Cooperative Education Award by the Steinbright Career Development Center.

While pursuing science-intensive studies, Kodavatiganti wanted the arts to remain an important part of her life. During her undergraduate career, she was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including playing the violin for the Drexel University Symphony Orchestra. “Orchestra has given me the opportunity to step away from my rigorous STEM classes, to continue learning about and practicing classical music, and to meet people outside of my major,” Kodavatiganti shares.

Kodavatiganti was also able to explore the arts as a member of Drexel Writers Room, a university-community writing program. “I have met some of the most amazing, inspiring people through Writers Room. It’s a diverse community unlike any other, and we use storytelling and creative arts to better understand and advocate for social issues in the city,” Kodavatiganti explains. “It may sound intimidating to use creative arts, especially if you’re like me and became removed from the arts because of STEM classes—but everyone has stories to share and something uniquely theirs to bring to the conversation.”

With Writers Room, Kodavatiganti was able to participate in open, honest conversations about topics like the impact of gentrification and racism on various communities. She describes the community as a safe space to share anything from stories, to frustrations, to hopes and dreams.

“Through listening to the community, I have become more aware of social issues, and I have seen how sharing our stories with each other can bring the process of healing and positive change. There’s so much strength in community.”

This strength became even more apparent during Kodavatiganti’s time with the Drexel Community Scholars program, where she was further able to experience community service and understand social issues in Philadelphia. In this program, she was paired with Vetri Community Partnership and Art Sphere Inc. to provide nutrition and arts education in local elementary schools and community centers.

“These experiences helped me better understand my passion for alleviating food insecurity and teaching people about food, and this is something I hope to continue working on,” said Kodavatiganti. “I met very inspiring and creative people who genuinely want to support the community as much as possible, and I’m so grateful for these experiences with them.”

This thorough understanding of how powerful interpersonal communication can be inspired more than just Kodavatiganti’s extracurricular interests—it influenced her professional work as well.

In all three of Kodavatiganti’s co-ops, she had the opportunity to work closely with study participants and patients at medical centers. Her first role with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Department of Anesthesiology introduced her to clinical research and public health, while her second co-op with Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education allowed her to put this interest into action. Here, Kodavatiganti assisted in a study looking at strategies for weight loss in Black mothers during and after their pregnancy.

“I was able to interact more closely with patients during this co-op because I was responsible for administering follow-up visits,” Kodavatiganti said. “I enjoyed talking to the moms and listening to their experiences, and I was grateful to my employer for giving me the opportunity to personally engage with study participants.”

Gaining experience in communicating with patients and organizing study data and materials for a large, NIH-funded study also prepared Kodavatiganti for her third co-op. Returning to CHOP in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, she led an NIH study looking at speech outcomes in children with cleft palates. Her tasks ranged from maintaining study forms and documents, to consenting and enrolling patients, to conducting study visits.

Her supervisor, Rodrigo Gamarra, MD, nominated Kodavatiganti for the Cooperative Education Award, describing her as “the best student who had worked with him in the ten years of supervising co-op students.” He noted her work was instrumental in developing remote work strategies during the pandemic as well as establishing a co-op training methodology. Kodavatiganti continued working in this position beyond her co-op.

“Dr. Gamarra made me feel like a valued member of the research team, always taking the time to listen to my suggestions and feedback. He constantly challenged me by giving me more responsibilities and independence in my work, and I appreciated that he recognized my potential and helped me continue to improve my skills as a clinical researcher,” remarked Kodavatiganti. This position gave her experience both as a team leader and as a clinical researcher.

“I had to keep track of visits from 100+ patients and stay on top of tracking and documentation to make sure we were carrying out the study as best as we could,” said Kodavatiganti. She was particularly thankful for her coursework at Drexel, highlighting how her studies impacted her ability to be successful in this position. “As a biology student, there were a lot of tiny details to pay attention to with different mechanisms and pathways we learned. This detail-orientedness helped me so much with my co-op. I had to pay attention to a lot of patients, visit dates and study procedures unique to each type of visit, and I had to make sure I was documenting everything that needed to be.”

Having graduated in 2021, Kodavatiganti looks to her future with excitement and confidence, knowing her co-op experiences have properly prepared her for a journey into a practice she so wholeheartedly cares about.

“Co-op helped me decide I want to pursue medicine as my future career. I have learned I really enjoy the logical, scientific aspect of medicine; and at the same time, I love interacting with people, learning about them, and figuring out how to improve their health,” Kodavatiganti reflected, drawing on her previous co-op experiences.

“I have met some amazing physicians who truly care about [their patients], and I admire their knowledge and compassion. I have also become more interested in clinical research. I’ve really enjoyed working with the people enrolled in studies I’ve worked on, and it excites me to see how these interventions can improve health outcomes.”

Learn more about how co-op can embellish a degree in biology.