A photo of a woman from the best up looking to the left. She is wearing a black v-neck blouse and two gold necklaces.
Akhila Kunuthuru will graduate as an Honors College student with a double major in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in public health from University College and biology from the College of Humanities and Sciences. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2023: Akhila Kunuthuru finds path to medical school and a community she can count on at VCU

Pennsylvania native, drawn to VCU and the city of Richmond, reflects on valuable lessons in storytelling and interdisciplinarity while “connecting the dots” between her education and her career goals.

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When Akhila Kunuthuru first came to Virginia Commonwealth University to tour it as a prospective student, the university and the city of Richmond made a strong impression on her. She found a place that was vibrant and exciting, diverse and community oriented.

She knew then and there that it was where she wanted to be.

“When I visited VCU I just fell in love with the community, not just the student life but also the people in Richmond,” said Kunuthuru, who is from Greencastle, Pennsylvania. “Everyone was so welcoming and when I pictured myself spending the four years at a college, I wanted to be where I knew I had a community I could count on.”

Four years later Kunuthuru is preparing to graduate as an Honors College student with a double major in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in public health from University College and biology from the College of Humanities and Sciences. At VCU, she said that she found just what she was hoping for -- and more.

She found faculty that supported and pushed her intellectually, fellow students to collaborate with, opportunities in and out of classrooms and lessons she will carry with her as she takes her next steps.

One of the most important lessons Kunuthuru feels that she learned from her fellow students and faculty at VCU was to never stop learning and to say yes to new opportunities that presented themselves to her throughout her undergraduate career.

“There is always something new to learn and something new to do,” Kunuthuru said. “All I had to do was say ‘yes.’ Saying ‘yes’ allowed me to thrive at VCU and opened up new avenues for pursuing knowledge. Being able to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities and being open to trying new things is one of the most important things I learned at VCU.”    

Kunuthuru, who will enroll in the VCU School of Medicine in the fall, credits Honors College faculty for demonstrating to her as a student the power of storytelling and the importance of personal narrative in all disciplines and fields. The class that first showed her the power of story was Humans of RVA and VCU with Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, assistant professor in the Honors College.

“I learned about the power of storytelling from Professor Halstead’s class, and that is something that I kept using throughout everything I did,” Kunuthuru said. “I realized how important it is to emphasize the stories of people – a lesson I will carry forward with me through medical school and beyond.”

The world’s problems are solved by its best minds and more often than not, those solutions come from interdisciplinary collaboration and thought – this was a lesson Kunuthuru learned from Vineeta Singh, Ph.D., assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies, she said.

“She [Singh] pushes us to think about not just life right now but what is in the future,” Kunuthuru said. “We live in an interdisciplinary world where we have these complex problems, and one solution from a single discipline is not going to be enough.”

These lessons and many more from other faculty and advisers were impactful for Kunuthuru, she said, and helped her realize more fully what her goals throughout her undergraduate career and as a professional are. They helped her connect the dots between her education and how it can be applied in the professional world.

Another checkmark in Kunuthuru’s undergraduate career was the founding of V Cubed, a virtual volunteer student club started at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The club allowed students to volunteer for on-campus clubs as well as with external community partners. The club also worked as part of the Clinton Global Initiative to work with peer student initiatives from across the world to learn leadership skills. 

In addition, Kunuthuru was the recipient of a Critical Language Scholarship in 2021, which she worked with the National Scholarship Office to pursue. The scholarship allowed her to study Hindi, which she intends to put to practice when working on future global health initiatives.  

“Fighting for health equity is something that I want to keep doing no matter what my clinical specialty is [after medical school],” Kunuthuru said.

When reflecting on what she would share with current and future students, Kunuthuru said she would recommend not doing things just to do them for a future application, but to find what drives you and work toward that.

“Put yourself out there,” Kunuthuru said. “Explore as much as you want. Don't limit yourself to one thing. There are a million different opportunities that you are perfectly suited for.”