Blazing new trails and forging new paths

“Whether you're leading a project, whether you're running an experiment, whether you're working with a team, patience is very important. There are so many ways where the solution to the problem is just … seeing what the next move you can take is.”

Shanthini Ragoonadencame to Mount Holyoke with a plan. As a low-income international student from Mauritius, she didn’t want to waste any time and pay more out of pocket than she needed to. So she strategized her different options and figured out that she could graduate a semester early, thanks to classes she took in high school that qualified for college credits.

What wasn’t part of her plan, however, was finding a new major.

Ragoonaden, who came to Mount Holyoke with a background in mathematics, accounting and economics, figured that’s what she would major in when she arrived on campus. But part of what attracted her to the school was its liberal arts program, and the opportunity it provided to explore other subjects she wouldn’t have the opportunity to study back in Mauritius.

“I remember my first semester, I told my first-year advisor, [Assistant] Professor Marie Ozanne, ‘I want to do something that I haven't done before,’” Ragoonaden said. “And so when I did not get into a particular class I wanted to get into, I took Intro to Neuroscience because they had available seats. And I ended up loving neuroscience.”

She loved neuroscience so much, she took up a lab position the following summer in the subject. She soon decided to double major in neuroscience and mathematics and economics — because while she is motivated to learn more about neuroscience, she’s also intrigued to study the economics of public health.

Developing different plans for potential career options and outcomes may seem like a tall order, but Ragoonaden wants to learn as much as she can to see where her future can take her. And she is quick to acknowledge that Mount Holyoke has been supportive throughout the entire process. That includes helping her to develop the confidence to even pursue neuroscience.

Associate Professor Jared Schwartzer played a pivotal role in that, saidRagoonaden. Even though she enjoyed her introductory neuroscience course, she was a little scared to engage in a new field because she didn’t have a science background. “And I remember he said, ‘Well, you took Intro to Neuroscience, you've been in the lab, you’re doing a great job asking questions and this is pretty much what research in neuroscience is like. And if you feel comfortable with what you're doing right now, I believe that you will have a good experience in it,’” Ragoonaden recalled.

She still wasn’t entirely convinced after that conversation. But in a follow-up meeting, she and Schwartzer talked further about how she could try out other neuroscience or psychology classes, to see if her interest in the subjects would continue to resonate. That’s when Ragoonaden realized how much she loved neuroscience.

“And he gave me the opportunity to continue in the lab, and it's been three years that I've been in his lab,” Ragoonaden said. “I'm now doing an honors thesis in neuroscience.”

Alongside finding her path in neuroscience, taking an active part in student government has also played a big role inRagoonaden’s journey at Mount Holyoke. It’s been an eye-opening and enriching experience given she gets to witness how students and administration see a single situation from their respective positions, she said.

“It was very important for me to understand — what are the different identities that we have that are being represented? And the different communities? And how can we better cater to them?” she said. “And I think that is what motivated me to go for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer position this year. Because that has been a really great way for me to not only listen to students and what they are saying but also be able to bring their voices to the College committee.”

In addition to serving in student government,Ragoonaden has also kept busy holding down multiple jobs on campus. After graduating, she plans to spend a few years doing research before going back to school to pursue a PhD in neuroscience with a focus on science communication. She hopes the hard work she is putting forth now will pay dividends down the line. Eventually, she would love to work on increasing research opportunities and science communication back in her home country of Mauritius, especially when it comes to breaking stigmas around neurodevelopmental disorders and increasing awareness about the brain.

“One thing that I've been learning [at Mount Holyoke] is patience,” she said. “I think being in a stressful environment back home, I definitely did not have as much patience because I was taught, ‘Oh, everything has to be done quickly.’”

“But whether you're leading a project, whether you're running an experiment, whether you're working with a team and collaborating, patience is very important. Because there are so many ways where the solution to the problem is just having patience and seeing what the next move you can take is.”

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Christian Feuerstein
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