Mehek Agrawal C’23, G’24 on Her Journey to and through Drew University

The international and Dual-Degree student takes full advantage of the Drew experience

April 2024 – When Mehek Agrawal C’23, G’24, originally from India, was researching universities, she discovered Drew University through the Next-Genius Scholarship Program—where she had the opportunity to compete for a generous undergraduate scholarship at one of several U.S. colleges.

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Mehek Agrawal C'23, G'24

“Drew was my immediate favorite of the participating institutions due to its small class sizes, diverse international student population, and nycTRECs,” said Agrawal. “I was thrilled to join Drew as the first Next-Genius Scholar.”

Agrawal double majored in biology and studio art with a minor in data science as an undergraduate. “One of the primary reasons I chose to study abroad in the first place was because I was seeking a combination of science and art that was not readily available to study in India,” she said. “Drew’s liberal arts program provided me with the flexibility to design my own curriculum. I am so grateful for the guidance of my advisors, Professor Windfelder [associate professor of biology], Professor Stein [professor and chair, art department], and Professor Soderholm [arts and sciences associate dean of curriculum and associate professor of art]. With their help, not only was I able to meet the requirements of both majors, but also complete the Baldwin Honors program and add on a data science minor!”

She is currently enrolled in Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies in the Master of Science in Data Science program, taking advantage of Drew’s Dual-Degree program in Data Science. 

Describe your experience at Drew.
There have been several defining moments, but the one that stands out most is definitely the opportunity to write and defend an undergraduate thesis in biology as part of the Baldwin Honors program. For me, this journey began as early as my first year when I took a Natural Sciences Seminar in which I wrote an extensive literature review under the lively mentorship of a RISE fellow, Dr. Marvin Bayne. Since my paper spanned desiccation tolerance research on tardigrades, we thought it would be fun to bring a tardigrade (a microscopic animal found all over the world) into class on the day of my paper presentation, so we looked for them on Drew’s campus and found some near the library. We’ve been collecting, photographing, and sequencing terrestrial tardigrades ever since, and eventually, this became the basis of my thesis, Integrative Taxonomy of New Jersey Tardigrades (2023). The opportunity to do such long-term research with accomplished industrial scientists within RISE, especially as an undergraduate, is very unique and definitely enriches the culture of science at Drew.

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Agrawal with RISE Fellow Dr. Marvin Bayne

What prompted you to continue at Drew to pursue your Master of Science in Data Science?
During my junior year, I took a couple of statistics and computer science classes because I was curious about using data science as a means to bridge my scientific approach to my skills in visual art. I began considering the 4+1 Dual-Degree program when I took a graduate-level Modeling and Simulation class with Professor Yi Lu [Norma Gilbert Junior Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science]. I really enjoyed being challenged to do higher-level problem-solving in that class, so much so that I even remember refreshing Moodle on some evenings hoping that Professor Lu might have uploaded a new homework assignment for us! 

The MS in Data Science pairs well with my passion for biology, and broadens the roles that I’m eligible for and the value I can bring to companies/teams. A postgraduate degree also enables me to apply for jobs with a better salary range and have a stronger chance at obtaining a work visa than I did with a BS, should I ever need to apply for it. 

Tell us about your campus involvement and student employment.
During my time as a first-year student, I joined three different club executive boards as a secretary, treasurer, and social media coordinator, and gained lots of transferable skills such as communication, budgeting, time management, etc. With this experience and the help of South Asian students at Drew, I relaunched the South Asian Student Association club as president in my sophomore year with the aim of bringing the community together over celebration and dialogue around our shared culture. I was also active in Student Government as an international senator and ran for president with my friend Danie, whom I had met residing on the first-year Drew Leadership Institute floor, as my VP. It was an exciting and humbling moment to have been the first international student elected to serve as president of the student body, and was a tremendous position of responsibility to be in during 2020. I am thankful for the immense support I received from students, staff, faculty, alumni, and administration in navigating student leadership under those unprecedented times, and the opportunity to pour my energy into conversations and ideas that made a positive difference. 

I held several student employment roles as well. I often speak to these experiences when applying for internships or jobs. As an undergraduate, I realized that because Drew is a small and tightly-knitted community, you can often create your own opportunities. I was able to find two graduate student data analyst positions at the Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office and the Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks. I’m so glad to have these opportunities to put what I’m learning into practice and discover data-based insights to strengthen our university.

Any advice for those thinking of attending Drew as an undergrad or graduate student?
Be proactive, especially those students who live too far to tour campus! If you ask, I’m sure your admissions counselor will be happy to put you in touch with professors/current students whom you can speak to about academics or campus culture. I exchanged several emails with multiple universities before deciding that Drew was the right one for me. The on-campus work that I currently do is also a result of sending out cold emails to faculty/campus departments ahead of my graduate program to look for suitable work experience.

Take full advantage of the fact that Drew is a small school. This is the kind of school where faculty are excited to get to know you on a personal level. You will likely be taking more than one class with professors in your major. Make it a habit to go to office hours with good questions to set a strong impression and get the most out of your education. This will make all the difference to them in the future when you ask for a letter of recommendation. 

What’s next after Drew?
After Drew, I’m hoping to enter the workforce full-time and am looking for roles where I can draw on my background in data science and/or biology to create an impact. Some time in the future, once I have found my niche, I may also consider pursuing a PhD.

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