Removing Barriers and Opening Doors
What happened to Dhairya Shukla at age 7 changed his life … and led, with UGA support, to selfless service.
Dhairya will graduate in Spring 2019 with a B.S. in Genetics and a M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management. He’ll attend Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
After immigrating from India, Dhairya’s father, already a physician, went through medical school a second time to be certified in the United States. Dhairya’s mom teaches math.
Dhairya loves playing cricket … so much so that he founded the Cricket UGA club. Matches take place every Sunday on the intramural fields.
UGA supported Dhairya with a Zell Miller Scholarship, a Charter Scholarship, and a Frank and Louise Etchberger scholarship … along with employment at UGA Housing and Archway Institute.
“The UGA Honors Scholarship opened up all the opportunities and avenues I’ve been able to experience as a student.”
Dhairya (There-ee-ya) Shukla and his mom waited at a school bus stop. A menacing dog approached. The seven-year-old hid behind his pregnant mom.
“Don’t be afraid,” she told Dhairya, shooing the animal.
Unexpectedly, viciously, the dog attacked his mother.
“It had rabies,” Dhairya says, “and we needed a special vaccine to save my mom and my unborn baby sister. Dad called all the local hospitals … but there wasn’t a vaccine. Luckily, we had an uncle in the United States who got it to us before the rabies overcame my mother.”
Not everyone had such luck.
“We later learned a neighbor down the street was also bitten,” Dhairya says. “He died without treatment.”
The experience changed everything. Dhairya’s family soon moved to Columbus, Georgia.
“My mom and sister are alive today because our family had access to resources,” Dhairya says. “This event exposed me to gaps in the social resource system. It still motivates me to look for ways to give back and to solve problems.”
Dhairya decided on UGA after acceptance to the UGA Honors Program. He had access to exclusive internships, classes, and research opportunities.
It didn’t take Dhairya long to leverage the university’s generosity into good works.
His first semester, as president of the Myers Community Council, he began his involvement with University Housing, helping peers enter the college system. Sophomore year, he became liaison between the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and UGA, learning first-hand the challenges of food supply in Athens.
At the food bank, he met other students passionate about service and social justice. “They inspired me to join the Public Service and Outreach Scholars Program (PSO),” he says.
Through PSO, Dhairya interned with Campus Kitchen, “a student-powered hunger relief organization,” as he describes it. He led a weekly cooking and delivery shift that took unused food from dining halls, restaurants, and other sources and transformed it into packaged meals for the needy.
Alongside these mercy missions, he developed a public health research study to find new ways to get food and health care information to families where grandparents raised grandchildren.
Between busy hours of service, Dhairya also conducted high-level laboratory research.
“In just my second semester, I began working in a genetics lab researching the epigenetic causes of obesity and a possible genetic treatment,” he says. “It was a highlight of my student career.”
Dhairya’s energetic work led to a graduate research assistantship at Archway Partnership, another unit of UGA’s Public Service and Outreach program.
Barely 20, he sat in on high-level executive board meetings discussing health care challenges for rural Georgia counties. His research focused on issues with opioid medications, a rising cause of overdose deaths in Archway communities.
Dhairya also co-created the American Mock World Health Organization (AMWHO), a think-tank modeled on the World Health Assembly. The organization built a large student following, inspired a university class, and hosted a regional conference at UGA on food issues.
For the AMWHO effort, Dhairya received the 2017 Candice Sherman Emerging Leader SOAR Award.
“I was humbled,” Dhairya says. “I feel I owe so much to UGA and my mentors here.”
As an Honors International Scholar, Dhairya took several UGA-supported opportunities to travel. One holiday break, he returned to India through an internship with the World Health Organization at the National Institute of Occupational Health. Dhairya visited coal mines and shadowed physicians, observing the challenges that still face health care providers in developing areas of his native country.
Life came full circle.
“The university made it possible for me to return to India and provide health care advice in the same area where my mother was bitten by a rabid dog,” he says.
“I was able to go back and see how India has changed … and how I have changed too.”
Dhairya plans to attend Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
“I’ll always be looking for ways to give back, and also to find ways to solve some of the same needs I see in rural Georgia as in India. Access to medicine and awareness matter everywhere.”