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Second Annual My Tufts Story Video Contest

Tufts University fosters a learning environment for students to personalize their education around their passions, interests, and aspirations throughout their time at the University. We recognize students’ broad range of paths and integrated learning experiences; My Tufts Story video contest highlights the myriad ways in which students are shaping their own learning and experience.

We are delighted to recognize the two grand prizes and seven first-place school-level winners. Several students received honorable mentions, as well. All these videos represent the multi-faceted nature of a Tufts education. We thank everyone who took the time to submit a video, and we are excited to share these submissions with the rest of the Tufts community.

$1,000 Grand Prize Winner

Elizabeth De Jesus, School of Medicine

Video Link: https://youtu.be/lRkeCGbqLq8

Reflection Paragraph:

When I matriculated to Medical School at Tufts University School of Medicine in 2017, I began focusing on mentoring students who are underrepresented in medicine, like myself. As the Diversity Representative, I formulated and taught workshops to third-year medical students concentrating on navigating mistreatment and discrimination we commonly face in the clinical setting. I worked directly with the Dean of Student Affairs on the anti-mistreatment board to restructure the anonymous reporting requirements for students. As president of the Surgical Interest group, I designed and delivered various surgical skill workshops while recruiting students from diverse backgrounds for early surgical career exposure. As a member of the Anti-Racism Committee, I centered on instituting solutions to address discrimination and racism at Tufts. I am proud of my role in creating a more inclusive environment at Tufts University, but as I looked around and met so few people like me, I quickly learned of the lack of representation in medicine among people of color. I needed to mentor earlier in their academic career, just as I had mentors early in my professional development who guided my love of medicine. To provide mentorship earlier, I focused on supporting pre-medical students with matriculation to medical school. As a Pre-Professional Health Science Committee Member at my alma mater, I volunteered as an academic advisor and mentor to Temple Undergraduate students focused on preparing them for matriculation to medical school via mock interviews, application review and revision of personal statements. Shortly thereafter, I was elected to the Tufts University School of Medicine Admissions Committee, where I was driven by the opportunity to recruit and advocate for a diverse and inclusive student body at TUSM. As an admissions committee member, I discerned that only a minority of students interviewed were from underrepresented backgrounds, indicating the lack of exposure to higher education which limits students from considering a field in medicine altogether. I realized the importance of a solution when I volunteered with the Tufts IDEAS in medicine field trip. This field trip introduced 7th graders from Eugene Wright Science Elizabeth De Jesus Statement of Purpose 3 and Technology in Chelsea, MA to Tufts School of Medicine. This wonderful experience taught students physical exam skills, medical concepts, and anatomy but more importantly exposed young students from underrepresented backgrounds, to higher education professions by way of medical students with similar upbringings.

$1,000 Grand Prize Winner: Artistry & Editing

Sachin Vallamkonda, School of Medicine

Video Link: https://youtu.be/IachGWKXD2Q

Reflection Paragraph:

My Tufts Story has been one of experiencing moments of solidarity and also one of working to create solidarity. I have always found the value of communal unity and togetherness very important. At Tufts, I have experienced community in various places: new peers in my pre-orientation group, my dance team JumboRaas, student-run organization on campus, and even friends across different academic departments. However, the significance of solidarity expands beyond simply finding and feeling it in various communities but rather in also creating and working to bolster it on a larger scale. The current COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of many showcasing how different communities can be impacted in differing ways by the health and social determinants that contribute to health inequity. Throughout my undergraduate career, my peers and I at Tufts have worked to address health inequity and build solidarity in various ways -- whether through collaborating with community leaders and clinicians to create health screenings in the greater Boston area or raising awareness about how we as students and researchers can contribute to grassroots health interventional projects abroad. Looking towards the future, I plan to continue engaging in similar projects with my peers at Tufts within the field of medicine and public health.

Eventually, I applied to the MBS program at Tufts to strengthen my academic credentials before applying to medical school. The community at Tufts not only helped me integrate into a new city, but also taught me how to take full advantage of the incredible opportunities available in Boston. The medical students advised me through my MBS classes and introduced me to research opportunities they found fulfilling during their MBS research year. Because of their guidance, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best pediatric anesthesiologists and researchers at Boston Children's. This has helped inform my view of different career paths in medicine and has influenced me to seek a career that combines both clinical practice and research.

Furthermore, my faculty mentors at Tufts have encouraged me to continue my passions outside of the classroom. This year I have worked as a route setter at Central Rock Gym and continue to train hard to improve my climbing. This has been a great way for me to push through my perceived physical and mental limits in the gym and outdoors. This outlet has also helped me realize that I can truly do anything I set my mind to as long as I am willing to put in the work. Most importantly, I have learned that while the end goal is something to strive for, finding ways to enjoy the journey will make arriving at the destination that much sweeter.

School Winners

Tatyana Camejo, Friedman School of Nutrition

Video Link: https://youtu.be/vhbEHuA34Ow

Reflection Paragraph:

On April 2017 everything changed. A part of me I had tried silencing for so long had been awakened and there was no turning back. A blow to the head from an accidental fall brought me more clarity than anything else ever has. “Get my life back by giving others their health back.” During my concussion recovery, school seemed like a nonexistent option, a lost dream, but yet it was the only thing that kept me going during those difficult days. I had never felt so certain about anything else in my life. While I was always very strong in the sciences, I had majored in architecture at Yale University and had been working for 6 years in graphic design. Yet my concussion led me down the path of science once more with my M.S. in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. At the Neuroscience Symposium held at Tufts University, I met Chris Dulla, the program director for the neuroscience program at Tufts. I voiced my own personal story of concussion recovery with the ketogenic diet and how it led me to my studies at Tufts. This eventually led to a directed study under Chris who had been working on preclinical models of traumatic brain injuries, ketogenic diets, and glycolytic inhibition. I immediately felt at home in the lab. It was as if everything I had studied until now had led me to this moment. I felt like I was back in architecture studio except instead of cutting wood and slicing paper, I was slicing brain tissue. Instead of painting, I was mounting brain slices on slides. Outside of the classroom, I used my design and photography for my blog Heal in Bloom to help others recovering from concussions and provide nutrition facts for brain health. I have also spoken to concussion support groups about the importance of diet in concussion recovery and shared my story on the Friedman Sprout. I also used my design skills to design a new logo for The Future of Food and Nutrition student run research conference. I have given back to the Tufts community by volunteering to be the TA for Graduate Biochemistry. I knew I wanted to use my passion and skill for scientific research to help guide first year students in this exceptionally challenging course. I knew that my masters degree at Tufts would provide me with all the tools to start investigating the answers I am seeking, but hopefully a PhD at Tufts would lead to a lifetime of research into the complex neurochemical processes in the brain with the ultimate goal of contributing to scientific advances to help people find their health from debilitating neurological conditions. Sometimes it can take a lifetime to find our purpose. An unexpected accident led me to Tufts and what I discovered was not only a path to recovery, but a career path to help others find answers to our most pressing ailments.

Nicole Cassarino, School of Medicine

Video Link: https://youtu.be/D6rltTjuFPQ

Reflection Paragraph:

Before beginning the MPH program, I studied psychology as a pre-med student. During that time, I interned for a mental health facility for one year, where I mentored rural, impoverished teens. This experience got me interested in health equity in medicine. After graduating college in 2018, I worked for two years as an epidemiology research intern at Brigham and Women's Hospital, studying the health of incarcerated individuals. During this time, I also volunteered at Tufts Medical Center to gain clinical experience with diverse, urban populations. As I was beginning to apply to medical school in spring 2020, I realized that having a formal education in public health would allow me to better serve my future patient population, as I aspire to work with justice-involved adults. Based on my experiences volunteering at Tufts Medical Center, I knew that getting an MPH at TUSM could transform my ability to continue conducting research on the health of incarcerated communities and would also allow me to practice medicine in a way that champions health equity for vulnerable patients. I have made the most of my time in the one-year accelerated MPH program before starting medical school at TUSM in July by studying epidemiology and biostatistics, which I use everyday in my lab at BWH. I have also begun working as a research assistant for Dr. Alysse Wurcel, a Tufts physician who studies infectious diseases in Massachusetts jails. I spent summer 2020 volunteering to help Dr. Alice Tang, professor of epidemiology at TUSM, review literature about COVID-19 to inform best practices for eventually re-opening the TUSM campus. I ran for and was elected to the PHPD student senate and currently sit on the MPH admissions committee. In October 2020, I was accepted to the MD program at TUSM, my first-choice MD program. In medical school, I plan to continue working with Dr. Wurcel to prepare for a career delivering patient-centered, sensitive, equitable care to patients with a history of justice-involvement.

Lenor Levy, Undergraduate School of Arts & Sciences, SMFA Dual Degree Program

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TvLOwjEFuE&t=1s

Reflection Paragraph:

My journey at Tufts has been far more eventful and rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I began as an Arts & Sciences student, intending on majoring in Economics and International Relations, but re-fell in love with art again, transferring into the SMFA combined degree program within a year. Since then, I have found art in calculus and calculus in art. Being able to curate such a unique academic experience here has changed my career path, but more importantly my character and goals. I hope to continue finding unique ways to employ the myriad of skills I have picked up here.

Ariana Barreiro, Undergraduate School of Engineering

Video Link: https://youtu.be/qBE7xiTfbrY

Reflection Paragraph:

My name is Ariana Barreiro, I was born and raised in Ecuador and I am a sophomore currently studying Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Engineering Management. My interest in Biomedical studies started when my grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, for which I decided to try the school of engineering my first semester. I didn’t apply directly to the engineering school because I was always focused on degrees that are more viable to return to work in Ecuador, but after arriving at Tufts and taking that first BME class, I knew that this was what I was really passionate about and I devoted all of my time to learn as much as I could and be able to one day take this back to Ecuador. I am on almost full-financial aid for which I have had the amazing opportunity to have work-study as part of my scholarship. My mentor and professor David Kaplan gave me the chance to work in his lab where I have been able to learn so much about biomedical engineering and fell even more in love with the field. This year I have had the chance to work in the neuroscience lab and continue to learn about the brain which was what initially sparked my interest in BME. Outside of the lab, I have been able to be part of the executive board of the Latin American Committee where I help create a community devoted to talking about Latin America, my home, and share this love with students of all backgrounds here on campus. I have also joined 180 Degrees Consulting which allows me to work on non-profit organizations. Back at home, I devoted so much time to social impact and this allows me the opportunity to continue to help my community while at the same time learn new skills I could apply to bring Biomedical Engineering consulting to Ecuador. I believe that my Tufts story is about resilience. Even with only one “normal” semester here I have been able to thrive and learned that if you have something you are truly passionate no health issue, or global pandemic can get in the way of continuing to pursue and work hard for what you believe in.

Mohit Saini, The Fletcher School

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utwNa9LppCQ

Reflection Paragraph:

I am Mohit from India, a second-year graduate student at the Fletcher School. I worked as an international development consultant across Asia and Africa for seven years. Given my extensive experience, I am aware of the potential of networks and capital to catalyze positive social, economic, and environmental impact, especially in emerging countries across Asia and Africa. As a result, I joined The Fletcher School to gain expertise in impact investing and innovative finance. My experiences at Tufts have equipped me with the necessary skills and knowledge to support innovative ventures with capital, advisory, network, etc. to solve serious problems in this world. In the last two years, I have pursued various academic and extracurricular activities to build a career in this field. I conducted in-depth research in India to deep dive into the impact investing sector. I interned with an impact investor in Singapore to gain real-world experience. I represented Tufts University in a global impact investing competition organized by The Wharton School. I lead the Fletcher Social Investment Group. I am also planning to teach a course on impact investing during the summer break. I am so delighted that I chose Tufts to create my career path. The flexibility and world-class resources made this a possibility.

Emelyn Chiang, Graduate School of Engineering

Video Link: https://youtu.be/UUCRpGqEuCA

Reflection Paragraph:

Ever since I was young, I have been enraptured by the beauty of nature. Hiking in Acadia National Park for the first time when I was 8 years old was an eye opening experience which allowed me to truly appreciate how magnificent our wild places are. Since then, my passion for environmental issues and sustainability has only grown as I have discovered how intertwined the environment is with countless other problems including racial equity and public health. It was this passion for the environment that led me to the path of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Tufts. I am eager to bring my technical skills to my future career to protect our communities and environment, and have already started walking this path in the form of numerous environmental research projects. Recently, my team’s undergraduate Environmental Science capstone project won an AASHE Campus Sustainability Research award for quantifying dining emissions at our college and proposing lower-carbon beef and dairy alternatives. My pursuits outside of school also reflect my passion for the environment. I am an avid hiker and rock climber, loving all things sporty and outdoors. Even the wedding photography and videography business I have built began with an affinity for nature photography, and has only recently become more commercialized as I capture weddings and events. Finally, my volunteer work in crisis text line counseling is born out of my own battle with mental health and my desire to help others who have struggled as I have. I’m excited to bring my academic and extracurricular background to my future career in Environmental Engineering to protect the wild places and communities I love.

Also, I was awarded the Stern Graduate fellowship which gives me the opportunity to get more out of research while engaging with the Tufts community outside the classroom. As a result of my interest in climate activism and clean energy, I am involved in planning one of the largest energy/climate conferences – Tufts Energy Conference – in the Greater Boston Area which gives me the opportunity to take the lead while working with multicultural graduate and undergraduate students on campus.

In summary, it has been a wonderful experience so far at Tufts and I hope to get more out of my time here.

Katja Kwaku, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUWQJqD8Vl4&feature=youtu.be

Reflection Paragraph:

I am a master’s student in the Biology department. I am specializing in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, and I am passionate about all types of science education. I made this video to highlight the well-rounded nature of my Tufts experience and the welcoming sense of community I have found at Tufts. My fellow grad students and I are both academic collaborators and close friends; we engage in scientific discussions and projects for courses (like in Bio 181 where we decided to write up our final paper for publication) and we hang out at social events that I have helped organize this year as part of the Biology Union of Graduate Students (BUGS) Activities Committee. In addition, Tufts’ geographic location in the greater Boston area provides a rich academic, cultural, and social environment of which I have taken advantage. I have explored Boston with my friends in my free time and I have had the opportunity to do scientific outreach in greater Boston and beyond.