Mahima Akula (University of Chicago)
Mahima Akula (she/her) came to Chicago from Texas four years ago to attend the University of Chicago. In addition to UChicago’s mix of liberal arts college feel and large research university resources, Akula says she was immediately drawn to the city itself.
Though she was not familiar with Chicago prior to moving there, community engagement programs including UChicago’s week-long Chicago Bound pre-orientation experience and the University Community Service Center’s Summer Links internship program, which pairs students with local nonprofits, all introduced Akula to new neighborhoods, groups, and issues.
“We were able to travel to different neighborhoods in Chicago and meet with different community members, community organizers, and people working in different fields and talk with them about different issues affecting Chicago, our role in them as college students, and how we might get involved,” she says.
The Dallas area native eventually wants to go to medical school but decided to major in English.
“As a potential healthcare professional, I would like to understand the people I work with, and I think the best way to understand someone is through their stories,” Akula says.
Akula spent her UChicago years working to understand her new city and its stories as well. Starting her second year, Akula worked with a lab implementing group visits for diabetes patients at community health centers in underserved communities. She worked with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Muslim Action Network and Chicago Eco House in Englewood, and the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination and Research. Research Akula conducted focused on how to mitigate burnout among community health center staff, she served as a campus tour guide, and after participating in UChicago’s Chicago Bound program as a first year she returned as a leader during her second.
This summer, Akula will put her community-facing experience to good use as she starts her post-college career in Hyde Park, working full-time studying ways to improve care for regional COPD patients as a Research Project Coordinator in UChicago’s Biological Sciences Division.
Engaging with the city and its people during her college years was what made Akula fall in love with Chicago, she says, and what made her want to plant her professional roots there after graduation. With a little more free time on her hands these days, Akula says she’s eager to explore more of the city and find new ways to contribute to it.
“You could just come get your degree and leave,” Akula says, “but I think that’s actually quite sad because you are part of this community whether you’re aware of it or not, and I think that’s also where you can find a lot of joy—to go into the city and explore and see what all there is to see, and discover, and learn.”