Butala is the founder and former president of the Indian Students Association which she created to help spread awareness about Indian cultures and traditions, provide a forum for fellow Indians and share the Indian heritage with the Rider community.
During her time at Rider, Butala was highly involved. Aside from her leadership roles, she was a protégé and peer mentor for the Gail Bierenbaum Women's Leadership Council (GBWLC), she worked as a transfer experience coordinator with Rider’s Office of Admissions, a student ambassador in the Office of Development and Annual Giving and participated in countless other campus activities.
As an undergraduate, Butala was a research assistant in the Department of Biology, worked as a STEM Summer Institute Mentor and worked as a mathematics tutor at the Children and Youth Empowerment Initiative. She also received the 2022 Bristol Myers Squibb Science Honors Program stipend to pursue independent research.
Butala was the commencement speaker of the Class of 2023 and graduated summa cum laude.
At three years old Sanjana Butala declared she wanted to be a doctor. As an academically talented child with multifaceted talents, the odds of achieving this dream seemed to be in her favor. However, the journey to reaching this goal became one that she describes as “a struggle between talent, hard work and fate.” The daughter of Indian parents, Butala, who was born in the United States, was abruptly moved to India at the age of eight due to extenuating family circumstances.
Shortly after moving, her parents divorced and the family became estranged from her father. Her mother, who was a victim of domestic abuse, was left financially unstable and faced challenges adjusting to her new life. Early on, Butala realized that higher education could be her best tool to return to the U.S., and her uncle agreed to fund her education after high school. However, on her graduation day, he reneged on his offer. Butala felt all hope was lost.
Nonetheless, she persisted. After a friend encouraged her to apply to Middlesex College in New Jersey, she took a major leap and decided to journey back to the States alone with no money to return to India, no confirmed admission to the college, and no financial support.
Later, Butala not only found success at Middlesex, but she also found Rider. It was there that she met Jennifer Cook, Rider’s associate director of transfer admissions, at a Transfer Fair and the rest was history. Butala applied and was awarded a Transfer Trustee Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship given to Rider’s top three community college applicants.
Read the Q&A below to learn more about Butala’s Rider story:
What are you doing now?
I recently started medical school at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University. I am pursuing plastic and reconstructive surgery. As the daughter of a mother who had faced domestic abuse, I see this as a profession that can help other victims of domestic abuse. While I can't change what has happened to them, I can give them hope to battle through their new life.
What experiences did you have at Rider to help you prepare for where you are today?
Although I have always known that I wanted to be a doctor, three particular experiences at Rider helped solidify my interests. First, in my first month at Rider, I began working as a research assistant with Dr. Julia Drawbridge in the biology department. My research here cultivated in me a sense of inquisitiveness and fuelled my curiosity for science and medicine.
Second, participating in the Hospital Intern Program at Rider (conducted in collaboration with Capital Health). Through this program, I shadowed healthcare professionals in over 10 departments which gave me greater exposure to healthcare. . and taught me a lot about the humane experience of healthcare.
Lastly, my participation in the Baccalaureate Honors Program allowed me to develop interdisciplinary perspectives and critical thinking skills as well as taught me the importance of collaboration and acceptance of different thoughts and opinions.
Rider hasn't just impacted my life, it has changed its entire trajectory. Had it not been for the Transfer Trustee scholarship and the experiences I have had here, I would never have been able to be accepted to medical school or even graduate with a bachelor's degree."
How did Rider resources positively impact your success as a student?
The Student Navigation Coach program was particularly supportive in my transition to Rider as a nervous transfer student. I’d like to thank Stephanie Martinez, my navigation coach, for going out of her way to support my personal and professional journey at Rider and making my first year at Rider a warm and welcoming experience. Also, I would like to thank Jennifer Cook. Her mentorship in my journey at Rider was constant and supportive and proved to be a blessing in disguise for me and my family.
What is the key takeaway from your Rider experience?
At Rider, I realized that ultimately what's important is that we work hard for the dreams that are ours and not waste our lives living someone else's dreams. The road beyond Rider may be difficult but coming here and achieving what I did has made me realize that the best views always come after the hardest climbs.
Rider taught me to not be afraid to be uncertain. Getting a college degree amidst a pandemic and life's uncertainties has taught me the value of success. Coming in as a transfer student from a community college applying to medical school, I was certainly a minority amongst several competitive applicants but my experiences at Rider taught me that sometimes taking the road less traveled can bring you to incredible destinations.
College of Arts and Sciences: School of Science, Technology and Mathematics
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