Tripti Shukla, a double major from Little Rock, has been named the winner of the 2022 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Frank L. and Beverly Whitbeck established the award in memory of their son, Edward Lynn Whitbeck, who was a senior at Little Rock University, the predecessor of UA Little Rock, at the time of his death in 1965. Each scholar receives a personalized plaque and a monetary award.
“I was blindsided by the news at first,” Shukla said. “It’s such an immense distinction, and I didn’t think I was worthy of such a big honor. Winning the Whitbeck Award made me realize I am capable of achieving great things in life.”
Shukla earned the Whitbeck Award while double majoring in chemistry and biology at UA Little Rock. After graduation, she will take a gap year to get more experience in research and medicine. She plans to continue biochemistry research with Dr. Shanzhi Wang, associate professor of chemistry, and her volunteer work at Harmony Health Clinic.
Shukla plans to attend medical school in 2023. She is deciding between earning a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or MD-Ph.D., which is a combination of a Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy that trains students in clinically oriented research.
“I wanted to become a doctor because of my interest in science,” Shukla said. “I started liking chemistry when I took advanced placement chemistry from Dr. Beth Maris at Central High School. Growing up, math and science were my favorite topics, but chemistry combined both of my passions. I further grew my appreciation for chemistry during a chemical engineering camp and decided to major in chemistry. I grew my love for biology once I started working in a biochemistry lab. The assimilation of chemistry and biology provided me with the backbone required for medicine.”
A native of India, Shukla moved to the U.S. when her father was transferred to work in Arkansas when she was 11. In her time at UA Little Rock, she has shown a great dedication to service.
She has served as treasurer and vice president of the UA Little Rock chapter of the American Chemical Society, a learning assistant with the Department of Chemistry, a senator for the Student Government Association, a member of Model Arab League, and a student representative for the Faculty Senate Student Research and Creative Works Committee.
“To make a change in the student body, I served as a senator for the Student Government Association,” Shukla said. “Not every student is privileged enough to afford the caps and gowns, but finance should not be the reason they are deprived of celebrating their graduation. One of the bills I co-sponsored was providing regalia packages to students with these financial restrictions hoping to provide everyone the equal opportunity to walk down the stage and get the degree they have so dedicatedly obtained.”
Dr. Wang, Shukla’s professor and research mentor, said that she helped many students in the Department of Chemistry through recruitment and tutoring. In her role as a learning assistant, Shukla led 12 students in a chemistry lesson every week for over four semesters.
“Tripti is not only a first-rate student but also an outstanding peer educator in her role as a learning assistant,” Wang said. “Over the course of my interactions with her, I noticed her innate ability to draw others and build a group that was successful in their class efforts. This natural leadership and developed communication skill is quite impressive, an accurate exemplification of an outstanding student.”
She has worked as a research assistant in Dr. Wang’s biochemistry lab for two years. Along with her research, she published an article, “Machine Learning Methods in Drug Delivery,” as the primary author in the journal, Molecules, in 2020. The article has already been viewed more than 15,000 times and cited 30 times.
“Ms. Shukla is a kind and amicable person who is always willing to help,” said Dr. Anindya Ghosh, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “She has portrayed great leadership by recruiting a number of students into our organizations. Additionally, she has been providing scientific demonstrations to different school students to entice them into STEM education for recruiting purposes. She has also offered free tutoring for multiple hours to our other students. She is an intelligent, creative, and hard-working person.”
In the community, Shukla has gained clinical experience by volunteering with the Kavanaugh COVID Clinic and Harmony Health Clinic. By indulging in service, she has allowed an enormous amount of personal growth and learned to be empathetic, and acquired valuable skills required to be a successful healthcare worker/provider.
“I helped distribute vaccines at the Kavanaugh COVID Clinic,” Shukla said. “It was a meaningful experience because it felt like I was working to save lives. Volunteering at Harmony Health Clinic has helped me put a perspective on what it will be like during the next 10 years as a medical doctor. It solidified my interest in medicine and helping others.”
For her academic and research contributions, Shukla has been awarded two Signature Experience Awards from UA Little Rock, the American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry, the ACS Outstanding Graduating Senior Award, the Martha Couch Givens Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior in Biology, a 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, second place in the physical science category at the 2021 Student Research and Creative Works Expo, and first place at the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence conference.
“I was invited to present my research at the 2022 Capitol Rotunda in Little Rock and had asked my state representatives to come to hear the research,” she said. “In the past few years, my accomplishments and achievements have helped me strive for excellence and firm my interest in science and even more in the research field.”