On and off campus, IUPUI makes strides to be an epicenter of cultural and communal impact. But as much as we can continue steadfast and with our noses to the grindstone, no good deed should go without proper recognition.
It is with that in mind that Campus Compact has named the 173 student civic leaders who will make up the organization’s 2022-2023 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows – one of which is IUPUI’s very own Medha Vijay Kulkarni.
To be nominated for such a fellowship, prospective students must be selected by the national coalition of colleges and universities’ own members, presidents, and chancellors. Such a choice is made all the more difficult when only one candidate is allowed to be selected per campus each year.
Chosen by the previous chancellor of the university, Nasser Paydar stated that “Medha brings diverse views together, maintains adaptability and confidence in high-stress situations, and broadens her understanding of our community needs.” Through descriptions of her activities around campus as “meaningful”, “relevant,” and “life-changing,” Kulkarni’s selection into the group became justifiable if not outright apparent.
Such acclaim paired with titles like Social Justice Scholar and Alternative Break Coordinator would make Kulkarni out to be a larger-than-life personality, though sitting down and speaking with the honored student is a very different and personable story.
Growing up in India, Kulkarni knew early on that she wanted to explore the opportunities that state-side academia allowed. But once enrolled in IUPUI’s Computer Science program the international travel seemed to be only the beginning of a feeling all too familiar to new students.
“It was very important for me to be involved because I was getting homesick a lot,” Kulkarni states, “but getting involved with programs gave me a sense of community.”
The program which acted as a catalyst was IUPUI’s Alternative Break (AB). Grouped into teams of 10 to 12 students, the program sets out to serve six to eight hours a day over the week-long trip in service-learning experiences both around the city and beyond.
“In 2019, I participated in the Fall AB Trip based on environmentalism [where] I volunteered to remove plant litter and invasive species in Tennessee,” said Kulkarni. “Being on this trip reinforced my perspectives on countering community service and the importance of active citizenship in the realm of making change. It gave me newfound confidence and energy to push myself out of my comfort zone – a surge of learning, serving, reflecting, laughing, and listening with an amazing group.”
Through these efforts to be an engaged citizen as well as the strong bonds with fellow AB volunteers made along the way that Kulkarni would go on to become a coordinator for the program and further tackle some of the issues that hit closest to home for her. Such projects as coordinator included collaborative efforts with Coburn Place Safe Haven to help survivors of domestic violence and their children to the creation of donation boxes to support Afghan refugees.
“With these issues, I wouldn’t need a motivational factor to work on these things, they are just so personal to me,” said Kulkarni about selecting the AB projects. “[Each topic] felt reflective of who I am.”
When not actively engaging in the real world, Kulkarni also takes on activism in the digital realm by leading and hosting the Hash It Out Podcast. Overseen by the campus’s Social Justice Scholars and funded by the Multicultural Center, Hash It Out is centered around informing and exploring social justice issues through various lenses.
“I felt that since I was introverted, I couldn’t see myself taking a microphone into the courtyard and shouting,” said Kulkarni. Some of the other scholars in my program do it and I really applaud them, but in finding my own way of advocacy I knew it was going to be different.”
In finishing the conversation, it’s easy for one to see how such a self-proclaimed introvert can and will continue to create positive change. Whether behind a microphone or out connecting and helping those that need it the most, Kulkarni stands as an exemplary member of the university continuing onwards and upwards in a coordinated and aspirational effort and one certainly worth honoring.
Throughout the rest of the fellowship year, Campus Compact will provide Medha and other students with opportunities and events to help continually develop strategies for social change through its comprehensive network of connected and engaged student leaders.