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Shreedevi Arun Kumar has received the 2020 U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship, which supports doctoral students involved in research and teaching. | Image: Shreedevi Arun Kumar

Now in the last year of her doctoral program, Shreedevi Arun Kumar has found a passion for research and teaching. To help her pursue those paths in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Arun Kumar has received the 2020 U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship from Texas A&M University.

Arun Kumar has been involved in research for the last four years and only recently began to develop her skills as an instructor with the help of a graduate teaching fellowship in 2019.

“That really opened my eyes to the fact that I loved teaching, especially when undergrads come back to me and say they’re glad they took the class,” Arun Kumar said. “I really love the interaction with the students.”

In research, Arun Kumar’s work is mainly in tissue engineering and drug delivery studies. She works to gain a better understanding of the impact hydrogels have on cells, as well as innovative ways to deliver drugs for cancer applications.

Arun Kumar’s own experience, both as a researcher and a former undergraduate student, influences what she brings to the classroom.

“I always wanted to know real-life examples,” Arun Kumar said. “I would, of course, want to know the basics, but beyond that, I think what interested me in this field was the relevance, the translational aspect of it. That’s what I try to incorporate in my classes.”

One example was when she used examples of a project she had worked on involving vaccine application. Several of the undergraduate students who worked with her on the project also took the course she taught. 

“That was exciting for them to see something they had worked being talked about in a class setting,” Arun Kumar said.

Arun Kumar said she has renewed emotional motivation to continue on her path with the Gramm Doctoral Fellowship.

“As you go into your Ph.D., you start to lose the picture of why you came here, what are you passionate about,” Arun Kumar said. “I think when you’re recognized with something like this for your contribution, that motivates you to go to the finish line. This is what I’ve been working for, and now this is the reminder that I should keep moving, keep pushing.” 

Arun Kumar’s experience combining research and teaching has also impacted thoughts on her plans after graduation.

“I’ve always wanted to pursue research, but I think mentoring is something I’ve grown to enjoy,” Arun Kumar said. “I, for sure, would want some form of mentoring or teaching in my future.”