Washington University senior and Stern Family Civic Scholar Akhil Kesaraju is no stranger to getting involved in his community.
Raised in Lexington, Kentucky, his family often made civic engagement within the South Asian community a major priority.
“Growing up, I followed their example and the example of others in my community, who were doing important civic engagement work, whether it was with voting or specific policy action,” Kesaraju said. In high school, he was involved with his student body council where he helped advocate against teachers’ pension cuts, among other issues.
“The community I grew up in and the high school I went to really instilled in me, I would say, an interest in being involved in some form of governance, and some form of representation and advocacy work.”
As a senior in high school, he was drawn to Washington University partly after hearing about the Civic Scholars Program. The program includes intensive coursework, leadership training, and mentorship to prepare Scholars for a life dedicated to civic and community engagement, and an academic summer award to support a substantial civic project or internship.
Now a senior double majoring in microbiology and anthropology, Kesaraju is continuing to make a difference.
His project, which he started and worked on throughout the fall of his junior year, stemmed from helping immigrant and minority business owners prevent COVID-19 transmission in their businesses. With his background in biology and the partnership of a friend with a strong business background, he created a focus group called Design Health STL to consult businesses during the pandemic.
Some of his efforts included working to develop cost-effective strategies for increasing ventilation or improving sanitation in the businesses. Through the project, he has also started working with the International Institute of St. Louis.
Kesaraju credits being a part of Civic Scholars with impacting his WashU experience.
“It’s given me a fantastic community of friends and people who are also passionate about different civically-involved things.”
He specifically values the mentorship component of the program and the conversations with Gephardt professional staff and his fellow Civic Scholars. “They’ve made me reevaluate how I think about a lot of issues.”
At WashU, Kesaraju is also involved in student organizations such as GlobeMed and Welcome Neighbor STL. He plans to pursue medicine in the future, and his involvement in civic engagement over the years has gone hand-in-hand with his passion for community health and ensuring that medical providers work as “community partners.”
He encourages other WashU students to get more involved with the St. Louis community.
“I feel like it’s just taking that step to email [organizations] and to do research about it. And talk to people who are older, and you can talk to the Gephardt Institute and other organizations on campus that do work off-campus.”