As a pre–med Whartonite and the president of the South Asia Society, Divya Rao has more than enough on her plate. But this week, she made some time in her busy schedule to sit down for a Street interview. She talked about her Copa obsession and what it is like to have 43 cousins.

Hometown: Dix Hills, New York

Major: Management and statistics in Wharton, with a minor in chemistry

Activities: South Asia Society, International Affairs Association, Alpha Phi

34th Street Magazine: Why did you decide to join the South Asia Society freshman year?

Divya Rao: The joke I always make is that SAS has been my longest relationship at Penn. I’ve been in the group throughout my entire college experience. I came from an area where the predominant community is white. I wanted to get involved and meet other people like me. SAS is a family. I wouldn’t have ever thought about doing the Wharton and pre–med combo until I saw other people in SAS doing it. 

Street: Has your experience at SAS helped you to understand more about your culture?

DR: Yes, definitely. My experience at SAS has expanded my view on things. Before joining SAS, I saw the culture as the food I eat at home and the language my parents speak, but that’s it. My family speaks the language Telugu, but there are over 30 languages in South Asia. I got exposed to Hindi for the first time at SAS, and now I’m very comfortable when surrounded by people who speak Hindi. It also taught me more about not looking only at appearances because everyone has more than what they look like. Everyone I met was, like, a totally different culture. 

Street: What did you do this past summer?

DR: This past summer I was doing research at Wharton and stem cell research in a lab at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. We were working specifically on CAR T–cell, which is a type of stem cell where they can modify your T–cells to be able to attack cancer cells. My job was involving both the science and the business side, a combo of what I study. I got to meet all these people who were coming up with treatments that are going to market and curing cancer right now.

Street: Why are you so passionate about medicine?

DR: I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. My mom is a doctor and when I was around 3 to 6 years old, she would bring me to the hospital. I would hang out with the nurses, who took care of me. Later in high school, I took a lot of STEM courses and knew I was going pre–med.

Street: When did you start to become interested in business?

DR: When I was a freshman, I knew nothing about business. I just thought about Wharton as the school where you can book a GSR. Then I talked to my dad, who’s in business, and his reasoning was, “You go to Penn, and you might as well just try it.” If I want to go into medicine, I think half of the battle is understanding the people, and the other half is understanding how they’ll pitch the product. These two are very compatible. I also thought about applying for a dual degree, but I want to graduate in four years. So I applied as a transfer, but still made sure that pre–med came first. Every semester I’ve been taking my classes for pre–med, and I’m actually done after this semester completely.

Street: What’s your plan after Penn?

DR: I’m thinking about taking a year off before going to medical school. I personally want to see what else is out there besides medicine, maybe something related with business, so that I can apply what I learned at school. Or just to take some time off from school, because I’ll be studying for the rest of my life. I’m thinking about doing research abroad. I would go to London if I can, because I have family in London. 

Street: Is it true that you have 43 cousins? Do you know all of them?

DR: Yes, and I do know all of them. It’s so awesome having so many cousins because like I always feel like I have someone to talk to about anything! We’re all so different but when we come together at reunions it’s like we are little kids again.

Lighting Round

If you can only have one superpower, would you choose to fly or to be invisible?

I would choose to fly because I’m a very type–A New Yorker. If I’m walking, and you are walking too slow, you got to pick up the pace. 

What’s your guilty pleasure song?

"Toxic" by Britney Spears. 

What’s your guilty pleasure food?

Biryani. It’s a mixed rish dice. My mom is coming to Penn tomorrow and she makes me this huge pot of biryani. I would eat it non–stop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

What’s your favorite course at Penn?

BIO–019, Biology & Public Policy. 

There are two types of people on campus...

People who like Copabanana and people who don’t. That’s my favorite restaurant in the world.


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