Name: Sneha Sharma
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.
Major: Philosophy, politics, and economics with minors in health care management, neuroscience, and engineering entrepreneurship
Tell us about your major and minors—how did you get here?
I think, starting from high school, we were always encouraged to think of different parts of the machine. When I was reading something, if it was history, [I'd] try to understand the psychology of the people involved, the social climate of the time—I'd try to understand every facet of it. So coming into Penn, whenever we had an issue in my pre–med classes, I was always interested in the hows and the whys of the whole picture. That led me to think that I should try an interdisciplinary approach at Penn because I want to be a lawyer after all of this, and [lawyers] always emphasize having to understand both sides of the subject. With any issue with health, which is what I’m interested in, I can understand the engineering side, the law behind it, and the economic impact of the issue. These minors and the major itself allow for an approach that looks at all the different sides of an issue.
What led you to health care?
I would say it goes back to my family. My mom became a doctor because, when she came to America from India, she saw the health care discrepancies, and so did my dad, [who grew up] in Zimbabwe. They raised me to be very appreciative of what I have. When you grow up in America, something like a flu shot being mandated by schools when it’s not so feasible in other places raises the question of, “Why do I have something?” or “Why do these disparities exist?”
How do these passions play into your extracurricular activities on campus?
When I came to Penn, I wanted to make sure that the time I spent here had an impact on something, whether it’s one person or something larger than that. For example, with research that I do at the Center for Behavioral Economics, I’m studying health policy and how government policies work in order to close that gap. On the other hand, I have the Penn Public Policy Group, where we lobby Congress or write to the United Nations. It’s kind of just translating what I’ve learned in classes to something that’s tangible, so that I’m using the resources at Penn for something else.
Off campus, how does your education inform your service work with your nonprofit, Tomorrow's Promises?
That started in high school. I was able to travel a lot growing up because my parents are from two different parts of the world, and every time we went to India or Zimbabwe, it was apparent that there was so much inequality. The thing is, we can’t be surprised by inequality when we don’t give people the resources they need. We can’t continue to act shocked by achievement gaps when there are things like corruption and systematic racism, and institutions that are responsible for this.
I did a lot of community service projects back home, and one of them was at my high school. People would have fundraisers, and we’d collect money for seven or eight nonprofits in the Mid–South to donate to that focused on closing the achievement gap for children, whether it had to do with literacy, health disparities, free lunches, and other issues like that.
When I saw the impact it was making, my idea was to do that on a broader scale. I started talking to some mentors and leaders in the community who brought up the idea of creating a nonprofit. Each child has a promise for tomorrow, and I feel that it’s our duty to ensure that they can fulfill that promise, so the initiatives were all trying to make sure children had the resources to fulfill their potential and do what they want to do. Even just one child being impacted was a change in itself, and we were doing something with what we all had. Even a bake sale—you get money for that, and if that is able to buy a book for a kid who wanted to learn how to read, that’s very important, and that’s something anyone can do. The idea behind it was to start small, and then hopefully have the ripple effect and get bigger.
It seems like it got pretty big.
Yeah. Right before college started, I was able to take this trip to India, and I wanted to build a library for this girls’ school. It kept getting vandalized—just playful vandalism from kids in the village, but they didn’t have a library at the end of the day. I think it’s important to understand the culture itself rather than just giving [people] money and abandoning the issue, so I lived there for a month with them to understand the day–to–day life. I came to realize that one of the major issues was that the girls had to go to a neighboring village to get water. They didn’t have time to go to school because they had a duty to provide for their family. So our project shifted from the library to getting things like bicycles to help the girls get water so they had time to go to school. It was also really exciting because we were able to work with another NGO to get a water plant to clean the water in the village and help the entire community. We found the root of the problem rather than just putting a Band–Aid on the issue. It comes back to the interdisciplinary thing, understanding where issues come from.
It was important to me that Tomorrow’s Promises created sustainable change. Donations do a lot, but I wanted to be able to see that it could continue on without the money.
How have these experiences influenced your future plans?
I want to practice international law with a focus on human rights. A lot of issues can be fixed through policy, and law school is important to understand policy and get the experience to understand constitutions, the mechanisms behind court decisions, and the semantics and syntax of legislation.
What's your most memorable experience at Penn?
I was studying with one of my friends, and we were studying Washington, D.C., a lot for our constitutional law class. We felt like we were in a rut because we wanted to see what we were learning and not just read it. Basically, we booked a Megabus to D.C. for a couple hours later and talked the entire ride there and got to know each other so well. The next day, we got to go walk around the museums and really see what we were studying. It was crazy. It’s what college is about really: having those experiences and that fun that we only really get to have for these four years.
If you were a building on campus, which would you be?
Probably Stommons [Starbucks in Commons]. It’s kind of [the] Old Reliable for me. It’s always there, there’s always food, there’s always coffee. And so many different people go there for so many different reasons, which really speaks to that whole interdisciplinary approach.
What's the last song you listened to?
What's your death row meal?
Halal food truck. I’m actually obsessed. Every time Restaurant Week comes up and everyone’s so excited to try it, I’m just happy with my Halal food truck. It just makes me happy.
There are two types of people at Penn ...
People who get eight hours of sleep, and people who get eight one–hour naps.
And you are?
I’m much more likely to get the eight one–hour naps.