When Priya Deliwala (C ‘24) enters—no, bounces—into a room with a radiant smile from ear to ear, one can’t help but feel infected by the contagious positive energy embodied by a bubbly, warm, and welcoming self. This senior exemplifies the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and remaining open to grabbing the reins of any new opportunity that arises. Looking at the beautiful, intricate Henna tattoo drawn on Priya’s hands, it is clear that Indian culture is embedded into every aspect of Priya's life. Priya feels like the most authentic representation comes forth in giving back to others. Selfless and attentive, Priya tries to make others feel visible and important as a well–rounded, strong, and compassionate individual. 

Navigating life post–graduation, Priya’s eyes lit up describing life at Penn and the friends and memories made here. 

Hometown: Yardley, Pa.

Major: Cognitive Science, Concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience

Activities: Student manager of Penn Flutes, President of SEAS Wellness, Training Director and Counselor for Penn Benjamins, Research Assistant for Changing Brain Lab, Penn Atma, TA CIS 1100 and CIS 4210

Tell me a little bit about your academic journey here at Penn: 

I actually started at Penn studying computer science in the Engineering school. It just felt like what I was supposed to do. I didn’t really give it a second thought until my second year of college. I realized I liked being able to utilize my computational skills, but engineering felt too restrictive once I learned that I could pursue a major like cognitive science that also incorporated computer science. I think it took joining my research lab after my freshman year to realize that I could find the computational foundations I was looking for in other fields like neuroscience and cognitive psychology. I soon realized that I am really fascinated by the brain, mental health, and human intellect, which is why I transferred to the college. Also, on a personal level, engineering was definitely encouraged from my family since I was young. On some level, I wanted to explore all of the different kinds of classes out there, which is why cognitive science is perfect. It’s kind of a “little bit of everything” major. 

Do you take part in any initiatives to help improve mental health on campus? 

In Engineering, I quickly noticed a focus in the culture on how hard and long everyone was working. It was crazy. I thought it would be great to get involved in a club that is wellness oriented. I joined the SEAS Wellness team and remained in it even after I transferred. I became president of the club which is really ironic because I wasn’t even in Engineering. I had responsibilities like organizing fun events and collaborating with members of other clubs. However, once I was in college, I started to get involved in Penn Benjamins, which is the free peer counseling organization for Penn undergraduates. I’m now the training director for new counselors. 

Despite all of my efforts, I came to the realization that there is a limit to the impact they can have, which is why I want to focus my career and research on the preventative aspect of mental health. I am working on projects through which I hope to answer questions like, “why do certain external life factors and early life stressors impact the way the brain develops, and then affect other mental health outcomes?” This is a topic I feel is important to me, and the combination of intervention and research have helped me cultivate this passion. 

Have you had any experiences that have shown you how meaningful your role as a peer counselor truly is? 

It’s interesting because I sometimes get the feeling that interacting with Penn students is such a small, specific bubble of the country’s population when thinking about mental health. While I don’t feel like a professional, I love to know that the events and programs I help organize can serve as a place for students to unwind and get a boost of happiness that diverts them from the stress and anxiety provoked by their schoolwork. I love that I can provide this distraction. Yet, I would say the greatest impact I felt like I had on a Penn student was actually while being a TA for CIS 1110. For one semester, us TAs held office hours specifically catering to the wellness of our students rather than just seeking help with coursework. To my surprise, students took advantage of these sessions and felt comfortable sharing personal challenges not related to the class, and it was really cool that I was able to provide this outlet to help them. 

How do you think this kind of work impacted your experience at Penn? 

The TA stuff, research stuff, counseling stuff— all of that clumps together to make improving mental health my primary focus at Penn. Classes helped inform the way I thought about these things and activities, but it was the programs themselves outside of the classroom that became more important to me. I became way more excited about the prospect of training a new member of Penn Ben’s or organizing an event for SEAS wellness. I’d say my experiences have definitely shifted my priorities by making me care a lot more about ideas beyond my classes. I think a lot of Penn students lose sight of that. 

How has being a part of the LBGTQ community shaped your perspective, and overall Penn experience? Do you think it has an impact on the way you guide others? 

I came into myself at the beginning of sophomore year. My hair had really huge, curly ringlets and then I cut it short. I changed my expression and reintroduced myself to people to a certain extent starting my sophomore year and I think that's also when my roommates and my friends became like my second family. They support me in so many ways. 

When I was a TA, one student came up to me and said, “I did not realize there were so many queer people in computer science.” It is important to acknowledge that the STEM field contains less representation and I think that visibility has a great impact on people. 

How do you think your Indian background and culture have contributed to your identity and the person you are today? 

I didn't grow up with a lot of South Asian people around me at all. I was so surprised coming to a school like Penn, seeing how diverse it is and how many more South Asian people there are here than what I was used to.

Also, initially it felt like there was an overwhelming separation between the South Asian community and the queer community. I felt like a huge part of my South Asian identity here has been trying to combine the two and trying to figure out how I can do both of those things without confining myself to only one group. I was also in a South Asian acapella group for my first two years here hoping to form a tight–knit community, but it definitely contributed to this feeling that my South Asian and queer identities had to be different. My culture is instilled in me and I have realized it will always be who I am. Even if I have to be a little different in South Asian spaces, or when I fly back to India for a wedding, I found that at Penn it is possible for me to feel many different things at once. There are also some organizations here I can relate to, specifically Penn Queer and Asian, where my two identities can work and thrive together. 

Do you have any plans for after you graduate? 

So I actually graduated last semester. I’m currently teaching two classes and continuing with my research position. The project I’m working on deals with motor cortex development in handwriting. We performed different handwriting exercises with children and quantified their progress, hoping to understand how external factors and demographics contribute to their learning. I work like 30 hours a week but it’s so chill. I am considering careers that are both computational and research–oriented, and it’s like this weird push and pull between doing industry because I have the useful technical skills but think I am more interested in research. This inner conflict lets me keep my options open for the future. 

If you could give advice to any Penn student, what would it be? 

Finding people that extend beyond your inner circle and are super different from you keeps this Penn experience very holistic. It will also help you remain aware of everything occurring on campus because one thing I’ve realized is that there are so many things I have absolutely no idea about. Buildings that I haven’t gone into, people in organizations who are super cool and I didn’t even know existed, people in classes that are traveling globally. Keeping my eyes open about everything offered at Penn is a constant reminder of the tremendous opportunity we have to be here. This is something that has worked for me, and I’ve seen it work for other people too.


Lightning Round

Favorite movie: Everything Everywhere All At Once

No Skip Album: I’ve been listening to a lot of Bollywood recently, specifically the Kabir Singh album. I’ve been in my Indian era or whatever. 

Favorite Place to Do Work on Campus: WilCaf

Favorite Place to Get Food in Philly: Su Vege

Lightning oundypes of people at Penn: People who take the hypotenuse shortcut routes and those who don’t.

And you are: Team hypotenuse 100%