While she might be mourning the pre-COVID Wesleyan experience, Shantel Sosa ’21 has definitely made the most of her time on campus. She’s been a member of Ajùa Campos, the University’s Latino/a/x student identity and affinity group, played volleyball, danced, and been involved in pre-med organizations—it seems like the only thing she hasn’t done yet is graduate. The Argus Zoomed with Sosa to talk about all this and more.
The Argus: What are you majoring in?
Shantel Sosa: I’m an MB&B [molecular biology and biochemistry] and Science in Society [SISP] double major. I’m also a chemistry minor.
A: Why did you choose those majors?
SS: I’m pre-med, and I think MB&B was the best major for me to check off most of those pre-med requirements. I also had a lot of other interests, and in my first years at Wesleyan was combing through psychology, Latin American Studies, American Studies, Gov, a whole bunch of different things. And I felt like the Science in Society major was a good way to give me an opportunity to take a lot of different disciplines, like philosophy, anthropology, a whole bunch of stuff, and have it fall under one major that connects it back to science.
A: Have you had a favorite Science in Society class?
SS: I really liked all of them that I’ve taken. One that definitely sticks out in my mind is, last spring, I was taking “History of Disease and Epidemics.” During the time of the COVID outbreak, to be studying about previous epidemics and outbreaks like Ebola or HIV, the Spanish flu, and putting those in historical context was really interesting. The other one that I really enjoyed is “The Health of Communities” course that I took this past fall. It’s kind of a more public health-oriented course where you work with off-campus research projects in collaboration with the Community Health Center. As someone who’s very human-oriented, getting to do a research project that’s directly related to patient and care experiences is just really awesome. Just reading about all the different social determinants of health, and learning what that phrase really means as someone who wants to go into that field, is really important. And I feel like that should be a required class for most pre-meds.
A: That sounds really cool. Did you get to work with actual community members?
SS: Yeah, so this community health center—it’s a two-part organization. There’s the actual community health center itself, which just delivers patient care. Right now they’re doing COVID testing and COVID vaccines and everything from regular to specialized care. So, physicals or flu shots and stuff like that, and even long-term HIV/AIDS care or prenatal care. Their services are very low-cost or completely free, depending on if you have insurance or not, but they mostly serve uninsured community members. So even if you don’t have insurance, it’s $2 or something very accessible. The second part of that is the Weitzman Institute, which is very research-oriented, so they do a lot of research to learn about how they can improve care practices. That is where I have been working on a research study with two other Wesleyan students and a research associate, Lauren Bifulco, at the Community Health Center Inc. Our study, which is focused on understanding the healthcare experiences and perspectives of Spanish-speaking patients with chronic pain, will be presented at the Academy Health National Health Policy Conference!
A: That’s very exciting!
SS: Yeah! As someone who’s Latina and has spent a good chunk of her life translating for my grandparents and a lot of their health visits, it’s really nice for patients like them. It’s a project that I really enjoyed working on, and it’s something that definitely is important and needs to be addressed, which it isn’t in most healthcare settings. A lot of people think that just having a translator on the phone is sufficient. A lot of what our research is focusing on is proving that on the healthcare side of the provider who’s actually giving the personal care and on the patient side, that’s not the case. Neither person feels like that’s adequate.
A: Do you have any post-graduation plans?
SS: I do actually! Being pre-med, you always have to have a plan which is very, I think, intimidating for some people, but I’m a big planner. I’m planning on taking two gap years between undergrad, and then I’m hoping to go to medical school. During that time, I’m currently applying for clinical research positions to continue a little bit of what I’ve been doing in the Community Health Center. It’s work that’s really interesting, something that I’m really passionate about, and I think it will definitely give me a lot of exposure to different sides of medicine before going into med school, which is really important. And also financially, medical school is very expensive, so clinical research is something that I can do that meets two of my goals, which are preparing to apply to medical school and also saving up some money for that application process. I also definitely hope to do some volunteering too. A lot of the volunteer programs that I was either a part of or had plans to devote a lot of time to after I graduated have been shut down because of the pandemic.
A: What other sorts of things have you been involved with around campus?
SS: A lot of things. My freshman year I played on the Wesleyan volleyball team, and then after deciding that I wanted to be pre-med and double-major and do a whole bunch of other things I was like, this is not for me. I still play volleyball, but just casually either with my friends who have now formed club teams or just with friends outside of Bennet, which is a really fun pastime of mine. I’ve also been involved in the Minority Association for Pre-Med Students (MAPS). It’s the club that one of my dear friends founded, Michelle Nivar ’20, she just graduated recently. I am now co-president of that with Matiza Sacotingo ’21, and the association is really geared towards giving other underrepresented minority students more support, because science is very hard in general, especially if you didn’t have a great science background coming into college. Or even if you did, there are just so many things I didn’t even know because no one in my family wants to be a doctor. It’s really nice to have that kind of friend group that’s all pre-med and all has the same goals. Where you can be like, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to do this,’ and just ask questions. I have also been involved in Ajùa Campos which is the Latinx student group on campus. And Collective Motion, which is a really awesome dance group. I love dancing. I’ve been doing it since I was in high school. Definitely, something I wanted to continue in college. Two more very important clubs I am part of are CSO (Catholic Student Organization) and WesQuisqueya (Dominican Students Association). As someone who regularly attends mass, it is really great to have the opportunity to do so in college.
A: What are you going to miss the most about Wesleyan when you graduate?
SS: I feel like the thing that I’m definitely gonna miss is just my pre-COVID Wes experience, to be honest. And there’s nothing really specific about that. It was kind of the culmination of everything, whether that’s being able to go to dance performances or musical performances, to see friends, or go to plays. Seeing “In The Heights” is the highlight of previous years, or being able to just study with friends in common spaces. It’s a lot of those little things that make your college experience really meaningful and being one of the first members of my family to go away to college, it was a lot of those things that I was really looking forward to. So it sucks that my senior year, I won’t get to have a lot of those kinds of big moments that you look forward to when you start off your journey in college. That’s definitely something that I am gonna miss. I’m really lucky, and I’m really just wowed at the past four years that I’ve had at Wesleyan. It’s definitely something that I’m going to look back on and have a lot of great memories for sure.
A: If you could give freshman year you any advice. What would it be?
SS: I would definitely tell myself, now knowing that COVID was a thing, to live in the moment and stress a little less. As someone who really loves planning, as I said earlier, and is pursuing this very high-stress career that’s going to involve me being in school for a very long time, I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself, as a lot of incoming freshmen going into college do, and set so many expectations. In reality, I should have just tried to do my best and also enjoyed a little bit more of those three years, especially now knowing that my senior year was gonna look so different.
A: Is there anything else you want to say or add?
SS: I mean, I don’t even know who nominated me, but they’re awesome, thanks. You can also give a huge shout-out to my boyfriend who’s a Wes grad, Class of 2020!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Timbie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org