By David Simpson
Antra Patel was a little nervous last September when she took her seat at the table with Old Dominion University’s Board of Visitors.
It was her first meeting as the student representative on the powerful board, which controls spending and all rules and regulations for the University.
She listened as the members talked business.
"I had a lot of thoughts running through my head,” she recalled recently. “I wanted to make the most of my experience and really connect with the board.”
Patel rose to speak. Using a PowerPoint, she introduced herself and her initiatives. When she finished, the room broke into applause.
It was, she said, “a very, very warm welcome.”
Later, she had lunch with the board.
“All the members were very interested in what I was doing – and in seeing the students through my voice, ideally.”
A senior biomedical sciences major on a pre-med track, Patel is serving a one-year term as a non-voting BOV member. She relishes the role, saying she wants to be “a bridge to connect the board to the authentic student experience.”
Moreover, her status gives her a platform for advancing her agenda in speaking engagements around campus.
Her priorities have included increasing:
- Student engagement
- Awareness of student leadership roles
- Graduation involvement
- Involvement in ODU’s Food Pantry Drive
Patel has focused especially on bolstering food security on campus. Toward that end, she has been meeting with Jenn Grimm, director of academic initiatives in Student Engagement and Enrollment Services (SEES), and other leaders to brainstorm options.
“Antra has been a wonderful advocate for addressing food insecurity on campus and in our community,” Grimm said. “She is passionate about making sure students are aware of valuable resources to help them stay fed, like ODU’s Monarch Pantry and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, and we greatly appreciate her support.”
Board of Visitors members likewise appreciate Patel.
“She sets the standard for all ODU students to aspire to,” said R. Bruce Bradley, rector of the board. “She’s hardworking, she’s smart and she’s humble.”
Dr. Armistead Williams, a neurology specialist and Board of Visitors member who has been part of the food security discussions, said he has been impressed by Patel’s energy and intelligence.
“She has a way of getting things done despite the time commitment to her studies and her research,” he said. “And she has a sense of presence, communicates well and can make a presentation to the board without reading from notes.”
She gets things done, to be sure. Besides her Board of Visitors responsibilities, she founded and presides over ODU’s chapter of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America). She sits on the SEES Leadership Council. She belongs to the CIVIC Scholars club. She has served as a Campus Ambassador and peer mentor.
Her scholarly work at ODU has led to poster presentations at conferences, she said, as well as forthcoming publications.
What's more, she works at a dermatology office as a medical assistant and scribe and has volunteered for CHKD, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and the Chesapeake Sleep Center.
That’s not to mention studying 12 hours a day over winter break for her Medical College Admission Test.
“Antra is an exceptionally motivated student who both accepts and issues challenges to better serve Monarch Nation,” said Melanie Graham, director of special projects for SEES.
Patel was born in Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat. Her family moved to the United States when she was 9 months old – first living in Connecticut and a few years later settling in Chesapeake, Virginia.
“Ever since I was young, I've always wanted to be a pilot, an architect or a doctor,” she said.
“However, the medical field drew me a lot.”
When a family member became ill, Patel visited the hospital often. The medical staff there impressed her.
“The providers made us feel constant engagement and support,” she said. “It really sparked my interest.”
Her attraction to the field deepened when she gained acceptance into the Science and Medicine Academy at Deep Creek High School.
Through that program, “I was able to dip my feet into the medical side of education,” she said. “And then higher education early on solidified my interest.”
After she graduates in May, she plans to work in the medical field for a year, perhaps in a research role, travel and devote time to personal projects before starting medical school in fall 2024.
Patel will attend her last quarterly Board of Visitors meeting as student representative in April. She looks back fondly on her term.
“Through this experience I feel more connected to the Old Dominion family, and I will continue to serve the ODU community even after my time here,” she said. “I am beyond grateful to have been granted the honor of serving on the board.”