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Hi! My name is Jisha Reji, and I am a senior from Morrisville, North Carolina currently majoring in Psychology and minoring in Chemistry and Biology. My interest in Psychology began as early as high school in which I found myself focused on the biological basis of psychopathology and aspects of behavorial neuroscience. As I entered into my undergraduate experience, I became increasingly attracted to research topics focused on this field and was lucky enough to become part of the Parnell lab as an undergraduate researcher, under the leadership of Dr. Karen Boschen and Dr. Scott Parnell. My work focused on the developmental, structural, and functional effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, as well as other teratogens, primarily on the neural tube. Working in this environment definitely taught me several valuable lessons and was one of my initial inspirations for applying for the Gil internship.

In addition to research, another one of my main interests was working with children of all ages, in which I realized that this was something I wanted to pursue in the future. This included working as a camp counselor at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and volunteering as a hospital school tutor at the Children’s hospital for UNC Health Care. When I applied for the Gil internship, I planned to combine my two interests of working with younger populations and behavorial neuroscience. However, during my junior year, I got more exposed to Social Psychology and, with the aid of my advisors and with the desire for different experiences, I decided to intern for a non-profit organization called Wonder Connection.

Wonder Connection is an organization that provides pediatric patients with a connection to the natural world via hands-on natural science activities. The activities are patient-centered and focus on empowering patients by giving them the opportunity to make choices, be creative, and foster joy. While working with the pediatric patients was my initial goal, COVID-19 restrictions made this nearly impossible. However, I used this opportunity to comprehend the responsibilities of running a non-profit organization, such as grant writing and utilizing an evaluation matrix, and work on projects that indirectly impact the children. My long-term project this semester is working on gathering background information and developing a research design that will directly test the psychological benefits of this organization’s mission, and nature as a whole, on pediatric patients specifically at UNC hospital. Another exciting project involves partnering with the Autism society of NC to create sensory friendly modifications to some activities in order to accommodate kids/teens with autism.

Post-graduation, I hope to pursue an M.D. with a focus on working with children among minority and underprivileged populations. I truly believe that this internship experience has taught me more about patient-centered care and I believe that this will help me to become a better physician in the future. I am very fortunate to have received this Gil internship experience and I want to thank the Gil program for pushing me out of my comfort zone and allowing me to grow both as a student and a person!

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