Arts and humanities + STEM at UAB gave graduating student experience of a lifetime

UAB gave Samant the chance to try everything from filmmaking and student leadership to cutting-edge research, and as she graduates with two degrees and honors, she will head to medical school at UAB this fall.

Ritika Headshot.ResizedRitika Rajeev Samant Student leader Ritika Samant of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, has done it all and more during her undergraduate career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

From acting and filmmaking to martial arts and news reporting, receiving prestigious scholarships and awards, and conducting cutting-edge research — even dissecting the brain — she has also advocated for social justice and gone the extra mile in her studies.

Samant is graduating from UAB this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience and a Master of Public Health degree from the Fast Track MPH Program, and will attend the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine in the fall to obtain her medical degree.

For Samant, a UAB Honors College student in the University Honors Program and a neuroscience major and a chemistry minor in the College of Arts and Sciences, UAB has been a family affair. Both of her parents are cancer researchers at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, and her brother will start at UAB in the fall as well. 

“Being on campus, and the fact that it is a young university and I have the chance to play a role in shaping the impact it has, was really meaningful to me, and that is why I chose UAB,” Samant said. 

Since Samant was a child, she says, she has been fascinated by how people think.  

“We all know we have a brain and we all think, but how we use our brain to think was really interesting to me,” she said. “I had heard wonderful things about our one-of-a-kind neuroscience program at UAB and the amazing advising it offers, so I chose to major in neuroscience.”

As part of this program, Samant has conducted research since her freshman year on Parkinson’s disease. She presented her research, which explored the neuroinflammatory environment that accompanies the disease state of Parkinson’s, at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. 

Love for humanities

Ritika at SidewalkRitika Samant at Sidewalk Film FestivalThe University Honors Program gave her an opportunity to complement her STEM degree with her artistic interests.  

“I chose this pathway because it is arts-based, and I love arts and humanities because it gives you an opportunity to be creative in a way that STEM may not always open itself to,” Samant said. “Having creative outlets and expressing myself through different means in a highly competitive health-focused environment was important to me, and through UHP, I was able to do that.” 

Among the many art forms Samant engaged in, filmmaking has been the most meaningful, she says. The topic she explored through film is the challenges people with disabilities face when entering the field of medicine. Her film was featured in the Sidewalk Film Festival, and she considers it one of her most significant accomplishments at UAB. 

“I got to learn this completely different skill set and employ it; standing behind the camera, recording and then editing was truly a satisfying experience,” Samant said. “It can be difficult to switch between STEM and humanities, but realizing that I could do both was empowering.”

She hopes the message of her film will make a difference for people with disabilities who aspire to enter the health care workforce. 

Samant is also a news reporting fellow at WBHM — something she has wanted to do since middle school.  

“I create newscasts for the day, reach out to sources to get quotes, do audio mixing and sometimes do feature stories,” Samant said. “A lot of my job is taking what is out there and boiling it down to something that is timely and newsworthy. Distilling what is good news and being neutral in the delivery of it is challenging, but super fun.”

Social justice: Samant’s burning passion

Ritika StreamRitika Samant as USGA President with UAB President Ray L. Watts and Provost Pam BenoitServing as Undergraduate Student Government Association president for the 2022-23 academic year and getting a Master of Public Health degree through the fast-track master’s program has helped her grow her passion for social justice — a passion discovered in her time on the Student Multicultural and Diversity ProgramsSocial Justice Advocacy Council.

“We all have our differences that can make our lived experiences in this world easier or more difficult; but at the end of the day, it is important that we value each other and choose to support each other,” she said. “I believe, when you boil down social justice at its core, that’s what it is — choosing to support people." 

As a student leader, whether she is addressing student needs as USGA president or through mental health work with Active Minds, an organization that works to change the conversation surrounding mental health, Samant’s passion for social justice advocacy is reflected. 

"The goal of all my work as a student leader has revolved around social justice— creating an equitable enviornment for all," Samant said.

In her role as president, one of her initiatives has been working with university administration to initiate a wellness week during fall semester given the lack of a fall break. 

In the future, Samant aspires to be the state health officer for Alabama to continue her work bettering communities and feed her passion for social justice advocacy.  

UAB memories

Her favorite memory at UAB has been hosting Diwali 2021 — the first in-person Diwali after COVID-19, through which she fostered her public speaking skill set and celebrated her Hindu and South Asian heritage. 

Ritika Desi AttireRitika Samant in her Indian cultural attire“UAB is the first place where I have felt empowered to connect with and share my heritage,” Samant said. “I have been seeing UAB Diwali for many years and saw people perform dances and skits. So, to be able to do that has been super meaningful and fun for me. I created and acted in a skit — something I had never done before — and made a lot of great friends out of that experience.”

She credits her faculty mentors in the College of Arts and Sciences and the University Honors Program as well as her family for her successful, memorable college journey. “I wouldn’t be where I am without their help, guidance and support,” she said. 

College is your time to explore what you love," she said. "It is truly one of the most beautiful times of your life, so make the best out of it."

Samant, as an accomplished student, advises people not to be afraid to follow their passions.  

“Figure out what you really care about and what makes you happy and excited, pinpoint how you can shape that into a career, and take part in activities that drive it,” Samant said. “Let your passions inform your future and your career path.”