COVID-19 and Queendom: Bobba reflects on a unique collegiate and Blazer experience marked with resilience and community

Sumedha Bobba has been a picture-perfect student since beginning her collegiate career during the COVID-19 pandemic. How did adjusting to a new way of life impact her approach toward her views of community and success?

Bobba insideSumedha Bobba,
Photography: Ian Logue
On April 27, Sumedha Bobba will walk the commencement stage in Bartow Arena to accept her accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree in neuroscience from the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences and business administration from the Collat School of Business, respectively.

Bobba, a student leader and undergraduate researcher, is no stranger to resilience. Bobba’s parents came to the United States in 2000, two years before she was born. This instilled in Bobba an appreciation for opportunities and education at an early age.

Bobba enrolled at UAB in the fall of 2020. And while the Madison, Alabama, native originally did not see herself as a Blazer, she soon realized that UAB was where she was meant to be.

Optimizing a new era and new life as a Blazer

Being a part of the inaugural “COVID-19 Class,” Bobba, along with students across the country, had to navigate the newfound terrain of missing important milestones while entering a new era of educational experience.

“Coming into college after having the remainder of your senior year taken away was a tough adjustment,” Bobba said. “We missed prom, graduation and so much more. Consequently, I for one had high hopes for freshman year of college that I had to quickly reevaluate at the start of the semester. I knew we would be wearing masks, but the reality of having no in-person classes and confronting the isolation that COVID brought was a challenge in itself.”

While the start of her freshman year may had been disheartening, Bobba did not let that stifle her opportunities and growth. Bobba joined Freshman Forum, an organization that allowed her to meet more of her peers. Bobba also became a member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority, for which she would go on to serve as continuous open bidding director and recruitment data director, organizing and executing sorority recruitment-related events.

“Meeting more upperclassmen at UAB is when I realized how special the Blazer community is,” Bobba said. “These upperclassmen had no reason to show us kindness and mentorship, but they recognized what COVID did to the collegiate experience and took it upon themselves to make sure we still made the most of our freshman year.” 

Taking part in Blazing a path for new students
The UAB Trailblazers are a competitive organization under the Office of Undergraduate Admissions who serve as the official student recruitment team for the university. Trailblazers offer campus tours to prospective students and their families while helping shape the first-touch perception of campus life at UAB.

In the fall of 2020, Bobba began doing undergraduate research in the lab of Laura Volpicelli-Daley, Ph.D. There she analyzed formation of α-synuclein aggregates to prevent progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Bobba went on to become a UAB Trailblazer in the spring semester.

“Joining the Trailblazers allowed me to further develop a love for UAB through community,” Bobba said. “I was able to interact with other students and really developed a close bond with my fellow Trailblazers. This served as networking for me and immensely grew my sense of pride in my university.”

Bobba says it is this networking that opened the door to other opportunities. Bobba participated in the White House COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge, where she organized student testimonials and even served as a representative from UAB, receiving the opportunity to meet Anthony Fauci, Ph.D., chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, over virtual meeting space.

Bobba represented UAB via opportunities with local media as a student voice throughout her collegiate career.  

“These opportunities showed me that, if you put your best foot forward here at UAB, then there are so many more doors and opportunities that can come from it,” Bobba said.

Bobba Ms.UABBanks Stamp and Sumedha Bobba,
Photo Credit: National Alumni Society
A queen’s reign

Announced on Oct. 23, 2021, at the Homecoming game, Bobba was selected to serve as the 2022 Ms. UAB.

“I was so honored and grateful to have been chosen to serve as Ms. UAB,” Bobba said. “Having this opportunity was so much more than just a scholarship or award because it opened up an entirely different experience for me here at UAB.”

As Ms. UAB, Bobba was required to serve as the president of the Student Alumni Society. The Ms. UAB position acts as the liaison between UAB alumni and current students. Bobba acknowledged the challenges of her generation of students and focused on creating opportunities for her peers.

“One of my initiatives was to organize a way for students to network with each other and with alumni after the heavy restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bobba said. “After five to six months of preparation, we hosted an alumni networking night geared toward connecting students with mentors who could help them develop throughout their collegiate careers.”  

Finding Traditions
Presented by the UAB National Alumni Society, the Mr. and Ms. UAB Scholarship Competition has been a homecoming tradition at UAB since 1981. Applicants are expected to demonstrate a history of leadership and participation in extracurricular activities.

It is the successes of people she knows personally that remind Bobba of the importance of the work she did.

“I have friends who recently thanked me for hosting that event because the connections they made are helping them with research opportunities and even with applying to schools after undergrad,” Bobba said. “It shows the significance of the Ms. UAB position and how important that role is in advocating for the student body.”

Bobba experienced personal growth through her service as Ms. UAB, with her junior year antithetically paralleling her freshman and sophomore experience.  

“While I feel like I came into college more extroverted, my junior year taught me the importance of appreciating my own down time,” Bobba said. “While I desired more interaction coming into college, and I received that as restrictions lifted more so in my sophomore year, I learned that serving in important roles can keep you busy.”

Bobba encourages all student leaders and even regular students to make sure they take time for themselves when needed.

“I recommend to all future student leaders to make sure you take time to prioritize your own well-being,” Bobba said. “It’s easy to get caught up in serving and always being busy, so it’s necessary that you take a step back sometimes and just recharge for your own mental and physical health.” 

Inside Bobba collagePhoto credits: Sumedha BobbaCommunity and relationships are the heart of the UAB family

Bobba is a member of the UAB Honors College on a personalized pathway. In 2022, Bobba worked as a strategy analyst intern at Southern Research. This role was one she says served as a moment of clarity for her medical field aspirations.  

“My internship with Southern Research was one of the most influential experiences in my college experience,” Bobba said. “That was a summer when I was excited to go to work and I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities.” 

In this role, Bobba worked closely with the Josh Carpenter, CEO and chief of Staff at Southern Research and UAB alumni, to lead the translational research organization’s strategic planning process in various flagship projects.

“Josh saw my potential and gave me the opportunity,” Bobba said. “This opportunity is a testament to the community and opportunities UAB offers. Josh invested in my collegiate career by attending my networking event for Ms. UAB after my internship to help provide new professional opportunities to fellow students.”

This past summer, Bobba worked as a Sparkman Global Health Intern in Kingston, Jamaica. There she worked with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition to organize advocacy workshops and empower marginalized populations affected by HIV and gender-based violence.  

“This opportunity reminded me why I needed to work hard and was really motivating for me because I was by myself in Jamaica for two months, but I missed my family so much,” Bobba said. “I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my parents to move from India to the United States on their own to provide a better life for my brother and me. I could never take their sacrifice for granted, and it always serves as a reminder to keep making them proud.”  

To read more about the graduating class of 2024, click here.

She has served as a tutor at the Vulcan Materials Academic Success Center and at the STAIR of Birmingham. Bobba has volunteered with the UAB 1917 Clinic, Equal Access Birmingham and The Exceptional Foundation.

Bobba will be attending medical school in the fall with hopes that she will land at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine.

“UAB comes with such an extensive community, and that is what makes this university so great,” Bobba said. “One piece of advice I would give to an incoming freshman is to just put yourself out there and take advantage of your opportunities because the UAB community is indeed a family.”