Senior Wins Prestigious Marshall Scholarship

Akshayaa Chittibabu at the Wilbur Cross South Reading Room on Dec. 6, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Akshayaa Chittibabu '19 (CLAS), a biological sciences and sociology major, is one of 48 Marshall recipients nationwide this year, and the fifth UConn student to be so honored. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Akshayaa Chittibabu ’19 (CLAS) has been named a Marshall Scholar, one of the most prestigious honors available to undergraduate students in the U.S. She is one of 48 Marshall recipients nationwide this year, and the fifth UConn student to be so honored since the scholarship was established in 1953.

Chittibabu, a resident of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, is also a STEM Scholar in UConn’s Honors Program, a 2018 Truman Scholar, a 2018 UN Foundation Global Health Fellow, a 2018 Washington Leadership Program Scholar, a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow, a 2016 Holster Scholar, and a UConn New England Scholar. She was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior.

She says a couple of different things were instrumental in her decision to apply for the Marshall Scholarship: “I am dedicated to being a public servant in the future, and I appreciate the public service history of the scholarship,” she says. The scholarship is named after former Secretary of State George C. Marshall, and was established as a gesture of gratitude to the people of the United States for the assistance that the U.S. provided after World War II under the Marshall Plan.

I appreciate the public service history of the scholarship … and the scholarship’s foundations in gratitude and service really resonate with my Hindu faith and the kind of leader I’d like to be. — Akshayaa Chittibabu

“The Marshall Plan aligns with my belief system of helping others unconditionally with the intention of building a better world,” Chittibabu adds, “and the scholarship’s foundations in gratitude and service really resonate with my Hindu faith and the kind of leader I’d like to be.”

Another meaningful aspect of the scholarship for her is that, since its inception, it has been open to both male and female students. Unlike some other scholarships – including the Rhodes – that were originally limited to male applicants, the Marshall has always welcomed all qualified applicants, regardless of gender.

“Since the first cohort,” she says, “women have been welcome. This means a lot to me because I try to pursue things that align with my value system. Equal opportunity is one of those values.”

In her application for the scholarship, Chittibabu wrote, “I have the privilege of imagining a purpose beyond survival.” She went on to describe living in her father’s childhood village in rural Tamil Nadu, India, in the summer of 2016. During that time, she investigated the reasons why rural Indian women disproportionately die from cervical cancer, a disease considered highly preventable in the United States and other First World countries.

Her research was an eye-opener for her: “I sincerely believed that delivering education about the importance of screening was enough to change this reality. Working with the women shattered that perception … It became apparent to me that healthcare delivery wasn’t enough; deep systemic change needed to come with it. The right to [good] health was repeatedly robbed from the poor, who were forced to sacrifice long-term well-being for short-term survival.”

This, and other experiences working within diverse communities here and abroad, has stoked Chittibabu’s desire to help disadvantaged populations attain quality health care. With a dual major in biological sciences and sociology, she ultimately intends to pursue a career in public service as a physician and policymaker.

The staff at UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, which coordinates the process through which UConn nominates students for prestigious, competitive awards, and the members of the Marshall selection committee were impressed by Chittibabu.

Its director, Vin Moscardelli, says, “From the moment she arrived in Storrs, Akshayaa has been committed not only to academic excellence, but to making the world a better place. As a leader, she has a remarkable ability not only to inspire, but to make those around her more comfortable and confident. Her many successes are a testament to her willingness to put herself on the line. She hasn’t won every award she’s sought. But through that combination of successes and setbacks, she has developed a clarity about who she is as a person – and how that informs her goals and aspirations – that is exceedingly rare, particularly for someone her age.”

Chittibabu’s first year as a Marshall Scholar will be spent at the University of Oxford where she plans to pursue an M.Sc. in sociology, with focuses in political and medical sociology. She then plans to spend her second year at the University of Edinburgh, studying medical anthropology.

When asked what she’s particularly looking forward to outside of academics, she quickly responds with a laugh and says, “Tea!”

“I learned to love tea from my parents, who grew up in India. Tea is a cultural remnant of the British in India, and now I want to experience the UK’s tea culture,” she says. “I also have friends who are studying in England, who I’m excited to spend time with. I’ve kept in touch with the British medical students I met when I was conducting research in India, and they are now practicing physicians in Manchester. I’m excited to visit them.”

And, oh yes, one of Chittibabu’s interests is studying foreign languages, and she thinks a trip or two to France is probably in order. French would be her sixth language, so why not save a little time for language immersion?

Previous UConn Marshall Scholars were Antonio Campelli (SFA) ’15, Ethan Butler ’12 (ENG), Michelle Prairie ’09 (CLAS), and Virginia DeJohn Anderson (CLAS) in 1976.