Student Dhruv Patel standing in the middle of a cobblestone street in New York City.

Even before Dhruv Patel’s first day at NYU, he knew what he would do after his last: attend medical school. But a Liberal Studies first-year away experience at NYU Washington, DC, opened doors to surprising classes, new experiences, and an unexpected detour to the Tandon School of Engineering.

A group of tourists taking photos at a monument in Washington, DC.

A Year in DC

Dhruv, who hails from Brigantine, New Jersey, started his NYU journey in the Liberal Studies Core program. With this program he planned a straightforward curriculum focused on quickly completing his prehealth requirements. But as a Liberal Studies student, he had the option of studying away during his first year and chose NYU’s academic center in Washington, DC. “The program asked me to rank locations and DC was my first spot. It was still in the country, but I’d never been there before. I was also interested in public health and social justice at the time.”

In fact, it was a great move for him. “I very much enjoyed it because of the small campus environment and the location of the DC building. I got to experience all of the museums, and we lived only six blocks from the White House,” he says.

Discovering Engineering

Aside from the fantastic location, Dhruv’s academic experience at NYU Washington, DC, was surprising. His burgeoning interest in health and social justice led him to the course Urban Greening. The course explores environmental justice, and it completely changed his perspective on school. “I didn’t realize how much a city structure can lead to social injustice and environmental racism that can create public health crises for certain populations,” he says. “It made me more aware of how my interests can directly impact people.”

The experience at NYU Washington, DC—which led to a summer internship in a public health office—also changed Dhruv’s educational path. “After doing the Liberal Studies Core program, I realized I could learn more about health care and the science fields without being dedicated to one or the other, which took the pressure off and allowed me to see that Tandon was a better fit for me,” he explains. Why Tandon? “Engineering imparts on students a lot of problem-solving skills, which are applicable to both med school and other parts of life,” he says.

A student of coloring working in the MakerSpace at NYU Tandon.

Thriving at Tandon

Now Dhruv thrives as a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major at Tandon. He’s a resident assistant (RA) in his residence hall and is on the Tandon premed and prehealth student board. While on the student board, he works with other Tandon prehealth students to build community and share resources. Also, he’s working as a research assistant with Professor Graham Dove. “Our project is about making data more accessible and training individuals in Chinatown to use air quality and noise sensors to empower environmental justice for that community,” he explains. “Because of the recent construction that’s going on, it’s imposing worse health and environmental health outcomes. That area is not experiencing the best air quality, which is increasing the number of respiratory illnesses and long-term effects in the population.”

What’s Next?

Dhruv still plans to apply to medical school after graduation. But first he hopes to spend a semester studying at NYU Abu Dhabi. In addition, he plans to work in the tissue engineering lab to gain the skills to create health-care devices that lead to better health outcomes for underserved populations. Oh, he’s also added a minor in Social and Public Policy from the Wagner School of Public Policy. “It’s helping me approach social justice from an engineering standpoint,” he explains.

Even though his path at NYU didn’t take shape as he thought it would, Dhruv wouldn’t change a thing. “You don’t have to rush through college,” he says, reflecting on his experience. “NYU has a lot of things for you to explore. College is a time to build your resources, résumé, and skills.”