Graduate Student Profile: Aravind Natarajan

Aravind Natarajan

Aravind Natarajan Ph.D. '19 is a microbiologist working with Professor Matthew DeLisa to engineer Escherichia coli, a common bacterial strain, to produce therapeutically valuable glycoproteins. Glycoproteins are a unique, highly diverse group of biomolecules that have a sugar group covalently attached to a protein. This chemical moiety enables important functions of such as the ability of antibodies to recruit the immune system, and of lubricin in the joints to allow friction free movement. Aravind is specifically working on developing a novel pathway to produce Tumor Associated Cancer Antigens - glycoproteins that are implicated in a wide range of cancers, and can be used in early detection. Aravind has been a highly successful scientist, engaged in several research projects in the group, leading to eight peer-reviewed publications and a few more in the pipeline.

Key to Aravind's success at the bench is his affable nature and ability to comfortably collaborate with scientists and both within the group and beyond. It is no surprise that these inherent traits, combines with efforts spent honing his pedagogical skills, also make him an excellent teacher and mentor. In his time at Cornell, he TAed 3 courses across departments in engineering and life sciences, and mentored 9 graduate and undergraduate students in the lab. He also led the Engineering TA Development program as the head TA Fellow, and was a Graduate Teaching Assistant Fellow at the Center for Teaching Innovation, training undergrad, grads, and postdocs in pedagogy. His forte was in developing inclusive courses and curricula, earning him the Cornelia Ye Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in 2018.

Aravind works passionately to nurture equity and inclusion in higher education. He has been a leader both in the Smith School and across campus, empowering people from traditionally under-represented identities to be successful. He, alongside Professor Susan Daniel, developed the Diversity and Inclusion Program in CBE, in an effort to think critically about the existing environment and culture and to take a data-driven approach towards being more inclusive. He has also worked with the graduate and professional student body as the Chair of the Diversity and International Student Committee, enabled the Graduate School to realize its vision in diversity and inclusion through the GPCI, and with the University Assembly through the Campus Welfare Committee. His leadership has earned him accolades across campus including the Excellence in Leadership Award through the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement. He was also recently inducted into the prestigious Edward A. Bouchet Honor Society, a established by Yale and Harvard Universities. 

Through his work on recruiting diverse graduate students to Cornell as a Graduate Student Ambassador, Aravind noticed that a major hurdle to the progress of students from under-represented identities was the lack of role models. Therefore, he secured funding from the Robert Frederick Smith Initiatives in CBE to create a podcast, Science Blender, that blends the identity and experiences of a scientist along with their scientific achievements. In addition to serving as role models for aspiring scientists, this effort also makes cutting edge scientific research more accessible. This podcast has now been listened to in 93 countries. He recently won a grant from the Office of Student Engagement to deploy this podcast as an intervention, supporting students from community colleges in New York and to study its efficacy.

Through his efforts, Aravind strived to make Cornell a better place and was most recently nominated to be the Degree Marshall for the Graduate School at the 151st Commencement Event. 

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