Center Spotlight: Vivek Somasundaram

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Vivek Somasundaram

Age: 21

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida

Year: Senior

Major: Biochemistry

Vivek Somasundaram is joining the fight to cure leukemia.

As a research assistant for Dr. David Gilbert, Somasundaram has spent the past two years studying DNA replication in eukaryotic cells, particularly in stem cells and cancer cells. His research on pediatric leukemia has recently lead to the successful defense of his honors thesis and admittance into a Ph.D. program on cell and molecular biology with the University of South Florida.

Somasundaram attributes much of  his success to the Center for Leadership & Social Change and the Service Scholars program. After being admitted into Service Scholars, Somasundaram spent his first two years on campus as a volunteer for Challenger Swim and the Florida Chapter of the Special Olympics. During his time with these two organizations Somasundaram learned the necessity of using appropriate terminology.

“I use the term ‘differently abled’ rather than disabled,” he said. “When talking about bringing sustainable change we often look for starting points, and one of the best ways we can start is by ensuring the we propagate the proper jargon,” he said.

Inaccurate terminology, he said, can carry the baggage of misconceptions and stereotypes, but ensuring use of proper language can be a first step in “ameliorating some of the social inequalities that persist in many communities.”

As he entered his junior year, Somasundaram became increasingly aware of his lack of engagement with research as a biochemistry major.

“ Ever since I was a young kid, I always aspired to go on and attain some professional education — whether that be graduate school,  medical school, or to make sure I do good science,” he said.

Through network connections and sheer luck, Somasundaram was able to find a research project that was both service and scientifically based with Gilbert, a professor of molecular biology.

“The most important part is just to come,” he added. “This is moving us one step closer to understanding the disease, and hopefully one day curing and absolving the disease.”

Somasundaram looks forward to heading to USF in the fall and continuing his research.

Somasundaram is a member of Phi Eta Sigma, a member of the Asian Coalition of Tallahassee, and an avid martial artist. His service through the center and Service Scholars is one of his proudest accomplishments, he said.

“Applying to Service Scholars was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” he said. “I have never regretted being a part of Service Scholars or the center. This is one of the few places at Florida State that values reflection as much as it does results.”

— Talise Burton