Ananya Bhaktaram of Oklahoma City, a University of Oklahoma dual-degree student in community health and in letters, has been named the recipient of the 2021 Carl Albert Award, presented each year to the outstanding senior in the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to graduating in May with two bachelor’s degrees, Bhaktaram will also earn a minor in geographic information systems. The focus of her studies has been socioeconomic health inequities, with a concentration in constitutional studies. After graduation, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in social factors of health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and eventually earn a doctoral degree in social determinants of health. Her primary research interest is how socioeconomic and behavioral factors like education, poverty and substance abuse can morph into chronic conditions with age. Ultimately, she would like to serve communities she calls home, both domestically and internationally, by crafting interventions and policies to promote early prevention and high-risk behaviors in vulnerable adolescent communities.
“I am extremely honored to be selected as the recipient of the Carl Albert Award,” said Bhaktaram. “Education has always been a large part of my life. My parents have been huge proponents of the idea that every child deserves an education. A commitment to education, service and my self-identity as an Indian-American woman are central to who I am and are key to understanding the link into my future plans because people’s perceptions of health and what it means to be healthy are inextricably linked to their self identities.”
Following her freshman year, Bhaktaram spent a month as an intern at the Undiagnosed Disease Network and the Pediatric Medical Genetics Department at Duke, where she worked with children with ultra-rare genetic diseases. In the summer of 2019, she was an intern for Sunbird Trust working in an insurgency zone with tribal communities in Northeastern India, where she developed a sex education and female hygiene program. Currently at OU, she is an undergraduate research fellow in the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center and a project assistant in the Hudson College of Public Health.
Bhaktaram is also the co-founder of Okcorona.org, a website that hosts a comprehensive searchable map of all Oklahoma COVID-19 testing sites and relevant resources in English and Spanish.
During her college career, Bhaktaram has received numerous scholarships, honors and awards, including being named a Fulbright semifinalist before the proposal was no longer viable due to COVID-19. She earned the Theodore F. and Faery Lovebridge Prize for her undergraduate research and was the grand prize winner at OU’s Undergraduate Research Day in 2019.
A student leader, Bhaktaram is active in the Withrow Leadership Scholars and Crimson Club. During her sophomore year, she served as president of the Dunham College Council; as a freshman, she was a member of the SGA Undergraduate Congress, serving as vice chair of external affairs. In addition, over the past two years, she has served as a writing tutor, helping prospective first-generation college students at Crooked Oak High School, an Oklahoma Title I school, apply to college.
The Carl Albert Award, the most prestigious honor given to a student by the OU College of Arts and Sciences, is based on academic performance, moral force of character and promise of future service to the state and nation. First presented in 1966, the award was established to honor Carl Albert, the late OU alumnus and U.S. Speaker of the House, for his distinguished undergraduate career and national service. Julian Rothbaum, former state regent and longtime friend of Albert, endowed the award in 1965.