The Starbucks on West Union Street is where Aanya Datta can be spotted when not fulfilling one of her many roles and responsibilities as a junior studying psychology at Ohio University.
As a research assistant in two labs, a Speech and Debate teammate, a Margaret Boyd Scholar and the junior cohort representative, a member of the President’s Student Cabinet for Inclusive Excellence, a Global Ambassador, a peer tutor with the Academic Achievement Center, a LINKS Peer Mentor and a member of the Experiential Learning Student Advisory Board, it’s safe to say Datta is a little busy.
“I try to be involved on campus, and that’s because I think a lot of what I do shapes who I am, or it’s like an extension,” Datta said.
Dancing is one of Datta’s de-stressors, but since coming to OU, she hasn’t had much opportunity to pursue it more. Her passion for psychology was also established at home; a passion she brought to OU and actively pursues.
Originally from Kolkata, India, Datta grew up with her cousin who was diagnosed with a severe form of ADHD. Due to their proximity, she witnessed firsthand the challenges her cousin faced. She also observed how school systems were not equipped to support and encourage students with neurodevelopmental disorders.
“Seeing that social environmental pressure really intrigued me to research more and to understand what this really came from,” Datta said.
There were also her own mental health struggles that Datta said were stigmatized while in high school. Datta also saw the effects of an unawareness of mental health.
“Struggling with that really showed me what a lack of awareness of mental health disease and disorders cna do to not only society as a whole but also the individuals that are suffering from it,” she said.
Datta said her observations of the levels of empathy and sympathy necessary to understand mental health are what led her to psychology.
An emphasis Datta put on her college career has been the importance of accessible opportunity and experiential learning. As a first-generation college and abroad student, learning about the U.S.’s public education system was difficult for Datta and she wants to give back to other multicultural and international students.
“Navigating the system was like starting my life (from the) ground up,” Datta said. “I can appreciate that for our multicultural students, for a lot of them that’s the reality. Being any kind of support to any student perspective of where they come from, where they were raised, it’s like being that source of support is really important to me.”
The work Datta does on the Experiential Learning Student Advisory Board helps students across all of OU’s campuses find opportunities for learning and growing outside of the classroom. Datta said she and others on the board also help work through the financial burdens of these opportunities.
“Experiential learning is extremely important,” Datta said. “It’s a big part of why I came to this country. It’s a big part of my story and where I got to and how I got to it, and if there’s a way by which I can help other people get it, you can count me on the team.”
Part of Datta’s experiential learning story was working at the Judge Baker Children’s Center at Harvard University this past summer. As an intern, she got to work with children who have mild to moderate ADHD and other behavior disorders.
“What we did was have an extended period of programming during the summer, which is the summer treatment program for kids with ADHD,” said Datta. “We worked with them to ensure that we were giving them skills and coping skills to deal with mood regulations over time.”
During the internship, Datta said she was able to work with talented professors and professionals in the field, and the experience was one of the most defining points for her in college.
Through all of Datta’s involvement and giving back to programs that once served her, she was awarded the Charles J. Ping International Leadership Award in the undergraduate level at the 2022 Leadership Awards. The work Datta has done to guide international students through the process to enter the U.S. and receive an education from OU and being a mentor for other programs and students was recognized by others at the university.
“(The award) was something that I was really grateful for,” Datta said. “That recognition was something that I hold very dearly.”
The 40th Annual Leadership Awards are open and will recognize students and student organizations for their community service and leadership. Applications are due Wednesday.
Datta’s present is filled with opportunities and roles that serve others, and the hope she has for her future looks similar.
“I really hope to work in clinical neuropsychology as a researcher,” Datta said. “I definitely feel like research is something that calls out to me. I enjoy running test batteries and just working with other people. I don’t know why. It gives me a level of joy. I really see myself working in either clinical neuropsychology or developmental psychology.”
And if Datta retires early, she may be able to open up a bakery similar to how Meryl Streep did in the 2009 film, “It’s Complicated.”
“I’m just saying: therapy with croissants,” she said, laughing.
Although there are a lot of reasons for her to miss Kolkata, such as the festivals held there, Datta said she’s privileged to have been able to come to OU.
“With everything that I’ve been given and the sheer privilege of the fact that I was able to go here, leaves very little room for complaint,” said Datta. “There are people that would kill to have this, and I get to have this. (I’m) definitely very, very appreciative of what I do have.”