Ashna Mehra

Ever since middle school, LSA junior Ashna Mehra, who is double-majoring in Spanish and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN), has had an affinity for science and for Spanish. From that point on, Ashna has continually sought creative ways to put both areas of interest into practice and to help others.

“Learning Spanish was always something that was fun for me,” Ashna remarked. “And I’ve always wanted to be a doctor; it’s the only career I could see myself doing.”

Ashna said she attributes the ease in which she learned Spanish to her existing fluency in multiple languages: Hindi, Punjabi, and English.

As a high school student, Ashna, who had kept in contact with her fifth-grade teacher, volunteered to lead in-class science experiments with her teacher’s current students. Her idea was received with enthusiasm by the teacher and the students, as their existing curriculum didn’t incorporate many hands-on science learning opportunities.

Building on the success of this project, as a sophomore at U-M, Ashna founded Kids in Science, a brand-new student organization. She initially recruited several friends to join the club, and it has grown quickly to 50-60 members in the past year. Ashna, who also is the Co-President of Kids in Science, said she and her colleagues lead a group of elementary students in hands-on science experiments twice a month at an after-school program in Ypsilanti. The experiments range from making slime, creating baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, to exploring magnetic properties. 

An activity from Kids in Science

“The amount of growth I’ve seen in the kids is amazing,” Ashna remarked. “They have so much more confidence now.”

Ashna said that having Spanish speaking skills has helped her and some of her co-volunteers communicate with students in the after-school program.

“The kids immediately connect with the volunteers who speak their language,” Ashna said.

Recently, another opportunity Ashna participated in which combined her interests in science and in Spanish, was a psychology internship in Madrid she completed through a study abroad program.

Ashna and her fellow student interns were tasked with creating a ten-week therapy plan for a prospective client. She said a high level of proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking in Spanish was integral to the team’s success. After conducting an extensive literature review, Ashna and her team developed a therapy plan, and gave a poster presentation with their recommendations to the clinic’s staff.

“Taking Spanish here in RLL gave me the opportunity to be able to have that experience and explore healthcare in Europe through the eyes of a Spanish doctor,” Ashna remarked. “I never would have gotten to do that research if I wasn’t advanced in my Spanish.”

Ashna Mehra with a sign that reads "Thank you Kids in Science!"

Ashna has been conducting research at U-M for the past three years as well within the Department of Psychology. She worked on a study exploring children’s views on viral transmission when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now Ashna is part of a research team studying empathy in children, for which she conducts interviews and codes data.

At this time, Ashna also is preparing to complete an honors thesis project next year exploring varying language comprehension levels and possible bias that children may experience when listening to speakers in the same language they speak, but with a different accent than their own.

“This is really exciting because I get to combine psychology and language into one thesis,” she said.

Currently, Ashna is in her second year of working as a Communications Assistant for RLL.

“I’ve gotten RLL’s Twitter up and running and I’m trying to make a social media presence for people to learn more about us,” Ashna said. “I enjoy connecting people with a common love of language with the goal of spreading the idea that learning a language is really fun and useful at Michigan. I get to highlight all the amazing things people in our department are doing.”

She said one of her favorite parts of her position is all the connections she’s made along the way with RLL department members. She also remarked that she especially enjoys being able to use her creativity and her writing skills in her work.

In addition to her other roles and responsibilities, Ashna also is the Programming Director for the Alpha Epsilon Delta health pre-professional organization at U-M. She schedules a different speaker to come in each week for an hour and give a talk for the members of the organization on a variety of current health and medical topics.

“It is really helpful to be in a pre-med club because I’m surrounded by eighty friends who know exactly what I’m going through,” she remarked.

In the future, Ashna looks forward to Spanish playing an integral role within her career in medicine.

“I definitely want to be able to help people who speak Spanish,” Ashna said. “It opens up the doors to a whole other set of people I can work with and help.”