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Gifted Student Learned from Immigrant Parents

Jimmy Patel says he gets his aptitude for science from his mother and his work ethic from his father.

Judging from his accomplishments in the School of Arts and Sciences, both parents have had a strong influence on their son’s life.

The senior from Edison, N.J., is taking a demanding double major in chemistry and molecular biology while also serving as a teaching assistant, student researcher, and part-time employee at a health insurance agency. By the end of his junior year, he was just one course shy of meeting his graduation requirements.

“I’m not happy unless I am multi-tasking,” he quipped.

But professors say that this gifted student, who wants to be a researcher and physician, stands out in ways not reflected in his academic transcript.

“He has that special combination of being very smart and hardworking, but also humble and modest,” said chemistry Professor Jeehiun Katherine Lee. “Jimmy is a very caring person – and that is going to serve him extremely well as a physician.”

Patel began charting his own path as soon as he entered Rutgers, opting for a unique double major: chemistry and chemical biology, and molecular biology and biochemistry. That choice promised opportunity for extensive research and an emphasis on organic chemistry, both of which have long appealed to him.

“When I entered Rutgers, it was the first time I was given a choice of what to study,” he said. “And I chose what I believed would help me grow and define me as an individual.”

His choice is also informed by a strong interest in improving human health.

He is currently serving on a research team led by Lee that is examining how DNA in humans becomes damaged, a phenomenon that can lead to cancer.

Patel’s accomplishments as an undergraduate exemplify the tradition of academic excellence at SAS. But his background reflects another SAS hallmark – socioeconomic and cultural diversity.

Patel’s parents moved from India to the U.S. in the 1980s, seeking greater economic and educational opportunities for their children.

“They worked extremely hard and always pushed us to work hard,” said Patel, the eldest of two sons. “When I wanted to go out and play basketball they said, ‘no, finish your math.’

“I brought that ethic with me to middle school, then high school, and finally to Rutgers.”

Nevertheless, he was able to find room for basketball.

“Anytime I am free, and am not doing research, I am at Werblin Recreational Center shooting baskets,” he said.



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