Formidable Females: Ankita Kanakadandila

I recently started watching another series on Netflix that many of you have probably never heard of—some obscure political drama called “House of Cards?” Anyway, if you’re interested in becoming President of the United States, this particular T.V. series teaches all the Machiavellian tricks you’ll ever need to move your way up the political ladder. 

Coincidentally, I had the chance to speak politics with fellow NYU student—Ankita Kanakadandila—who partakes in the Model United Nations team, Public Health Leaders Organization, Phi Delta Epsilon Pre-Med fraternity and SLAM! Poetry club. During our talk, Kanakadandila discussed her achievements at the Princeton Joint Crisis Conference, gaining confidence as a public speaker and finding one’s identity in New York City. 

HC NYU: Where are you from and what are you majoring in?

AK: I'm a freshman from St. Louis, Missouri. I'm currently a Global Public Health major and I'm going to minor in Spanish. Also, I'm on the pre-med track. 

HC NYU: Tell us a little bit about some of the clubs that you're a part of at NYU. 

AK: One of the major things that I'm a part of is Model United Nations. Model UN at NYU has a couple components to it. They have the meetings where anyone can attend to discuss international relations and world issues. They have the NYU Model UN Conference, which is huge here; other schools come to compete and we're the organizers of that event. Lastly, we have the travel team, where we go to other schools and compete at the conferences that they put on. The travel team is pretty competitive; you have to try out for it. Currently, NYU is the fourth best team in the world. We compete against international schools in India, Singapore, Canada, all of these schools. It's such a privilege to be on that team. Everyone is so amazing and you meet so many people at the conferences because it's people from all grades and all interests who just want to get involved. I'm also a part of this new club called NYU PHLO [Public Health Leaders Organization]. I'm currently vice president of the club; it just started this past semester so we're really trying to get involved with service around the city and trying to get the word out about different public health issues that students in particular should be aware of, specifically prevention of HIV aids. Also, I'm in a Pre-Medical Fraternity, which is called Phi Delta Epsilon. I'm pledging right now and it's such a good experience. I'm also interested in NYU SLAM! [Slam poetry club]. Everyone is so welcoming and supportive there. You just go up and say a poem. If not, you can just listen. It's all about listening and accepting people. It's such an open community and there are so many different types of people. You can be yourself; that's what I really like about it. 

HC NYU: What is the difference between a Pre-Med fraternity and a social fraternity or sorority?

AK: Social fraternities and sororities are about getting to know each other and building those friendships that last forever. There's definitely a similar aspect to that in the Pre-Med fraternity, but it's more based on cultivating yourself as a professional student for the future. Every week, we either have a conversation about the current healthcare act—things like that so we're still informed—or we have speakers come in and talk to us about different fields of medicine so we really know what to expect when we go to med-school or even when we graduate med-school and look into the different types of professions within the medical field. Phi Delta Epsilon really helps you get informed; you have so many different opportunities to research because someone older than you in the frat has done it before so you build those connections for those pre-med-specific research positions. It's definitely highly career-oriented, but definitely still social. 

HC NYU: Transitioning back to Model UN, when did your interest in the club start?

AK: I did Model UN in high school, but it wasn't developed at all. We never went to a conference; it was just a group of kids who got together and talked about different types of international issues. That was good because it definitely kept me informed. One of the reasons why I was so interested in it is because my family as a whole is really into watching the news and getting to know what's happening around the world. That's how I started. Immediately at the beginning of the year, I signed up for a leadership position in the NYU Model UN conference, so I'm currently a Crisis Director for one of the committees, which means I have a group of staffers that are working with me to organize the committee and help me with the committee. The team however, I didn't even consider trying out for until one of my really good friends—Lina—came up to me and said, "We need another powerful woman on our team" and I kind of just went for it. They trained me really well and I was so fortunate enough to go to a conference at Princeton and walk away with an award there. That was amazing. 

HC NYU: What is the training process like for the conferences?

AK: The training process is pretty intensive. For Model UN and the travel team specifically, you really need to know how to think on your feet and also public speaking. You need to be able to communicate with people and translate what's in your mind quickly to a professional speech. We had moments where everyone in the room had to talk about a specific issue, whether it was legalizing Marijuana or not to legalize Marijuana and the president of our team would point to one of us and say, "Give me a thirty second speech about supporting the legalization of Marijuana" and you would just have to stand up in front of everyone—which was 24 members of our team—and give a speech randomly. At the very beginning, I would obviously fumble and say "um" a lot, but now I feel like I am confident enough to think on my feet and give a strong speech about anything from legalizing Marijuana to an effective way to kick ISIS out of the northern areas of Iraq and Syria. It's very awesome. One of my favorite parts about Model UN is that I am constantly researching about the different types of issues that are happening around the world. That's probably one of the main reasons why I really love it; I am learning so much.

HC NYU: Do you think that Model UN has helped with your Slam poetry experience? Have you ever read one of your poems in front of an audience before? 

AK: I actually spoke in front of NYU SLAM! before I joined the travel team. That was great, but I still hadn't gone into the NYC scene. I had gone to some of these Slam poetry clubs, specifically Nuyorican Poets Cafe near Alphabet City. I would always listen and think to myself, "These people are so good. They're so experienced. I don't think I could ever do it!" The moment I joined the Model UN team, I developed this confidence because I'm also speaking around talented people and I felt that the minute I spoke at the Princeton Conference—these were also all strangers to me, from Singapore, Canada, India—I knew that, "Wow I actually can speak in front of people. It's not scary anymore." Even at the Princeton Conference, it was all impromptu speaking, so the minute I went to Nuyorican Poets Cafe and gave my own speech, it felt amazing; I felt so good about myself. The support from people around me—even strangers—and the open community at SLAM! is something that I'm very thankful for. I'm thankful for the courage that the NYU Model UN travel team gave me, the courage to actually go and speak in front of random people. Now I know that I want to speak more. I've grown to love it and it has really helped me develop my identity in NYC around so many different things. It's really good that I've found something that makes me feel like an individual in a city of millions. 

HC NYU: What is it like to be on the Model UN travel team?

AK: On the travel team, we help each other out, we give each other ideas and we make sure everyone understands what to do, how to do it and any tricks up their sleeve that they can use on the day of the conference. It's very cool because people come to you with a different approach; some people have their own way of doing things on the Model UN travel team and then they come to you saying, "Hey, you're this type of delegate. You're the delegate who tries to make friends with everyone instead of being a very aggressive person." They come to you for advice, which is very good. 

HC NYU: What kind of delegate would you describe yourself as?

AK: I'm definitely the delegate who tries to be friends with everyone, but I'm also the person who tries to speak the most in the room. None of my speeches are attacking anyone; I'm really giving speeches that have good ideas and good reasons behind them, but I'm also trying to work with other people. If someone says that they don't agree, I immediately retaliate and say, "Okay, let's try and incorporate your ideas" so I'm that type of delegate. There are definitely other delegates who go up saying completely one-sided things and try to get only two people on their team so that they can win. It depends on how you like to play politics. 

HC NYU: Recently, your Model UN team won an award. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little about that experience?

AK: Princeton was a JCC [Joint Crisis Conference], which means that every committee was a country in the Middle East. Every action that happened within the room of one committee could potentially affect something that happens in the room of another committee. It's not just an isolated room where hypothetical situations happen; you're actually playing off other people who aren't in the room, which is a very cool thing. It's trying to simulate the real world. So, my specific committee was Iraq and I was the Minister of Interior; there are different types of positions and powers that you have. Mine was the security of our country. How you win awards depends on how many votes you send, how many things you cost to happen within the circuit and how well you speak. There are four awards—a Verbal, Honorable, an Outstanding, and Best. I walked away with the Outstanding, which is such an honor because that was my first conference and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It's really funny because at Princeton, there were only four of us who went. Out of the four of us, there were three new people who came in at the beginning of the semester and one sophomore who also came in this semester. So when we went in, nobody expected anything of us. On Sunday when they gave awards, I got an Outstanding, the two other freshmen got Outstandings and the sophomore got Best. Because we had wrapped up all of those awards, we ended up getting the award for the best delegation at the conference. There were 25 schools there—all international—so this was amazing and we were such a small school too. It was a really rewarding feeling and we came home to so much support. The thing about Model UN is that we're not looking at it from an individual perspective. We only feel rewarded if we do well as a team, so we try to help each other out and give each other ideas. The community is amazing.

HC NYU: Who is someone you really look up to on your Model UN team?

AK: My friend Lina—the girl who told me to join the team—is one of my closest friends. She's actually also a freshman, but she joined the first semester. Her convincing me to join the team and her helping me every step of the way through the learning process really made me feel like I belonged there. I had a lot of doubts at the very beginning; I didn't think I was good enough for the team. Even though she's the same age as me and doesn't have as much experience as the older students, she makes me feel like I belong and that makes me want to work harder and experience more things. Another person who inspires me in a competitive way and an advice-giving level is Aziz Jon. He just turned 18, but he's a junior. He's one of the smartest people I've known, he's such a great speaker and he organizes our team so well; he's currently the head delegate. He's definitely a mentor and a teacher and has taught us so many things: how to partake in the different conferences, what to know and what to look out for. He makes me feel prepared.  

HC NYU: If you could give NYU students one piece of advice, what would it be?

AK: I would say, it might be scary living in NYC surrounded by all these different niches, interests and types of people, but if you have one speck of interest in any of them, you should definitely experience them firsthand. Just try to get involved or go to a poetry club reading or paint a picture and submit it to a magazine or a competition because you'll really never know unless you try. You'll never know if that's meant for you in this huge city unless you try to experience it for yourself, even if it's just one time. If you're not into it, then you'll know. But if you are, that's the most amazing thing—to discover that you are into it and you want to be a part of it.