Aziz Sandhu: Empowered Through Service and Leadership


Age: 19

Graduation Year: 2019

Hometown: Tolland, CT

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology

Minor: Sociology

UConn Involvement: Public Health House Learning Community, First Year Experience Mentor and Teaching Assistant, Vice President of Public Relations for Public Health Learning Community, Team Leader for Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights and Urban Poverty Alternative Break, Emerging Leader Student Life Award Finalist

Q: Let’s start off with a simple question: what made you decide to go to UConn?

AS: UConn is large enough to appeal to a wide array of students. It’s a reputable school, very established in its STEM program which was a huge plus for me since I wanted to pursue a career in medicine and public health. Being close to home, I was able to stay very close to my parents and siblings. In the end, I got the best of both worlds by having the opportunity to live on campus. UConn opened up many opportunities and allowed me to meet diverse people.

Q: What is it like going to a school so close to your hometown?

AS: I knew UConn was around, but it was almost hidden, so I never went out of my way to experience the campus before college.  I knew many people from my high school went here, but I didn’t get to fully grasp what the campus environment was like. It is interesting because even though a good amount of people from my high school attend here, you can still make your college experience unique and reflective of your personal goals and niches.

Aziz (left) and her roommate and best friend from high school


Q: What are your favorite things about UConn so far?

AS: The role models you can find around campus. There are many students here who you can learn from. These people are pushing themselves to do really incredible things, and as someone who is still trying to find my way, it is important to take a step back and listen to others’ stories and learn from them. There is so much to be said about where people come from and how they came to be the person they are. The ability to have a meaningful dialogue and learn and listen to individuals different from yourself is something that UConn’s enriched student body really allows for. I have also been involved in First Year Programs and Learning Communities; both programs emphasize the ideas of inclusion, community, and dialogue-- all things that I love about this campus.

Another thing about UConn is its sense of pride. The University has done a great job of instilling a sense of community and love for one another. Husky pride is about so much more than going to the same school, it's about celebrating our home here in Storrs.

Q: So I’ve noticed you’re very involved with the Alternative Break (Alt break) Trips. How did you get involved with it? What made you want to keep doing it?

AS: So I was in an FYE class my freshman year and my best friend/roommate and I were listening to a trip director talk about an Alternative Break Trip in Birmingham, Alabama that she was leading in the coming winter.  I remember appreciating the way she approached service; how when you go to a different place, you’re there to listen to the community’s need and be wary of a savior mentality. But she really emphasized on the importance of service and what it meant to her. I decided to apply, and ended up getting a spot on the trip as a freshman. That trip director, along with many other leaders on that trip did a wonderful job creating a sense of community and purpose and I am so appreciative that I still have those connections in my life today.  

I had a really incredible experience on my first trip. Beyond the community and friendship aspect, it reinvigorated a love for service and exploring social justice issues.  Later that year, one of the team leaders from my trip to Birmingham encouraged me to apply to the New Haven Food Security weekend trip that he was a trip director for and I loved that experience.  Then came Fall 2016. I went ahead to apply for a team leader for the Birmingham Civil Rights trip that I went on as a freshman. My motivation to continue with these trips was the reach you get from an alternative break. I see reflection as indispensable. It is so easy to rake and paint, but a lot of that work and indirect service you do has a deeper meaning when you’re reflecting on why you are there, why the community is benefitting from your presence. You’re doing the most respect to your experience when you turn your service high into a lifestyle. I saw myself develop in many ways because of these trips, and I got a sense of leadership and personal growth. I want to continue doing these trips not only for myself, but for others to experience that growth as well.

Aziz and her friends on an Alternative Break trip


Q: What was the most challenging part about being an Alternative Break leader? Most rewarding?

 AS: I think one of the challenging parts was creating that sense of community and supporting other members of the leadership team. I really wanted to make sure reflections went well and that individuals on my team were understanding why we were there and how those issues in Birmingham were not just localized in one part of the country or world, but their relevance to the Storrs-Mansfield Area or other urban locations throughout the country..

On the flip side, the most rewarding thing was making that impact and seeing the personal growth of participants on the trip. It’s always amazing to see the relationships that were form in such a limited amount of time and the passion for service that you can feel in the air.  In addition, developing that positive relationship and dialogue of respect with the community partners we worked with and having the privilege to represent UConn was extremely gratifying for all of us that were able to go.

Q: What made you want to join a Learning Community (LC)?

AS: Because UConn is such a huge campus, I wanted found that the Learning Community was the fastest way to get involved early on. It also allowed me to be a part of an organization that would know me as more than just a number.  Being a part of the Learning Community means you have a home base of faculty directors, staff and grad students; people who are checking in on you all the time. People within the Learning Community are supportive and there to help you out. I’ve found that it’s easy to feel alone on campus during the college process. But joining LC gave me a sense of belonging. I specifically joined the Public Health LC because I’ve always been interested in the medical field and improving people’s lives that way. Through my time in the LC, I knew I wanted to approach health care at a systematic way. The LC allowed for people of all related fields and disciplines to come together and support one another. It also has a huge alumni network. Typically, the LC invites the alumni back to share their experience. They’re always so inspiring to listen to.

Q: What other strong interests do you have on campus?

AS: I like trying to go to different speakers and events; being civically and socially engaged. I’m still trying to find more interests on campus, but for now I enjoy spending time with my friends, laughing at my own sad jokes, and binge watching Game of Thrones and Friends.

Q: What advice would you give to your freshman self?

AS: College goes by really quickly. Your four years will go by fast. Really seize the day. I think a lot of the time, we are always going and you forget that as a freshman, there are things you don’t necessarily have to start worrying about. Take advantage of every opportunity and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Challenge your thinking and surround yourself with people who will challenge you. Those are the types of things that will help you grow and get the most out of your college experience.

All photos were provided by Aziz Sandhu

Last picture provided by the Hartford Courant