Isha Sanghvi

Valedictorian Isha Sanghvi targets health inequity post-commencement

COMMENCEMENT: While at USC, the Bay Area native maintained the nonprofit she founded in high school and co-founded an organization that improves health equity for unhoused people.

May 10, 2023 Grayson Schmidt

Isha Sanghvi had accomplished more before she stepped foot on USC’s University Park Campus than some people do in four years of college. What she’s managed to do in college is more than some do in a lifetime.

As a high schooler in the Bay Area, Sanghvi founded Stemnova, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing after-school STEM programming for local elementary school students. Most students would take a step back from running such a venture upon entering college, especially at a school with the academic rigor of USC. Sanghvi is not most students.

Not only did she continue running Stemnova, but she also joined with several USC classmates to co-found Secure Remedy, a social enterprise that improves health equity for unhoused individuals by providing wearable containers for medication. She did all of this while majoring in neuroscience at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and minoring in social entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business, working for the Los Angeles Community Impact project, and serving as a USC Dornsife research assistant.

To add to that list of accomplishments, Sanghvi will finish her collegiate career as the valedictorian for the Class of 2023.

“I was in Target when I was told I was valedictorian, and I immediately called my parents and probably walked up and down the same aisle 15 times,” Sanghvi said with a laugh. “I still don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet.”

Commitment to STEM and the path to USC for valedictorian

Though Sanghvi credits USC with putting her on her current path, she said she wasn’t always so sure she wanted a career in health care, or even to attend USC. It was her second campus visit — after an uncharacteristically rainy first trip — that sold her. She was able to speak with a neuroscience student who highlighted not only the program, but also the interdisciplinary aspect of the university.

I came into college with a lot of different interests, and I was very scattered with what I wanted to do.

Isha Sanghvi, USC valedictorian

“I came into college with a lot of different interests, and I was very scattered with what I wanted to do,” Sanghvi said. “The fact that I didn’t have to pigeonhole myself into this one discipline and feel really committed to it, but rather explore and then find how these interests can intersect, was really awesome.”

Sangvhi started Stemnova during her junior year of high school as a free after-school education program for elementary school students. From there, she and her team developed a curriculum and trialed the program at one local elementary school and then expanded to a local shelter and a family community center. Once Sanghvi and her co-founders knew they were headed to different colleges around the country, they opened the curriculum so that anyone could access it online and implement it on their own. Then in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced education to go completely online, Sanghvi and her colleagues picked back up where they left off.

“My brother is eight years younger than me, and I saw him experience how hard it was to engage in classes when they’re fully online,” Sanghvi said. “That helped us rethink, especially with a team that was everywhere, how you can deliver project-based curriculum in an engaging way online.”

Despite her interests in neuroscience and STEM education, Sanghvi originally intended to study journalism at USC. However — at the encouragement of a friend — she took a class in entrepreneurship, which led to the creation of Secure Remedy her sophomore year.

“Those decisions I made early on maybe closed some doors, but they opened up so many other ones,” Sanghvi said.

USC valedictorian: Innovation for the social good and the path ahead

The idea for Secure Remedy originated in a class at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, “Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” In the class, Sanghvi and fellow Trojans Hannah Lee, who also graduates this year, and Vivianna Camarillo, who graduated in 2022, had to identify a crisis and create a nonprofit or social enterprise to address it. Health and access to health care were front and center in most people’s minds during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Sanghvi’s group wanted to address related issues within at-risk groups.

The team worked with USC Street Medicine to identify health issues among Los Angeles’ homeless population; one of the biggest problems the group found was the loss or theft of medication. To combat that, they came up with a temperature-controlled wearable pill container. The silicone pill container organizes medications by day and protects temperature-sensitive medications like insulin, Narcan and creams.

“We wanted to create something people want and need, not something that we think they want and need,” Sanghvi said. “All of the features in the product were from actually talking to someone and asking if it was something they’d want.”

It’s cool to think that I learned so much from so many different people, and now I can pay it forward.

Isha Sanghvi, USC valedictorian

Ultimately, Sanghvi plans to attend medical school. In the meantime, she’s taking a gap year to work at a health care consulting company for which she previously interned.

Regardless of the detours and reroutes throughout her path so far, her determination to make the world a little better has been a constant.

“Freshman year me wouldn’t have expected me to have gone down this road or do any of the things I’m doing, but I think that’s what’s fun,” Sanghvi said.

“It’s cool to think that I learned so much from so many different people, and now I can pay it forward.”