Kunal Patel

Assistant Professor, Public Health, College of Health and Human Sciences

Kunal Patel

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
I've lived all over. I've spent most of my time in Boston, Atlanta and Birmingham. Now, I live in DeKalb.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
Emory University, B.S./B.A. and M.D.P.
University of Alabama at Birmingham, M.P.H. and Dr.P.H.

Select your affiliated college at NIU
College of Health and Human Sciences

In which department(s) do you teach?
Public Health

Were you a first-generation college student?

What do you like about working at NIU?
Two things. First, I love the resilience Huskies have shown throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic. Academics have changed tremendously as well as expeditiously these past few months, and our community is rapidly adapting. Second, I was never attracted to big metropolitan cities, and I feel that NIU is just big enough for my taste. My colleagues welcomed me into this impressive community very passionately, and now, I feel I am at home at NIU.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
My most pertinent advice to students is to not let social distancing prevent socializing. Please, please, please stay in contact with friends and family as well as classmates and your professors. I know that, in the past, students might have been used to arriving to class a few minutes early and staying a few minutes late to socialize. You can still do that. Just use the time before and after your Zoom and Teams calls to your advantage. 

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
During fall 2020, I've been working with Harold Nii-Aponsah, a graduate assistant, in order to expand my existing hospital charge and pricing transparency dataset. We've been involved in collecting tens of thousands of data points from hundreds of U.S. hospitals. I expect to analyze this data in the coming months and help improve the quality of health care delivery while reducing the financial burden for patients. 

What do you hope students take away from your class?
Truth be told, as soon as a course ends, you will begin forgetting everything you've mastered instantly. However, I want my students to take away a sense of confidence once my courses end and hold onto it for the rest of their lives. Learning is not only something you do during your class sessions, but rather, it is a lifelong journey. Know that you've progressed so much in my courses—and yet, you should strive to never stop growing.

What is your favorite campus event?
Unfortunately, I've moved to NIU in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic. I haven't had the opportunity to attend any noteworthy live campus events. I do look forward to attending live sports and arts events as soon as it is safe to do so.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
In my limited time here at NIU (it's only been a little over three months), my favorite memory so far is reading about and going to visit the MLK Commons and the Balance of Equality sculpture. I was thankful that the institution was able to remove a parking lot and create such a wonderful green space with an important work of art placed at its center. 

Who has influenced your professional path?
I've been blessed to have a number of great mentors over the years. Most recently, Drs. Ford and Rucks at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have significantly impacted my life. Additionally, at NIU, I frequently tap into the expertise of Ms. Squires and Drs. Gray and Keddie. Finally, my family and friends have always supported me and challenged my thinking. 

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
As a freshman in college, I once contemplated (and wrote an essay on) becoming a Somalian pirate. Since then, I've grown to learn that forgoing your moral compass to make quick cash is not a very wise idea and may have adverse consequences on your life expectancy. These days, I work in public health. Things certainly have changed over the years. One of my mentors led me into public health when they described the fascinating work their wife did at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Ever since, I haven't wanted anything else in my career.

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
One organization of which I am a member is SCORE. This organization supports small businesses. I find the work they do fascinating, and they help me really understand what is going on at the grassroots level in the economy. I bring real-world examples of issues that I learn about in SCORE into classroom discussions, especially in health economics and finance. 

What community organizations are you involved in?
I've recently joined the Illinois Public Health Association. I am also involved with the Academy of Management and the Alabama Healthcare Executive Forum.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Rest and relaxation are vital for great health. Although I want to mention that I find building models in Microsoft Excel to be pleasantly relaxing, I truly enjoy viewing art and gardening the most. Lately, I've been drawn to Bohemian-era art and sprouting houseplants from seeds (such as silver wattle). 

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