#PeopleofNIU Photo by Wade Duerkes/Institutional Communications
Hometown: Woodstock, IL
Year: May 2019
Major: Biological sciences
Are you attending NIU on any scholarships? Which one(s)?
Yes, the Presidential Scholarship.
What is your major, and why did you choose your field of study?
I realized in high school after AP Biology and Human Anatomy classes how drawn I am to science, especially science relating to the function and dysfunction of the human body. Biology is the study of life, and it’s a field that involves a little bit of every other field. This has inspired the research I’ve been involved in on campus, including cancer research. I’d like to become a physician.
How did you learn about NIU, and why did you choose to attend?
NIU is near my hometown, and I knew several teachers and friends who had attended.
Are you involved in any activities at NIU? What else do you do for fun/hobbies in your spare time?
I am president of Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society, vice president of service for the Pre-Professional Association and a member of Mortar Board Senior Honor Society. I also am a research assistant in a neuroscience lab. In my free time, I like writing and traveling.
What has been your favorite event at NIU, and why?
One of my favorite NIU events is STEMfest. My Phi Sigma group always sets up a table for STEMfest where kids plate and grow their own bacteria. I love getting to foster a fascination with biology in younger minds. You get to watch them get excited looking into a microscope and being curious about how it all works, and you feel like you’re sharing something very valuable.
What do you like about our campus and community?
I’ve found that NIU has a community with a place for everyone if you seek it out. I have met some of my best friends on this campus. NIU definitely is a university full of opportunities, no matter what interests you have.
What has your experience inside the classroom been like at NIU?
I have had a really great experience in the classroom, especially with the professors. So many faculty I've gotten to know really have taken an interest in me and my future, and it definitely has helped me grow in my time here.
What is something you have experienced at NIU that you will be able to take with you into future endeavors in your field?
One of my favorite experiences was the internship in U.S. Congress I was able to do through NIU this past summer. It was an unparalleled opportunity to live in the heart of Washington, D.C., intern with a U.S. representative’s office and learn so much about U.S. government and politics. This internship helped me grasp the importance of using your voice, your diversity and your education to make positive changes you believe in. Especially as a science major, it showed me the value of applying science in creating new policies and the role of science in moving forward as a nation.
Would you recommend NIU to others and why? What’s a general piece of advice you’d give to someone starting college?
I absolutely would recommend NIU to anyone. I have made some of my greatest memories here. I would tell any student about to go into college to be open to everything and to seize every opportunity you can, even if it’s appreciating time with your friends, because it all goes by very fast. Your time here will be filled with more than you would ever expect.
What is up next for you after your time at NIU? Any career aspirations you would like to share?
After NIU, I plan to apply to medical school. Becoming a physician is the long-term goal. Whatever role I play in my community and country, I want to be active in helping improve it.
What is something people may be surprised to know about you?
Other than English and Spanish, I speak Malayalam, an Indian dialect.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is learning to be confident in my identity and my background and beliefs. It’s so important, especially when you find yourself as the minority in any group, to make sure your voice is heard and to remember that your insight is unique and valuable. The world needs strong, diverse female leaders, and I’ve come to realize that I need to be willing and ready to fill that title. That realization is what constantly pushes me to pursue roles of leadership, even leading me to be a part of the highest leadership in our country, Congress.
Marilyn Chakkalamuri, a May 2019 graduate, was a finalist for the 2018 Lincoln Laureate Award.