Finding a home on campus — and in the lab

Madhura Pande remembers how she felt when she was invited to the Top Scholar weekend at the University of South Carolina as a high school senior. She had applied and been admitted to prestigious schools around the country, but the Florence, South Carolina, resident hadn’t committed yet.

That visit to Columbia changed everything.

“After that weekend, I knew I definitely wanted to come here. I’m a Stamps Scholar, so the financial perks are amazing. But it was a lot of things. There was a diverse body of students I met that weekend; that really appealed to me. And it’s less cutthroat and more collaborative here. I appreciated that.”

Pande graduated in May with degrees in biological sciences and Spanish from the College of Arts and Sciences with honors from the South Carolina Honors College. She plans to take a gap year doing clinical research before attending medical school.

She got her first taste of research her freshman year at UofSC, and she’s been immersed in it ever since, including working with Lydia Matesic, associate professor of biological sciences. Pande has worked in Matesic’s lab all four years, and she received a Magellan Scholar award for the work, Histological Analysis of Mucus Layers in ITCH-deficient mice.” Her research findings formed the basis of her senior thesis for the Honors College.

“It’s taught me determination and perseverance and to be thorough in every step,” she says.

The health care issues I want to confront are here. Why would I go somewhere else? This is where I can make the greatest impact and the biggest change.

Madhura Pande, Honors College senior

Pande also has done ophthalmology research on inflammation after cataract surgery, particularly among African American women. She believes having the skills to implement clinical research findings will be invaluable to keeping a medical practice updated and able to adapt to changing needs of patients.

“Once I had a taste of clinical research, I wanted to develop it further. But I’m confident I will be going to medical school,” Pande says. “I’ve always known I wanted to go to medical school. I’ve always been drawn to the sciences.”

Her mother is an endocrinologist and her father is a cardiologist, so dinner-table conversations while she was growing up included talk of science, treatment for diseases and ways her parents navigate the health care and insurance systems for their patients.

“They’re always ultimately trying to do what’s best for their patient. I just feel like it’s an honorable mission,” she says. “It’s in my blood.”

At UofSC, she took advantage of the Stamps Scholar enrichment fund to pursue everything from training and working as an EMT in Lugoff, South Carolina, to studying abroad in Chile to learning more about the work of physician scientists during a winter break shadowing trip to Houston and Baylor University.

“My original image of what it’s like to be a physician was local, rural, clinical. I definitely want clinical experience; I like the personal interaction and the immediate impact because I’m extroverted. I want to be with patients and have that human interaction. But after being in that hub (in Houston), on the forefront of technology and scientific discovery, I’m interested in doing research also,” she says.

She isn’t sure which specialty she will eventually pursue. Whatever road she takes, she says she is interested in serving the community and helping others, especially those who have not had the same opportunities she has enjoyed.

“For me it’s important to get to know my community and to serve. Even if I leave for a little bit, I want to come back. The health care issues I want to confront are here,” she says. “Why would I go somewhere else? This is where I can make the greatest impact and the biggest change.”

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