Vikash Reddy: Student Senate President
Published in Inside - Volume XVII, No. 1
When Vikash Reddy taught in a third-grade classroom in East New York, as part of Teach for America, he’d notice his students yawning.
“Often when I’d ask, ‘Why are you so tired?’ I’d hear stories about how they spent all night in the emergency room because that was how they received medical care,” says Reddy, TC’s new Student Senate President.
This experience made a powerful impression on Reddy, a fourth-year doctoral student in TC’s Leadership, Policy and Politics Program who is writing his dissertation on school-based health care. Last fall, as part of a project for a course titled “Comprehensive Educational Opportunity”, taught by TC Law and Education Professor Michael Rebell, Reddy met with the director of Montefiore Medical Center’s School Health Program, which runs the largest network of school-based health clinics in the city. He was impressed with the program, which places primary care physicians and mental health care professionals in every clinic, and even includes dental services where feasible.
“Not a lot of people consider the effects of inadequate healthcare on learning,” he says. “Education and health policy should be considered together instead of in silos. A child’s health can impact the whole class. If a student has a toothache, he won’t focus on the reading lesson. If a child has a stomach ache, she can’t concentrate on addition problems.”
“My philosophy has always been to be a part of the solution,” Reddy says. “That’s why I started teaching, it’s what brought me to TC, and it explains my view of politics as a natural way to get into the field.”
Reddy had his first taste of politics-in-action at Dartmouth College, where he earned his undergraduate degree in Government. While there, he served as President of the college’s Young Democrats during the 2002 election and backed then-Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri – an early supporter of universal health care in the 2004 presidential primary.
In Reddy’s family, interest runs deep in education, health and political advocacy. The Ogden, Utah native’s parents both work at Weber State University where his mother is the Director of Support Services and his father is a professor of Political Science and also a former Chair of Weber’s Faculty Senate. One of his sisters is a physician who just finished her residency in family medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. His other sister is the Director of Research at Sharklet Technologies, whose products are designed to reduce health-care associated infections.
This fall, Reddy takes the helm as President of TC’s Student Senate, in which he previously served as Treasurer.
“TC is a wonderful institution, but there’s always room for improvement,” Reddy says. “I see the Student Senate as a great venue in which one can work towards solutions.”
In his new role, Reddy hopes to bring TC students greater access to the many resources at Columbia University.
“Why aren’t TC students better connected to many departments across the street?” he says. “Policy students with SIPA, Math, Science & Technology students with departments in those fields, counseling students with the School of Social Work? And why isn’t there a more established connection between Teachers College and the Mailman School of Public Health?”
After completing his TC degree, Reddy hopes to forge stronger links between health care and K-12 education.
“I would love to do work that makes it easier to provide schools in low-income areas with health clinics,” he says. “That way students can have a more consistent place of care and enjoy all the benefits that accompany good health.”