Yasin Patel, University of Illinois at Chicago, Class of 2011
Sullivan High School Class of 2007
Yasin Patel’s life in the United States has more than once displayed an uncanny circular quality. In high school, working as a wheelchair assistant in the international terminal of O’Hare Airport, helping elderly passengers unable to make it alone from one destination to the next, he encountered “all kinds of people who didn’t speak English, like myself”—a reminder of his first sight of the same airport, and indeed of the whole country, in 1998, when he arrived with his family and three brothers from a rural village in India. Speaking no English when he started fourth grade, Yasin estimates that he focused his time well into high school “trying to get my language skills to a point where I could talk to people.” Working at the airport on behalf of people in a familiar predicament, he says, “helped me understand what I wanted to do.”
The other primary influence in Yasin’s trajectory to date was Sullivan High School’s Health Career Academy, where he learned about different health professions and discovered a keen interest in pharmacy. Over the coming years, he took advantage of internship opportunities in the physical occupational department of Cook County Hospital, in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial, and at CVS Pharmacy, where he has now worked as a technician for a little over four years. He also discovered Chicago Scholars, hoping to get help paying for his education, and found more than he had expected. “The most helpful thing I got out of Chicago Scholars was exposure to what college would be like,” he says. “It provided the best introduction I could have had, as well as a place I could go for help if I needed it.”
Now a biology major and English minor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Yasin appears to have adjusted to American college life better than most: he still makes time to reach to help others in need, all while taking a normal course load and working 35 hours a week. When not at CVS, he serves as a volunteer coordinator in the literacy department of the Indo-American Center, an organization that reaches out mostly to the Southeast Asian community in Chicago. Again, a circular twist: “When I moved here in 1998, that was the first place I went to get help with my English skills,” he recalls. His diligent efforts in recruiting, supervising and organizing the volunteers have paid off. Recently, the Indo-American Center has been able to secure more funding from the Secretary of State’s office this year to carry out its work.At UIC, Yasin’s focus has been primarily medical—he has tutored in chemistry and biology, helped out at a local free clinic to educate patients about nutrition and cholesterol, and worked for a university journal on health literacy—but now his career interests have shifted toward the Public Health field. “Although what I learned while working in pharmacy is invaluable,” he explains “I believe the work I’ll do in the public health field will help me understand our health care system from a wide range of perspectives and will be a more fulfilling experience overall.” For someone who initially thought being a doctor or a lawyer was out of reach due to his immigrant status, Yasin has come a long way in a short time.