Barry McNamara  |  Published April 25, 2023

Senior Profile: Sreya Roy

Biochemistry major’s transition to college in a foreign country was eased by welcoming campus.

SREYA ROY: The biochemistry major from Kolkata, India, is days away from completing her Monmouth ... SREYA ROY: The biochemistry major from Kolkata, India, is days away from completing her Monmouth degree. Up next is a research experience in Taiwan, followed by graduate school at the University of Iowa.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Like the other members of her Monmouth College graduating class, Sreya Roy’s freshman year coincided with a major obstacle, as the COVID-19 pandemic that began during spring break canceled in-person learning for the rest of the semester.

For Roy, who came to Monmouth from Kolkata, India, it was just another hardship that year, as she worked to learn the culture of a new country and to master a second language.

Technically, it’s not correct to say that the United States was new to Roy. But essentially it was – she hadn’t been back to the United States since being born in Lawrence, Kansas, and living her first 18 months in America.

“My dad was doing his post-doctorate work at the University of Kansas,” said Roy, “but my family is from India, and we moved back there when I was one-and-a-half.”

Roy might not have memories from that time, but it did give her an important status – she was a U.S. citizen.

“Because I had that U.S. citizenship, I knew I wanted to come to college in the United States and get on an academic path toward drug discovery,” she said. “I did a lot of research, looking at small schools in the U.S.”

“Almost everything is different … it never gets below 55 degrees in the part of India I’m from. And I was not used to speaking English on a daily basis. We spoke some during school, but most of the time I spoke Bengali.” Sreya Roy

Her father provided some key assistance, visiting Monmouth on a 2019 trip to the United States. In doing so, he took one for the team – his visit coincided with the polar vortex that led to a severe cold wave in the Midwest – but he provided his daughter with valuable reconnaissance.

“He did a tour of campus and took a lot of pictures and sent them to me,” said Roy. “I didn’t do a virtual visit, but I did talk to (chemistry professor) Laura Moore on Skype.”

‘Almost everything is different’

With the difficult decision of which college to attend behind her, she still faced an uphill battle.

“Almost everything is different,” said Roy, who is majoring in biochemistry, “like driving on the opposite side of the road. I was used to kilometers, not miles, and to Celsius, not Fahrenheit. The cold weather, too – it never gets below 55 degrees in the part of India I’m from. And I was not used to speaking English with everyone all the time. We spoke some during school, but most of the time I spoke Bengali.”

Roy is grateful that the campus community welcomed her and eased her transition, and she listed some of the people who led the way.

PAYING IT FORWARD: Roy served as an orientation leader at the start of her junior year in 2021. PAYING IT FORWARD: Roy served as an orientation leader at the start of her junior year in 2021.“Definitely my professors,” she said. “The entire chemistry department was so welcoming. Dr. (Ashwani) Kumar (a Monmouth physics professor from India) and the orientation leaders were always making sure I had everything I needed. And Stephanie Kinkaid (at the time, a member of the College’s student life staff) helped me so much with everything that I needed.”

Two students who have since graduated – Sydney Barry ’20 and Olivia Matlock ’22 – also played key roles.

“Sydney was my mentor, and she and Olivia both took me under their wing,” said Roy. “And then through the Involvement Fair, I found out about the Intercultural House (now the Champion Miller Center) and made friends there, too.”

What she did each summer

COVID not only derailed the remainder of Roy’s freshman year, but it also threw a major wrench into her travel plans. Returning to India for the summer months was Plan A, but it’s a plan that still hasn’t happened.

“That first summer, there were travel restrictions, and I couldn’t go home, so I lived with a cousin in Bloomington, Illinois,” she said. “I missed my parents a lot, and the food from back home.”

The next summer, Roy took advantage of the College’s Doc Kieft Summer Research Program. She stayed on campus and worked with chalcone derivatives, which are easy to synthesize and serve as the type of enzyme inhibitors that could be crucial to slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

Roy spent much of the summer of 2022 completing a research experience for undergraduates program at the Mayo Clinic. There, she said, “I developed a passion for cancer research, especially exploring how people reject different cancer drugs and how we can make it better so that they benefit from those drugs.”

Even after graduating from Monmouth, Roy will spend another summer away from India, as she takes part in a summer undergraduate research fellowship in Taiwan.

“I wanted to study abroad while I was here, but it never worked out, so that’s another reason I’m excited to go to Taiwan,” she said. “It’s only 10 weeks, so I don’t know how much I’ll actually be able to get done, but I’ll be focusing on synthesizing drugs for breast and colon cancer.”

“My advice to my younger self would be to not worry about the future too much and just take care of my physical and mental health.” Sreya Roy

Her stop after that will give her much more time. Roy will pursue a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Iowa, which is a five-year program.

“I want to get into translational cancer research,” she said, “studying how the drugs I’m synthesizing can affect cancer patients” and lead to improved outcomes.

Being in Iowa City will put Roy fairly close to Monmouth should she choose to visit, but even if she can’t make it back to campus, she offered some words of wisdom for students who choose the “challenging” path of traveling far from home to be a Fighting Scot.

“My advice to my younger self would be to not worry about the future too much and just take care of my physical and mental health,” she said.

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