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College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Medalist Meghna Shankar strings together success and scholarship as a dual major

Meghna Shankar, wearing a purple sash and white dress, holds a viola in her left hand and the bow in her right. She is looking to her right while standing in front of a blue railing.

The possibility of a greener future inspired Meghna Shankar, a recent Allen School alum, to study alternative energy and help wean society off of fossil fuels. Her interdisciplinary academic career, she said, gave her the perspective to see the bigger picture, while also giving her the tools to make her goals a reality. 

“Since the world of scientific research is relying more and more on computing,” she said, “the skills I learn in my CS classes have come in handy in a variety of situations.”

For Shankar, who graduated in June with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and comprehensive physics, the discipline has been another path to a deeper understanding of the physical world. She was recently named a 2023 Dean’s Medalist in the Natural Sciences by the College of Arts & Sciences in recognition of her many scholastic achievements.

This fall, she will begin a doctoral program in experimental condensed matter physics at MIT, where she hopes to research topics that could have clean energy applications, such as batteries, fuel cells and solar panels. 

“UW was one of the best places for me to gain undergraduate research experience,” Shankar said. “I had the opportunity to work with amazing graduate students and postdocs, which helped me learn about the research process and the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D.”

Shankar’s Dean’s Medal selection comes on the heels of a prolific undergraduate career. As a first-year student, she began research at professor Cody Schlenker’s experimental chemistry laboratory, investigating how to increase the efficiency of solar cells. That experience led to an internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where her work resulted in her receiving the prestigious Mary Gates Research Scholarship. In her junior year she started working in the experimental condensed matter physics lab of professor Xiaodong Xu. She has also served as a teaching assistant in introductory physics courses in addition to the Allen School’s first year seminar.

Beyond the classroom, Shankar has demonstrated a commitment to both the arts and her community. The talented violist joined the UW Symphony Orchestra as a freshman and has performed with the ensemble since then. 

“Orchestra has been an invaluable part of my UW experience,” she said. “In my freshman year, some of my first friends at UW were in the viola section.”

Shankar also helped lead Women+ in Physics, a student organization that promotes inclusivity in the sciences. Senior students had previously begun the process to incorporate the group into the physics department, but due to the pandemic, they faced challenges in getting off the ground. Shankar and her friends revitalized the organization and have since hosted many community and professional development events.  

“I have really enjoyed this experience, as it has brought me closer to my friends and made me feel like I am making an impact in the physics community,” she said. “The physics department has been incredibly supportive of us as well.”

Shankar credited her friends and family for encouraging her and fostering an environment for success. She will keep them and her UW experience in mind, she said, when she heads to MIT later this year. 

“Without the support of and collaboration with my friends and classmates, I would not have felt the same motivation to go to class and study every day,” she said. “I also want to recognize my mother and my father. They have been a huge inspiration to me to work through adversity and be committed to my goals.”

Read more about Shankar’s achievements here.