Enhancing her education through research projects
MARSHFIELD As a sophomore, Neehal Shukla helped form Marshfield High School’s first SMART Team — Students Modeling a Research Topic — earning accolades during a research conference in San Diego for the team’s model of a protein found in drug-resistant staph infections.

Neehal made a trip to Boston last spring and is set to travel to San Diego again this month.

“(The) SMART Team has definitely been one of the most enlightening experiences. I’m so thankful I have been able to participate in this program,” Neehal said. “Without it, I don’t know what my high school experience would have been like.”
Neehal Shukla

Age: 17
Residence: Marshfield
School: Marshfield High School
Parents: Dr. Sanjay Shukla and Kavit Bhatia
College Plans: Undecided, but plans to become a neurosurgeon
Hobbies: SMART Team, Science Olympiad, Spanish Club, National Honor Society, piano, curling and swimming

Students on the team spend time reading research articles on different molecular biology topics, which the students then turn into models of specific proteins. It’s during these research conferences that students share their work in poster sessions.

Neehal said she often finds herself remembering something the team would read during their research projects that would be brought up during science classes.

“It’s been an exciting thing to participate in during high school,” she said. “You spend a lot of time working on research in the classroom, analyzing the work of other scientists. It takes a lot of time to understand the complex mechanisms of one tiny protein, and it feels great when it clicks.”

Amy Fasler, faculty adviser for the SMART Team, said Neehal has really stepped up to become a leader this year after three seniors graduated in 2013.

“She’s great at determining what kind of information the students need to focus on, and to make sure all of those areas of research are covered,” Fasler said. “She’s found a lot of new research articles for students to read on her own. She’s become the captain of the team this year.”

Neehal hasn’t decided which university to attend after graduation — she’s still waiting to hear back from a few she’s applied to — but she has a roadmap for the future already sketched out. She wants to attend a pre-medical program, with maybe a semester abroad and opportunities to participate in undergraduate research with professors on campus.

Oh, and she wants to be able to volunteer at a local hospital, as she’s spent part of her free time volunteering at the House of the Dove Hospice in Marshfield.

“I haven’t had too much patient interaction at the hospice, but I hope in college to do more volunteering,” Neehal said.

During her junior year, the team worked on modeling a protein found in multiple-sclerosis and autoimmunity diseases, which helped reinforce her decision to pursue a career in neurosurgery.

In addition to her participation on the school’s SMART Team, Neehal was the president of the school’s Health Occupation Students of America, or HOSA, which was brought back from the proverbial dead last year in part by Jennifer Kaiser and Alma Farooque, two Academic All Stars from 2013.

The club raised more than $3,000 to attend a conference in the Wisconsin Dells this year, something Neehal said showcased the dedication its members have to keep the club alive.

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