Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Spartanburg student named Presidential International Scholar

Punam Mulji, Dorman graduate, to study women’s access to health care

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Punam Mulji, class of 2017

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Punam Mulji’s sister, a 2015 Wofford College graduate, is attending medical school. Her brother, a first-year Wofford student, is pre-med. Their father is an emergency room physician.

So, it’s no surprise that Mulji, a Wofford junior from Spartanburg, also is pre-med, and it’s no surprise that during her younger years she literally sat at her father’s knee and learned about his medical practice. “He would sit me on one knee and my sister on the other and tell us about his night in the ER,” she says. “I remember stretching out ‘whoas’ when he would describe the drama – and I still do when he shares his experiences. I’m very proud.”

Despite the interesting tales, Mulji did not always know she wanted to study human health and become a physician. “When I was little, I wanted to be a meteorologist because science and nature were so cool. Then, I wanted to be a Bollywood actress, pop star and dancer,” she says.

“As I went through school, though, my passion for biology and volunteering prevailed,” but there was something else that influenced her path toward medicine – a diagnosis of congenital heart disease and corrective open heart surgery while she was in high school. “That experience was a catalyst, providing me with a lot of firsthand insight into different fields of health care and medicine,” she explains, “I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I’m fortunate to have a family that supports me – just so long as I try my best and am happy. Wofford’s liberal education and resources also have given me a lot to consider and have strengthened my desire to become a clinician.”

Mulji, a 2013 graduate of Paul M. Dorman High School in Spartanburg District 6 who is majoring in biology with an accounting minor at Wofford, has been named the college’s 33rd Presidential International Scholar by President Nayef Samhat. As the scholar, Mulji will spend five months of the 2016-17 academic year traveling to developing countries conducting independent research centered on medical anthropology. She is interested in comparing rural women’s access to health care in patriarchal communities with health care access for women in egalitarian societies. “I hope to collect my data and ultimately find solutions for these women,” she says.

The announcement of Mulji’s selection was made today (Tuesday, May 3, 2016) at Wofford’s annual Honors Convocation held in Leonard Auditorium in Main Building on campus.

The Presidential International Scholarship is an innovative program that allows one student to travel internationally to research an independent project. The scholar is selected by the president of the college as a student with exceptional potential to benefit humankind as evidenced by a demonstrated passion for service learning combined with a globally minded intellectual curiosity.

Also recognized during the Honors Convocation was the 2015-16 Presidential International Scholar Phifer Nicholson, a senior from Plymouth, Minn., who is a religion major minoring in business. Winners of Wofford’s departmental awards and others also were honored. (Read about other recognitions at Honors Day.)

“Punam Mulji is an amazing young woman with a drive to serve humanity through her service as well as her chosen profession of medicine,” Samhat says. “She seeks to learn how rural women can gain access to health care around the world, no matter the type of community or society in which they live. Her compassion for those who are underserved is admirable, and her desire to discover ways in which these issues can be solved is a testament to her commitment to make the world a better place. As the Presidential International Scholar, Punam most assuredly will make an impact on the lives of the people she meets during her travels, and on those of us back here at Wofford when she returns to share her experiences with us. I know, too, that as a physician she not only will work to heal her patients’ physical ailments, she will leave a lasting positive impression on their lives.”

Mulji anticipates traveling to Guatemala, Bolivia, Haiti and other locations during her research study, working with such nonprofit organizations as Partners in Health, whose goal is “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair,” and Curamericas Global, with an aim is to provide vital health services to mothers and children around the world.

“I have learned already that in some locations around the world, such as in Haiti, where Professor Philip Swicegood and Wofford students are providing microloans, that women have more power and autonomy than in other locations, such as in India and South America,” Mulji says. She will research how that impacts access to health care in certain locations around the world.

As part of her research, she plans to study abroad from late August until mid-December in New Delhi, India, with the SIT (School for International Training) Study Abroad program’s public health, policy advocacy and community program. The program explores the links between public health, policy advocacy and community with a focus on women, children, tribal and other marginalized and vulnerable populations in India.

She plans to be in Haiti and the Dominican Republic from mid-December until New Year’s.

While Mulji’s desire to be a doctor and her study of accounting at Wofford may seem incongruous, she says they are quite similar. “I like taking things apart and putting them back together, to understand how something complicated can work in delicate harmony, like clockwork,” she explains. “You do that in medicine, with physically assessing a patient’s body, trying to understand what’s wrong so that you can restore balance to the system and ultimately assuage the patient’s suffering, and in accounting by picking apart the financials and putting them back together to make sure that everything balances.”

Mulji is considering obstetrics and gynecology, with a focus on maternal fetal medicine, or general surgery.

All of the travel the Presidential International Scholarship entails isn’t daunting for Mulji. “I have traveled a lot with my parents – to Egypt, Costa Rica, Kenya and Europe, for example. My parents have always taught us (she and her siblings) that you can live a lavish life but it will not have much meaning without an open mind and humility. They take us on these extravagant trips, but the richest experience is when they take us outside resorts so that we can interact with the local community,” she says. “To quote a favorite Hindu proverb of mine, ‘They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.’”

Mulji is the daughter of Jittin Muljibhai, an ER physician who works for the Greenville Health System (GHS), and Nisha Muljibhai, who works in the insurance verification department of GHS. She is president of the Multicultural Association of Pre-Med Students (MAPS), treasurer of Beta Beta Beta biology honor society, a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta (pre-health professions honors club) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), and is a peer tutor for select biology, chemistry and accounting courses. She also is a member of the Arcadia Volunteer Corps. She volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg whenever she can, and she enjoys painting, reading and swimming. She holds a black belt in American karate and tae kwon do.

She studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, during Interim 2015 and conducted a clinical internship in medicine during Interim of this year. She is a Dean’s List student.

Her brother, Anand Mulji, is a first-year student at Wofford majoring in chemistry with a minor in business. Her sister, Neelam Mulji, is a 2015 Wofford graduate who majored in chemistry and Spanish, with a minor in accounting; she is attending the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

Mulji plans to attend medical school in South Carolina.

The Presidential International Scholarship program, funded by an anonymous donor, provides the selected student the opportunity to travel and study independently for five months during the scholar’s senior year, returning for the spring semester.