Neuroscience Major Ava Mitra ’22 on Opportunity, Community, and Identity at Rhodes

a young woman with long dark hair

Ava Mitra, from Chittagong, Bangladesh, began her journey in the U.S. as a sophomore in high school. Mitra, now a senior neuroscience major at Rhodes, shares her experience adapting to American culture while shaping and asserting her own identity.

“It is safe to say that I've spent some of my most formative years in the U.S. It has been a point of contention for me, because my culture is a huge part of my identity, but as a Bengali living in the U.S., I have to actively find ways to engage with my culture,” says Mitra. “Without doing so, it is very easy to lose touch with it, and assimilate in a way to only make those around you more comfortable. The U.S. has always been advertised as a melting pot, and that is true to a certain extent. However, for people whose roots are in a different country and in a different culture, it can be difficult to find a true sense of belonging in the U.S.”

The college’s rich body of international students, and the opportunities that that would present to engage with peers from different backgrounds, was one of the main reasons why Mitra chose Rhodes.

“I have found my communities at Rhodes through involvement in cultural groups, club sports, and classrooms. I have found numerous commonalities with people I never expected to meet, and many of the people within my circles are people I would like to have in my life forever. I have friends who either come from the same area of the world as me, share the same academic interests as me, or who I just get along with better than I ever knew possible,” says Mitra.

Sharing her identity with the bigger community has helped Mitra become better connected with her own culture. “I always tell my friends that cooking for others is my love language. Cooking food from home has been one of the most fulfilling ways for me to connect with my culture, because not only do I get to actively engage with it, I always have a physical product at the end of the process that I can share with those around me. Seeing them enjoy it brings me immense joy!”

Another way Mitra connects with the community is through the Rhodes College Dance Company, which she has been a part of since her third week of college. “Despite having never explored dance before in an official setting, I found a sense of belonging with this group, and now, as a senior and as the current director of the group, I have the opportunity to provide an accepting and fun environment just as I experienced.”

Fulfillment for the 22-year-old also means a strong sense of personal growth and accomplishment in academic and professional settings. “I knew I wanted to major in neuroscience long before I began my process of searching for colleges, and Rhodes offered some of the best opportunities for undergraduate students in this field,” says Mitra. “I was not in the least let down, as I have been involved in research since my second semester of college. It has been a very rewarding experience. I have found a community in labs that I have worked in, and those people have helped me develop my future interests and learn skills that I will take with me.”

Mitra works in the Visual Cognition Neuroscience Lab and has worked in the Community Narratives Psychology Lab and Philosophy of Cognitive Science Lab. Since receiving a neuroscience fellowship in the summer of 2020, Mitra has been designing and coding an experiment on ensemble perception. under the supervision of Dr. Jason Haberman..

“The end of summer 2020 was one of the most fulfilling and best moments I can think of in relation to my academic interests,” says Mitra. “After working alone for eight weeks on my new experiment, with my only communication with my advisor being via email due to COVID, I had finally coded a version of my experiment that looked exactly how I envisioned it. Having never done coding before that summer, the sense of joy and excitement I felt that first time when my code worked perfectly was immense.”

Reflecting on her journey at Rhodes, Mitra says, “Attending this school has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. There are flaws within every institution, but Rhodes has provided ample opportunities for student voices to be heard and their demands to be met. I think this is a wonderful community for international students, and while being away from your family is difficult as you assimilate in a new culture, Rhodes has shown that it’s possible to create your own family.”

By Tram Truong ’24