Midway through elementary school, a Columbus North senior already had settled on a medical career — and specifically a goal to become a heart surgeon.

A love of medicine developed by Ujwala Pamidimukkala, 17, came out of her interest in watching medical television shows as a child.

After years of hard work, and applying herself academically, she is even closer to her goal as this year’s Columbus North valedictorian.

The girl and her parents moved from Hyderabad, India, to the United States before she started school. Their first U.S. home was in Dayton, Ohio.

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A few years later, shortly before she began third grade, the family settled in Columbus, where her father, Sateesh Pamidimukkala, became a mechanical engineer at Cummins, Inc., Ujwala said.

Her mother, Kala Pamidimukkala, is a stay-at-home mom.

A long list of academic awards, a grade-point average of 4.29 on a four-point scale, as well as a full schedule of community and volunteer activities, paint the senior as a motivated go-getter.

“I don’t really see the point in sitting around being idle,” Pamidimukkala said. “I feel much better when I’m engaged both in school and out because I feel like I am actually doing something useful for other people and for myself.”

Her academic accomplishments include being a U.S. Presidential Scholars candidate, earning first place in both the medical math and pharmacy tech portions of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) competition, serving as the local HOSA vice president and being a member of both math and science academic super bowls at Columbus North.

With her favorite two high school courses being math and science, she plans to pursue a molecular biology and chemistry degree as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, she said.

After that, it’s medical school and then residency on the way to her professional goal.

In all, Pamidimukkala is planning on 12 to 13 more years of schooling before she becomes a heart surgeon.

A heavy class load in college doesn’t scare her, having become used to one while in high school.

Pamidimukkala rises above others among the 60 students who take advanced placement Calculus prior to their senior year and the 20 students taking Calculus 3, said Dale Nowlin, Columbus North Mathematics Department chair.

“Even in that elite group of students, Ujwala stands out. She took Pre-Calculus at IUPUC after her freshman year,” Nowlin said.

She was taking college-level Calculus 1 and 2 as a high school sophomore, and Calculus 3 as a junior, Nowlin said.

As a senior, she is completing an independent study in matrix algebra, he said.

She will have earned the equivalent of 23 college credit hours of math and statistics when she graduates from high school this spring, Nowlin said.

Pamidimukkala doesn’t come into class just focused on getting a top grade or earning academic standing, said Laurie Pfaffenberger, her advanced placement Psychology teacher.

Instead, the student focuses on mastering the material and gaining knowledge to be utilized in the future, Pfaffenberger said.

Away from the classroom, Pamidimukkala has volunteered in the emergency department at Columbus Regional Hospital, and has helped out at the local Volunteers in Medicine clinic, now known as the VIMCare Clinic, and hosted a blood drive with the American Red Cross.

She got interested in the volunteer medical clinic as a high school freshman, asking to assist doctors in their work, said Susan Binder, former volunteer coordinator at Volunteers in Medicine.

The experience was similar to working in a doctor’s office, Binder said.

Pamidimukkala would prepare appointment schedules, file away patient folders, pull files for scheduled appointments and assist with a variety of excel reports, Binder said.

The student has also job-shadowed several medical professionals, including an oncologist and a heart surgeon, where she had the chance to watch multiple heart surgeries, which only reaffirmed her desire to follow them into the field.

“It’s something I really want to do,” she said. “The heart’s the coolest body part because I’ve done a lot of dissections in school and it’s not as complicated as the brain to understand, but I feel that it is just as important.”

Outside of her own hard work, Pamidimukkala contributes much of her success to her parents and teachers.

“My parents have been pretty involved throughout and I can always rely on them for support,” she said. “And my teachers really care about how I do.”

Ujwala Pamidimukkala

Age: 17

Parents: Sateesh and Kala Pamidimukkala

Siblings: None

Grade point average: 4.29 on a 4.0 scale

Elementary school: Southside

Middle school: Northside

Hobbies: Reading, taking long walks and cooking

Favorite book series: “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling

Favorite movie: “The Lion King”

Advice for incoming freshman: “Don’t procrastinate, don’t be afraid to ask questions in class because a lot of people have the same question. Get involved in clubs because it makes your high school experience so much better.”

What's next

Columbus East’s Top 10 will appear in the April 17 edition of The Republic.

Hauser High School’s Top 10 students will be published in June, after the semester ends.

Inside today

For a detailed list of Columbus North’s Top 10, plus photos of each, visit http://www.therepublic.com/?p=378345&preview_id=378345&preview_nonce=bfc138a9ee&post_format=standard&preview=true

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.