Change of Fulbright plans leads new grad Sanaya Irani to help Detroit children learn to eat nutritiously

Sanaya Irani
               Sanaya Irani

New grad Sanaya Irani was understandably excited when she learned she received a Fulbright award to teach English in Sri Lanka for the upcoming year.

The Irvin D. Reid Honors College alumna graduated in May with a major in psychology and a minor in nutrition and food science. Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistant Program would have allowed her to spend a year in Sri Lanka helping professors teach English to primary and secondary school children. She also would have had the opportunity to teach students about American cuisine with a cooking class. 

However, her plans were drastically altered after the Easter Sunday terrorist bombings that targeted three churches and luxury hotels in Colombo. Irani says Fulbright delayed sending anyone to Sri Lanka until they could verify the safety of the country, and they offered her placement in Nepal or Kyrgyzstan as alternatives, but she says neither worked with her timeline.  

While the change was initially disorienting for Irani, she wanted to make the best of an unexpected situation. After the University of Michigan Medical School awarded her a scholarship to spend the year serving her community, she decided to make an impact right here in Detroit.

She already had some interest in working with the local branch of the nonprofit organization FoodCorps, and discovered they had one opening left in Detroit Public Schools. She will now be spending the upcoming year before medical school serving with the nonprofit at Spain Elementary-Middle School to teach students better eating habits. 

Irani says that the FoodCorps experience lines up more with her studies in nutrition and her service learning with the Honors College. “What’s really cool about Wayne’s Honors program is that they really encourage students to pair at least one of their classes with a service opportunity.” 

Irani combined her freshman nutrition and health class with service learning through the Gleaners Cooking Matters program, where she was able to help Detroit residents learn cooking skills to prepare nutritious and affordable meals. She continues to work with Cooking Matters, and with her background in nutrition, she can conduct the lectures herself.

Irani says that nutrition was not something that was addressed in her pre-college education, so she hopes to teach young children the importance of nutrition during her time with the FoodCorps. 

“We’ll be working with them during cafeteria time, encouraging them to take the healthier option instead of the snack foods (and) not throwing out their salad and teaching them why it’s important to eat your greens,” she says. 

As for Irani and Fulbright, the door is not closed. She hopes to participate in the program in a research capacity at some point in the future, with Sri Lanka as a possibility, where she could have an ongoing research project. She says further down the road she would like to practice medicine in an academic setting and potentially bring her students with her overseas.

Despite her lasting international aspirations, Irani says she ultimately plans to stay close to where she is now. “I think I would want my practice to be in Detroit, or maybe another nearby state,” said Irani, “I like the idea of serving in urban areas as there’s a diverse group of people I can help.”

By Jacob Stocking, OIP communications associate

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.

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