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Ankita Jain ’24 Wins Regional Women of the Year Award

May 20, 2024 Peyton Davis '26
Ankita Jain '24

Ankita Jain ’24, a neuroscience major and biology minor, was among those awarded the  in March of this year. The award celebrates Women’s History Month by recognizing women from Santa Cruz and Santa Clara for outstanding leadership, passion, and contribution to society, and is given by Gail Pellerin, State Assembly member for California’s 28th district. Candidates are nominated by community members who observe inspiring, trailblazing women making change. 

Jain, from Cupertino, Calif., was studying at Ӱֱ and unable to accept the award in-person during the March ceremony; her parents accepted on her behalf. 

From the website: 

“Ankita Jain is a driven student and social entrepreneur making strides in academia and community empowerment. Through initiatives like HelpSapiens and Ӱֱ Kalā, she's dedicated to women's mental health empowerment and social innovation, earning recognition for her leadership and commitment to positive change.” 

Jain is part of the 4+1 program with the University of Pennsylvania; this program allows exceptional students to begin their master’s in engineering while simultaneously attending Ӱֱ as an undergraduate. This means that around this time next year, Ankita will have both her bachelor’s in neuroscience (along with a minor in biology) and a master’s in bioengineering.  

Although she still has another year ahead of her at Penn, Ankita has many potential paths post-graduation. “Up until this semester, most of my coursework had been in neurobiology, but then I took a cognitive neuroscience class, and I was like, ‘oh wow! cognitive neuroscience is really cool.’” Jain says some of her neuroscience research interests include cognitive neuro, neurobiology, neurogenerative disease, and neuroaesthetics. 

As a professional Indian classical dancer, neuroaesthetics offers Jain a unique opportunity to combine her two greatest passions: science and art. While there are many subfields, Jain lists several fundamental questions that ground the discipline: “How do our brains process art? How do we perceive a painting versus a dance? Do we relate to them in different ways? What is happening at a molecular level?” 

According to Jain’s research, there are very few studies on Indian classical arts within this field, as opposed to ballet and contemporary Western dance—this is a gap she hopes to see filled in the future. 

When Jain has a spare moment, she’s busy running several non-profits, one of which landed her this nomination. “HelpSapiens really started to take shape during COVID,” says Jain. “When the lockdown was in place, I noticed a lot of senior citizens were really struggling with access to groceries and medicine, as well as mental health.” 

Jain’s organization got right to work and created a page for delivery requests. “[HelpSapiens] had a few people who reached out because they couldn’t access their parents’ home due to being stuck on the other side of the world. So, they would write on the website, ‘this is my parents’ address; they need grocery delivery.’ And we’d organize volunteers within that area to help them out.” 

HelpSapiens is no stranger to recognition—Jain says that the non-profit has been featured on the U.N. Global website. Still, every award is an honor. “As an aspiring changemaker, this feels like a pat on the back, like okay, I’m going in the right direction,” says Jain. 

Besides running HelpSapiens, Jain also co-founded Vedic Fine Arts with one of her music teachers. Jain describes the group as “a platform for Indian classical artists to have a space to collaborate with one another, but also showcase their art without judgement.” Based in San Francisco, Vedic Fine Arts hosts concerts, fundraisers, and other events in the area. 

Jain performs from coast-to-coast, and across the Pacific, too. She is trained in , an Indian classical dance form that originated thousands of years ago in the southern temples of Tamil Nadu. Last winter, Jain travelled to India to dance at Margazhi Dance and Music Festival in Chennai.  

“Coming here has helped me establish my own identity, not just as a student, not just as an artist, but as a person."

At Ӱֱ, she founded Kalā, an Indian classical dance club that hosted a showcase last year. “Being able to start Kalā has been a great experience to meet kind people, to find those with like-minded interests, and to learn to step up to a leadership role.” 

Jain looks back upon her years at Ӱֱ as life-altering. “Coming here has helped me establish my own identity, not just as a student, not just as an artist, but as a person. It’s given me that space and freedom to really discover who I am at my core. It’s been very transformative for me.” 

4+1 Program