Feature Stories

Meet Nishant Vyas: A Top Student with a Sense of Compassion

Nishant Vyas, NCE's Outstanding Senior in Biomedical Engineering

When he was a sophomore in high school, Nishant Vyas got some shocking news: His sister -- 8-year old Aesha -- was diagnosed with cancer. A growth on her chin threatened her life, and some doctors refused to operate on such a young child.

Nishant's family did eventually find a doctor who agreed to help Aesha. The surgery was successful and now, five years later, she is considered cured. But Nishant never forgot his sister’s savior.  

“In my eyes, Aesha’s doctor was like a God,” says Nishant. “I still think about how he saved her life.”

Inspired by the doctor’s work, Nishant, now a senior at NJIT, has applied to medical school: He, too, would one day like to be doctor who could save children from the ravages of cancer. And he recently received an honor that could ease his entry into medical school.

 The Newark College of Engineering (NCE) named him its Outstanding Senior in Biomedical Engineering. Each year, NCE gives the award to the top senior in biomedical engineering. Nishant has the highest Grade Point Average of all those seniors -- a near perfect 3.94.

But perhaps more important, Nishant worked hard to improve NJIT.  Beginning his freshman year, he was elected a Student Senator to represent first-year students. In his sophomore year, he was again elected to the Senate, this time representing the biomedical engineering majors. Also that year he created the Biomedical Engineering Honor Society, which recognized biomedical engineering students who excelled academically and also assumed leadership roles. At year’s end, the students voted him Senator of the Year.

He was a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College; a Vice President of Tau Beta Pi and Co-President of Omicron Delta Kappa. As a junior he was elected Vice President of the Student Senate and, in recognition of his hard work, in 2007 the university named him the Outstanding Student Leader of the Year.

Nishant had such an urge to help his fellow students and such a talent for explaining difficult concepts that NJIT hired him as a Teaching Assistant. He helped teach an Honor’s Freshman Seminar, and for five semesters was the Teaching Assistant for the Fundamentals of Engineering Design, a key biomedical engineering class. 

“Nishant was the star of our department,” said Richard Foulds, a professor of biomedical engineering. “When it came time to pick our top student, the professors voted unanimously for him. They all knew how hard he worked to improve our department for both professors and students.”

Nishant was also a talented researcher. He began working on biomedical research when he was a freshman. In one project, he analyzed the delayed speech patterns of children who have cerebral palsy. His insights into how the children’s vocal chords tighten when they say certain words and phrases could lead to a therapy that will improve the children’s speech. In a second project, he designed a videogame for semi-paralyzed children – one that prompts them to use their paralyzed limbs.      

It’s unsurprising that Nishant’s research focused on children: for the most formative experience of his life, after all, was helping his sister contend with cancer. Seeing her withstand an operation and a year’s worth of withering chemotherapy brought out Nishant’s humanity.

When Aesha was diagnosed, he was 16 -- a teenager -- not an age associated with selflessness. Yet in his devotion to her, Nishant was the epitome of selflessness. And his friends helped. While Aesha was convalescing, Nishant’s friends would often visit the house. But whatever they did, wherever they went, they were sure to include Aesha. They'd play endless games of Halo 1 with her – her favorite video game. Or they’d listen to music together. Or if they decided to see a movie at the mall, they’d insist that she come. And when she grew downhearted from her continued bouts of chemotherapy, Nishant would take her aside and hug her. Tell her not to worry. That she’d be okay. Everything would be all right.

“That year was hell for Aesha,” recalls Nishant. “Seeing her go through surgery and chemo was also a stressful time for my parents, who aged more that year than at any other time in their lives. So I tried to help them, too.”

Aesha, now 13, has not forgotten her brother’s kindness. If, for example, her parents say she can buy something for herself, she'll do that under one condition: that she be permitted to also buy a gift for Nishant. And when Nishant was honored recently at the NCE awards dinner, Aesha came to see him receive the Outstanding Senior award. 

“It’s so cool that he won,” Aesha said. “I'm proud of him and I look up to him. He’s the best big brother ever.”

  She came to the NCE dinner with their father, Yagnesh Vyas.

“Aesha loves Nishant so much,” Yagnesh said. “She always says, ‘I love my brother so much.’”

And Yagnesh is delighted that Nishant hopes to be a doctor. For when Yagnesh was young, he, too, dreamed of becoming a doctor. 

“When I was a college student,” Yagnesh explains, “they tested us. And depending on how you well you scored on the test, they placed you in certain fields, with the students with the highest score gaining entrance into medical school. I missed the score I needed for medical school by half a percentage point. And now that Nishant has applied to medical school, I am living my dream through him.”

Some students who apply to medical school pad their resumes by, say, volunteering at a local hospital and then playing up that experience in their application. Nishant hadn’t a need for that: The volunteer work he did to improve NJIT; his many honors; the research he did to improve the lives of sick children and the selfless way he cared for his sister – all that was authentic. So if acceptance to med school means excelling academically while caring for others, he should have a reserved seat. And right now, Nishant’s dream is close to a reality: He’s applied to med school and is waiting for an acceptance letter.

When he was a senior at Jefferson Township High School, Nishant’s math teacher, Peter Glusiec, wrote him a reference letter. In that letter, Glusiec summarized what he perceived as Nishant’s strengths.

“Nishant has been one of the top five students that I’ve taught during my 23-year teaching career,” wrote Glusiec. “He was inquisitive and eager to learn. But the characteristic that sets him apart,” Glusiec continued, “is his concern for others. Few people know that his sister fought cancer and that he has been an excellent brother by supporting her and showing her his love and concern. Nishant does not seek publicity for his contributions. Instead, he quietly improves the lives of his family and the others around him. I can think of no higher compliment to give to a young person.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)