Biren Bhatt is the kind of student who makes a parent proud, a professor happy and the community in which he lives a better place. He’s a gifted student with a keen intellect and a deep social conscience.
Bhatt will graduate from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) on May 26 having already finished a year of medical school. He belongs to an accelerated program that allowed him to jumpstart his medical career by spending his fourth year at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).
He is to graduate from NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College, moreover, with a perfect cumulative grade-point average of 4.0 and a host of academic honors.
Bhatt is not only unusually bright but uncommonly compassionate. He was born in Jersey City, grew up in Carteret and now lives in Newark. He has seen how poor public health and infectious diseases ravage inner cities. And when he finishes medical school, he intends to work for a clinic that treats patients with infectious disease such as tuberculosis and AIDS.
“I’ve lived in cities and have gone to public schools all my life,” Bhatt said. “You see the health problems of the poor and eventually you say to yourself, ‘What can I do to help?’ I feel that working in Newark in a public-health clinic would be the best way I can help people. Everyone has their calling and this is mine.”
Bhatt’s dedication to public health has already gained him national recognition. Last year, he was the only New Jersey college student to win a Truman scholarship, a coveted award that ranks in the same league as the Rhodes scholarship. He won the Truman on the basis of his plan to eradicate tuberculosis from American prisons and to improve public health in cities.
He was the first student from NJIT to apply for the Truman, and after the institute was notified that he had won, NJIT President Robert Altenkirch threw Bhatt a surprise party.
Upon being apprised by Altenkirch that he won the scholarship, Bhatt, who is faultlessly humble, said, “I’m so shocked I won,” after which he added, “I’m just very grateful to all the professors at NJIT who helped me.”
Although Bhatt was shocked to win, the Truman wasn’t his first prestigious scholarship.
In 2003 he was named a Goldwater Scholar, awarded to the nation’s top undergraduate students in math, science, and engineering. Bhatt has the distinction of being the only student from a New Jersey college to be named both a Truman and a Goldwater scholar.
“Biren is one of the most impressive students I have advised during my nearly 40 year teaching career at NJIT,” said David Kristol, PhD, a professor in the biomedical engineering department who is Bhatt’s academic adviser. “He not only has an extraordinary academic record, but did research when he was a freshman, something few students do, and his research on various aspects of blood coagulation was uncommonly brilliant.”
Both of Bhatt’s parents are immigrants from India. His father is a mechanical engineer, his mother a lab technician. He has one older brother who graduated from Princeton University and now works for a money-management firm. All of them will come to see him receive his NJIT diploma on May 26 from the Continental Airlines Arena.
Bhatt did not go to an elite private high school. He attended Carteret High School, where he graduated first in his class. During his senior year, he won a scholarship to attend NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College, which attracts some of the state’s brightest students. He was accepted into Dorman’s accelerated B.S./M.D. program, in which students spend three years at NJIT and four years at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). He just finished his first year at the medical school at UMDNJ.
At NJIT, Bhatt majored in engineering science, with a concentration in biomedical engineering. He had a double minor in history and chemistry. In 2003, he spent a semester studying at the University of Hong Kong, where he did volunteer work with the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Association. While studying in Hong Kong, the SARs outbreak struck, spreading panic across the world. Nonetheless Bhatt stayed there as long as he could, working on his public health project. He left for America only when a student in his dorm showed symptoms of SARs.
“When I woke up one morning and saw men in space suits cleaning the entrance to my dorm,” Bhatt said, “I knew it was time to leave Hong Kong.”
So he returned to Newark and his medical studies, where he is already improving the lives of the less fortunate. Earlier this year, Bhatt, along with fellow UMDNJ students, started a volunteer service club called “The Med Poets Society.” The group uses positive hip-hop music to effect social change in Newark. The Med Poets collaborate with the Academy Street Firehouse, a Newark group that helps children with AIDS. The Med Poets is hosting an open mike night for the Firehouse children, which will include singing, rapping, and poetry read by both the children and the medical students.
The Med Poets also tutor disadvantaged teenagers in connection with the non-profit group, YouthBuild, in Newark. YouthBuild helps high school drop-outs earn General Equivalency Diplomas (GED) and learn a trade. Bhatt found, though, that many of the students in the program wanted to attend college. So he and his fellow Med Poets have begun tutoring the students to help them prepare for the SATs. Bhatt also works as a volunteer tutor for the Newark Literacy Campaign.
“Biren is the kind of student a university is lucky to get maybe once in a generation,” said David Reibstein, PhD, associate dean of the NJIT’s Dorman College. “His heart is as big as his intellect – an uncommonly rare combination. And one day, after he finishes med school, Biren is going to improve the quality of public health in Newark and perhaps even in the state. He’s that smart - that committed - and he’s a real credit to NJIT.”