For Sparks native Gabrielle Bhakta the game is just beginning. Bhakta is in her second semester at the University of Nevada, Reno and said she does not plan to stop until she reaches the summit; a doctorate. Bhakta said the level of difficulty increases with each graduating family member.
“It’s really a family thing,” Bhakta said. “I will be the first one in my family to enter the medical field, and since my mom has her Bachelor’s and now my uncle has a Master’s I have to be aiming for a Ph. D.”
Bhakta graduated with her Honors diploma from Sparks High School in 2012, after rising through Agnes Risley and Sparks Middle schools, and she now studies Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources (CABNR) at UNR. Though she reserves a level of uncertainty, Bhakta said her current career options are among becoming a pharmacist, cardiologist and a pharmaceutical researcher.
“I am taking a class right now called Major Career Decision Making, which is mostly for undecided students but they also open it for second semester freshman, and that has really helped me narrow down what I would like to be doing,” Bhakta said. “I am going to do an interview with a professor in the School of Medicine who is a pharmaceutical researcher and I am going to ask her more about what it is like inside the career, what the expectations are and its upsides and downsides.”
Sitting in a local Sparks café recently, Bhakta spoke joyously of her time spent at Sparks High School and the number of various clubs she was involved in. Bhakta was a member of the Key and MESA (Math, Engineering and Science Achievement) clubs, the Sparks High band and the tennis team. Her confidence to join the clubs might surprise a few of her former teachers.
Bhakta was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 5, which forced her to enroll in interactive speech classes from kindergarten through sixth grade. The classes were designed to tackle her struggle with identifying emotions and boost her comfort in social situations.
“They would give us storylines and skits to understand the social situation, what topic is being covered and what gestures mean from other people,” she said adding that the disorder does not affect her life on a daily basis. “I have put all that behind me now.”
When the time came for Bhakta to consider financial aid through scholarships she did not realize the rigorous hours spent in speech therapy would strengthen her resume. During the consideration process for the Joel F. Glover Memorial Foundation Scholarship, a $20,000 offering to exemplary Sparks High students, Bhakta told her interviewers how much she had overcome.
“I think one of the big sellers was when I told them that I suffer from Asperger's Syndrome,” she said, “And when I struggled to try to learn how to speak properly, it kind of made me stronger and I became more determined that I can make my own future.”
Bhakta was only the second recipient of the scholarship from the Joel F. Glover Memorial Foundation, which was established in honor of the 1961 Sparks High graduate, eventual UNR graduate and beloved local dentist.
Bhakta takes full advantage of her location by living at home while she attends college and, on a typical school day, she can often be found on the Reno campus studying with or tutoring her friends. Bhakta was recently named to the Dean’s List for CABNR and she said the honor is now a baseline for her future success.
“It still sits in the back of my mind that I accomplished something this big,” she said. “At first, I thought it was no big deal, but now I am going to make it my goal to be on it every semester. I know it is not going to be easy with the higher difficulty of classes, but I think if I put my mind to it and stay straight on that goal, I can do it.”
Bhakta also plans to return to Sparks High and the MESA Club, once she has established a full year in college, to help mentor and tutor young Railroaders planning to enter science-related fields. She hopes she will be able to prepare those students for the heavy workload to avoid any shocking revelations.
“The MESA Club really helped me develop my love for science and I would like to give back to those students who are in the same position I was,” she said. “I knew for sure in college it would take time to get my homework done and to create networks with other people, I guess what I underestimated was the workload. I thought that as a freshman they would go easy on you, but I realized just because you are in your first year doesn’t mean they are going to give you any slack. They expect you to be quick-witted and on top of your work. That was a huge reality check for me.”