As a student at Benedictine University, Parth Bhansali is anything but average.
Since coming to the university as a freshman in 2009, the health science major from Bartlett not only has excelled in his studies, he has pushed the boundaries of what an undergraduate college experience should look like.
From shadowing a surgeon in an operating room and running his own photography business, to leading the university's Hindu Student Association and participating in the American Medical Student Association as well as several other clubs on campus, Bhansali has done and accomplished more at Benedictine than he's ever imagined.
"Benedictine has been instrumental in helping me evolve into the person I've become," Bhansali said. "I've been able to really open my mind and pursue a vast amount of opportunities for learning. The clubs, the personal attention, the support and the idea of living life in balance, all have given me so much more than simply a college degree."
His resume includes a work-study position at Benedictine's Enrollment Center, where he leads campus tours and answers questions about the university for prospective students. He also serves as a member of the Benedictine chapter of KIVA, a nonprofit aimed at eliminating poverty in other countries by promoting local fundraising activities.
As a member of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program, Bhansali speaks to middle school students about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and their effects on the body. Additionally, he participates in activities like basketball games and other events for students with mental or physical disabilities with the Best Buddies club.
When he's not studying or participating in extracurricular clubs, Bhansali can be found working out at the Benedictine Fitness Center, listening to class lectures on his iPod, and attending interfaith discussions, prayer services and other events around campus. He also is trying to find a space for a Hindu temple on campus before he graduates.
Off campus, he has designed marketing materials for A One Dental Care in Aurora, taken pictures for family portraits and events, and worked with a local author on a photo for a new fantasy book.
"He reminds me of the Energizer bunny," said Jayashree Sarathy, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Benedictine and a Hindu Student Association adviser. "He has the drive to perform well and gives whatever he does his best shot."
Bhansali's uncle, a cardiologist in Gujarat, India, is his inspiration for pursuing a degree at Benedictine that one day will help him apply to medical school.
In December, Bhansali visited his uncle and shadowed him while he consulted with patients in a clinic and at his private practice.
"That trip changed my whole perspective on medicine and everything we do (in the United States)," Bhansali said. "My uncle has saved thousands of lives in an ethical manner and has never fallen victim to greed. His passion and selflessness for serving people is so deep; it can't be put into words."
In the fall, Bhansali met a medical doctor who, while on vacation, took a campus tour of Benedictine. The doctor was so impressed with Bhansali and his life's ambition that he offered him an internship at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, England, where he works.
"We got to talking about how hard it is to get into medical school here," Bhansali said. "He told me when he was my age he found himself in the exact same position, but someone helped him and he wanted to pay it forward."
A few months later, Bhansali received a call to come to England and assist the doctor in general surgery, and he was encouraged and supported to take advantage of the offer.
"It was an amazing opportunity that not too many students outside of medical school get to experience," Bhansali said.
He envisions one day becoming a doctor and setting up his own free clinic or charity for the sick and underprivileged in India.
Bhansali had a long list of colleges from which to choose, but says that list shrank to one the day he took a tour at Benedictine and witnessed firsthand the university's welcoming spirit, scholarship opportunities, student diversity and emphasis on the sciences.
"I was really taken aback by the diversity on campus," Bhansali said. "That was what really attracted me to the school, and is still one of my favorite things about our campus. All are welcomed and respected here."
After earning his degree, Bhansali plans to take the Medical College Admission Test and apply to medical school. While he completes the application process, he will apply for a full-time job in the health-care field. But wherever he chooses to go, one thing is certain -- the job he does must help people in some way in the Benedictine tradition of giving back, he said.
"It has to be something worthwhile," Bhansali said. "I have to make it something where I look back 20 years from now and can say, 'Wow! That was a really unique job, but it was a good experience and I made a difference in the lives of others.'"