■ Kyle selby / Reporter
17-year-old Hemet High School senior and graduating class Salutatorian Anusha Koka is moving on to bigger and better things this summer.
Anusha has been accepted into Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC) at Thomas Jefferson University, a seven-year accelerated medical program after three years of undergrad at Pennsylvania State University.
“I was just ecstatic when we got into the program, because it’s so selective!” brimmed Anusha. “It’s like 23 kids selected from all of the applications they get.”
When Koka found out she was accepted in March, she said that she and her mother, Dr. Vidya Koka of SJ Medical Group, could not stop crying. Thousands of high school graduates apply for the SKMC program every year, and after undergoing a stressful months-long narrowing process from 900 students, to 97 students, to the remaining two dozen, Anusha Koka made the cut.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do an accelerated medical program,” explained Anusha, who dreams of becoming a general family practitioner. During the admissions process, they held interviews on campus at Penn State, and Anusha remembers her first visit vividly.
“The second we stepped onto the campus, it just felt like home,” she said. “It was perfect – it was meant to be.”
Child prodigy with a passion for helping others
Anusha is nothing short of a child prodigy; holding the number one rank of her class in all of her four years at Hemet High, her talents transcend the classroom. She is also ASB vice president, former team captain of mock trial, a varsity track and field jumper, tennis player, member of the school choir, and youth leader at her Hindu Temple.
However one of Anusha’s proudest achievements is her role in founding and presiding over the Habitat for Humanity club at Hemet High.
“We’ve done a lot for the community so far,” she described. “My dad was part of the community organization when we moved to Hemet, so I grew up being a part of this organization and seeing different families get homes, and I just wanted to bring that experience to people at Hemet High.”
Habitat for Humanity is an international, faith-based nonprofit organization. Essentially, they help low-income families in unfortunate living situations, and build them better homes from the ground up. Participating families must also help build the home.
“It’s kind of a life-changing experience,” explained Anusha. “If you don’t have the opportunity to be a part of that, you’re missing out.”
Anusha plans to join the Habitat club at Penn State, hoping her younger brother Krishna, who will attend Hemet High as a freshman in the fall, can take over her role as president.
Lakshman Koka, Anusha’s father, CEO at SJ Medical and president of the Hemet chapter of Habitat for Humanity, noticed Anusha’s passion when he read her essays.
In them, she described Lakshman’s father, who passed away when he was young due to an incorrect diagnosis from a physician. This inspired Anusha, who didn’t want other families to go through the same heartbreak.
“We are incredibly happy and proud of her, and what she’s accomplished,” said Lakshman proudly. “She definitely outdid her parents!”
Ranked number one for her entire senior class, Anusha Koka, the salutatorian for Hemet High, was already feeling extremely anxious the day before, as she had waited more than a month for her dream school and program’s decision, but that all changed when she read that letter.
“It was kind of like—not validation — but appreciation for all the hard work I’ve done.”
HUSD’s top scholar for 2017
And the appreciation kept coming. In April, the Riverside County Office of Education held its annual top scholars pick from each district. One person is chosen as the top scholar from the entire school district, and of course, HUSD 2017 pick was Anusha Koka.
“That made up for not achieving her other dream of becoming a valedictorian; she was actually chosen as a top scholar for the whole county,” smiled Lakshman. The county picks 19 students as the top scholars out of Riverside County’s 430,000 students. This was only the second time a Hemet High School student has ever received that recognition.
If all of that weren’t impressive enough, when Anusha was a sophomore, she studied at Harvard Medical School for a couple of weeks for the Harvard National Student Leadership Conference. Last year, she studied at UC Berkeley for its neuroscience research program, and conducted chemistry research at UCR. While many might consider giving up your summer vacation for research studies, Anusha politely disagrees.
“It’s not sacrifices for me,” she explained. “I enjoy pursuing education. It’s just a matter of choice.” Prior to committing to Penn State, she was accepted into such top California schools as UC Berkeley, University of California Irvine, and University of California San Diego, among others.
“A lot of people think we are pushing her into the medical field, but we aren’t,” noted Lakshman. Anusha says that growing up and watching her mother interact and build provider/patient relationships is what drew her to the medical field.
“I’ve had a lot of help—an intensely strong support system,” affirmed Anusha. “My mom and my dad have supported me through everything I’ve done. They’ve helped me realize and recognize the value of culture…They teach you to love yourself, and recognize that you have the capability to achieve greatness. It’s up to you to take control of it.”
Anusha begins orientation at Penn State two days after she graduates at Hemet High, and officially leaves August 19; starting the program on Aug. 28. She is most looking forward to her first three years in the program, and the opportunities she will experience.
“I’m just really excited for it!” She also affirms that she will be visiting home quite often.
“I want the other kids to see what she was able to do, and follow that path,” reflected Lakshman. “The opportunities she has had – every student has them.”
“Throughout it all, I’ve had fun,” attested Anusha. “I feel like that’s important to mention. You make these lasting memories through all of these activities that you do. You meet different types of kids. You’re not going to meet the same kinds of kids in choir that you are in say, mock trial, or track and field. It’s a different group that you get to experience every day. I feel like that was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing.”
Anusha thanks her family, and all of her teachers, and her “amazing” principal Dr. Emily Shaw for all of her success. “Behind every person, there’s an army.”