Meet First-Gen Honors Alumna Shivanna Neetu Birbal

David MelendezSpotlight

Shivanna Neetu Birbal is a first-generation student from Trinidad and Tobago. During her first year of college, the COVID-19 pandemic plagued the world, forcing Shivanna and her parents to become unemployed. For months she battled thoughts of being unable to complete her degree with the possibility of being evicted from her apartment. 

To keep up with bill payments, her father was left with no choice but to take early retirement the following year to receive his entitled gratuity money. Through all the trials and tribulations Shivanna kept her faith in God and continued praying. Shivanna was granted emergency aid funding as the Dean’s office heard about her story, and a few weeks later she was offered a temporary tutoring position. Step-by-step Shivanna was able to stay on top of bills and eventually graduate Magna Cum Laude from the Honors College and Phi Beta Kappa Honors.

“From this humbling experience, I learned to become more grateful even for the littlest things in life,” says Birbal. 

Shivanna currently works as a Graduate Assistant at Student Access & Success and is pursuing her Master of Science degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Special Education track. She credits Dr. Liana Gonzalez and Dr. Keisha McIntyre-McCollough as her role models and mentors in the dynamics of Special Education & Immigration. “Undoubtedly, I was intrigued with their areas of research which encompasses that of disability advocacy for which I hold immense passion, Inclusive Practices, Culturally Responsive Teaching, as well as Curriculum and Pedagogy in Special Education.”

Regarding her passion for these areas of research, Birbal says “Honestly, I feel as though many students with disabilities, particularly those who are immigrants, are not heard; many voices go unheard. Therefore, as an immigrant, I feel obligated to advocate for positive change so that those with disabilities can have the resources and accommodations provided to them – immigrant or not. Lastly- I want to build upon our nation’s education system. With my knowledge, skills, experience, and abilities, I am committed to industriously working with our community to better education for those with disabilities and create courses that make others more aware of these situations with updated resources or modernized accommodations. Whatever the mind can conceive, one can achieve. I am thankful to God, my Guru Dr. Sri Sri Sri Ganapati Sachidananda Swamiji, my parents, loved ones, and mentors.”

With her passion for helping students with disabilities, Shivanna hopes to become a Special Education Professor with a Ph.D. in Teaching & Learning: Special Education Track.