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NCAA committee names 2017 Byers Scholarship recipients

Johns Hopkins’ Bugarinovic, Northwestern’s Mehta awarded $24,000 grants

An NCAA committee has selected two college athletes as recipients of the 2017 Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship. George Bugarinovic, who has a bachelor’s degree in public health and natural sciences from Johns Hopkins, played basketball, and Nandini Mehta, who graduated from Northwestern with a bachelor’s degree in economics and international studies, was a soccer player.

Established in 1988, the Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship program each year awards a $24,000 grant to a male recipient and another to a female recipient. The grants can be renewed for a second year. Recipients are recognized as combining the best elements of mind and body to achieve national distinction for their achievements and to be future leaders in their chosen field of career service.

George Bugarinovic

Bugarinovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia, at a time when the Balkan region was embattled by economic and political turmoil. Nine months into his life, Bugarinovic’s parents left the war-torn country for North America. After five years in Canada, the family settled in Kansas in the Kansas City area.

Shortly after moving to the U.S., Bugarinovic’s father was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and his mother was treated for colon cancer.

“With no relatives in the country, my parents’ physicians transcended the role of a traditional doctor,” Bugarinovic said. “Their caring touch played every bit as significant a role as their clinical expertise in helping my parents lead pleasant and fulfilling lives through diagnosis, treatment and eventual remission.”

Watching the bond built between the hospital staff and his parents left a lasting impression on Bugarinovic.

It is why he has chosen to attend Harvard Medical School and has plans to become a physician. Previously, Bugarinovic studied the molecular science behind medicine’s capacity to restore his parents’ health as a developmental biology researcher at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

“George Bugarinovic is what is best about college athletics,” said Tristan Davies, faculty athletics representative at Johns Hopkins. “His intention is to go forward and serve his fellow man.”

Bugarinovic believes his undergraduate experiences pushed him further beyond his limits than he thought possible.

“As a student-athlete, I learned to avoid complacency, eliminate excuses and always strive for a better version of myself,” said Bugarinovic, who compiled a 3.87 GPA at Johns Hopkins. “As a teammate, I learned how to effectively work in a diverse and interdependent environment through times of stress — something that has undoubtedly prepared me for a career as a physician.”

Nandini Mehta

For as long as she can remember, Mehta’s main ambition has been to help others.

She believes she can achieve this lifelong goal by becoming an international policy advisor and behavioral science expert.

“I can help governments around the world create policies that enhance people’s lives,” said Mehta, who graduated from Northwestern with a 3.98 GPA. “That is why I want to pursue a Ph.D. at the intersection of policy, economics and neuroscience.”

Mehta learned during her time on the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee how she can effect systemic change. At the 2015 NCAA Convention, she delivered a speech to Division I athletics administrators and presidents about how student-athletes were in favor of legislation to prohibit the reduction or nonrenewal of athletically related financial aid for athletics reasons.

“In an instant, we had positively impacted the lives of generations of student-athletes to come,” Mehta said. “Policy was the key. Before this experience, I thought that the biggest way to impact people’s lives was to work on an individual level, but after, I realized that the most powerful way to do so is to work on a system level.”

Robert Gundlach, the faculty athletics representative at Northwestern, was not surprised that Mehta was able to deliver her point to the people who make the decisions in Division I athletics.

“Ms. Mehta has shown impressive poise at every turn, along with a remarkably mature and skillfully deployed mix of savvy, diplomacy and persistence,” Gundlach said. “Her articulations of key issues and her thoughtful proposals are clear and direct, and her suggestions and arguments command respect.”

Mehta, who was a three-year captain of the Northwestern women’s soccer team, believes the use of behavioral science can solve problems in education, energy and health care. Her goal is to help shape a universal health care system in the U.S., where access to care doesn’t come at the cost of someone’s life savings. She also wants to help reduce the cost of higher education in the U.S. and help develop incentives for the use of renewable energy.