Raj Bala Chaudhary ‘24: Psychology

When asked about Raj Bala Chaudhary, SUNY Poly Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Director Melissa Prest quickly said, “She epitomizes the motto of EOP, to ‘lift as we climb.’”

Raj, a native of South Richmond Hill (Queens), has served as SUNY Poly’s EOP Ambassador the last three academic years. In this role, she has tabled at different State University of New York (SUNY) campuses, as well as high schools and community events across the State, sharing what the program and SUNY Poly has to offer.

Her efforts, on and off campus, recently earned her a prestigious Norman R. McConney, Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence from SUNY, and her impact on her peers is evident to those who know her.

“Since her arrival at SUNY Poly, Raj has excelled academically and personally while simultaneously serving as a mentor, advocate, and role model to her peers,” said Prest. “I have no doubt that she will continue to soar, and I can’t wait to see where life takes her and all the many lives her hard work will continue to impact.”

Raj, a first-generation college student, had initially come to SUNY Poly to study engineering. However, a passion for mental health emerged during COVID as she saw the mental health challenges her peers experienced. This, along with Raj’s history with mental health; her siblings faced neuropsychiatric and psychological conditions as an outcome of serving in the military, served as the catalyst for the change. In May 2024, Raj will walk across the stage with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, with minors in Community + Behavioral Health (CBH) and Criminal Justice.

Raj with her parents and SUNY Poly EOP Director Melissa Prest at the recent award ceremony.

“I feel like, if I’m equipped [with the necessary tools], I can help my siblings and others who struggle daily with mental health challenges,” she said of studying psychology and CBH. “In regard to criminal justice, I’ve always been intrigued with true crime, so I thought I’d tack that on for fun.”

Post-graduation, Raj plans to pursue a master’s degree in mental health counseling, and eventually earn her PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology.

COIL and a trip abroad
In addition to the skills gained through traditional coursework, Raj has also gained unique perspectives and new connections around the world, through her participation in the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program, and a study abroad opportunity in England.

Raj while studying abroad in London

With COIL, Raj was a student in Dr. Pallavi Gupta-Bouder’s Forensic Biology course, which saw SUNY Poly students and peers in Mexico at Universidad de Sonora work together (virtually) on a four-week long project that also blended Neurobiology and Neuropsychology of Criminology elements. Together the students looked at criminal case studies, dissecting them using forensic and neuropsychology analysis tools. Raj enjoyed the project, as well as the new friends made during the experience.

Following COIL, with the help of SUNY Poly’s Office of Global Programs, Raj took a two-week psychology, mind and body course at King’s College in London.

In addition to learning about gender, students also discussed how some developmental disabilities and mental health disorders were connected to certain physical health issues. One example, Raj conveyed was the connection between autism and poor gut health. She explained this as “eye-opening” as she has a nephew who is on the spectrum and suffers from poor gut health. Understanding the importance of the microbiome and the role it plays for people with ASD was a connection she had never made before. As a result, she explained this to her family and helped him get proper treatment.

Raj encourages other students to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad, whether it’s for a short-term course or for a semester.

“I’m very proud to say that I studied abroad,” she said. “Going to King’s College was a great experience and I learned a lot.”

In reflection of her time at SUNY Poly, which began during the COVID era and nearly 250 miles away from family, there were certainly challenges, but ultimately the experience has been worthwhile.

“I was presented with a lot more opportunities than I ever would have [in the City],” she said, “and I’ve loved the interpersonal relationships that you foster with your peers, residents, and faculty at SUNY Poly.”