Dr. Manali Ghag rejects another beer from yet another friend. At 11 p.m., she is the only one glued to her computer at a small get-together on a Tuesday. She has to finish editing the poster for her club so she can present it at the involvement fair the next day. She cannot let the members of the Sangam club down. After all, she is the president.
Ghag, a 24-year-old graduate student, came to the United States from Mumbai, India, after graduating from medical school. Her specialty is physical therapy and she used to have her own practice in Mumbai. However, a year ago she decided to move to the United States and has been pursuing her master’s degree in health care administration at Webster University ever since. She has also joined forces with eight other Indian students to start the Sangam club.
“When I first came to this university, there was no connection with any Indian individuals and I always thought there are no Indians in the university, and that people don’t know about India,” Ghag said. “But when I landed, I saw a few Indians and then a few more, so I thought there are enough to form an association.”
Sangam was founded in January 2017. The name is part Sanskrit and part Hindi and means inclusion or union. According to Ghag, the word Sangam represents a meeting point of the three main rivers in India. It is also a common word in most of the 27 different languages spoken in the 29 states.
Priyadharshan Kannappan, former president and one of the founders of the club, further explained the board’s choice to use the word Sangam.
“The purpose is to represent the best interests of the Indian student community on campus, and also to expose the Indian culture in Webster Groves area,” Kannappan said.
Ghag took a strategic approach to picking her position on the board once the club was established. She knew the university had bylaws and budget rules that needed to be followed in order to form and maintain a club on campus. She was also aware of other people on the board, who knew these rules better and had much more experience than she did.
“I chose to become a secretary, that’s how I would learn,” Ghag said. “I was planning on becoming president in the next election. And the secretary closely deals with the paperwork, segregating tasks, and works with president and vice-president.”
Ghag had only been working as a secretary for a semester when the need for new leadership arose. The president and another four members were graduating and had to leave the association. Ghag won the election by a unanimous vote and became the next president.
“Manali gets things done,” Kannappan said. “She is a perfectionist with an eye for detail. Last year she went above and beyond her duties to contribute to the organization.”
Joseph Roberts, Chair of the Management Department and the club’s advisor, agreed with the board’s decision.
“Manali is a motivational leader and great organizer,” Roberts said “She has brought many new members to Sangam and held a successful opening event and helped elect a new slate of officers. Expect great things from Sangam with Manali as President.”
However, with such praise comes great responsibility and expectations. Last semester, the association received an award for Outstanding Cultural Awareness for their introductory events “India 101” and “Holi Festival,” which were representative of celebrations held in India on a monthly basis. With standards set for the new president and association members, Ghag shared her anxieties about the planning process.
“There is pressure because previous events had purpose behind them,” Ghag said. “So people start asking questions, and that gives you so much responsibility. I have never experienced that relaxed lifestyle in my life, but I never imagined being a doctor would be easier than being the president.”
Even so, Ghag remains optimistic and does not let any of the stress impact her relationships.
“Outside of school, she is a very chilled out person,” Kannappan said. “She is a party person, I would say. Living life to the maximum.”
Ruchii Sheth, an undergraduate Bachelor of Fine Arts student at Webster University and Sangam’s advertising coordinator, agrees with Kannappan. She also helped form the association, which is how she and Ghag met. Since then, they have developed a friendship, which contributes to Sangam’s overall fun and friendly environment.
“Manali is positive to be around and is always willing to help however mammoth the tasks are,” Sheth said. “She is excited, inspired, and hard working, and I can’t be happier to be working with her and calling her my friend.”