WATCH: Class of 2023 students collaborate, form connections


Stories by Amy Wolf
Collaboration is an essential element of the Vanderbilt community, inside and outside the classroom. What inspires and motivates phenomenal students is often the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Meet some members of the Class of 2023 whose inspired collaborations—within Vanderbilt and across the Nashville community and beyond—are making the world better. 

“It was so common to see whole communities of homeless people on the street in the hot sun, with people just walking by them, not giving them any attention. That had a formidable impact on me at a young age,” said Justin Brooks, who is earning a law degree with a focus on empowering victims of domestic violence and economically disadvantaged individuals.  

“I felt so helpless to do anything about it as a kid, and I made a promise to myself that when I got older, I would dedicate my life to helping others.”  

“To me, Vanderbilt is all about building a collaborative community; it’s so precious to me,” said Sanjana Padala, a medicine, health and society major from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Beyond my own dreams, there are so many people here who have amazing and unique goals, and I love supporting that.” 

Padala is considering a future in the medical field, possibly in pediatric psychiatry. 

“Many mental health issues begin at a young age, and I want to be at the forefront of finding solutions and helping adolescents so they can learn to manage and even surpass their mental health challenges,” she said. 

“Intentionality and collaboration are the two best words to define the past four years. I’ve worked very intentionally to grow into myself and learn from others to become more of the person I want to be,” said Darren Francis, a human and organizational development major and New Orleans native. 

Francis came to Vanderbilt with Christianity as his core foundation. He said relaunching and leading the student-led organization Voices of Praise brought his faith and connection with others to a new level. Voices of Praise is a gospel ministry collaborating through Bible study, choir, dance, chosen step and spoken word.  

“The key is having that humility to recognize what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as valuing the team members surrounding you to achieve the optimal goal—whether that’s completing a mission in the military or treating a patient and getting the best clinical outcome,” said Matt Smith, a Bass Military Scholar specializing in orthopedic surgery at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. 

“I’ve definitely grown a lot here at Vanderbilt. In a lot of ways, I’m still the same Kentucky boy—you know, small beginnings. But coming to Vandy has provided me with so many different opportunities to get myself out there and expand and grow in just a million different ways,” said John Abbott, a biomedical engineering major who also leads a band. “And in doing so, I’ve improved my ability to connect with other people.”