Paths align for Orangeburg twins, USC seniors

jself@thestate.comMay 10, 2013 

  • Class of 2013 University of South Carolina graduations

    Friday, 3 p.m. Former CIA director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will address graduates of the Darla Moore School of Business, Arnold School of Public Health and colleges of mass communications, nursing and pharmacy.

    Saturday, 9:30 a.m. USC grad Darius Rucker, the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish who went on to country-music stardom, will address graduates of USC’s honors, and arts and sciences colleges.

    Saturday, 3 p.m. Charleston attorney Philip Lader, former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, will address graduates of USC’s colleges of education; engineering and computing; hospitality, retail and sport management; and social work; as well as the Fort Jackson, interdisciplinary and Palmetto programs.

    USC’s law and medical school also will hold graduation ceremonies Friday. Doctoral degrees will be awarded Saturday.

    Benedict College

    Saturday, 9 a.m. Benedict will graduate its Class of 2013 at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, executive director of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, will give the keynote address.

    Allen University

    May 18, 10 a.m. Allen will hold graduation ceremonies in the John Hurst Adams Gymnatorium on the school’s campus. Thomas P. D’Agostino, who retired earlier this year as administrator of the federal National Nuclear Security Administration, will give the keynote address.

They are too compassionate to be robots.

But according to the people who know Purva and Pooja Choudhari — aspiring doctors, committed volunteers, science whizzes and soon-to-be University of South Carolina graduates — the 20-year-old twin sisters are good candidates for being part machine.

The sisters graduate Saturday from the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing, joining more than 3,000 undergraduates and 1,700 graduate students who are completing that rite of passage at the university’s downtown Columbia campus in ceremonies that begin Friday.

At first glance, the twins are nearly identical, dressing in the same dark-colored blazers and wire-rimmed glasses. But the idea of using their similar appearances to their advantage, as more mischievous twins have been known to do, never has crossed their minds, they said.

In class, they are standouts in academic performance, said John Weidner, chair of chemical engineering in USC’s College of Engineering and Computing. “They’ve always turned absolutely every assignment in on time and done thoroughly, which seems rare for college students,” he said.

That quality helped make the twins an easy pick for the department’s two outstanding senior awards. “They were clearly the top two,” Weidner said.

One reason for their success is sticking together, taking all the same classes, even electives, including sign language.

The sisters, best friends since they can remember, do not recall planning anything. Their schedules just align, they say.

“We’re doing what we like — the paths that we follow are very similar,” said Pooja Choudhari. “It has never been like, ‘Oh, we’re twins, we ought to do stuff together.’”

After moving back home to Orangeburg for summer, both will attend the USC School of Medicine in the fall.

Spring break at the clinic

The folks at the Orangeburg-Calhoun Free Medical Clinic take note of when USC students are on break. That is when the Choudhari twins return to Orangeburg to volunteer at the clinic, as they have since the summer after their freshman year.

The clinic, which opened in the Great Recession, provides health care to people living in poverty.

“They’re very good, very reliable,” said Doniele Hayden, the clinic’s lead nurse and executive director. “I call them my ‘Doublemint twins.’ I can never say their names either.”

The sisters help out with office work and assist patients with applications for medication-assistance programs. They are compassionate with patients, and always “observing and soaking in everything that’s going on around them,” Hayden said.

“They always want to make sure that I have eaten,” she laughed.

While volunteering at the clinic, the twins also have shadowed doctors working with patients and discussed diagnoses, and the different areas of medicine they could specialize in.

Purva Choudhari is leaning toward neurology, which one doctor described to her as a puzzle — both in how to diagnose nervous system problems and how to treat them — appealing to her love of engineering.

Pooja Choudhari is considering pediatrics after working in a hospital nursery recently, and after volunteering with the American Red Cross and teaching children about safety.

Hidden talents

Though volunteering is what they do with most of their free time, the twins also play backgammon to unwind, though they say they are not very good at the game yet.

They also have talents that they keep mostly to themselves.

To relax, Purva Choudhari writes novellas. She currently is working on a murder mystery set in New York City about a girl who was framed for a murder. The project has led her to researching New York case law, her sister said.

Pooja Choudhari turns paper-towel rolls, cardboard and paint into realistic-looking models. She has finished a model of a Swiss passenger airplane and has been working on a Model T Ford that will have moving parts.

“Sometimes, you think they’re just robotic students, getting good grades,” Weidner said, not entirely surprised at learning of their other talents.

“Obviously, they’re very intellectual,” said Hayden, also unaware of the twins’ hobbies. “And, every free minute they get, they’re educating themselves. Most college students would be at a sorority party.”

Helping father

The twins say their interest in medicine began when they were 6, and their father, a professor at S.C. State University, had a heart attack while packing up boxes to move the family to another house.

Concern for their father’s well-being stayed with them. A few years later, after seeing a commercial on television about a form of heart disease, they went to the Internet to see what they could find out.

“Things just snowballed from there,” said Purva Choudhari, recounting how the sisters, together, became interested in biology.

The twins know their togetherness may not last as they move into different specialties, get residencies at hospitals yet to be determined and, eventually, begin practicing medicine.

“That’s fine. We’ll be in touch very much,” Pooja Choudhari said. “We tell people that way out in our future, we want to open a private practices with ... offices next door.”

“But with two different specialties,” she chuckled, “I don’t know how that works.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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