Citrupa Gopal had never been to the United States before coming to the University of Maryland, but for someone who wanted to dedicate her life to research, the only choice for college was try something completely different.

“There’s a certain joy to discovering things for myself,” she said. “Even in day-to-day life.”

Growing up in Hyderabad in the south of India, Gopal was always interested in studying the sciences. While universities closer to home offered good options in engineering and medicine, it was UMD—and its First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) program—that had the immediate, hands-on opportunities in biology that Gopal was seeking.

“I thought, ‘Why not take the plunge?’” she said of the 8,000-mile journey to College Park.

Gopal is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and will be the student speaker for Friday’s virtual commencement program, which is celebrating more than 8,500 UMD graduates online rather than in-person due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Gopal, who earned a 3.9 GPA and Dean’s List honors every semester, also received the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education’s Award for Academic Excellence all four years.

The research experience lived up to her expectations, as she actively participated in experiments and forged strong relationships with faculty. A BioFIRE Summer Research fellow, Gopal did fieldwork evaluating bacteria in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and later learned about stalk-eyed fly husbandry, chromosomal drive and genotyping, and investigated the insect’s expression of immune response genes.

In addition, Gopal took part in an Alternative Breaks program planting trees on farms to help prevent runoff, tutored fifth graders at Carole Highlands Elementary School in Takoma Park and was a teaching assistant for an introductory microbiology lab course.

Gopal plans to return to India and then apply to graduate school programs in the United States, Canada or Europe. She is interested in pursuing a doctorate to become a “full-fledged researcher” and possibly teach.

In whatever direction she takes, Gopal remains committed to trying new things and following new ideas.

“Sometimes they don’t work, sometimes they do,” she said. “The exhilaration and pride that I experience when things finally do work out is something I want to keep experiencing.”