Vanitha Sekar, Ph.D., Kumar Sekar, Ph.D., and their daughter Megana

Vanitha Sekar, Ph.D., and her husband Kumar Sekar, Ph.D., with daughter Megana. The couple established the Saraswathi Scholarship for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the VCU School of Pharmacy to support international students who have shown a commitment to advancing women in the sciences. Photo courtesy of the Sekar family

Pharmacy Alumna Pays Mentorship Forward

Vanitha Sekar, Ph.D., left her home in India for graduate school in the U. S. when she was only 21. She was no stranger to breaking barriers. At 17, she attended pharmacy school away from her family before graduating and entering the doctoral program at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

“I was very fortunate because I came to Richmond and was embraced immediately by a very strong Indian community of graduate students,” Dr. Sekar said. With her family and support system across the world, she was grateful to find such comfort. One of her early friends, Kumar Sekar, who earned a doctorate in organic chemistry at VCU, became her husband and her best friend.

Last year, Dr. Sekar was inspired to support a scholarship established in honor of her mentor Jürgen Venitz, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutics. Reconnecting with the school and so many close friends also led her and Kumar to think about what they could do to give back. For several years, the couple has mentored younger people interested in the sciences, and they wanted to do something more to help students on the MCV Campus.

“Kumar and I are passionate about championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace and mentoring women and immigrants in STEM-related professional areas,” Dr. Sekar said. “We wanted to create the Saraswathi Scholarship for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Sciences to recognize and reward international students who have shown a commitment to advancing women in science.”

While neither wanted to name this scholarship for themselves, the couple chose Saraswathi because of its significance as one of the names of the Hindu goddess of learning. As both believers and scientists, they felt this name captured their intent for the scholarship beautifully. Their hope is that it will do more than just support future generations of scholars.

“Hopefully, it will encourage other people like us to do more in terms of philanthropy and giving back, not just for immigrant women,” Dr. Sekar said, “but for people who otherwise would not have access to the kind of education and opportunities that we have benefited from in our journey.”

If you would like to support student scholarships at the School of Pharmacy, please contact Louie Correa, senior director of development at the School of Pharmacy, by calling 804-828-3016 or emailing