Manhattan College women support patients during pandemic

Manhattan College student Shayla Gramajo who volunteers with Operation Smile.
Courtesy of Shayla Gramajo

As March is Women’s History Month, Manhattan College is home to two females who are empowering one another and advocating for patients and students during the pandemic.

Biology student, Shayla Gramajo and Associate Professor, Grishma Shah are not only dedicated to supporting others during COVID-19, they are both involved with global nonprofit, Operation Smile. Operation Smile has helped fund reconstructive surgeries for children in undeserved countries for four decades that are born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.

Gramajo is a junior at Manhattan College and is the president of the school’s Operation Smile club. Several years ago her aunt in Guatemala had a cleft palate and her dad and eight brothers helped finance the surgery.

This inspired her to pursue a career as a physician assistant. Once she saw how much the procedure helped her aunt, Gramajo knew it was important to help others like her.

“Having that experience and seeing how it impacted her life, I see it all of the time in Operation Smile,” she explained. “I wanted to find a way to give back that same feeling.”

In high school Gramajo knew she would be involved with Operation Smile in college.

There are 43 members in the club and she does her best to hold events with alumni and doctors and promote what Operation Smile does.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, the club has raised close to $881, which will allow three patients with cleft conditions to receive free reconstructive cleft surgeries from Operation Smile.

Despite the pandemic, Gramajo was able to make six club events happen in the fall of 2020, including a do-it-your way 5K to raise funds for Operation Smile in October.

“Our main goal for the fall semester, as a fairly new club, was to raise as much awareness as possible, which we have successfully achieved!” she explained. “This included hosting speaker events, becoming an official club under Manhattan College, and engaging club members about the importance of Operation Smile.”

Gramajo is a  biology major and chemistry minor in the School of Science at Manhattan College and is on track to graduate in 2022. She works as a contact tracer for United Healthcare Group and as a certified nurse aide at a Westchester County nursing home. After college, Gramajo plans to pursue a career as a physician assistant.

She credits a lot of her success with Operation Smile to Shah, a former teacher of hers. Shah is an associate professor of management and marketing at Manhattan College and is also an Operation Smile Student Programs alumna. She has been involved with the organization since high school and has served on eight missions in various capacities with the nonprofit.

Shah is also the alumni chair for Operation Smile student programs for the Northeast region and is Gramajo’s club adviser.

The professor went on her first mission to Honduras as a senior in high school and instantly fell in love with the organization. She spent 10 days going to schools visiting kids and it was something she will never forget.

“That operation changed my life,” she said. “I think it had a big impact on me.”

She eventually started the Operation Smile Club at Rutgers University and has been involved with it for nearly 25 years. In fact, when she was younger Shah even interned at Operation Smile’s headquarters in Virginia.

“When I got to college my goal was to do more,” she explained. “I’m always finding ways to give back.”

Now in her fifth year as club adviser at Manahan College she is proud that students like Gramajo are following in her footsteps.

“I think I can never give back to what operation smile has given me,” Shah stressed. “It’s instilled in me so many values. Shayla has seized not only the opportunities given to her, but become an asset to the college and wider community.”


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