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A love of the piano sparked Sadhana Marikunte’s interest in engineering, leading the Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School senior to pursue a career that melds biology with robotics.

It all began when she heard her older sister playing the piano. The song was a Bach minuet that she just could not get out of her head. Marikunte said she hummed it constantly around the house.

Eventually, Marikunte started piano lessons. She now plays the violin and clarinet as well. All three instruments have played a role in deciding the activities she pursued in high school.

Marikunte was a clarinet section leader in the marching band before becoming drum major as a senior. Marching band has been one of her favorite activities as it combines the structure of the music with both emotion and motion, she said.

“Music and movement can produce such a beautiful product,” she said.

But, it’s the love of piano that draws Marikunte to the dining room at Messiah Lifeways for her favorite volunteer activity as she plays for the residents. It’s a win for all involved as Marikunte has an audience, and the residents enjoy the music.

Marikunte has discovered that playing the piano brings with it a certain amount of structure and creativity.

“It was always like a puzzle,” she said. “You see the notes on the page, but it’s up to you how to play them.”

Marikunte has translated that concept to her interest in science, which blossomed during a two-week STEM summer enrichment program at Penn State Harrisburg. At the program, the students constructed a small robot that followed the light during their sessions on electrical engineering.

“I still have it to this day. It was so fun,” she said.

Marikunte plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania where she will study electrical engineering. She decided to apply to the school after attending its “Women in Computer Science and Engineering” program during her junior year. During the program, she toured the campus and saw the projects students were working on in the labs.

“I liked the campus and how they foster a sense of creativity through science,” she said.

There was one lab that sparked her interest above the others. In that lab, the students were combining biology and robotics.

“It would be my dream to work in that lab,” Marikunte said.

Marikunte wants to design robots that will combat major issues facing developing countries such as lowering pollution, creating better transportation options and finding solutions for clean air and water.

Marikunte is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Shashidhara Marikunte, whom she describes as her heroes. Several years ago, Marikunte and her family spent the summer in her parents’ homeland and visited the area from which her parents came. That experience became the basis for a personal memoir that won a silver key award in the Scholastic Writing Contest during Marikunte’s freshman year.

“My family are immigrants from India so I owe so much to my parents,” she said. “They gave up so much for my sister and I to pursue our dreams.”


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