The summer before her junior year, Alia Poonawala was studying for the MCAT and shadowing neurosurgeons in 12-hour operating-room shifts. She had previously worked as a medical-research assistant in Pittsburgh, an autopsy assistant in Florida, a neurology intern in Pakistan and a volunteer EMS member at Carnegie Mellon University. In short, she was doing everything she should be doing if she wanted to get into medical school.
Committed as she was, Ms. Poonawala also had another passion that was equally strong—acting and directing—and the thought of choosing one over the other seemed unbearable.
Between hitting the books and haunting the operating room, she would unwind in her kitchen, as well as in the pages of Julia Child’s autobiography. One day that summer, something clicked. She realized that cooking is alchemy, experimentation, hands-on science. It is also a creative act, a kind of performance art that engages audiences with immediacy and intimacy. Cooking was science and drama.
The following winter, Ms. Poonawala began working in the “Waffle Shop,” a performance space of CMU’s School of Art that functions as both a restaurant and a production studio, broadcasting a live-streaming talk show with its customers. In addition to waitressing and hosting the show, she also served as the main cook and host for the Waffle Shop’s sister operation, Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant with a cultural-education bend.
Ms. Poonawala has learned that art and science aren’t all that dissimilar. She has crossed disciplines and bridged cultures in true Carnegie Mellon fashion.