Student Pad Project making a difference for women across the globe

Jeff Rice
March 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State student organization founded by two Schreyer Scholars is helping to improve menstrual health on the other side of the world.

The Student Pad Project, which was launched in 2019 by then-sophomores Philip Ratnasamy and Katelyn Rudisill, set up its first production site for sanitary napkins in southern India in January.

With the help of the registered nonprofit Praise Foundation, the Student Pad Project has raised more than $10,000 and used it to fund the site, which is in the Irula tribal region just east of Bangalore, and will provide support until it is self-sufficient within the next few months.

Ratnasamy and Rudisill, both biochemistry and molecular biology majors in the Eberly College of Science, were inspired to establish the organization after watching the documentary “Period. End of Sentence,” which follows a group of women in Hapur, India, who are operating a machine that makes sanitary pads while also dealing with the nation’s taboos regarding menstruation. As they spread word of their registered student organization and the importance of their work, the students discovered that those taboos weren’t unique to India.

“Although we knew this was a serious problem and we wanted to make an impact, unfortunately the idea of women’s health and feminine hygiene is sort of a taboo topic, even here in the United States,” said Ratnasamy, the president of the Student Pad Project. “People don’t like to talk about it. It’s also an issue that most people in the United States aren’t aware that it exists or the degree that it exists to.”

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, India accounts for 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths — nearly twice the global average. A National Family Health Survey estimated that only 36% of the nation’s menstruating women used sanitary napkins, and the coronavirus pandemic prevented young women and girls from obtaining them in schools.

The Student Pad Project also includes initiatives to provide educational resources for the women who will be operating the machine and others in their area.

“Just giving people supplies doesn’t really address the issue,” said Rudisill, the organization’s vice president. “You have to educate them.”

Ratnasamy and Rudisill were joined in the organization by four other Penn State students who had interest in medicine and, by advertising on social media and going to involvement fairs, eventually grew the group to roughly two dozen members. Finding an NGO (non-governmental organization) partner they could trust took some time — Ratnasamy’s cousin, Sanjana Kapoor, is the founder and president of Praise Foundation — and they’ve raised funds in a number of ways, including direct mailings to donors, a virtual bingo night, and a virtual green-screen gala that raised more than $1,500 in 30 minutes. The organization is planning to raise funds for additional sites.

Rudisill, who plans to go on to medical school after graduating this spring, said her experience with the Student Pad Project has inspired her to do global work once she becomes a physician.

“It gives you a perspective on your life in the United States,” Rudisill said. “Just because you don’t see the issues doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect people in other countries.”

One of the most gratifying moments for Ratnasamy came during an opening-day ceremony for the production site, held via Zoom. Students in the group were able to meet and, with the help of a translator, speak with some of the women who now operate the site.

“They [the women] were excited to have the opportunity, and they kept saying how they had big plans for the site and wanted to grow it and use it to make a sustainable positive change in their life,” Ratnasamy said.

“Just seeing that initial idea [born] in a dorm room translate into an impact on hundreds, if not thousands of lives for the foreseeable future is something I’ll always take away from my time at Penn State, and I’m hopeful that future leaders of this club get to experience that as well.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total nearly 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 27 countries. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated March 22, 2021