Lincoln Laureate examines social determinants of health

Wasan Kumar, a third-year UIC Honors College student majoring in neuroscience and minoring in Global Asian studies.
Wasan Kumar, an Honors College student majoring in neuroscience, is the 2020 Lincoln Laureate winner. Photo: Amod Mahadik

Wasan Kumar has spent most of his time at UIC learning inside and outside of the classroom to try to evoke change in Chicago.

“I work in cardiovascular disease research. We see how environmental population might lead to an increase in a range of cardiovascular diseases that specifically affect communities in Chicago on the West Side and South Side,” said Kumar, a senior in neuroscience.

Kumar, a student in the UIC Honors College, is UIC’s 2020 Lincoln Academy Student Laureate. The competitive award is given to seniors from each college in Illinois who have followed in the path of former President Abraham Lincoln by committing themselves to leadership and positive social change. He will be recognized during a virtual ceremony Nov. 10.

Kumar, who has a deep interest in the social issues that may lead to health conditions, also was honored as UIC’s Newman Civic Fellow earlier this year.

“I’ve really moved to a more civic engagement and policy focus, and that really arose out of work on health equity in Chicago, specifically the West Side, to really see how people are facing specific social conditions that are causing different life expectancies and causing specific health problems that come out of social issues like homelessness or lack of access to transportation,” Kumar said.

“Being at UIC gave me an opportunity to really be emerged both in a sort of activist culture that goes on in our school and in the surrounding neighborhoods — to really examine these social problems and what some of the causes might be like. I was able to tie that into my specific interest in health care and to see this being a part of my future career.”

Kumar also is the president of the Undergraduate Student Government and has assisted in leading several campaigns, from policy on grading changes to student cost reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He attributes his optimism for the future as well as his drive to those around him.

“It’s this whole infrastructure that we have at UIC, my advisors, my mentors, my family and my friends — I really have to give the credit to all of them because they’ve always inspired me to push myself both in the work that I do but also just in the way that I think and challenge some of the ideas that I have,” Kumar said.

Kumar plans to attend medical school after graduation and hopes to be involved in health care and community health equity in the future. He said the diversity of UIC helped shape his undergraduate experience.

“I think UIC was a great place to do my undergrad because I had this opportunity to really interact with students from all walks of life — students from different parts of the country, different backgrounds and people who had different stories,” Kumar said. “I thought that that was such an important part of my career to spend a lot of time meeting different people and talking about some of the things that we want to see and also reflecting on our own experiences.”

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