UIC student honored as Newman Civic Fellow

Wasan Kumar
Wasan Kumar, a third-year UIC Honors College student majoring in neuroscience and minoring in Global Asian studies. Photo: Amod Mahadik

University of Illinois at Chicago student Wasan Kumar believes that everyone should have an equal opportunity to live a healthy life, but his research and community outreach have made it clear that where a person resides may prevent that possibility.

As part of West Side United and Rush University Medical Center, he has been implementing a program to identify patients with social determinant of health needs and connecting them with the relevant resources. At UI Health, he has been studying contextualized care errors, which occur when physicians overlook crucial environmental or social factors when making medical decisions.

“These experiences taught me how various social and environmental factors can impact an individual’s health, but also how the proper allocation of resources and power can mitigate these effects,” said Kumar, a junior in neuroscience in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Based on his demonstrated commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities, Kumar has earned an honor from Campus Compact, a national nonprofit coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, which named him among 290 students nationwide to its 2020-2021 Newman Civic Fellowship cohort.

UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis nominated Kumar for the fellowship, which provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows. It also offers fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.

The native of Skokie, Illinois, serves as a health educator and leadership council member for UIC’s chapter of the Peer Health Exchange, a nonprofit organization that teaches health education to first-year high school students in Chicago Public Schools. He also has been involved with health policy work as an intern in the office of state Rep. Theresa Mah.

“This award will significantly advance my potential as a public service changemaker and shows me that I’m making an impact,” said Kumar, a member of the UIC Honors College. “I owe a huge thanks to my mentors in the Global Asian studies and public policy programs here at UIC, as well as Representative Mah, Dr. David Ansell and Dr. Andre Kajdacsy-Balla for their constant support.”

Kumar, who last year earned a prestigious Goldwater scholarship based on his academic achievements in the field of science, has studied the effects of heavy metals on cardiovascular disease as part of a research team in the UIC College of Medicine’s department of pathology.

He has been a frequent presenter at conferences and his undergraduate research has been backed by grants from the Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative and the Honors College. Kumar’s other university honors include the Chancellor’s Service and Leadership Award and the Maurice Prize, an undergraduate innovation competition.

Kumar also is minoring in Global Asian studies at UIC, where he participates in civic and health matters involving the South Asian community and serves as president of the Indian Students Association.

In a quest for a career as a physician-scientist devoted to improving public health, his post-undergraduate plans are to earn a medical degree with a focus in molecular pathology and a Ph.D. in epidemiology.

“I want to develop innovative nationwide policies that reduce the impact of the structural inequities that determine health,” said Kumar, a 2017 graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy.

“The stories of this year’s Newman Civic Fellows make clear that they are committed to finding solutions to pressing problems in their communities and beyond. That is what Campus Compact is about, and it’s what our country and our world desperately need,” said Andrew Seligsohn, president of Campus Compact.

The Newman Civic Fellowship program, which is named for the late Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, is supported by KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.

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