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UMass Boston winner of the 2019 Ryan Award aims to lower health care costs

UMass Boston junior Urwah Kanwal, the winner of this year’s John W. Ryan Award, plans to earn an MD/PhD after graduation so that she can help lower health care costs.

“I think it’s connected with research. So if we do research and we get to know the cheapest way to get medicines, then doctors can play their role. So that’s my goal,” Kanwal said.

The Ryan Award is an honor given to the UMass Boston junior with the highest GPA after their freshman and sophomore years. Kanwal, a junior biology major in the College of Science and Mathematics who is also in the Honors College, has a 4.0 GPA. She is receiving the honor during convocation.

Kanwal was born in Pakistan and is fluent in Urdu, her first language. She and her family moved to Barnstable when she was a junior in high school—they now live in Malden.

“Some family members told me about UMass Boston. I visited, and I saw diversity of people, which was really great to see,” she said. “I think I’m lucky that I chose UMass Boston.”

During her first two years at UMass Boston, Kanwal has been a part of the Biochemistry Freshman Success Community. She’s also tutored students in biology and chemistry. This past summer, she participated in the Summer Program to Advance Research Careers at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. The 12-week paid research experience is offered to 30 undergraduates who have completed their first or second year at UMass Boston, Bunker Hill, Roxbury, and Mass Bay Community Colleges.

In September, Kanwal started working 10 hours a week in Assistant Professor of Biology Shailja Pathania’s Lab, which aims to understand how and when normal, presumably healthy cells become breast cancer tumor cells and use this knowledge to design better preventive and therapeutic treatment strategies. Also on-campus, Kanwal is an active member of Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity (PhiDE); off-campus she is in the Medical Career Exploration Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and she mentors fourth through seventh graders through a program at MIT. Becoming a doctor is something she’s always wanted to do.

“Growing up in Pakistan, I saw people who wouldn’t get medical aid at all just because they didn’t have money. … The poor? They just wait for doctors for hours and hours,” Kanwal said. “I don’t want to work in a specific place. I want to work anywhere where it is needed.”

About the Ryan Award
The Ryan Award is named for John W. Ryan, the first chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston. It is given to the student who has achieved the highest cumulative average for four semesters in residence during the freshman-sophomore years. The first Ryan Award was granted in 1971.