Zahra Fazal (BSc in Global Resource Systems)
Major: Global Health and Nutrition
During her time at UBC, Zahra Fazal was determined to create a community for students like her.
In her first year, Zahra struggled to adjust to university after moving from her hometown in Morogoro, Tanzania. She found it difficult to access resources and find support systems for first generation low income (FGLI) students.
Zahra was inspired to create a club after she learned that her friends were considering whether university was worth it: “I know how hard it was for students like me to get to university and even make this step so I didn’t want anyone to drop out because of that.”
These experiences became the building blocks for the community she wanted to create: “A lot of those stories shaped my experience in creating the club and trying to ensure that there’s access to opportunities, mentorships, and support systems to make sure that students like me are retained within the system, especially within STEM fields where income tends to be a big driver in what opportunities you can access.”
In 2019, Zahra founded the AMS First Generation Student Union (FGSU) and shortly after, they launched a podcast, The Torchbearers, to highlight first-generation university students and faculty members at UBC. From there, they began making an impact beyond UBC.
During her time with the FGSU, they helped Langara College establish a club and together with a provincial grant, created videos to raise awareness about intercultural and immigrant identities in Canada.
They also collaborated with universities across Canada to organize the GenOne Conference, where Anne Kang, Minister for Advanced Education and Skills Training, was featured as a keynote speaker.
One of Zahra’s proudest moments was when UBC instituted a scholarship that acknowledges first generation students and provides full funding for their education.
Since then, the club has been involved in several recent projects, including advocating for food security at UBC, pilot testing the UBC Food Hub and their low-cost grocery store, and advocating for provincial-level policy changes.
These are the types of changes that Zahra wants to see – ones that are rooted in policy and therefore, more sustainable: “As the leadership changes, as students come and go, there is a commitment on a university-level to ensure that students are supported.”
In the fall, Zahra will be attending Stanford University as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology and clinical research. Her long-term research focus is data-driven policy change for health equity in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Tips for first year students:
For students who are struggling to find a community at UBC, Zahra says that feelings of discomfort and uncertainty have resulted in her greatest learning experiences: “I think in those moments of discomfort is where you find people who are willing to help, who are willing to do everything they can to stand up for your story and your experience and I think that there are so many people like that at UBC.”