Undergraduate researchers and advocates recognized as Wesbrook Scholars

A blood-bank diversity campaigner and a mental-health advocate are among the 20 outstanding senior undergraduate students named as this year’s Wesbrook Scholars.

A blood-bank diversity campaigner and a mental-health advocate are among the 20 outstanding senior undergraduate students named as this year’s Wesbrook Scholars. The prestigious designation recognizes academic performance, leadership and involvement in student and community activities. Fourteen of the Wesbrook Scholars were also recognized with Premier Undergraduate Scholarships ranging in value from $1,150 to $15,000.

Among them are:

Joban Bal
Wesbrook Scholar & HSBC Emerging Leader Premier Undergraduate Scholarship recipient

Joban Bal
Joban Bal

Joban Bal is a young man on a mission. He wants to ensure that anyone with the need for blood or stem cells will find a match—no matter their ethnicity.

The third-year biology undergraduate is the founder of One Blood For Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to recruiting young blood donors and to increasing the ethnic diversity of the Canadian Stem Cell Registry.

“Only one in 60 people actually donates blood regularly, but one in two people will need blood or know someone who will need blood at some point in their lifetime,” says Bal, 20. “A few people are carrying the burden for a lot of people. This is something that I want to change.”

Bal’s interest in blood donation goes back to his high school years in Surrey, B.C., when he volunteered at a blood drive.

“I wasn’t old enough to donate at the time—my efforts were more in handing out flyers and helping my friends who were donating blood,” he explains. “My involvement quickly grew.”

To date, One Blood For Life has collected over 3,350 blood donations, recruited over 1,410 new stem cell registrants, and recently established a provincial council with 30 high-school leaders from across B.C.

Bal’s passion for the cause is remarkable, considering neither he nor anyone in his family has been affected by stem cell, organ or blood disorders.

“I think it’s important to realize that it doesn’t need to hit someone in your family for you to realize it’s an important issue,” he says. “We need to help build the registry now to help patients 10 years down the road.”

Bal plans to continue following his passion as a medical researcher.

Veronica Cho
Wesbrook Scholar & HSBC Emerging Leader Premier Undergraduate Scholarship recipient

Veronica Cho
Veronica Cho

If you had told Veronica Cho four years ago that she’d be graduating from UBC with a degree in Sociology and a Premier Undergraduate Scholarship, she would have thought you were joking.

Today, the 26-year-old may be the picture of success, headed toward a Master of Science in Global Mental Health at King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in September—but back in 2015, she was suffering from a setback in her mental health.

Cho had been diagnosed with a mental illness in 2010, during her second-year as a UBC Sauder School of Business undergraduate, and had decided to step away to travel and work in South Korea and South Africa. During those travels, she taught English, started Presidential Girl, a mentorship and leadership program, and became involved in the G(irls)20 Summit—a Clinton Global Initiative program.

But in 2015, she was struggling again. Unclear of her path forward, Cho felt as though the world was passing her by.

“I had a moment of realization in the hospital, that no matter how many people tried to help me, I had to be the one to take charge of my own mental health,” she recalls. “My journey with mental illness was the catalyst for my own determination to carve out my own path in life.”

Cho decided to pursue an interest in sociology and returned to UBC. Her mental-health setbacks behind her, Cho thrived at UBC. She became president of the Sociology Students’ Association and, alongside her studies, began work as a peer support worker and youth engagement coordinator at the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at BC Children’s Hospital.

“Through that work, I found my passion,” says Cho. “It was the first time where I saw my lived experience as not something to be ashamed of, but something that could be an asset in my life.”

Her ultimate vision is to improve mental health systems and infrastructure in underserved communities around the globe. Being recognized as a Wesbrook Scholar and HSBC Emerging Leader, says Cho, “just reaffirms my conviction that I’m on the right path. I feel like I’ve found my groove.”