Meet Zainab Bilal, KPE’s 2023 Pearson scholar

Zainab Bilal is the 2023 Pearson scholar commencing her studies at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education this fall

For 2023 Pearson scholar Zainab Bilal, the human anatomy is a source of endless fascination. 

“I’ve been studying sciences my whole life—chemistry, physics, biology… and anatomy in particular. Learning about the human body is almost like uncovering a story. It’s mesmerizing,” she said. 

The 18-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan joins the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE) undergraduate program this year as a first year student after earning a 2023 Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship award. 

Bilal had planned to take a gap year before studying medicine in Pakistan, but a school counselor suggested she apply for the U of T scholarship as another option. 

“I looked through all the U of T departments and was very interested in what KPE had to offer. When I read about the anatomy labs and the extensive opportunities to study human movement and do research, I made this program my first choice.”

Accepting the Pearson scholarship means Bilal’s path forward in life will be very different than the one she anticipated. “It’s been a big shock for our whole family. I’m excited to start a new chapter where I get to be independent. In Pakistan, the culture and societal norms are different… you don’t really move out of your family home until you’re in your 20s. It’ll be exciting to be on my own in Canada,” she said.

Bilal credits her mother, a teacher, for encouraging her to accept the scholarship. “She tells me to have an open mindset and to take the opportunities that come my way. My mother has always worked hard for her students so they could have a successful future. Now that it’s my turn she feels rewarded in a way. She’s very excited for me.”

In addition to digging into her studies, Bilal is eager to explore Toronto. “I love walking, hiking, theatre and experiencing new things. I’ve never seen snow. I’m excited for all of it.”

She also expects to get involved in science-based extracurriculars and community projects like she did in Pakistan. One of the most rewarding was raising menstrual awareness in her paternal village by distributing sanitary kits and conducting hygiene seminars to break the stigma surrounding menstruation. 

“It’s very important to me to give back to my community in any way I can. I think that’s what brings the most fulfillment in life, knowing that you’ve made some sort of impact, no matter how small. I hope to participate in volunteer work that makes a difference.”

As she reflects on a professional future, she’s open to ideas but is inclined toward pursuing a career in health care. “Whether it’s through research or health care work, I just want to make a difference. Life is unexpected and I’m open to all of it.”