AMHERST, Mass. – Kavita Shah of Westford, a University of Massachusetts Amherst senior majoring in economics on a pre-dental track, was honored May 4 at the State House during the state Department of Higher Education’s “29 Who Shine” ceremony saluting public campus graduates for their civic and academic achievements.
Each year, the governor recognizes outstanding students representing each of the Commonwealth’s community colleges, state universities and the five campuses of the UMass system. Approximately 250 invited guests attend the event, including House and Senate leaders, the secretary of education, commissioner of higher education, members of the Board of Higher Education, college presidents, chancellors, business and nonprofit leaders, students and their families. Prior to the awards ceremony, student honorees and family members meet their legislative representatives at a reception outside the House chamber. Students’ state senators and state representatives are invited to present their district honorees with citations and pose for photographs.
During her collegiate career, Shah served as an undergraduate research assistant on a National Institutes of Health-funded study of physical activity in children and adolescents conducted by the kinesiology department. Because of her exceptional performance, she was promoted to senior undergraduate research assistant and given responsibility for training new undergraduates in data collection for the lab.
She also served as president of the Pre-Dental Society, coordinating visits by her fellow students to dental schools throughout New England. She worked with members of the society’s board to recruit student volunteers for the Connecticut Mission of Mercy, a program that offers dental care to underserved and uninsured individuals. Along with volunteering for that program, she also served weekly at Not Bread Alone, a community meal program in Amherst. Shah is also a founding member and vice-president of Delta Kappa Delta, a South Asian social and service-oriented sorority that organized a child abuse awareness week, raised funds for UNICEF in Syria and participated in a community meals program.
Her honors thesis explores the problem of increasing disparity in dental care in the United States and analyzes current legislative initiatives under consideration in Massachusetts, with the aim of offering guidance for future reforms that will address the problems of accessibility and affordability of dental care. Massachusetts is in the process of approving legislation to approve a new category of accredited mid-level dental providers. Currently there are two versions of the bill under consideration in the State House. Through a methodology that combines qualitative interviews and quantitative research using several databases, Shah plans to analyze the current distribution and quality of dental care, concluding with recommendations for the future of the field.
Shah was accepted to six dental schools and will enroll next fall at the Columbia College of Dental Medicine.
Shah’s faculty mentor, Wilmore Webley, associate professor of microbiology, was also recognized at the State House ceremony. Webley, says Shah, “is a passionate professor, extremely hard-working advisor, and most importantly, he is my number one fan in all academic aspects. He is one of the few faculty members that will constantly make me reach higher and set harder goals for myself. He always believed in me and for all of that, I thank him.”