For most people, being in medical school is time-consuming enough. From the heavy course load to the seemingly endless studying, there are barely enough hours in the day to keep up with the material, much less take on additional projects or pursue personal passions.

Ashley Chavana ’20 is not most people.

In addition to being a full-time medical student at Baylor College of Medicine, Chavana works up to 20 hours per week on research related to adverse events of cancer treatment in children. She helped revive a pediatric oncology interest club and has led efforts to raise money for pediatric cancer research. She also volunteers at Texas Children’s Hospital and has served as a counselor for Camp YOLO (You Only Live Once), a weekend camp held twice a year for teenagers living with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

“I have mentored scores of students over my career, and I often see people who try to take on everything. They all fail. In fact, I started to cut such people off early and encourage them to do fewer things but do them well. Nobody can do everything,” said Eric Schafer, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “I now take that back. Ashley can do everything. I truly have never seen anything like it.”

As a Kidney Koach volunteer in the dialysis unit at Texas Children’s, Chavana sat with and mentored a child during weekly treatments. The experience inspired her to create a similar program for the hospital’s Cancer and Hematology Center, and in 2023, she established the Wonder Lab. This mobile cart allows medical student volunteers to perform fun experiments and discuss science concepts with children as they wait for or receive treatment. Children can learn about density as they make lava lamps, for example, or discover how gravity works by creating snow globes. Chavana hopes to expand the program to other departments in the hospital in the future.

“Ashley is an outstanding student and researcher,” said Debika Sihi, associate professor of business at Southwestern. “I can recall her thoughtful questions in class, always considering an issue using an interdisciplinary lens that was grounded in her natural science and business background. In addition, Ashley’s work ethic is unparalleled. The time and effort she puts into coursework and developing initiatives like the Wonder Lab are emblematic of Ashley’s character. She wants anything with which she is involved to be of the highest quality and to have the most positive impact.”

Chavana graduated summa cum laude from Southwestern, where she majored in biochemistry and minored in business. She also was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society. She has presented her research at numerous local and international conferences, including the International Society of Paediatric Oncology, and her work has been published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. In 2023, she received the Henry J. N. Taub and James K. Alexander Young Investigator Award at the Baylor College of Medicine Medical Student Research Symposium.

“Based on my experience working with dozens of learners and trainees at the University of Texas School of Public Health and Baylor College of Medicine, I can confidently say that Ashely is one of the best and brightest individuals with whom I have worked,” said Austin L. Brown, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “The drive to be an effective healthcare provider, desire to conduct impactful cutting-edge research, and compulsion to improve the lives of others through acts of service exemplify Ashley’s contributions to the well-being of humanity.”

For her outstanding contributions to pediatric cancer research and commitment to bettering the lives of individuals diagnosed with cancer, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Ashley Chavana with the Distinguished Young Alumna Award.