AboutOur PeopleAyana Shirai
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Fellow, Class of 2023

Ayana Shirai

Healthcare Management and Philosophy
Tokyo, Japan

Seeing health through a kaleidoscopic lens, with philosophical, operational, and ethical dimensions, Ayana is interested in combining the traditional science of physical health with emerging ideas around cultural and community wellness. This holistic approach to wellness serves as an important framework to guide our society and requires an in-depth, interdisciplinary education. Ayana was drawn to the concept of health when she was searching for something universal to all humans as she grappled with the apparent relativism in the diverse and complex world. Being from Japan, she aspires to work on how Japan transforms its public health and welfare system in the face of an aging society and economic stagnation, and how it should, ethically and justly. Though concerned about global issues, she believes that domestic development goes hand-in-hand with global development either by a country being exemplary to others or by a country’s success eventually opening a path towards aiding another country or the global system. She also has an interest in more theoretical issues, such as the moral grounding for the concept of health itself, and both philosophical and scientific definitions of wellness.

She strives to ground her theoretical interests in real-world interactions, a priority reflected in the SNF Paideia Program’s emphasis on experiential learning. Through her volunteering experience at Penn Medicine Hospice, Ayana has witnessed first-hand how wellness is conceptualized in different phases of life. Taking a more historical perspective, she has assisted with research on the legacy of the Penn Nursing School as part of the Penn & Slavery project, expanding her understanding of contemporary higher education and the critical imperative of keeping it accountable in its pursuit of knowledge. She recently started working at the Health Equity and Policy Lab, run by Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger, exploring different theories of health justice, governance, and system.

Ayana pursues an uncoordinated dual degree between a BS with a concentration in Healthcare Management at the Wharton School, combined with a BA in philosophy at the College of Arts and Sciences. Self-identifying herself as a polymath, she believes that philosophy gives her foundations in how to think analytically and logically, and allows her to seriously contemplate language, assumptions, definitions, and values. As an SNF Paideia Fellow, Ayana is developing a project that lets the Penn students and the wider Philly community explore philosophy through interactive and participatory theater. This came about as a fruit of trying to understand philosophical texts herself and having experienced some acting in/ organizing theaters in high school. She wants to make philosophy more accessible to those who do not have a lot of exposure to it otherwise, believing that it could help the development of careful thinking and intellectual humility for many. She says “although the question of whether philosophy could be intriguing for ANYONE is itself a contested philosophical one, I believe with a fair confidence that there are still potential philosophers who just have not had a chance to get exposed enough to what philosophy has to offer”.