Birmingham’s Ryan J. Swain takes the stage in the world premiere of an Off-Broadway show. And when he walks onto the stage at the National Black Theater to star in the debut of “Kill Move Paradise,” he says he has, in part, Protective Life to thank. Ryan is one of more than 200 recipients of Protective Life Scholarship and Academic Awards Program.

“I owe so much to Protective,” Ryan says. “Receiving support for my education truly allowed me to focus on the education that I needed to hone my skills and prepare for a career in the theater.”

Growing up in Birmingham, he had always wanted to be an actor, attending Alabama School of Fine Arts and Howard University.  This year, he boarded a bus to follow his dream, moving to New York City, where he has hired  an agent and booked a role as one of four performers co-starring in a show that premieres May 31.

“I wouldn’t be able to pursue this dream without the support of a lot of people, including my family, my teachers, and many people who have believed in me,” he says, including his mother, Lolita Smith, a Quality Analyst in Protective’s Department of Operations Services. She encouraged him to apply for a Protective award, which he received. “The support from Protective meant so much to me,” Ryan says. “My education at Howard let me focus on school, without having to worry about finances — which means a lot to a young actor.”

The Protective Life Foundation Scholarship and Academic Awards Program names approximately  20 recipients annually, selected by an independent panel of judges not affiliated with the company who base their decisions on three areas of concentration — academic excellence, community involvement, and tuition assistance. The award winners  are children of full-time employees throughout the country and  have attended 81 colleges and universities in the United States.

Dr. Adrienne Topic, daughter of Dr. Jim Topic, a medical director with Protective, is another past recipient. A 2009 graduate of Wellesley College and graduate of Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, she is currently in her first year of a three-year cardiovascular fellowship at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, where she treats patients from a tri-state area (Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). She completed her residency in Oakland, California and decided to focus on interventional cardiology.

Dr. Topic says that she chose this specialty specifically “because there’s so much we can do to help people.” Her education is a long one — she has  up to two more years after completing her fellowship, making the support from Protective all the more helpful. “The Protective money helped me get through Wellesley with much less student debt than I could have had,” she says. “Which was helpful, especially because I graduated at a time when the economy was sluggish. Plus, in medical school we have to take out loans, so every bit helped.”

For Connor McCarty, son of Bill McCarty, Protective Senior Counsel, academic support was crucial in paving the way for an international career. Connor, who says that he became intrigued with Japanese culture as a child, credits the support in helping him begin to study overseas starting his freshman year at the University of Alabama. “It costs a lot of money to study abroad, and the support from Protective really allowed me to do that,” he says. Connor spent two summers and his junior year in Japan. “That time, and in particular the language immersion, set me on the path to my career.”

Today Connor lives in Tokyo, working as a recruitment consultant for en world Japan, one of the leading recruitment and staffing firms in the Asia-Pacific Region. His focus is recruiting talent for sales and marketing professionals for large drug manufacturers — those who are fluent in both Japanese and English and are able to thrive in multiple cultures. And though he works long hours, he’s making time to volunteer with a new initiative between Dai-ichi Life (Protective’s global, Japan-based parent company) and the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration. The program will place student interns at Dai-ichi’s Tokyo offices. Connor is lending his experience to help the students navigate the cultural differences. “It’s something I wish I had when I was a student, and I’m glad to give back,” he says.

Service is important to Shazia Manji, a 2013 graduate of the University of California, San Diego. Daughter of Anil Manji, she, too, is a Protective Scholar. With a degree in Communications, the California native has spent the past three years as Membership and Communications Coordinator for a nonprofit called Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. The group is a physician and health advocate membership organization working to protect the public from environmental toxins and nuclear threats. Later this year, she’ll start graduate school at the University of California, Berkley, in pursuit of a master’s degree in public health and urban planning.

“Learning how to work at a nonprofit has been incredible,” Shazia says. “I’ve learned so much about team building and collaboration, which is crucial for public health and city planning.”Her goal is to get deeper into research and policy work on how to create environments that allow people to thrive and be healthy. She says she’s looking forward to starting school, which is the continuation of a plan that her parents encouraged for her and her two brothers (her brother Imran also received a Protective award).

“My brothers and I were the first generation to go to college,” Shazia says. “My father is an actuary, but he was self-taught. Both my parents stressed that we needed to get an education. Protective helped us make that happen.”

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