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A photo of Anne Nguyen.

Graduating senior forged new connections to Vietnamese heritage through UCLA class

A photo of Anne Nguyen.

UCLA senior Anne Nguyen. (Photo Courtesy of Anne Nguyen)

Anne Nguyen started observing the economic and emotional tolls of the pandemic before a lot of others.

Having grown up in a community of mostly Vietnamese immigrants, she knew families who owned nail salons, people who worked as nail techs and also was familiar with some of the health concerns given the exposure to chemicals in that industry. It wasn’t until she came to UCLA in 2017 that she realized the severity of some of the health problems associated with spending hours in a salon.

Then in March 2020, nail salon workers were being laid off even before shutdown orders because of the rapid decline in business after false reports that the virus was spreading in nail salons. Soon after there was the rise in anti-Asian racism.

“The impact on this community feels close to home,” said Nguyen, a soon-to-be UCLA graduate from San Jose, California, who is determined to help the broader immigrant community that raised her.

During her time at UCLA, Nguyen spent four years volunteering with the student-run Vietnamese Community Health organization, or VCH, which operates mostly in Orange County offering screenings for hypertension, blood glucose, cholesterol, as well as women’s health services like mammograms or OB-GYN consultations.

Nguyen and the group have also focused on offering connections to mental health providers who speak Vietnamese. She says the community, especially the elderly members, have historically stigmatized the use of mental health resources, but that these resources are invaluable to refugees and immigrants who are adjusting to a foreign culture and experiences.

“I think that my work with VCH was particularly meaningful to me because it introduced me to community-based medicine,” said Nguyen, who is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in Asian American studies. “I loved the focus that the organization had on educating their patients, as well as treating/screening them. It really helped me establish my service philosophy of giving communities the tools they need to commit to long-term change themselves.”

This past winter quarter, Nguyen’s desire to help Asian immigrants, took a more academic turn. She enrolled in a course put on by the Asian American studies department and the UCLA Center for Community Engagement called “Power to the People: Asian American Studies 140XP.”

The Center for Community Engagement supports community-engaged research, teaching and learning in partnership with communities and organizations throughout Los Angeles and beyond. This particular course was borne out of the hunger strike at San Francisco States University in the 60s, during which students demanded the school offer ethnic studies classes and that the school diversify its faculty and student body. This course, which has been taught at UCLA for seven years exposes students to different Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in greater Los Angeles and creates opportunities to work directly with those organizations.

During the course, Nguyen met with the instructor and her classmates two hours each week to discuss history and theory, and met virtually with community organizers, advocates and members of the nail salon industry through the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. The statewide, grassroots organization addresses health care, environmental factors, reproductive justice, and other social issues faced by low-income, immigrant and refugee women from Vietnam.

Dung Nguyen, program and outreach manager for the collaborative, supervised Anne Nguyen (no relation) and previous UCLA students who interned at the organization. Dung said there is nothing like working directly for an organization to bring social activism to life.

“Our student interns often reflect how civic engagement, advocacy, community organizations and collective power in a text book are very different than seeing this all play out in reality,” Dung Nguyen said.

Nguyen and another student phone banked to raise awareness about two bills in the state legislature — assembly bills 15 and 16, which were intended to protect tenants from being evicted during the pandemic and beyond. The pair created packages of Lunar New Year cards and masks for members of the nail salon collaborative to reinforce social bonds with the group during the isolation of the pandemic. They ran a small fundraiser to support nail salon workers who lost income during the pandemic and couldn’t meet their most basic needs. They also conducted a survey to see which members had been vaccinated, and then helped women get vaccination appointments so they could return to work safely.

“I did not expect to take a class like this when I came to UCLA since I never thought of volunteering/interning as something you can structure into a curriculum,” Nguyen said. “Every organization had a different method of organizing to best fit their communities and this class really reinforced that this was valid. The class gave me a greater appreciation for all the thought that went into the creation and continuation of the nail salon collaborative and all of the other class partners.”

Community organizer and course lecturer Sophia Cheng said that all the community partners tend to see themselves as part of the ethnic studies movement that started in the 1960s.

Cheng, who is the primary liaison for all the organizations, pushes students to go beyond critiquing, analyzing and dissecting situations, instead asking them to come up with real solutions to real issues. She said that she’s not trying to train every student to join the non-profit sector; there aren’t enough jobs in the Asian American nonprofit sector. Instead, Cheng focuses on different ways students can serve their communities in whatever career path they take.

Nguyen’s trajectory continues to be influenced by Cheng’s approach.

“I want to be a doctor, and I am focused on community health,” Nguyen said. “The course taught me to be more cognizant of cultural fit when it comes to health care, and other needs. A lot of Asian American and Pacific Islander patients might not trust or have resources like in typical western health care. The older generation also might not trust the younger generation. I’m using approaches from class to figure out how to approach medicine and how to help people, from the place where they are. I try to figure out what are the needs of the people, how can I serve them, and help them strengthen what they have to improve themselves.”

This article, written by Elizabeth Kivowitz, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Journeys in Precollege Summer Institutes

By Robin Migdol

The summer before their senior year in high school, Ryan Vuong and Alysa Kataoka each spent a week on campus participating in UCLA’s Precollege Summer Institutes, but that was only the beginning of their Bruin journeys. Both went on to attend UCLA as undergraduates.

A photo of Alysa Kataoka

Photo courtesy of Alysa Kataoka.

Precollege Summer Institutes are residential and commuter programs for high school students taught by UCLA instructors. Students can earn academic credit and take part in field trips and laboratory research. With nearly two dozen subjects as diverse as Game Lab and Mock Trial, Precollege Institutes offer students the opportunity to delve deeply into an area they’re passionate about.

Engineering a path forward

Kataoka participated in the Nanoscience Lab Summer Institute, offered by UCLA College’s California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), in 2016. Already planning to apply to UCLA, she chose nanoscience to gain hands-on experience in engineering and applied science.

During the program Kataoka explored a variety of topics in nanoscience and gained a mentor in program coordinator Elaine Morita, who advised Kataoka on internship and other opportunities after her acceptance to UCLA.

Kataoka graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2021 and will begin a master’s in mechanical engineering at UCLA in the fall. She said the Nanoscience Summer Institute taught her skills that she still uses today.

“The most important skill I learned was to be able to explain science or scientific concepts to people who aren’t familiar with chemistry or engineering,” she said. “I also learned to be comfortable with public speaking. People have this idea that engineers kind of keep to themselves and they don’t have to interact that much with other people, but I realized that that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

A photo of Ryan Vuong

Photo courtesy of Ryan Vuong (far left, back row) with friends at the Sci I Art Lab Summer Institute.

A head start on life skills

In 2018, Vuong participated in the Sci | Art Lab Summer Institute, which bridges science and art to encourage creative thinking and innovation. Apart from enjoying the coursework, he caught an early glimpse of life on campus.

“What I enjoyed most was the ability to interact and connect with other students my age, especially in such a close-knit setting with everyone living in the same dorm,” said Vuong, now a UCLA Regents Scholar entering his junior year as a com-puter science major. “It helped me get a sense of living on my own, doing my own laundry, keeping track of meals, and not having a parent with me at all times.”

Both Vuong and Kataoka were also recipients of UCLA Summer Sessions’ Summer Scholars Support, a need- and merit-based scholarship for California high school students.

Learn more

www.summer.ucla.edu

A photo of Royce Hall.

Lessons Learned: UCLA Symposium on Remote Teaching during COVID-19

Students haven’t been the only ones navigating a new college experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. For faculty, switching to fully remote teaching posed a challenge unlike anything they’d experienced before.

UCLA’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching, along with its partners CEILS, EPIC, and OTL,* hosted its third annual symposium for UC faculty and staff in April. “Teaching at UCLA – Looking Forward with 2020 Vision” featured panel discussions, talks and workshops centered on lessons learned during remote teaching since March 2020.

A central theme was how to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom. At the faculty roundtable, professors discussed the effects of holding classes and office hours virtually from home, with some noting that the newfound flexibility of remote teaching had enabled them to make stronger connections with students.

A photo of Royce Hall.

A view of Royce Hall from the southwest, across the Shapiro Fountain.

“[Remote teaching] brought us together in ways I have never experienced in 24 years at UCLA. I felt a level of humanity with my students that I had not experienced before,” said Abel Valenzuela Jr., professor of Chicana/o and Central American studies and of urban planning and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Valenzuela said that hosting virtual informal hangouts with his students to talk about anything on their minds was particularly impactful.

English professor Danny Snelson shared different gaming tools he used to make lectures fun and engaging for his students, including Discord, Animaze, Gather Town and Snap Camera.

Other faculty discussed the various ways they adapted their assignments and class organization to be mindful of the challenges of remote learning and the pandemic. Being flexible with deadlines, offering smaller, low-stakes assignments, and giving students space in discussions or journals to express their thoughts and concerns were all successful in keeping students engaged and supported.

Student panelists noted that although it was challenging to connect with their classmates in a virtual setting, working in small groups and spending more time discussing topics as a class helped them feel part of a community.

Imani Easton, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, said that remote learning has equipped students with valuable communication skills that will prepare them for life after graduation.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we have to speak up and contribute. Before we used to just sit in lecture and take notes,” Easton said. “When we go back to campus, I’m looking forward to having more of a dialogue and open communication.”

David Schaberg, senior dean of UCLA College, dean of humanities and professor of Asian languages and cultures, said that despite the successes of remote learning, he wants to get as many people back on campus as possible.

“Nothing can truly replicate the excitement and personal growth students experience on a college campus,” Schaberg said. “We cannot give up the ideal of the campus space where people interact with their full selves. This is where students come to test out their adult selves, and you can’t do that online.”

Watch recordings of all sessions from the symposium here.

*Center for Education Innovation & Learning in the Sciences (CEILS), Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC), Online Teaching & Learning (OTL)

This article was written by Robin Migdol.

A photo of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas

Linguistics student fulfills dream at UCLA

A photo of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas

Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas, a third-year graduate student, says, “By going to America to get my Ph.D., I would have better opportunities to expand my learning, my cultural awareness and my life.” (Courtesy of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas)

In honor of International Women’s Day 2021 on March 8, the UCLA International Institute is publishing a series of profiles of female Bruins.

Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas, a UCLA graduate student in linguistics who hails from Saudi Arabia, grew up in the Farasan Islands, a group of coral islands in the Red Sea. A star student throughout her school years, Abeer set her sights on a college education as a young girl with her mother’s strong support.

After graduating from high school in 2007, Abeer had to move to mainland Saudi Arabia to attend college. She chose linguistics among the majors open to her because she felt it would help her learn foreign languages. She began her studies at Jeddah University, but received her bachelor’s degree at Jazan University in 2011.

She soon found a job at her alma mater as a linguistics lecturer, but she was required to continue her higher education. “I had heard how the United States had the biggest and greatest universities in the world, and I felt that my place was there,” Abeer says.

In 2018, Abeer completed her master of arts degree at Cal State Long Beach. She was accepted into a number of doctoral programs in linguistics, including UCLA. Now in her third year of study at UCLA, the Bruin graduate student is on the cusp of submitting her thesis to become an official Ph.D. candidate and hopes to become a teaching assistant this spring or fall.

“I’ve gained something bigger than just an education by studying in America,” she says. “It’s made me more open to the world. I value that people from other cultures and religions are now my close friends — that was the greatest thing I learned here,” she says.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Office of International Studies and Global Engagement’s website. Click to read the full article.

 

From Startup to Social Change: UCLA’s Blackstone Launchpad Social Impact Fellows

Photos from top left: Shelby Kretz of Little Justice Leaders, Diondraya Taylor of Mindsets & Milestones; Bottom from left: Michael Sesen-Perrilliat of TIED, Shae Koberle and her team member of Robinswing. (Photos courtesy of the depicted)

From top left: Shelby Kretz of Little Justice Leaders, Diondraya Taylor of Mindsets & Milestones; Bottom from left: Michael Sesen-Perrilliat of TIED, Shae Koberle and her team member of Robinswing. (Photos courtesy of Kretz, Taylor, Sesen-Perrilliat and Koberle)

Startup companies have introduced innovative technology, unique products and even new social networks. At UCLA, four startups are also addressing some of society’s most important challenges, from reaching swing voters to inspiring leadership skills in adolescent girls.

Last fall, Startup UCLA’s Blackstone Launchpad and Techstars network hosted the Social Impact Fellowship Program, focused on student-run companies with clear social impact missions. Out of 40 teams selected from across the country, four originated from UCLA – a reflection of Bruins’ dedication to community engagement and social change through entrepreneurship.

During the program, student fellows took part in coaching sessions with LaunchPad campus directors, received mentoring and learned about team management, digital marketing, fundraising, and more. Each fellow also received $5,000 in grant funding to advance their startup companies. Each of the four UCLA student-run companies was inspired by a variety of needs reflected in their communities.

Launchpad Social Impact Fellow Diondraya Taylor ’20, founder of Mindsets & Milestones, started her company as an undergraduate psychobiology major at UCLA and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in education. Mindset & Milestones creates educational materials to develop entrepreneurial skills in middle and high school girls. So far, Taylor’s company has produced a workbook, created an online course and more recently, launched an ambassador program for girls. Taylor was inspired to create Mindsets & Milestones to help tackle the confidence dips experienced by adolescent girls that can cause them to question their capabilities.

She recalled a particular conversation with a student in which they were discussing the organizational structure of the student’s team. In response, the student drew a circle, not a typical top-down organizational chart, explaining that she wanted everyone to work together. After some gentle probing by Taylor, the student admitted that she wasn’t sure if she was capable of leading people, despite her record demonstrating leadership potential.

“It was baffling to me. This student knew enough and had the vision, yet she couldn’t see herself as a leader,” Taylor said.

Launchpad Social Impact Fellow Shelby Kretz, who like Taylor is working on her Ph.D. in education, is the founder of Little Justice Leaders, a monthly subscription box aimed at elementary school children that creates opportunities for parents to talk their kids about topics such as social justice, environmental sustainability, immigration, racism and feminism. Each box contains an age-appropriate book on a single topic, a hands-on activity, lessons and worksheets, information cards and a nonprofit spotlight. Little Justice Leaders does more than serve children, it also engages parents and teachers, and facilitates learning in the community about social justice issues.

Launchpad Social Impact Fellow Shae Koberle is a third-year political science student who came up with her business idea last July, when she came across a document circulating on social media purporting to show the costs incurred by the LAPD to police demonstrations in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. During that time, she noted that while many individuals had the best intentions in mind, no real change was being made because the information tended to circulate in the same social circles and wasn’t being forwarded to the opposing side.

“To change local policy, you must engage the other side,” Koberle said. “You have to engage someone who doesn’t believe in defunding the police. That got me to think, ‘How can I reach those people’?”

To reach people across the opinion spectrum, Koberle founded Robinswing, an app that anonymously connects swing voters to canvassers without the hassle of soliciting. The app lets users anonymously learn about and follow local propositions and candidates, no strings attached. Koberle envisions Robinswing expanding to more conservative areas, citing the benefits of its anonymous user capabilities, which allow individuals who feel they might be persecuted due to their political stance or identity to become informed without fear of being harassed.

Launchpad Social Impact Fellow Michael-Sesen Perrilliat ’17 is a political science alumnus and founder of Tapped In: Equitable Development (TIED). TIED aims to create access and opportunities for people who are new to startups or need more resources to drive their startups to success. Founders connect with TIED through word of mouth or social media, and submit a form that analyzes the stage of their startup. TIED then assigns tasks to help the startup further develop their concept before connecting them with mentors and consultants who can support these entrepreneurs.

At UCLA, services like Startup UCLA and the venture consulting offered through Blackstone Launchpad allow students to develop their ideas, which increasingly include nonprofit ventures and social impact businesses. To meet the demands of UCLA’s growing community of social impact-oriented creators and entrepreneurs, Startup UCLA recently hired Rachael Parker-Chavez, an entrepreneur, lecturer and consultant with extensive experience with human-centered design and building up social impact businesses and nonprofits.

To learn more, visit https://startupucla.com.

This article was written by Shirley Li. 

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

UCLA alumna awarded Mitchell Scholarship, first in 20 years

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

Top row, from left: Genevieve Finn, Kristy Hinds. Bottom row, from left: Leann Pham, Kai Huang (Photo Credits: Genevieve Finn – Jacelyn O’Neill; Leann Pham – Anthony Ismail; Kristy Hinds – Daniel Hinds; Kai Huang – Kai Huang)

This time next year, Genevieve Finn ’20 will be studying creative writing at Trinity College in Dublin as one of 12 winners of this year’s prestigious Mitchell Scholarship. She is only the second UCLA alum to win a Mitchell Scholarship, and the first to win in 20 years.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship sponsored by the US-Ireland Alliance. Up to 12 Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one academic year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A native of San Anselmo, Calif., Finn majored in English in the College Honors program and completed her degree in just two and a half years, thanks to AP credits and some “excellent” academic counselors who helped her manage her course load, she said. She was a reporter for the Daily Bruin and interned at the New York Times’ Australia bureau and GQ Australia. She will work at the Mexico bureau of the Associated Press when travel is safe. Finn was also awarded an Overseas Press Club Foundation fellowship for her reporting about her experience sailing on a container ship from Hong Kong to Singapore.

Finn is currently a reporter at the Malibu Times, working to create a Spanish-language insert in the paper’s print edition to serve Malibu’s Latinx day laborer-commuter population. With the Mitchell Scholarship, she plans to develop her skills in long form journalism and poetry, report on Ireland’s unique political and cultural narratives, and explore her own Irish heritage.

Finn said her love of journalism was cemented during a summer she spent traveling around Mexico and writing about the people she met while couch surfing and hitchhiking.

“I love talking to people and am just genuinely interested in other people’s lives,” Finn said. “I love the craft of writing and storytelling and find it exhilarating to be edited.”

She said UCLA’s creative writing program, in particular its poetry workshops, helped prepare her for graduate study.

“My absolute favorite memories of undergrad are far and away the times I got to sit in the Sculpture Garden in the sun with my peers and listen to them read their poetry out loud,” she said. “The workshops taught me so much about how to edit and be edited, made me a nimbler poet and bolder essayist, and gave me so many really wonderful, lasting friends and mentors. I’m going to take all of those skills and relationships with me to Europe!”

In other scholarship news, three UCLA students were finalists for prestigious scholarships this year.

UCLA students Kai Huang and Kristy Hinds were finalists for the Marshall Scholarship, which also funds graduate study in the UK.

Huang, a senior majoring in psychobiology, is an advocate for the transgender community at UCLA. They serve as Undergraduate Student Representative for the Trans Wellness Team, a team of healthcare professionals from Ashe, CAPS and UCLA Health who seek to improve transgender healthcare at UCLA, and are on the Community Advisory Board for the UCLA Gender Health Program Research Collaborative. He co-founded the LGBT Student Advocacy Committee and is the Activism Coordinator for the pre-health student organization Lavender Health Alliance. Huang plans to become a primary care physician for transgender people.

“I never had the opportunity to study abroad before, especially before I legally changed my name and gender marker to match who I am, and it meant a lot to me to be considered as a Marshall finalist as a nonbinary trans person in higher education, since I don’t know of many other trans people in healthcare,” Huang said.

Hinds, a senior majoring in English, is a recipient of the UCLA College Reentry Scholarship for non-traditional students as well as the English department’s Fallen Leaves Creative Writing Prize.

She is working on a directed research project producing a short story fiction collection that looks at women and race, and is researching black authors from the 18th century to the First World War in the areas of sermons, spirituals and autobiography. Hinds said UCLA’s rigor, academic opportunities and support system has inspired her success.

“For me, being a Marshall finalist was a confirmation of what took years to uncover and believe about myself—I am good enough and I am worth it,” Hinds said. “I know it is not despite my story but because of it that makes me a Marshall finalist.”

Leann Pham ’19 was a finalist for the Schwarzman Scholarship, which funds a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. At UCLA, in addition to majoring in political science and Asian American studies, she led a multi-year research study on responses to violence and taught a class to empower survivors of gender-based violence in the Asian/Pacific American community. She was also a Resident Assistant with UCLA Residential Life and helped organized sexual violence response training for over 300 RAs.

Pham is currently in Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she is teaching and studying the Gender Equity Act in primary schools. She said it was an honor not only to be a Schwarzman finalist but also to see how her professors, advisors and friends all rallied to support her throughout the application process.

“Being a Schwarzman finalist meant that someone saw potential in me and my approach to gender-based violence between the U.S. and China,” Pham said. “But the experience of being a finalist showed me how lucky I was to have an entire ‘UCLA village’ support me.”

To learn more about scholarship opportunities for UCLA students, visit http://www.scholarshipcenter.ucla.edu/.

This article was written by Robin Shawn Migdol.

 

A photo of Michael Carli and Christopher Zyda

The AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and ’90s forms the backdrop for written works by two Bruins, born generations apart

As part of his senior thesis, English major Michael Carli is putting the finishing touches on “Malfunction,” a short story about two gay men living in New York City from 1984 to 1986, and English alumnus Christopher Zyda ’84 recently published his memoir “The Storm: One Voice from the AIDS Generation” (Rare Bird Books), centered on losing his partner to AIDS in 1991.

Carli will interview Zyda on January 26 as part of an online author discussion hosted by the UCLA Creative Writing Program and moderated by Assistant Professor Justin Torres.

For Carli, writing about the AIDS epidemic stemmed from wanting to examine the era from the unique perspective of his generation.

A photo of Michael Carli and Christopher Zyda

From left: Michael Carli, Christopher Zyda

“I grew up with the worst of the AIDS epidemic behind me, but in a period in which my contemporary artistic heroes, particularly when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, were the ones who were left, who had witnessed the destruction [caused by AIDS] firsthand,” Carli said. “It’s important for me to examine that history now because I feel in a way that it’s been forgotten or misunderstood by my own generation.”

Like so many writers, Carli has always been a voracious reader. It was his love of literature that lured him back to school after a stint selling shoes at a Jimmy Choo boutique in Boston. Six years ago, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a nanny and chef for a family in Santa Monica while attending community college. In 2019, he transferred to UCLA and discovered his passion for creative writing.

Carli said, “Years ago I was afraid to admit to wanting to write novels. The creative writing program has changed things for me. Not only do I feel secure in the education itself and the technical skills I’m attempting to master here, but I feel more confident I can do it. I’d read works by [my professors] Mona Simpson and Justin Torres before I came to UCLA, and it’s really a dream to be in the same room with them. All of my professors in the Department have been incredibly instructive and supportive.”

After graduating from UCLA, Carli plans to pursue an MFA degree in creative writing and complete his first novel. Through his fiction writing, he hopes to have a positive impact on environmental issues such as climate change.

“Moving through this century, facing ecological collapse, those of us working in the humanities have a special responsibility to engage with and respond to the work that scientists are doing. We have the power to translate, as it were, that work to the public by appealing more directly to readers’ emotions,” Carli said. “I hope to do that with my writing.”

Like Carli, Chris Zyda planned to write for a living after graduating from UCLA, but he ended up setting aside his book-writing ambitions for more than 35 years.

Zyda came of age in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and, like most, had no idea of the devastation to come. Then in 1986, his partner Stephen was diagnosed with AIDS. Knowing that sky-high medical expenses were on the horizon, Zyda decided to obtain his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School and pursue a career in corporate finance. He went on to serve in high-level financial roles for industry giants like The Walt Disney Company, Amazon, and eBay before founding his own boutique investment management firm, Mozaic LLC, in 2007.

The idea for “The Storm” began with a journal entry in 2011 on the 20th anniversary of Stephen’s death, but Zyda didn’t start writing the book until 2017, a disciplined process that took only six months alongside running his business. In the book, he recounts the highs and lows of his life through the lens of family dysfunction, Stephen’s battle with AIDS, grief, the gay rights movement, the scientific quest to understand the virus, and the big cultural moments of the era.

Zyda said, “When I first started, one of my fears was that I wouldn’t remember what had happened because I had spent 26 years trying to forget it and stuffing it all away. Fortunately, I am a packrat and save receipts, ticket stubs, photos, and letters. I also made a playlist of music from that time to help me remember. Writing “The Storm” became a cathartic, healing experience.”

As for the central message of “The Storm,” Zyda said, “At some point in life, everybody has to deal with some version of what I call ‘the storm.’ Whether it’s divorce or losing a loved one or losing a job or any other personal challenge in life, remember that you can get through it. My book is a story of survival, of coming through a really challenging situation and having a wonderful, positive life afterwards.”

Author discussion with Chris Zyda: Tuesday, January 26, at 4:00 p.m. To register, please click here.

UCLA’s English department has offered creative writing courses for more than 40 years, including undergraduate concentrations in fiction and poetry writing, as well as workshops in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and creative nonfiction. Learn more: https://english.ucla.edu/creative-writing-faqs/

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald.

Vahagn Aldzhyan Selected as Second Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholar

While volunteering with the UCLA undergraduate-led International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI), which aims to provide healthcare to underserved communities in Los Angeles, UCLA senior Vahagn Aldzhyan and his coworkers completed a needs assessment survey on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. When they asked the people there if they had access to medical care and health insurance, most said no.

“I always knew about Skid Row, I always drove past South LA, but just being there in person, talking to the people and getting a glimpse of what these people have to go through every day made me want to do a lot of work to empower people who are living in those situations,” said Aldzhyan, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major and Los Angeles native.

A photo of Vahagn Aldzhyan.

A portrait of Vahagn Aldzhyan. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The desire to bridge healthcare gaps and disparities has been the driving force throughout Aldzhyan’s time as Bruin. And it’s also part of what landed him the 2020-21 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, an annual award that recognizes and supports students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

In addition to working as a grant writer for the ICHI, Aldzhyan is a research assistant in the lab of Dr. Richard J. Pietras and Dr. Diana Marquez-Garban, developing therapeutics to treat triple-negative breast cancer. He presented his research about this aggressive form of cancer, which disproportionately affects young black women, at Undergraduate Research Week this year.

Aldzhyan works as an undergraduate learning assistant in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and physics and astronomy and a board member of the Armenian Engineers and Scientists Association. He’s also an Emergency Medical Technician, and a Health Scholar at COPE Solutions, where he volunteers and rotates through different departments at a local hospital.

After graduation, his goal is to apply to medical school and complete dual degrees in medicine and business so that he can have a greater impact on underserved communities, including in Armenia where his parents both immigrated from.

“I feel like when I’m working directly with patients, I’m impacting one life, but with a business degree, I can do a lot more to implement community service programs and reach an audience at a much greater level,” he said.

Aldzhyan said he is inspired by Arthur Ashe’s commitment to helping people facing discrimination, racism and hatred even after he had already achieved astronomical success as an athlete. Although Ashe himself had experienced the same challenges, he didn’t let it stop him from succeeding as well as creating opportunities for others.

“He was able to reciprocate positive energy and help communities and people that were in the same kind of situation as he was growing up. So that was really inspiring.” Aldzhyan said.

And the advice he’s taken away from Ashe’s story?

“When you hit a roadblock, don’t stop, just go through it. And then when you get to a goal and achieve it, don’t forget who helped you and help them too,” he said.

Aldzhyan said that while he’s grateful that the scholarship will help him with his tuition this year, he’s even more humbled to be part of The Arthur Ashe Legacy at UCLA as a recipient of the scholarship named in Ashe’s honor. He’s already looking forward to aiding future students who find themselves on a similar path.

“I can come back 10, 15, or maybe even a couple years from now and give back to those students who are interested in embodying what Arthur Ashe stood for as a community leader and as a Bruin,” he said.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.

This article, written by Robin Migdol, originally appeared on The Arthur Ashe Legacy website

Left image: The inaugural public event hosted by the Black Feminism Initiative, held in February, featured a conversation between local reproductive justice advocate Kimberly Durdin, left, and UCLA graduate student Ariel Hart. Top right image: Audience at the event. Bottom right from left: Kali Tambree and Jaimie Crumley, student co-coordinators of the Black Feminism Initiative.

Black Feminism Initiative meets the moment, in service of a more just future

Black Feminism Initiative collage. Left image: The inaugural public event hosted by the Black Feminism Initiative, held in February, featured a conversation between local reproductive justice advocate Kimberly Durdin, left, and UCLA graduate student Ariel Hart. Top right image: Audience at the event. Bottom right from left: Kali Tambree and Jaimie Crumley, student co-coordinators of the Black Feminism Initiative. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

If higher education can be thought of as a superhighway to success and social mobility, Black women have always had to manufacture their own vehicles to access it. They must navigate a system whose fastest on-ramps, most well-maintained lanes, bridges and sources of replenishment were founded and structured to best support those who are white, or male, or both.

Against the backdrop of rampant health, social and economic inequality, women studying and working at universities know that systemic inequities won’t change without radical thinking and eventually a radical restructuring of what the academy itself represents and how it functions.

To support that paradigm shift, in late fall 2019 UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women, with backing from the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, launched the Black Feminism Initiative. The mission of the initiative is to support, develop and perpetuate Black feminist scholarship and ideas among the campus community. They do this by way of fellowships, mentorships, public programming and they are also developing collaborations with community organizations to advance these goals.

The need for such a group was acute, and the voices they can bring to the current cultural conversation around social justice are critical, said Sarah Haley, who directs the Black Feminism Initiative.

“In the current cultural moment Black feminism has a lot to teach us all about institutionalized modes of care, and institutionalized modes of harm,” said Haley, who also leads the anti-carceral research track in the Center for the Study of Women.

The initiative also serves as a means of mutual aid for the interdisciplinary approach and community-engaged research of its graduate students, which is often undervalued not only by the structures of academia writ large, but sometimes, members say, even by their own institution.

The idea for the Black Feminism Initiative originated from a course taught by Haley, a professor of gender studies and African American studies at UCLA . About 15 students are currently involved in the initiative, which is in the early phases and is not necessarily limited to Black women, or even just women. There are four affiliated faculty in this early phase and the group is working to expand.

Haley is proud that Black Feminism Initiative offers two graduate fellowships: one named for Alisa Bierria, a professor of African American studies at UC Riverside; and the other for Mariame Kaba, researcher in residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Bierria and Kaba are leaders of Survived and Punished, a group dedicated to advocating for the release of incarcerated women who are themselves survivors of violence.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about a variety of Black feminist research practices and what does it mean for us to be Black feminists at UCLA, but also what does it mean to do our research in a way that really values the lives and contributions of Black women personally,” said Jaimie Crumley, a fourth-year doctoral student in gender studies who serves as one of the initative’s student coordinators. Crumley’s work is historically based, about 19th century free Black women who were abolitionists.

“These days we call that anti-carceral feminism, but it’s really about abolition,” she said. “We’re having a lot of conversations about archives and the silence and the violence that is done to Black women just because of the way that our stories are remembered or captured in official state archives. We’ve also had a lot of conversation about digital life and how Black women are represented online.”

Thinking about care and community

Confronting the very visible disproportionality of care for Black women is also a major theme for members of the group, from how Black nurses and essential workers have been affected by COVID-19, to the vulnerabilities of Black women to violence, both state and individual, to the fact that Black women are so much more likely to die in childbirth than other women.

“The scholarship we’re doing is related to our own survival and the survival of people who are in communities that we care about,” Crumley said.

Maternal mortality was the theme of the group’s inaugural public event, held shortly before the safer-at-home order took effect. The initiative invited Kimberly Durdin, a midwife and founder of Kindred Space LA, to campus to have a discussion with initiative member Ariel Hart, who is working on her doctorate in sociology and her medical degree.

“We really want to be pioneering new forms of community-engaged scholarship,” Haley said. “We want to blur the lines between what counts as scholarship in the academy and foster scholarship via what serves the work of people in our communities.”

Initiative co-coordinator Kali Tambree, a fourth-year doctoral student in sociology, has had to find new approaches toward her dissertation without current access to the archives upon which she relies. The Black Feminism Initiative has become an invaluable part of her experience at UCLA.

“Sarah and Jaimie have done a lot of work to set the goals and standards and pressing questions,” said Tambree, who organized the 2019 Thinking Gender conference, titled “Feminists Confronting the Carceral State.” “I’ve never been in a space that is so joyful, and vulnerable and courageous. It just feels really good to be able to talk about how the world feels for you and what type of historically grounded writing and thinking can help guide us as we shape ourselves.”

Rethinking institutions and norms

Courage and vulnerability are part of the package for abolitionist thinkers, Tambree pointed out.

“An abolitionist organization existing within the academy must have some investment in undermining the academy’s continuation as is,” Tambree said. “Anyone who is interested in unraveling the world as we know it and imagining a new one can’t continue to support the old one.”

That means, the academy can no longer remain a privileged space, she said.

“Being in an academic space with other people who identify as Black feminist abolitionists allows for a really urgent and necessary conversation and collaboration — and kind of support system — as we individually and as a collective navigate that reality,” Tambree said.

Making higher education and UCLA more aware of the work of Black feminists of the past, present and future is an important part of the group’s mission, Haley said.

“Mentorship and grad support are a critical facet of the Initiative, but our broader vision is to circulate new ideas for all faculty, students and the community as well,” she said.

In a world that seems more ready than ever to confront the enduring logics and racist underpinnings of settler colonialism, capitalism, the hetero-patriarchy and anti-blackness, Initiative student leaders are looking to harness the current state of virtual learning to best effect.

“One thing that’s going to be really exciting for the group this year with us being more online is that some of our workshops might be more open to more people,” Crumley said. “We’ve been talking about scholars and activists and performance artists who can join us on Zoom and lead workshops with us.”

This story is part of a series highlighting UCLA women whose teaching, scholarship and research centers on racial and social justice.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Image on the bottom left: A painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti is an example of art in Europe before the bubonic plague. Other images show how art changed after the plague.

Faculty get creative to teach perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic

Image on the bottom left: A painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti is an example of art in Europe before the bubonic plague. Other images show how art changed after the plague.

Art historian Charlene Villaseñor Black showed her class how art changed before and after the bubonic plague struck Europe to help her students see how artists might adapt their work to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The screen shows the familiar grid of small faces but everyone’s focused on the guest speaker, a student joining the class from his home in Wuhan, China, eager for their chances to ask questions.

“Can you describe the Chinese health care system and any differences you have experienced between its workings and that of the U.S. health care system?” Jonathan Gong asked Shengan Zhan. The UCLA geography graduate student was joining geography professor Michael Shin’s seminar class called “Global Experiences and Perspectives on COVID-19” via Zoom.

“It is usually very easy to see a doctor,” Zhan said. “However, with the coronavirus outbreak, the system was just flooded and overwhelmed by the high number of people seeking treatment.”

Gurugowtham Ulaganathan asked, “How has this affected you and your family personally?”

“The lock-down is inconvenient but most people are coping,” Zhan said. “My parents are professors at the university in Wuhan, and they are teaching online like we are here at UCLA.”

Hearing directly from Zhan the students see how COVID-19 has connected experiences around the world.

Opportunities like this, to participate in intimate conversations with someone who can share what it’s like to live in the global ground zero of the novel coronavirus pandemic are part of what make a UCLA education so special.

As the world grapples with COVID-19 and governments, institutions and individuals adapt to meet this moment, UCLA has been forced to change not only how it teaches — since late March, all courses have been conducted remotely — but just as importantly, what it teaches.

A shining example of how UCLA fulfills its mission

UCLA’s Fiat Lux seminar program has provided a platform to give faculty and students a global, multidisciplinary perspective of the pandemic, continuing a long tradition of teaching students to better understand the complexities of the world and forming community around current events. Founded in 2001, Fiat Lux seminars (named after the University of California’s Latin motto “Let there be Light”) were born in the wake of 9/11 as a way for students and faculty to explore, discuss and make sense of the terrorist attack.

Patricia Turner, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education and one of UCLA’s biggest Fiat Lux champions, said educators are always looking for teachable moments. Offering seminars about events like 9/11 and now COVID-19 provides students with an opportunity to research, discuss and make sense of these events.

A photo of Patricia Turner.

Patricia Turner (Photo Credit: UCLA)

“Each Fiat Lux provides its own lens through which to understand the virus’s impact on the world, whether the subject is public health, nutrition, sustainability or something else entirely,” Turner said. “Ideally, students will feel like they are in a caring academic community and come away with a perspective from which to examine their own feelings about the virus and its impact. It’s just one of the ways UCLA supports students in tumultuous times.”

With the support of Fiat Lux’s faculty advisory committee, a call for proposals went out at the end of winter quarter, but with a strict deadline: seminars would be taught the very next quarter which would begin in just a few weeks.

Pia Palomo, academic coordinator for undergraduate education initiatives in the UCLA College, and Scott Chandler, faculty advisory committee chair, said they thought they’d be lucky to receive 10 proposals. Instead, they got 25.

“Ray Knapp, professor of musicology, had talked with some other colleagues about, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity to use the spirit of Fiat Lux to build community to talk about what’s happening, and there’s already a mechanism to do it,’” Palomo said. Faculty in other schools, including Kyle McJunkin in the Fielding School of Public Health, were also eager to begin teaching about COVID-19 as soon as possible.

The topics were as varied as the faculty who submitted them — from political science and public policy professor Susanne Lohman’s “The Ethics of Pandemics” to music professor Frank Heuser’s “Responding to Coronavirus Through Song.” Faculty in departments spanning English, gender studies, African American studies, sociology and education all taught COVID-19 seminars. Chancellor Gene Block even led a seminar titled “University Leadership During Pandemics.”

More than just classes

For faculty and students, the Fiat Lux COVID-19 seminars were not just an opportunity to study the pandemic. In fact, building community around this unprecedented and at times frightening crisis as Bruins are scattered across the world under quarantine and stay-at-home orders was equally if not more important.

Art history professor Charlene Villaseñor Black is a veteran in teaching Fiat Lux seminars and jumped at the chance to teach “Art in Times of Contagion,” which examines artistic responses to pandemics of past and present.

A photo of Charlene Villaseñor Black.

Charlene Villaseñor Black (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The course has included examinations of historical art, such as Mexican art in the 16th and 17th centuries during the wave of epidemics brought by European colonizers and artistic responses to the medieval European plague of the 14th century. Students also looked at modern examples including the 2013 film “World War Z” and engaged in a writing exercise to create their own artistic response to COVID-19.

“I want students to have an awareness that we’ve been here before and an awareness of how the arts can provide sustenance, respite, and hope for us,” Black said. “This is the moment to really think about how the humanities and the arts make us more human.”

As faculty-in-residence in Sproul Hall, it was the sight of her students moving out of their dorms as the campus shut down that most profoundly affected Black and motivated her to think about what she could do to help them.

“We couldn’t even help them move out really because of social distancing. So it was heartbreaking. I didn’t get to say goodbye to a lot of people,” Black said. “I was thinking deeply about what is the role of the faculty-in residence in the current pandemic? How are we going to reach out to our students?”

She thought the idea to offer COVID-19-themed Fiat Lux seminars was “perfect.”

“I thought a lot about the arts at this moment,” she said. “We’ve seen so many arts offerings on social media, Facebook Live broadcasts, artists doing workshops, artists doing live talks about their practice. So I was struck by how the arts became a refuge for us.”

Seminars connect students forced into separation

Aileen Carey, a senior English major, took three Fiat Lux seminars including Black’s from her apartment in Westwood, where she decided to stay for her final quarter instead of going home to New Jersey. She also took Robert Kim-Farley’s “COVID-19 From the Perspective of a Public Health Medical Epidemiologist” and Caroline Streeter’s “Viral Media During a Viral Pandemic: Social Media, Music and COVID-19.”

Carey said listening to her professors discuss the pandemic from an academic point of view helped her get a more objective perspective on what she hears on the news every day. And it’s “oddly soothing” to spend time with fellow Bruins discussing the issues.

“It highlights that this is a collective experience because everyone in the class is here and wants to talk about it,” Carey said. “It’s surreal seeing my classmates sitting in their houses on Zoom but it helps show that these people are all going through the exact same thing I’m going through.”

Her art history seminar in particular has made Carey more aware of how art — including her own — is influenced by major events in history.

“That fascinates me because I wonder how my writing will change after COVID-19 and I wonder how mainstream media will change, because every industry is different now,” she said.

An image of COVID-19 cases in China as of April 9, 2020

COVID-19 cases in China as of April 9, 2020 (Photo Credit: Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash)

In his seminar about global experiences on COVID-19, Shin wanted to offer students the opportunity to meet people from around the world and hear directly from them about how their lives have been affected by the pandemic. He invited guest speakers including Zhan who is his former teaching assistant and professors at the University of Milan and Hong Kong University to share their experiences with the class and answer students’ questions.

Freshman human biology major Victoria Li was interested in taking Shin’s seminar to gain a more global perspective of COVID-19. The seminar has already inspired her to continue pursuing public health in her studies.

“In the U.S. we get a very one-sided story of this epidemic and we don’t get to hear how real people are living through the same thing but in a different way around the world,” Li said. “With this whole situation and the class on COVID, it’s reaffirmed my interest in public health and how to deal with situations like this.”

Both Li and Carey said they’re proud and grateful that, through Fiat Lux, UCLA is offering students the opportunity to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic, to think critically and lean on each other to get through it.

“Having this moment to appreciate the staff who are excited to talk about these issues and the students who are volunteering to learn shows the best of academia and what this institution could be,” Carey said.

Fiat Lux has always offered students and faculty alike a way to explore new areas of interest and expand their perspectives, said history professor Vinay Lal, who is teaching a Fiat Lux seminar on pandemics throughout history. As we all grapple with COVID-19 together, the Fiat Lux mission seems to adopt a new and urgent meaning.

“Fiat Lux is a way for the faculty to engage themselves, to indulge their intellectual curiosity. And for the students, it’s a chance to say, let me see if I can become intellectually aware of the world around me,” Lal said. “Coronavirus is something that is out of our realm of experience. And so we need to be able to find some way to comprehend it.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.