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A photo of images of fruit flies’ eyes, wings and lymph glands.

Hundreds of UCLA students publish paper analyzing 1,000 genes involved in organ development

A team of 245 UCLA undergraduates and 31 high school students has published an encyclopedia of more than 1,000 genes, including 421 genes whose functions were previously unknown. The research was conducted in fruit flies, and the genes the researchers describe in the analysis may be associated with the development of the brain, eye, lymph gland and wings.

The fruit fly is often the object of scientific research because its cells have similar DNA to that of human cells — so knowledge about its genes can help researchers better understand human diseases. The UCLA study should be useful to scientists studying genes involved in sleep, vision, memory and many other processes in humans.

The research is published in the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics. The study’s senior authors include researchers Cory Evans and John Olson, who taught UCLA’s Biomedical Research 10H, the course in which the studies were conducted.

“I expect this will be a highly cited paper and a valuable resource to life scientists,” said Tracy Johnson, director of UCLA’s biomedical research minor, which offers the course the students all took. “It’s inspiring to know all of this really important research came from freshmen and sophomores. It’s beautiful, high-quality research.”

A photo of images of fruit flies’ eyes, wings and lymph glands.

Visible on this page are images of fruit flies’ eyes (top), wings and lymph glands, showing which genes are active (red) or were previously active (green). (Download the full image to also see scans of the brain.) Photo credit: Cory Evans

The students studied short DNA sequences to learn how specific genes are turned on and off and understand how those genes control the functions of various cell types. Although all cells have essentially the same collection of genes, specific genes are turned on or off depending on the cells’ needs, Evans said.

Each student studied several genes, ultimately producing a total of more than 50,000 microscopic images; the researchers then posted their analysis on an online database where other scientists can study the genes’ roles.

“This shows not only which genes are turned on, but the history of which genes have been turned on,” Johnson said.

The research was conducted as part of a UCLA life sciences course that was developed in the early 2000s by Utpal Banerjee, a UCLA distinguished professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and a senior author of the paper. The course received initial funding from the HHMI.

“Research on science education says that one of the best way to teach science is by having authentic research experiences embedded in a course,” said Johnson, who holds the Keith and Cecilia Terasaki Presidential Endowed Chair in the Division of Life Sciences and is an HHMI Professor. “Professor Banerjee understood years ago when he envisioned the class that students learn more by doing science. They learn how to design experiments, how to think like scientists, how to write about science and how to present their research.”

Johnson said the approach is analogous to teaching a sport. “If a kid wants to play soccer, you don’t say, ‘Don’t touch the soccer ball yet. You have to first learn all of the rules, watch other people play and read about the soccer greats, and maybe in a couple of years, we’ll let you kick the ball.’ No, bring out the soccer balls! So we need to get science students in the lab.”

The students completed two other research projects, one of which Evans expects will be published this year. In that study, the undergraduates studied the effects of turning off specific genes in fruit flies using a scientific technique called RNA interference. They then determined which of those 4,000 genes, when turned off, affect the proper development of blood cells.

“We teach students how to do research, not fly biology,” said Evans, who is now an assistant professor of biology at Loyola Marymount University. “Their science literacy is high, and they know how to evaluate evidence.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of group of volunteers at first mobile health clinic.

Student launches mobile health clinic to increase access to care

Photo of group of volunteers at first mobile health clinic.

Ahmad Elhaija, center, with International Collegiate Health Initiative medical staff, volunteers and student team members at the organization’s first mobile health clinic. Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

On a sunny autumn Saturday at the Southeast-Rio Vista YMCA in the city of Maywood, kids colored drawings and played Jenga while their parents and other family members underwent basic health screenings conducted by volunteer nurses.

After their bloodwork and other tests were done, the people met with doctors from medical centers in southeast Los Angeles County to discuss their results. Aided by Spanish-language translators, the doctors also gave advice about everything from medications to old injuries — anything the patients wanted to know.

The free event, attended by about 40 community members plus their children, was the first mobile community health clinic hosted by the International Collegiate Health Initiative. Founded two years ago by UCLA junior psychobiology major Ahmad Elhaija, the initiative aims to increase access to affordable, high-quality medical care in low-income and refugee communities in Los Angeles through mobile community health clinics and social advocacy.

“I thought, what can we do here that’ll make a big impact, where we can affect the statistics of a community, their health outcomes?” he said.

Elhaija drew inspiration for the project from two aspects of his youth in Anaheim — growing up frequently sick without consistent health insurance and his volunteer work assisting Arab and Muslim refugees.

Given the need for this kind of service, Elhaija applied for the annual Donald A. Strauss Foundation scholarship to help implement his vision. Each year, the Strauss Foundation awards 10 to 15 students from across 14 California colleges a $15,000 scholarship which is divided between the student’s educational costs and a grant for the public service project they propose in their application.

Elhaija was the only UCLA student to win the $15,000 scholarship in 2019. In 2018, two UCLA students won the Strauss scholarship; their projects helped transfer students prepare for doctoral programs, and provided therapy and support for K-12 students who stutter.

Photo of Ahmad Elhaija

Ahmad Elhaija Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

As part of the scholarship, Elhaija was assigned a mentor to advise him on his project. Elhaija’s mentor, Marc Anthony Branch, is a program officer for sustainable development for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and an expert in grant writing. Elhaija relied on Branch’s knowledge to improve his grant writing skills.

“I set him up with my grant-writing team, and he was really pivotal in actually getting us moving forward,” Elhaija said. “Before him, we didn’t really have much progress in grant writing, so having him on board and him giving his expertise was really cool. He knows what grant-giving organizations are looking for and he has some good contacts in that realm as well.”

Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Anaheim, Elhaija was frequently sick from asthma and a rare blood disorder called cyclic neutropenia. His family didn’t always have health insurance, and although they worked hard to support and care for him, they were often left with high hospital bills.

While his family’s difficulty navigating his health care opened his eyes to the importance of providing affordable care, as a teenager Elhaija also volunteered at the nonprofit Access California Services, which provides support and resources to Arab and Muslim refugees in Anaheim. He said that volunteering with the organization and seeing the services for refugees that were still lacking inspired him to think of ways he could help.

So when Elhaija got to UCLA in 2017, he formed the International Collegiate Health Initiative with the goal to provide medical care to refugees in countries like Syria and Palestine. Through his volunteer work and visiting his own family in the Middle East, Elhaija learned that college campuses would be the safest places to provide medical services in the region.

However, finances and logistics made it more productive for Elhaija to focus his efforts on refugee and low-income communities closer to home. So he switched the initiative’s focus to offering mobile community health clinics in southeast Los Angeles.

The initiative is managed by a team of 20 students, a board of directors and professional advisers who offer guidance and medical services for the clinics. The clinic in Maywood, held on Nov. 16, was the organization’s first mobile health clinic. Another is planned for the city of Bell in February.

The ICHI’s ultimate goal is to raise enough money for a mobile clinic van, and to expand to other cities in California or even overseas.

“The idea is that we could have our full blown mobile clinic running in the fall of next year, where we can provide basically every type of care that a standard clinic can provide,” Elhaija said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of student smiling.

Meet UCLA Student Researcher Julia Nakamura

Photo of student smiling.

Fourth-year UCLA student researcher Julia Nakamura

Meet fourth-year UCLA student researcher Julia Nakamura!

Julia majors in Psychobiology with a minor in Gerontology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The title of her research project is “The Role of Social Support in the Association between Early Life Stress, Depression, and Inflammation in Older Adults.”

 

How did you first get interested in your research project?

UCLA’s Cluster course “Frontiers in Human Aging” initially sparked my interest in aging populations. Through a service learning project at ONEgeneration Adult Day Care Center, I directly witnessed the burden of chronic disease in later-life adults and realized the pressing need to understand the mechanisms underlying these adverse health outcomes. Through my coursework in psychology, I became interested in the psychological factors that influence biological mechanisms and have the potential to positively impact the trajectory of chronic disease outcomes.

I began research in psychology in Dr. Julienne Bower’s Mind-Body Lab under the direction of Dr. Kate Kuhlman. We study the effects of childhood adversity on biological and behavioral responses to psychological stress. My experiences in this lab led me to wonder what factors could mitigate adverse physical and mental health outcomes from stressful experiences, specifically in older adults. My honors research project examines if social support moderates the relationship between early-life stress, depressive symptoms, and inflammation in older adults using data from the Health and Retirement Study.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Getting to test my own research questions has been the best part of this project. Specifically, it has been really exciting for me to run my own data analyses for the first time with Dr. Kuhlman’s guidance. Experiencing the “behind-the-scenes” of research and systematically moving through the steps of conducting an independent project has been really informative. This project has helped me to feel that I am truly developing the skill set of an independent researcher, which is very exciting!

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

The immensely collaborative nature of research in academia was quite surprising to me when I first started on this project. Through my research, I’ve had the privilege of working with several scientists and professors who are experts in their respective areas of study. They have all welcomed me and helped to make my project as scientifically sound and comprehensive as possible. Research really builds on itself. Learning from other people’s projects and ideas, even if they are outside of your immediate area of study, can result in high levels of collaboration and really interesting research!

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

I would advise students interested in research to actively pursue research opportunities. There are plenty of amazing opportunities to be involved in research at UCLA, but you have to seek them out. It can be intimidating to take the initial steps to reach out to professors and discuss their research interests, but it is so worthwhile to find a lab and professor that are a good fit! I would recommend that students find an area of study that they are really passionate about. I think that your passion for your area of study and your continued curiosity will drive your research questions and help you get the most out of each research experience.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope to spend my life contributing to our understanding of the biobehavioral processes that promote mental and physical health across the lifespan. As the number of older adults (a majority of whom have at least one chronic disease) increase in our society, it is now more important than ever to identify potential intervention targets that can improve the trajectory of chronic disease outcomes.

This article originally appeared on the Undergraduate Research Center website.

Maripau Paz, Inaugural Arthur Ashe Scholar

UCLA College senior Maripau Paz has been selected as the first ever recipient of the 2019-2020 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, established to recognize and support students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

Since arriving at UCLA as a first-generation college student, Paz has committed herself to inspiring others on campus. Paz has worked in various leadership roles to aid student retention and enhance the undergraduate experience for her peers at UCLA, all while pursuing a double major in political sciences and global studies.

Paz spent three years as the head administrative clerk for New Student Programs in UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program, a federally funded diversity-outreach program that supports low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, and students with disabilities, by connecting them to the resources they need to succeed. In addition, she served for two years as a new student advisor for the incoming Freshman and Transfer Student class, providing academic counsel to more than 200 students and their families.

Paz also served as professional outreach director in the Student Alumni Association, where she helped prepare students for the world post-graduation by hosting workshops on resume building, applying for internships and interview skills. During her senior year, Paz is serving as executive director of the professional development committee on the board of directors for the Student Alumni Association.

On the academic front, Paz presented her research on immigration and public opinion at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week in May and is starting work on an honors senior thesis that will further expand on this topic. Following graduation, she plans to pursue a joint Law and Master’s degree in Public Policy and work on issues pertaining to human rights, refugees and immigrant communities.

Read more: https://www.college.ucla.edu/2019/08/23/arthur-ashes-most-impactful-serve-the-national-junior-tennis-league/

Disabled dancers learn to redefine the aesthetics of movement at UCLA

Photo of two women performing a dance duet.

Harmanie Taylor, left, and Vanessa Cruz perform a duet during the Dancing Disability Lab at UCLA. Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

As the 10 dancers moved across the studio floor in Kaufman Hall, their instructor closely watched how each dancer’s body movements transitioned from one to the next.

Victoria Marks, associate dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and professor of choreography, offered encouragement and challenged the dancers to pay closer attention to the way they could shape space both individually and in pairs. Two dancers in wheelchairs faced each other, raising their arms in intricate patterns. Others incorporated crutches or a chair into their actions.

“You are a mover and a maker. You can make us see things,” Marks said to the group, her voice the only sound in the studio as the dancers worked without music. “You have that power, not just in what you’re doing but how you’re doing it.”

The dancers, hailing from around the world, came together for a week in June for UCLA’s Dancing Disability Lab, which was hosted by world arts and cultures/dance and the disability studies minor. They spent their time discussing disability activism and performance, developing their movement skills, creating choreography and exploring how dance can transform and challenge ideas about the body and personhood.

The UCLA Disability Inclusion Lab is a cross-disciplinary initiative designed to reframe cultural understanding and practices around the concept of disability through academic courses and community engagement. Each lab will build and strengthen networks of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and community leaders to transform the discourse and awareness surrounding disability. The Dancing Disability Lab was UCLA’s second such project following the Autism Media Lab in the spring.

“I felt from the conception that UCLA was in a position to do something very different from what dance companies across the country are doing for dancers with disabilities,” Marks said. “Because we have a disability studies minor and a dance major, I thought UCLA could combine those resources, making dances and also talking about how what they create engages and changes ideas about disability.”

Each day included seminars on the history of disabled dance and performance, which included watching clips of dance and performance art made by disabled artists and discussions on topics such as access and the use of mobility aids in dance. In one discussion, the dancers and instructors debated whether mobility aids like wheelchairs and crutches could be considered “costumes” (while some supported the idea, others were staunchly opposed).

After the daily seminar, the dancers attended workshops on movement development and choreography. They practiced breathing techniques and explored how their experiences inform their dancing.

Mel Chua, a postdoc in biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech, said she was hesitant to apply for the program because she assumed that her previous dance training (through classes and a contemporary dance company as an undergraduate) wasn’t advanced enough. But Chua came to realize that she only felt unqualified precisely because, as a deaf person, she hasn’t ever had access to dance training like what she experienced at UCLA.

American Sign Language interpreters provided for her throughout the week enabled Chua to engage in spoken, scholarly discussions about dance for the first time, she said.

“I’ve mostly followed dance classes in the past through sight, just watching and copying, but I don’t know the language for dancing since I don’t know how people talk about dancing in English,” Chua said. “Having access to the rhetoric of dance, the way we talk about dance in English — the terminology — in discussion for the first time was amazing because I got to be part of dancers discussing dance, and that’s something I never get to do.”

Another first for Chua and many other dancers was getting to dance with a group of exclusively disabled dance artists. Instead of being the only disabled person in the class, feeling pigeonholed by their disability or having to translate choreography designed for non-disabled dancers, they were united in how they each expanded dancing conventions, Chua said.

Photo of a group of dancers performing on stage,

Instructor Alice Sheppard, left, performs a piece with the Dancing Disability Lab participants at the public showcase. Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Vanessa Cruz, a dance major at Cal State Long Beach who has arthrogryposis (a condition in which the joints are fixed or their movement is restricted) and scoliosis, said she has only ever trained with non-disabled dancers and is accustomed to figuring out how to fit into an art form that caters to people without disabilities, which can be lonely.

Being in a dance workshop where everyone had a disability was empowering and eye-opening.

“It made me feel like I have a voice in this crazy world,” Cruz said. “It was the first time I felt like I belonged anywhere.”

Cruz and Chua both said they are not looking to inspire others or receive sympathy for the challenges they face. Although the idea of inclusion often focuses on bringing disabled and non-disabled people together, Chua believes it’s important for disabled people to have spaces that are just their own. Dancing Disability was exactly what she and her fellow participants needed to advance the field of dance and disability.

“It’s only when we figure out our own maturation of our own practice that we can come out from that place of having our own disabled practice and engage with yours,” Chua said. “There is something that abled people cannot give us, and they don’t need to understand or see what it is, but they need to trust that something is there and that it is important and they should support us having it, even if they never see it or perceive themselves as benefiting from it or learning from it.”

For Cruz, the lab gave disabled artists a chance to be heard and seen differently than what some might be accustomed to — a necessary step in ensuring that non-disabled people will be allies who provide ongoing support for equal access and inclusion.

“People need to know we exist. Dance is the perfect platform to allow our humanity to come through,” Cruz said. “People are either inspired by me or they feel sorry for me because that’s how the media has shaped our identity, but dance can change that.”

Dancing Disability was co-taught by Marks, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, professor of English and bioethics at Emory University and co-director of the Emory College Disability Studies Initiative, and Alice Sheppard, a disabled dancer and choreographer. The week concluded with a public showcase at Kaufman Hall’s black box theater on June 28.

Marks said the lab showed her how much disabled dancers have to offer to an ever-changing exploration of what dance is and can be.

“There was a sense of full-bodied moving and a ton of imagination — the wit, intelligence and signature of each of the artists,” Marks said. “These artists have so much to offer all of us in terms of opening ourselves to what it means to be human and to be joyous and witty and funny and live life in all the complexities that life offers.”

She also recognized the need for disabled people to be leaders in discussions about inclusion and equal access, which is what the Dancing Disability Lab was designed to facilitate.

“UCLA has always been at the forefront of social justice movements and has recognized the need to address diversity, equity and inclusion, and so this lab is part of what UCLA continues to do,” Marks said. “It’s a tremendous contribution to the field of dance, and if dance represents people and our values and ideas, then it becomes part of that larger civic conversation about who we are.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion

UCLA College Celebrates Centennial Graduates

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion taking selfies

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion

 

Amid cheers and tears of happiness, the centennial class of UCLA celebrated both its graduation and the 100 years of UCLA’s existence at today’s commencement ceremonies, embracing the message that extraordinary changes don’t happen inevitably, but because people like this year’s graduates fight for it.

About 6,000 seniors were expected at the UCLA College commencement ceremonies in Pauley Pavilion at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., joined by more than 20,000 friends, family members and guests. At dozens of ceremonies across campus this graduation season, UCLA awarded roughly 8,400 undergraduate degrees and 5,000 graduate degrees, including just over 600 Ph.D.s.

Anna Lee Fisher speaking

Anna Lee Fisher speaking

This year’s UCLA College graduates include students like Haya Kaliounji, a Syrian immigrant whose organization, Rise Again, has helped more than 40 Syrian amputees get prosthetic limbs, and Helen and Rachel Lee, first-generation college students and twins who are working with state legislators to repeal the sales tax on menstrual products.

In its first 100 years, UCLA has become the most applied-to university in the country and is often ranked as the nation’s No. 1 public university. Bruins have earned 13 Nobel Prizes and three Pulitzers. Roughly a third of UCLA undergraduates are first-generation college students, and a similar number come from low-income families.

For the first time, the commencement program included an acknowledgment of the Tongva people as the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin. In his address, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block reminded the audience that students led or aided many positive changes – like the creation of UCLA’s prestigious ethnic studies centers, or programs to support students who are veterans, undocumented, transfers, parents or foster youth.

While UCLA can still improve, it has made dramatic changes for the better since 1919, Block said.

“We better embody the aspirations of all our members, and we are a lot more diverse — we represent a much more diverse and interesting family than we did when we started,” Block said. “All that has changed on this campus hasn’t changed by accident. It’s changed because of students, faculty and staff, alumni and others like you, who said ‘UCLA can do better.’”

Astronaut and three-time UCLA alumna Anna Lee Fisher delivered the keynote address at both ceremonies, telling students that her path to success was neither smooth nor guaranteed, but the result of perseverance in the face of setbacks, learning from mistakes, and back-up plans.

When she couldn’t become an astronaut because women weren’t allowed to be test pilots, she decided to become a doctor so NASA would send her up to care for other astronauts. When she didn’t get into medical school on her first try, she got her master’s degree in chemistry – a degree that was instrumental in her selection as one of the first six female astronauts.

“Sometimes, when you read or hear about a person who appears to be successful, it sounds as though it was smooth sailing the entire time,” Fisher said. “I’ve had many missteps and disappointments along the way, and inevitably, you will, as well. Learn from those experiences and use that newfound knowledge to continue to pursue your dreams.”

Through it all, she said the hardest things she ever did were leaving her then-14-month-old daughter during her first space flight, and returning to NASA after the birth of her second daughter.

“I also, incidentally … became the first mother to fly in space,” Fisher said. “I did not consider it a big deal, as most of my male colleagues had children as well. But of course my daughter says I owe it all to her. … For you parents and families, as you can see, even though I have three degrees, have been a doctor and an astronaut and have flown in space, I am still ‘just Mom’ to them.”

Graduating senior Kaitlyn Kim delivered the student speech at the 2 p.m. ceremony, noting that she has seen first hand how UCLA’s embrace of first-generation college students, immigrants and low-income families can lift up the generations that follow – because her parents were South Korean immigrants who both graduated from UCLA.

Student speaker Kaitlyn Kim

Student speaker Kaitlyn Kim

“Just because my parents and I went to the same school does not mean we had the same experience,” Kim said. “My dad worked as an on-campus vending machine cart driver in order to pay for his tuition, and my mom was a commuter student, responsible for taking care of her two younger siblings.”

Kim’s parents made it possible for her to live on campus and focus on her studies instead of working long hours at a job, she said. Soon, the California native and communications major starts her new job as a fashion buyer for a Fortune 500 company.

“Because of the sacrifices they made, my parents paved the path for me,” Kim said. Just as her parents lit the way for her and UCLA lit the way for them, she added, “let us hope to bring light to the entire world, one Bruin at a time.”

Graduating senior Ashraf Beshay delivered the student speech at the 7 p.m. ceremony. Beshay came to the United States as an asylum seeker to escape threats after taking part in the Egyptian Revolution. His mother, whom he hadn’t seen for five years, was able to visit UCLA for the first time to see Beshay and his sister both graduate, and the siblings have kept his role as student speaker a secret to surprise her. Commitment to each other and the betterment of society should be the graduates’ promise, according to his prepared speech.

“It is that promise that manifests into our social justice movements and strengthens our conviction that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that immigration is beautiful, that we are now standing on Native American land, that women’s rights are human rights, and equal labor deserves equal pay, and that ‘the world is over-armed and peace is so sorely underfunded,’” Beshay wrote in his remarks. “These very basic human principles must guide our engagement with a world so far from where it needs to be, to be just.”

As Friday’s first commencement ceremony drew to a close, Block formally conferred the bachelor’s degrees to raucous applause. Kim stepped forward once more to lead her fellow students in the turning of the tassels to the left, one of their last college rituals.

“Graduates, let me congratulate all of us on becoming the newest alumni of UCLA – as the Class of 2019!” Kim said. The new graduates flung their hats in the air before pouring out of Pauley Pavilion to greet family members, perhaps remembering some of Fisher’s final words – words with extra resonance, coming from an astronaut.

“You, too, can aim for the stars,” she told them. “The sky is the limit.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Eyes on the horizon, mortarboard reads
Student researchers on the beach hold up water samples for the camera

Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research to develop courses that bring research to L.A. community organizations

Student researchers on the beach hold up water samples for the camera

Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research to develop courses that bring research to L.A. community organizations

With the launch of the inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research, both undergraduate students and faculty have new opportunities to pursue research that impacts not just academia, but also local communities of Los Angeles.

The Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research comes from the UCLA Center for Community Learning and the Chancellor’s Office and has awarded six faculty members each a $10,000 research grant to develop a new undergraduate research course. In each course, students will carry out research activities in partnership with local community organizations. The course will advance their professor’s research goals and also benefit the communities served by each organization.

Over the next academic year, the six faculty will participate in a workshop on best practices for teaching undergraduate community-engaged research and attend quarterly meetings to advance their course design. By the end of spring 2020, each faculty will have a new course syllabus, ready to be offered to undergraduates in 2020-21 or 2021-22.

Shalom Staub, director of the Center for Community Learning, said the research reflects some of the most critical issues affecting people in and around UCLA.

“The range of issues includes representation of minority communities, health disparities, education disparities, environmental justice – that’s a catalogue of the big issues facing Los Angeles and southern California communities,” he said.

Maylei Blackwell, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, will develop a course called “The Latin American Indigenous Diaspora in Los Angeles: Mapping Place through Community Archives and Oral Histories.” Students will work with Zapotec and Mayan community organizations in Los Angeles to conduct interviews with community leaders and archive historical records such as community newspapers and home videos.

“I thought this course would be a perfect opportunity for community engagement: how do we produce those histories, how do we support those communities in documenting their own history, and [how do we] let the communities control how the process happens?” Blackwell said.

Chancellor Gene Block said the benefits of the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research are threefold.

“Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty, and benefits our community,” Block said. “The Community-Engaged Research Scholars will deepen UCLA’s commitment to public service by creating more opportunities for students and faculty to pursue research that has a positive impact on our world.”

Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology, is developing a course titled “Making Data Useful for Educational Improvement.” Students will analyze student and staff survey data from elementary, middle, and high schools, and present those data to school and district staff to help inform school improvement efforts.

The idea for the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research is “brilliant,” Phillips said.

“This award recognizes faculty for their community-engaged research efforts and at the same time creates a new set of community-engaged course offerings for undergraduates,” she said. “This first set of courses is just the beginning of what I expect will eventually be an extensive suite of courses, across a wide range of disciplines, that will connect UCLA students’ research training with the needs of our local community.”

Read more about the inaugural 2019-2020 cohort in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Haya Kaliounji

UCLA graduate helps victims of Syrian war ‘rise again’

Photo of Haya Kaliounji

Through her non-profit, Haya Kaliounji has provided free prosthetic devices to more than 40 people who lost limbs in the Syrian civil war. Credit: Rebecca Kendall/UCLA

Haya Kaliounji’s nonprofit provides wounded people in her home country with free prosthetic limbs

When Haya Kaliounji thinks of Iron Man, she doesn’t envision the Marvel superhero. Instead she sees the 6-year-old boy who lost his legs after his home was struck by a missile as he played on his balcony.

“He was under the rubble and his mother was looking for him,” said Kaliounji, who will graduate from UCLA this week with a bachelor’s degree in physiological sciences. “I don’t think he was crying, she just saw his hair from under the rubble and they took him out.”

Today, he runs and plays like other kids and is healing psychologically and physically.

“His friends call him Iron Man,” she said.

It is children like him who were on her mind in 2015 when Kaliounji, a Syrian immigrant, founded Rise Again, a non-profit organization that provides free prosthetics to people — mostly children — who have been victims of violence during the ongoing war in Syria. It is their stories Kaliounji tells when she’s trying to raise money and awareness about the losses these children and their families have experienced and continue to experience.

When Rise Again started it was estimated that there were 40,000 people living with war-related amputations. That number is even larger now, Kaliounji said.

According to the World Bank, more than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. In addition, 5 million have sought refuge in other countries, including thousands who have come to the United States. Another 6 million people have been displaced within Syria. And 540,000 people continue to live in areas under siege.

Rise Again began as a project designed to help Kaliounji earn her Gold Award, the most prestigious honor given by the Girl Scouts. Her goal was modest — to help three people.

Naim Maraashly, a well-known medical technician in Syria, remembers the day Kaliounji called him to tell him about her project.

“I didn’t really believe it,” said Marasshly, who produces the prosthetics and teaches the recipients how to walk and use their new limbs. “I told myself it would be for a recipient or two. But she surprised me with her work and dedication.”

Over the years Kaliounji has raised money for Rise Again by speaking to community groups, organizing fundraisers at St. Anne Melkite Catholic Cathedral in North Hollywood, and through a GoFundMe campaign, recycling drives and sales of hand-made crafts. One of her professors at Pasadena City College, which she attended prior to enrolling at UCLA, even wove Rise Again into a graded fundraising opportunity for her class.

During the past four years, Rise Again, with assistance from St. Anne’s, and Maraashly, have assessed, fitted and supplied more than 40 individuals, ranging in age from 3 to 60, with prosthetic limbs, which range from $300 to $1,000 depending on if the device is being fitted for a child or for an adult and how many joints the prosthetic has.

“I feel like it gives them hope,” Kaliounji said.

One recipient was 4-year-old who got fitted with a new hand. There was the young man who lost a leg and who has since been able to return to his job as a baker. There was also the mother of six who lost both legs above the knee and whose inability to walk and work left her and her children in desperate need.

“Helping her meant I was helping an entire family,” said Kaliounji, whose dream is to expand Rise Again so she can provide sustained service in Syria and to become a doctor to help underserved communities around the world.

Maraashly, who works out of a small clinic that has also endured several bombings, said the need remains desperate.

“The war has been on for eight years now, with no electricity, no gas, no fuel,” he wrote in an email. “Medications and food are very expensive compared to income. It’s very hard to find work, people are displaced from their homes. Some children are able to go to school, others can’t.”

He said Haya’s work is imperative because there are many people in need who don’t have the means to pay for prosthetics or to replace them.

“We always try to find the poorest of people, especially those who show the will to go back to school and work after getting the device,” Maraashly wrote, noting that many people who have benefited from Rise Again have resumed their studies and employment.

Kaliounji has fond memories of growing up in Aleppo. She attended a local French school, took painting and drawing classes and piano lessons, was a dedicated Girl Scout and a member of the Syrian national under-14 tennis team. Then in 2011 violence erupted. She was 13.

By February 2012, Aleppo was under siege and enveloped in the violence. In the months that followed there were shootings and noise bombs, Kaliounji said.

“Our piano was next to the balcony window,” she recalled describing a day her lesson was interrupted. “Our house shook and we saw smoke in the horizon.”

When Kaliounji’s school closed, the family decided to move to neighboring Lebanon until it reopened. Her sister was already in Beirut for college and her brother was set to enroll at school there that fall.

“After three or four months we realized that the situation was getting worse and worse and that it was not a good idea to go back to Syria, especially for the safety of the kids,” said her mother, Fadia Kaliounji.

The family was able to move to Southern California, where some of their extended family had settled. They arrived in 2013.

“I feel like a lot of people got lucky to be able to leave, but there are so many people still there and they don’t have anything left,” Haya said. “This is why I do this work.”

Haya’s mother, who was a Girl Scout leader for 28 years in Syria, said that she wasn’t surprised by her youngest child’s ambitions because she has always been a kind-hearted person who thinks about and cares about others.

“I was so proud of her that she wanted to give back to her community in Syria,” mom said. “Especially for these young kids who have nothing to do with this war, but are affected.”

When the family enters UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on June 14 to attend Haya’s graduation, they will take pride in knowing that she will be the second one to earn a UCLA degree. Haya’s brother, Aboud, graduated magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2017 and is entering his second year of medical school in Grenada.

“I feel so proud of Haya and so proud for the family because we had the chance to have two children graduate from UCLA,” Fadia said. “Coming from Syria and from the war and have the opportunity to have two children graduate from UCLA, one of the best in the nation, is a big deal. I am so proud of them because they really worked hard.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model.

UCLA students touch space with a microgravity experiment

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model.

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model. Credit: Andrew Evans/Bruin Space

Magnetic pump built by Bruin Space launches on Blue Origin reusable rocket

It took only 10 minutes and a ride aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard reusable rocket for 11 students in the Bruin Spacecraft Group to make history.

At 6:32 a.m. on May 2, their experimental pump designed for use in zero-gravity environments, named “Blue Dawn,” completed its flight into a low-Earth orbit and freefall — thereby becoming the first space payload developed and built entirely by a UCLA student group.

“The goal was to see if we could design an efficient fluid pump without any moving parts to work in zero-gravity, which has never been done before,” said Alexander Gonzalez, fourth-year physics major and undergrad science lead on the project. Such a low-maintenance pump would be ideal for moving various liquids on the International Space Station, and could reduce the risk of motorized pump failures for rovers and even future bases on the moon or Mars.

The New Shepard rocket roared into the deep blue West Texas sky, ferrying a suite of 38 separate microgravity research experiments, including two built by student groups at UCLA and Case Western Reserve University.

For Blue Dawn, the UCLA team had to design a system containing the fluid, pump tubing, magnets and electronics in a custom aluminum frame that was about the size of a football and with a maximum weight of one pound.

Work began on the project in fall 2017. After designing it, the team of 11 students from several majors then manufactured and tested the pump entirely on campus. The Bruin Spacecraft Group, known as Bruin Space, secured primary funding for their project in 2017 by winning a grant from the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research Ken Souza Spaceflight Competition.

“It’s super exciting to directly apply the knowledge we gained in classes and actually build something that went into space,” said Andrew Evans, a third-year majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering and who served as chief engineer. He stressed the value of hands-on team experience gained in such projects.

“That’s what Bruin Space is all about, solving real science questions while giving students an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of spaceflight,” Evans said.

To be judged a success, Blue Dawn had to operate fully autonomously during its 10-minute flight and freefall back to Earth. Once the capsule chutes deployed and it touched down softly in the desert, Chloe Liau, fourth-year mechanical and aerospace engineering student and structure/fabrication lead, breathed a sigh of relief.

“Seeing all our hard work pay off with a perfect launch and landing, it was nothing short of amazing,” Liau said. “But we still have a job to finish.”

The payload and flight data will be returned to UCLA this week, so that the team can analyze the pump’s performance in microgravity. They expect the flow in space to be more efficient compared to its performance in ground tests under the influence of gravity.

The team plans to publish the results of this first study and present at conferences, giving these students the experience of seeing a space mission end-to-end.

Team members said that it would not have been possible without the expert guidance of two geophysics and space physics Ph.D. students from the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences: science advisor Emily Hawkins and project manager Lydia Bingley. The group was also supported by Richard Wirz, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, and Chris Russell, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences, whose prototyping lab facilities were used to build and test Blue Dawn.

What’s next for Bruin Space?

“We have several other exciting projects in development, from weather balloons and rocket campaigns, to designing a microsatellite propulsion system,” Evans said. “We are always looking for new members, check out our website at BruinSpace.com to learn more.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, first mother in space, to deliver 2019 UCLA College centennial commencement address

Photo of Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Chemist, physician, astronaut and UCLA alumna will speak at Pauley Pavilion, June 14

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Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, a chemist, physician and member of NASA’s first astronaut class to include women — as well as the first mother in space and a three-time UCLA graduate — will be the distinguished speaker for the UCLA College commencement on Friday, June 14.

Fisher will speak at both commencement ceremonies, which are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion, as the campus continues the celebration of its centennial year.

“Anna Fisher is an extraordinary illustration of what one person can achieve with determination, focus and hard work,” said Patricia Turner, senior dean of the UCLA College. “She is an example to all Bruins that one can truly reach beyond the stars. I know our graduates and their guests will be inspired by her wonderful journey as we celebrate all that UCLA has accomplished over the past 100 years and look forward to all that is yet to come.”

Fisher was selected by NASA in 1978 to be among the agency’s first female astronauts. In 1983, just two weeks before delivering her daughter, she was assigned to her flight on the space shuttle Discovery, and she embarked on mission STS-51A in 1984 when her daughter was just 14 months old — making her the first mother in space.

She has served NASA in several capacities throughout her career. In addition to serving on space missions, Fisher was the chief of the Astronaut Office’s Space Station branch, where she had a significant role in building the foundation for the International Space Station. She also worked in the mission control center as a lead communicator to the space station.

Before retiring in 2017, Fisher was a management astronaut working on display development for NASA’s pioneering Orion spacecraft, which will take astronauts farther into the solar system than they have ever gone.

Prior to orbiting the Earth, Fisher pushed into new frontiers at UCLA. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1971, an M.D. in 1976, and a master’s in chemistry 1987.

UCLA will hold two centennial commencements — the June 2019 ceremonies help kick off the campus’s 100th year, and the 2020 ceremonies wrap up the yearlong celebration. More information about the ceremonies are available at the UCLA College Commencement website.