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A photo of Patricia Greenfield.

Patricia Greenfield honored for child development research

A photo of Patricia Greenfield.

Patricia Greenfield (Photo Credit: Anthony Elgort)

Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology, has been honored with the Society for Research in Child Development’s Distinguished Contributions to the Interdisciplinary Understanding of Child Development Award.

She was honored for “cutting-edge, integrative work across developmental psychology, anthropology, sociology, communication, ecology, economics, textiles, gender/ethnic/racial studies, education, linguistics, primate sciences, pediatrics and neuroscience,” as well as for “exemplary impactful efforts to organize conferences, volumes, training programs and research centers that foster interdisciplinary work.”

Greenfield has authored more than 250 research publications, and her research has been translated into 10 languages. Her primary theoretical and research interests focus on the relationship between culture and human development.

This February, she and her colleagues published a study on how American values, attitudes and activities have changed dramatically during COVID-19. It was the lead research article in a special issue of the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies dedicated to the pandemic.

In addition to studying American culture, Greenfield has studied the Zinacantec Maya women of Chiapas, Mexico, and the woven and embroidered clothing that expresses their values. Among her other research subjects is the teenage brain on social media.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

Renee Tajima-Peña wins Peabody for ‘Asian Americans’ docuseries

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña, series producer of “Asian Americans.” (Photo Credit: Claudio Rocha)

“Asian Americans,” the five-part miniseries created for PBS by Renee Tajima-Peña, UCLA professor of Asian American studies, has received a Peabody Award.

The series, which aired in spring 2020, tells stories of struggle, progress and solidarity from the perspectives of multiple Asian American communities, highlighting their national, ethnic, religious, political, linguistic and cultural diversity.

Tajima-Peña’s production company shares the Peabody with the Center for Asian American Media, public broadcaster WETA-TV, postproduction house Flash Cuts and the Independent Television Service. The series was honored by the Peabody Awards for “its revelatory storytelling as a demonstration of activism and solidarity in the American story and fight for justice and dignity.”

“We’re all thrilled not only by the award, but the recognition that this history matters, at a time when we’re in the throes of a backlash to ethnic studies and to a perspective of American history that acknowledges the central role of systemic racism,” said Tajima-Peña, who is also the director of the UCLA Center for Ethnocommunications.

An Academy Award–nominated film director (“Who Killed Vincent Chin?”), she said she also feels like the current moment is powerful in the fight for racial justice and equity.

“Other people are really hungry to understand who we are today by understanding our past,” Tajima-Peña said. “Over the last 15 months, we’ve seen stereotypes of Asian Americans weaponized, as either the perpetual foreigner and walking virus, or the model minority deployed as a wedge against other people of color. In all the episodes of ‘Asian Americans,’ we tried to connect those fault lines from our arrival as immigrants to the current moment, and to center the resilience and activism of Asian Americans in resisting systemic racism.”

Watch award-winning actress Sandra Oh announce the Peabody recognition for “Asian Americans.”

Two years in the making, “Asian Americans” was a very UCLA-centric project. Grace Lee, an alumna of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, directed two of the episodes. Several other alumni were crew members on multiple episodes. And David Yoo, a professor of Asian American studies and history and vice provost of the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, served as lead scholar on the project.

Respected for its integrity and revered for its standards of excellence, the Peabody represents a high honor for creators of television, podcast/radio and digital media. Chosen each year by a diverse board of jurors through unanimous vote, Peabody Awards are given in the categories of entertainment, documentary, news, podcast/radio, arts, children’s and youth, public service and multimedia programming. Founded in 1940 at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, the Peabody Awards are based in Athens, Georgia.

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

A photo of Aurora borealis in Alaska

‘Surfing’ particles: Physicists solve a mystery surrounding aurora borealis

A photo of Aurora borealis in Alaska

Aurora borealis in Alaska (Photo Credit: Jean Beaufort)

The spectacularly colorful aurora borealis — or northern lights — that fills the sky in high-latitude regions has fascinated people for thousands of years. Now, a team of scientists has resolved one of the final mysteries surrounding its origin.

Scientists know that electrons and other energized particles that emanate from the sun as part of the “solar wind” speed down Earth’s magnetic field lines and into the upper atmosphere, where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules, kicking them into an excited state. These molecules then relax by emitting light, producing the beautiful green and red hues of the aurora.

What has not been well understood is precisely how groups of electrons accelerate through the magnetic field on the last leg of their journey, reaching speeds of up to 45 million mph. In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, that question is answered by physicists from UCLA, Wheaton College, the University of Iowa and the Space Science Institute.

A popular theory has been that electrons hitch a ride on Alfvén waves — a type of electromagnetic wave that spacecraft have frequently identified traveling Earthward along magnetic field lines above auroras. While space-based research has provided strong support for the theory, limitations inherent to spacecraft measurements have prevented a definitive test.

To overcome these limitations, the physicists conducted laboratory experiments on the Large Plasma Device at UCLA’s Basic Plasma Science Facility, a national collaborative research site supported jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

After reproducing conditions that mimicked those in Earth’s auroral magnetosphere, the team used specially designed instruments to launch Alfvén waves down the plasma device’s 20-meter–long chamber. Because Alfvén waves are thought to collect only a small portion of electrons in the plasma of space, the physicists focused on determining whether there were electrons that appeared to be traveling at a rate comparable to the electric field of the waves.

“This challenging experiment required a measurement of the very small population of electrons moving down the chamber at nearly the same speed as the Alfvén waves, numbering less than one in a thousand of the electrons in the plasma,” said Troy Carter, a professor of physics and director of the UCLA Plasma Science and Technology Institute.

“Measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergoes ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfvén wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave,” said Gregory Howes, an associate professor of physics at the University of Iowa.

Electrons surfing on Alfvén waves (yellow) streaming toward Earth collide with nitrogen and oxygen molecules (white); in upper altitudes, these collisions result in the emission of red light, while in lower altitudes the emitted light is green.

Electrons streaming toward Earth as they surf on Alfvén waves (yellow) collide with nitrogen and oxygen molecules (white); in upper altitudes, these collisions result in the emission of red light, while in lower altitudes the emitted light is green. (Photo Credit: Austin Montelius, University of Iowa)

Howes noted that these Alfvén waves appear following geomagnetic storms, space-based phenomena triggered by violent events on the sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These storms can cause what is known as “magnetic reconnection” in the Earth’s magnetic field, in which magnetic field lines are stretched like rubber bands, snap and then reconnect. These shifts launch Alfvén waves along the lines toward Earth.

And because regions of magnetic reconnection shift during a storm, the Alfvén waves — and their accompanying surfing electrons — travel along different field lines over that time period, ultimately leading to the shimmering glow of the aurora’s curtains of light, Carter said.

In physics, electrons surfing on the electric field of a wave is a phenomenon known as Landau damping, in which the energy of the wave is transferred to the accelerated particles. As part of their research, the team used an innovative analysis technique that combined measurements of the Alfvén waves’ electric field and the electrons to generate a unique signature of the electron acceleration by Landau damping. Through numerical simulations and mathematical modeling, the researchers demonstrated that the signature of acceleration measured in the experiment agreed with the predicted signature for Landau damping.

The agreement of experiment, simulation and modeling provides the first direct test showing that Alfvén waves can produce accelerated electrons that cause the aurora, Carter said.

“This experimental confirmation of the physics behind the aurora is due to persistent ingenuity of research groups at the University of Iowa and UCLA,” said Vyacheslav (Slava) Lukin, program director for Plasma Physics at the National Science Foundation, who was not involved in the research. “From student support via an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, to the NSF CAREER program for early career faculty, to the 25-year partnership between NSF and the Department of Energy that has enabled the unique capabilities of the Basic Plasma Science Facility, this is a success story of a discovery made possible by consistent support of the university research community.”

In addition to Howes and Carter, study authors included James Schroeder of Wheaton College, Craig Kletzing and Frederick Skiff of the University of Iowa, Stephen Vincena of UCLA, and Seth Dorfman of the Space Science Institute.

Further information on the research findings is available on Howes’ website.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

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

Camille Gaynus

Camille Gaynus: Marine Scientist on a Mission

A photo of Camille Gaynus

Camille Gaynus. Ph.D. ‘19 Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

By Bekah Wright

This belief led Camille Gaynus to earn her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA in 2019. There was an equally important mission to tackle: diversity in the sciences. “When I think about science, it’s not just about the methodology; it’s about getting it to the populations where it’s needed.”

A lifelong swimmer, Gaynus has always been in her element in water. During a high school summer internship, the Philadelphia native learned about Marine and Environmental Science (MES) and knew she’d found her calling. Enrolling in the MES program at Virginia’s Hampton University, a Historically Black College or University (HCBU), sealed the deal.

The summer after junior year, Gaynus jumped at the chance to get SCUBA-certified in Indonesia through a UCLA-HCBU program called The Diversity Project/Pathways to Ph.D.s in Marine Science.

That experience, coupled with meeting Professors Paul Barber and Peggy Fong, led her to apply to UCLA’s Ph.D. program and work in Fong’s research lab. While at UCLA, her field research took Gaynus to the coral reefs of Moorea, French Polynesia. Closer to home, she tutored youth at Inglewood’s Social Justice Learning Institute. “I remember talking to the students about nature and the ocean. With the ocean being in their backyard, I naively thought they must visit all the time.”

To introduce the kids to the world outside their neighborhoods, Gaynus raised a grant and organized a field trip to the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. After a tour of the campus, Bruin graduate students joined the high schoolers for lunch to share their college experiences. Determined to get the word out even farther, Gaynus gave talks at K-12 schools throughout Los Angeles, scuba gear in tow.

Gaynus was awarded the UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2019 and joined the University of Pennsylvania’s post-doctoral program. This summer, she’ll be stepping into the role of lecturer at Penn State Brandywine. Her other mission is still going strong, too.

Over a conversation with Dr. Tiara Moore, Ph.D. ’19, a fellow classmate from Hampton and UCLA, the duo shared frustration over being two of only a few people of color in their field. “It started off as, ‘We want our colleagues to know we’re here, and we want a space where we can just exist as Black marine scientists.” Black in Marine Science (BIMS) was born.

Initially, BIMS was slated as a week of events featuring Black marine scientists. BIMS success saw Gaynus and Moore using the leftover funds to establish it as a nonprofit. Budgeted, too, was money to pay honoraria to minority academics asked to speak on panels. And then there was the launch of BIMS Bites, a YouTube channel where Black marine scientists share nuggets of marine science knowledge. On the horizon… “We want to create a BIMS Institute,” Gaynus says. “A marine research space for Black marine scientists, along with a large citizen-science program for people in the community.”

Gaynus and Moore also created A WOC (pronounced A Woke) Space, a place for women of color to support one another and address areas such as the workplace where they’d like to see change. “One thing that unites us is seeing a problem and trying to be a part of the solution,” Gaynus says. “We really want to help women of color, and Black marine scientists, to survive and thrive.”

Reflecting on her journey, Gaynus can’t help but notice a theme. “When I look at the things I’ve done — like Black in Marine Science and A WOC Space — I feel they’re all about one thing: uniting.” Mission accomplished.

 

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In Conversation with Bradley Burnam ’01

By Bekah Wright


A photo of Bradley Burnam.

Bradley Burnam ’01, founding member of the recently formed UCLA Social Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board, says that delivering UCLA’s Department of Sociology’s 2019 commencement address was “the most amazing day of my life.” The theme: “Know Your Why.”

One might assume to know Burnam’s “why” from the story behind Turn Therapeutics, the biotechnology company he founded that specializes in advanced wound care and infection control. A severe skin and cartilage infection born of antibiotic resistant bacteria led to 19 surgeries on his scalp and ear. The technology he invented in his home-built laboratory ended up saving his own life and helping many others.

Q. What was your “why” when you headed to UCLA?

A. I really wasn’t certain what I was interested in when I started. And with UCLA being a big place, it was hard to find that in the first couple of years. While there, I became entrenched in a program through which students got to teach seminars on public speaking, study skills and speed-reading. It made me realize I really love to teach. I also was extremely interested in how to teach people with learning differences. When I left UCLA, all I wanted to do was teach.

I got my master’s in education at Stanford, and my thesis was on how to address ADHD without chemicals. After graduation, I worked with kids with learning disabilities. My life took several random turns after that, but my “why” never changed. Today, my company is my teaching platform and the subject is very personal, having been a victim of a recurring, antibiotic resistant infection.

Q. Who inspired your path?

A. My dad, who was a cardiologist, would go to the emergency room where someone was dying of a heart attack. An hour later, he’d be back home and that person would be alive. His having that kind of impact on people’s lives blew me away. Because of him, I wanted to be a healer.

Q. You’ve since worked with cardiology patients?

A. I was a medical device rep for two big pacemaker companies, a job that let me experience a little of what I dreamt about growing up. I’d be in the operating room tuning up what was controlling patients’ hearts and making sure they were beating properly. There were occasions where I’d notice the programming was wrong and could make a change that would allow that person to walk out an entirely different person

Q. What is success to you?

A. When I see photos and studies of patients whose limbs my company has saved from amputation or whose severe eczema outbreaks we have halted, that keeps me going. It’s a crazy thing to wake up and think, “My dad got to help a few people at a time. I get to help thousands at a time.”

Q. What does your future look like?

A. My immediate future is decidedly Turn’s future. I plan to grow this company as a major disruptor in the medtech and pharmaceutical space. Eventually, I want to go back and get my Ph.D. in social sciences with an emphasis in public health, then join the professor ranks while continuing to innovate in biotech.

Q. What advice would you give to others?

A. Figure out what you’re amazing at and then perfect it, rather than trying to be good at everything. Even if you have to take smaller wins over time and reduce instant gratification, don’t sacrifice the identity of your “why” over quick money. You’ll never forgive yourself.

Early on, there were people who wanted to take my technology and apply it to minimally impactful, but highly profitable indications. While it probably would have made a ton of money, I wouldn’t have received a single photo from a patient whose limb was saved thanks to this technology.

 

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The Uneven Impact of Remote Learning

 

By Robin Migdol  |  Illustration by Jeannie Phan

 

Among the classes in UCLA’s vast course catalog, “Health Disparities and the Environment” might not stand out, but undergraduates who enroll in it have a remarkable opportunity: They get to do research under the guidance of senior faculty in the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

A yearlong research course series with biology professor Paul Barber, the class is geared toward sophomore pre-med students from underrepresented groups to support their success in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors and maintain their path to medical school.

When UCLA transitioned to remote learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Barber and his students were faced with a question: How do we continue the research component of the class?

They had been preparing to research food-insecure communities of color in Los Angeles by interviewing people fishing at local piers and testing fish samples for chemical and microbial contaminants. But with the rise of COVID-19 and UCLA’s switch to remote learning, interviewing people in the community became impossible.

The students could easily have put all their research projects on hold until they could return to campus. Instead, they embarked on a new project to research disparities in how they and their peers were adjusting to remote learning.

RESEARCH IN REAL TIME

“The students decided they wanted to develop a survey to under-stand the experiences of UCLA students during remote instruction and try to understand whether the challenges that they were facing were unique to them,” Barber said.

Soon after UCLA had transitioned to remote learning, the campus launched several initiatives to help students. The Bruin Tech Grant provided laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots and tablets to students who needed them. The Administrative Vice Chancellor, UCLA Student Affairs and UCLA Library also published guides to help students stay organized, access digital resources, and manage their health and wellness.

Yet despite UCLA’s efforts to support students as they began learning remotely, the students in Barber’s class knew there were gaps in how they and their peers were managing.

“Our students realized that the experience they were having with remote learning was not necessarily the same experience that other students were having,” said Barber, who also directs the Undergraduate Research Center’s Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS).

With the support of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Center for Educational Assessment, the Academic Advancement Program, the registrar’s office, and then-Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia Turner, the students created a survey that was distributed to a random sampling of 20% of the undergraduate student body.

The survey included questions about student satisfaction with remote learning, technological barriers, ability to focus, student time demands, living situation, added responsibilities, financial issues, food insecurity and other COVID-19 related obstacles. The results showed that first-generation students and students from underrepresented communities, as well as STEM students, found the transition to remote learning more difficult than other students.

“One staggering statistic found was that technology limited the ability to engage in remote instruction for 42% of first-generation and 36.6% of underrepresented minority students,” said Jennifer Navarez, one of the student researchers who is now a senior majoring in human biology and society. “In addition, STEM students were less satisfied than non-STEM students with remote instruction.”

Student researcher and junior psychobiology major Alison Menjivar said, “All three groups experienced technological challenges such as Wi-Fi problems because they didn’t really have any access to a computer at home; they always relied on the technology at school. And then, this probably interfered with their participation in the classroom. So some people might not have been able to participate in discussions or attend lectures.”

INSIGHTS INFLUENCING CHANGE

Barber and the students organized their data in a report that was shared with Turner and others in the UCLA administration, including the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) and the COVID-19 continuity task force. Barber said there was “tremendous” interest in the survey’s findings, and while the campus had already enacted initiatives to support students during the pandemic, simply raising awareness of students’ experiences made a difference.

“Just by understanding the challenges students are facing, it increases faculty empathy for what students are going through,” Barber said. “Having that data and seeing the results is quite sobering. It’s made me think a lot more about the welfare of my students, and I checked in with them more to see how they’re doing.”

Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, director of CAT’s Center for Educational Assessment, said for him the report’s most important takeaway is that challenges faced by underrepresented and first-generation students are the result of disparities that existed long before remote learning began.

“Given that feedback from quarterly surveys of our students during COVID remote learning was generally positive, minus challenges with feeling a sense of community, this deeper look at different groups was enlightening,” he said.

The resulting paper was accepted for publication in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. Levis-Fitzgerald pointed out that completing and publishing a research paper in less than a year is a rare achievement, especially for undergraduates.

Doing research about their own challenges, then presenting that research to campus leaders who have the power to positively influence the students themselves, was a significant opportunity, Barber and the students said.

“I think the most significant outcome of this paper is that it will be used to influence change at UCLA and help assist professors in making equity-minded decisions to support all UCLA students,” Navarez said.

 

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Advancing Equality with Better Data

 

By Elizabeth Kivowitz  |  Photo by Matika Wilbur

 

A proud Northern Cheyenne Indian and Chicana, Desi Small-Rodriguez says that she’s a relative first, then a researcher and teacher, and thus considers herself a bit of an anomaly in academia.

“I need to remain accountable to my community,” said Small-Rodriguez, an assistant professor of sociology and Amer-ican Indian studies in the UCLA College and the first Indigenous woman to be jointly hired by the sociology department and the American Indian studies program. “That’s how many Indig-enous faculty feel. Academia can take you far away from the communities, lands and waters that ground you. I’m consistently reminded by mentors, ‘Always lift as you climb,’ because this is such a lonely path.”

In her research Small-Rodriguez examines those on the periph-ery of mainstream data collection efforts like government surveys and the U.S. Census, to understand the ways people in these groups are or are not being counted. She says these efforts often do a poor job of collecting data on Indigenous peoples, undocu-mented migrants, those experiencing homelessness, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, which causes harm and perpetuates inequality.

“The U.S. is the most unequal country of any of the developed countries in the world,” said Small-Rodriguez, who joined the UCLA faculty last fall. “I’m interested in how systems amplify suf-fering and why suffering is being disproportionately experienced by certain populations, and also systems of erasure and how erasure perpetuates inequality. If your literal presence is com-pletely erased, that is a unique form of inequality and injustice.”

MAKING DATA WORK TO BUILD EQUITY

Small-Rodriguez sees wide-ranging applications for her work that could drive systemic change in how data collection efforts are organized and operated – leading to better government decision-making and policy.

“Ultimately, I’m an optimist. I believe that just as structures of inequality were built and maintained, so too can they be dismantled and replaced,” Small-Rodriguez said. “And like most Indigenous scholars, I am called upon to work, advocate and serve in different directions. Being a professor is simply one of my dream jobs. I have many paths that will sustain me, and I believe that eventually all roads lead home.

“This means that part of my work in academia includes making myself literally obsolete. I want to train enough young scholars to take over this work, so that one day I can be back full-time on my homelands living the Cheyenne way of life in good relation with all that is seen and unseen.”

With her move to Los Angeles delayed due to the pandemic, Small-Rodriguez resides on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana where she grew up. Over the past few months, she has been encouraging people in her community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially given the disproportionate impact of the virus on Indigenous peoples early in the pandemic.

“I’m thankful for all the brave and amazing frontline medical workers and our tribal leaders who continue to exercise tribal sovereignty so that we can get all of our people vaccinated regardless of age or health status,” she said.

Small-Rodriguez also co-hosts “All My Relations,” the mostpopular podcast in the Indigenous world with more than 1 million downloads.

A LEAP OF FAITH INTO DEMOGRAPHY

As a student, Small-Rodriguez became interested in demography and social science because her sociology professor, one of the only Indigenous sociologists and demographers in the world, noticed her abilities in the field. He offered her a job with a Māori doctoral student he was advising who was doing research in New Zealand. She learned how to be a researcher and demographer working for tribes in New Zealand for many years, and then con-ducting the same type of work for tribes in the U.S.

“My time in New Zealand was life changing,” she said. While there, Small-Rodriguez worked on tribal census projects, community surveys, and social determinants of health and policy research. “It’s where I learned how to do research and build data by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples. I also learned about the boundaries of indigeneity and tribal belonging in ways that are far different than for Indigenous Peoples in North America. In New Zealand, Māori kinship is affirmed in very inclusive ways as compared to minimum blood quantum policies that we use here. That led to another area of my research understand-ing the boundaries of belonging for Indigenous peoples.”

Small-Rodriguez points out that the word data comes from the Latin “datum,” meaning something given. For Indigenous Peoples, the term more often means “something taken” – and that data has been used as another method by which others extract some-thing from the Indigenous, leaving behind very broken systems to rebuild and repair. She references everything from Indigenous bodies, to language, to knowledge of the important connections with lands, water and animals as having become disrupted. She calls that “data erasure” an ongoing effort of genocide.

Amid all the loss, the recent vaccination effort illustrates an area of hope. “The only reason that Indigenous Peoples now have some of the highest rates of vaccination uptake is because of tribal sovereignty,” Small-Rodriguez said. “Tribes exercised sovereignty and have been able to protect their people in ways federal, state and local governments have not. Tribal sovereigns know how to get their people onboard because of their deep commitment to collective survival. In Indigenous communities, we are born and raised with a collective survival strategy, and we’ve been doing this since we were invaded 500 years ago. This is something that we have seen shine through in the middle of this pandemic — something positive amidst so much negative.”

LEARN MORE

Listen to the “All My Relations” podcast co-hosted by professor Small-Rodriguez.

 

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A photo of Mars and Venus.

New Insights into Mars and Venus

 

By Christopher Crockett and Stuart Wolpert

 

David Paige is deputy principal investigator of Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment, or RIMFAX, one of seven instruments on NASA’s Perseverance rover.

About the size of a car, the Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18. Over the next two years it will explore Jezero Crater in Mars’ northern hemisphere for signs of ancient life and new clues about the planet’s climate and geology.

Among other tasks, Perseverance will collect rock and soil samples in tubes that a later spacecraft will bring back to Earth. The experiments will lay the groundwork for future human and robotic exploration of Mars. RIMFAX will probe beneath the planet’s surface to study its geology in detail.

“Jezero Crater is a very interesting location on Mars because it looks like there was once a lake inside the crater, and that a river flowed into the lake and deposited sediments in a delta,” Paige said. “We plan to explore the delta to learn more about Mars’ climate history, and maybe something about ancient Martian life. What we’ll be able to see once we start roving and what we will actually learn is anybody’s guess.”

RIMFAX will provide a highly detailed view of subsurface structures and help find clues to past environments on Mars, including those that may have provided the conditions necessary for sup-porting life, he said.

Paige emphasized that RIMFAX is an experiment. “We’ve never tried using a ground-penetrating radar on Mars before, so we can’t really predict what types of subsurface structures we might be able to see. But we have done some fairly extensive field testing of RIMFAX on Earth to learn how to use it and how to interpret the data. Here, ground-penetrating radars can be very useful for clarifying subsurface geology.”

Is he hopeful of finding water, or evidence of water, beneath the planet’s surface?

“There are all kinds of evidence for past liquid water all over Mars,” Paige said. “At Jezero, there must have been a lot of water at some point, but we don’t expect that the ground beneath the rover will still be wet. Mars today is a very cold place, and any water in the shallow subsurface should be frozen at Jezero. What we’re interested in finding are geologic features that wouldn’t be expected to form under present climatic conditions, as those would be especially interesting targets to search for signs of past life.”

UCLA College graduate students Max Parks and Tyler Powell in Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences are part of the science team, and Mark Nasielski, a UCLA graduate student in electrical engineering, is part of the operations team.

VENUS IS AN ENIGMA

Venus is the planet next door yet reveals little about itself. An opaque blanket of clouds smothers a harsh landscape pelted by acid rain and baked at temperatures that can liquify lead.

Now, new observations from the safety of Earth are lifting the veil on some of Venus’ most basic properties. By repeatedly bouncing radar off the planet’s surface over the last 15 years, a UCLA-led team has pinned down the precise length of a day on Venus, the tilt of its axis and the size of its core — findings published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“Venus is our sister planet, and yet these fundamental properties have remained unknown,” said professor Jean-Luc Margot, who led the research.

Earth and Venus have a lot in common: Both are rocky planets and have nearly the same size, mass and density. And yet they evolved along wildly different paths. Fundamentals such as how many hours are in a Venusian day provide critical data for understanding the divergent histories of these neighboring worlds.

Changes in Venus’ spin and orientation reveal how mass is spread out within. Knowledge of its internal structure, in turn, fuels insight into the planet’s formation, its volcanic history and how time has altered the surface. Plus, without precise data on how the planet spins, any future landing attempts could be off by as much as 30 kilometers.

The new radar measurements show that an average day on Venus lasts 243.0226 Earth days — roughly two-thirds of an Earth year. What’s more, the rotation rate of Venus is always changing: A value measured at one time will be a bit larger or smaller than a previous value. The team estimated the length of a day from each of the individual measurements, and they observed differences of at least 20 minutes.

Venus’ heavy atmosphere is likely to blame for the variation.

The UCLA-led team also reports that Venus tips to one side by precisely 2.6392 degrees (Earth is tilted by about 23 degrees), an improvement on the precision of previous estimates by a factor of 10. The repeated radar measurements further revealed the glacial rate at which the orientation of Venus’ spin axis changes, much like a spinning top. On Earth, this “precession” takes about 26,000 years to cycle around once. Venus needs a little longer: about 29,000 years.

The team has turned its sights on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. Many researchers strongly suspect that Europa hides a liquid water ocean beneath a thick shell of ice. Ground-based radar measurements could fortify the case for an ocean and reveal the thickness of the ice shell.

And the team will continue bouncing radar off Venus. With each radio echo, the veil over Venus lifts a little bit more, bringing our sister planet into ever sharper view.

This research was supported by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.

 

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