UCI Magazine, Spring 2022 - The Green Issue

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Spring 2022


The Green Issue

Memorable Milestone UCI graduates celebrate at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 15 during the first campuswide commencement held since 2014. “This amazing graduating class will forever be remembered as one of the most resilient and responsive and determined classes we have ever had the privilege of knowing,” Chancellor Howard Gillman told the 4,500 students in attendance.

Steve Zylius / UCI


Spring 2022 Vol. 7, No. 2

The Green Issue

27 26


Earth Guardians:

The Cool Campus:

UCI researchers seek solutions to the many effects of climate change

A group effort and a green conscience fuel UCI’s environmental record









On the Cover: A western bluebird finds sanctuary in Aldrich Park amid the blooming jacaranda and coral trees. UCI’s 19-acre central green hub is home to myriad species of nesting birds. Photo by Steve Zylius / UCI


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34 32 Seeing the Forest Through the Trees:

Troubled Waters:

Three questions with Benis Egoh, UCI assistant professor of Earth system science, who explores arboreal ecosystems

Two Ph.D. students jumped into action to study how oil spills affect critical ocean microorganisms









About This Issue: In this edition of UCI Magazine, we showcase the university’s pioneering work at home and abroad to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. “Earth Guardians” (page 16) highlights researchers across multiple disciplines who are tackling aspects of global warming from droughts to floods and from public health to migration. And since being green starts at home, “The Cool Campus” (page 27) details UCI’s long-standing dedication to sustainability and walking the talk. Finally, we share profiles of future environmental leaders: an assistant professor who is studying environmental justice issues in both California and her native Cameroon (page 32) and a pair of doctoral students who sprang into action during a local oil spill (page 34). To keep updated on UCI’s latest research and news of the climate crisis and its solutions, visit m.uci.edu/ClimateChange. Please note that supply chain issues caused a delay in the delivery of this spring edition. Spring 2022


Letter From the Chancellor Eight years ago, at our first all-university commencement exercises at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, President Barack Obama, in his keynote address, called UCI “ahead of the curve” in its work to increase sustainability and combat climate change. He cited, among other examples, our establishment of the first department of Earth system science in the nation; Professor Sherry Rowland and postdoctoral scholar Mario Molina being awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering that chlorofluorocarbons were destroying the planet’s ozone layer; Professor Eric Rignot’s definitive research demonstrating the irreversible decline of the Greenland ice sheet; and the campus’s achievement of a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption in just two years.

UCI Magazine Vol. 7, No. 2 Produced by the University of California, Irvine Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Chancellor Howard Gillman Vice Chancellor, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Sherry Main Managing Editor Marina Dundjerski Design Vince Rini Design Visuals Steve Chang and Steve Zylius Copy Editor Kymberly Doucette

As is vividly illustrated in this issue of UCI Magazine, we’re still ahead of the curve. Hundreds of faculty members, postdoctoral scholars and doctoral candidates conduct research and teach on such topics as collapsing glaciers and sea level rise in Greenland and Antarctica; conservation biology across California; ocean health and water resources administration; atmospheric chemistry and global systems modeling; energy conservation, power generation and transportation; climate change-related drought, famine, flooding, disease and poverty; land-use planning and environmental law; public health; and social justice. Students and professors are in the field working to predict changing weather patterns, fire seasons and water tables – working to understand how shifting seasons affect global ecosystems; to get zero-emission vehicles on the road faster; to help coastal communities adapt to rising seas.

Editorial Advisory Committee Jennie Brewton, Mandi Gonzales, Stacey King (athletics), Will Nagel, Brian O’Dea (health) and Janna Parris (alumni/advancement)

But as Assistant Professor Benis Egoh says in these pages, “our science is not enough if we don’t take it out there and convince people with it.” So our experts often meet with elected officials and regulatory agencies to offer insights and, where possible, solutions. Our research is regularly featured by major news media outlets. In just the last few months, we have seen stories on the work of our faculty on California’s drought and water crisis, better fuel cells, wildfire prevention, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural land use, the climate benefits of protecting tropical forests – the list goes on and on. And our campus is a living laboratory for sustainability; we use it to partner with outside institutions and entities to show what is possible and why it is beneficial to our region and the world.

Subscriptions Print: For address changes, email ucimagazine@uci.edu Electronic: To receive the e-version, email campusupdates@uci.edu

Yes, as a public research university created by the people to improve our society through education, research and service, UCI is and always will be ahead of the curve. Fiat lux, Howard Gillman UCI Chancellor

Contributing Writers Brian Bell, Christine Byrd, Mimi Ko Cruz, Greg Hardesty, Amy Paturel, Kristin Baird Rattini, Roy Rivenburg and Jim Washburn UCI Magazine is a publication for faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents, community members and UCI supporters. Issues are published in winter, spring and fall.

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Then and Now

1965 Workers plant one of the campus’s first trees near the Library-Administration Building. At the time, the rolling fields upon which UCI was built had few trees.

s & Archives cial Collection UCI Libraries’ Spe


Some 57 years later, the tree still stands outside what is now Langson Library (renamed in 2003). Today, UCI manages a campuswide urban forest of approximately 30,000 trees.

Steve Zylius / UCI

Spring 2022




A New Home for Art Spellbinding views – both indoors and out – will grace the future home of the Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art at UCI when it opens along Campus Drive near Jamboree Road – a location UCI officials announced in March. The North Campus site – which is near where the UCI Health – Irvine complex is also being constructed – will offer visitors “sweeping views of the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve to complement Langson IMCA’s remarkable collection of California impressionist and contemporary art and serve as a vibrant hub for discovery, exchange and engagement,” said museum director Kim Kanatani. Shanaz and Jack Langson made a leadership gift last fall to jump-start plans for the new building. “What makes this development particularly exciting and unique is the proximity

to the planned UCI Medical Center-Irvine and surrounding healing gardens,” said Shanaz Langson. “Not only will the institute and museum serve as a plein air and contemporary art magnet for UCI and the greater California art community, it will also provide a research venue for the North Campus arts and health complex and promote healing through art.” When completed over the next several years, the center will house and display Langson IMCA’s growing trove of seminal California art, which includes more than 4,500 pieces from The Irvine Museum Collection and The Buck Collection, as well as more recent donations and acquisitions. The works are currently presented in rotating exhibitions at Langson IMCA’s interim museum at 18881 Von Karman Ave., in Irvine, and various pop-up sites and campus galleries.


“There’s a broader recognition among professional scientists that the [climate change] data won’t carry the day. Deep down most scientists operate with this religious belief that getting the truth out is what matters. It’s harder and harder to hold onto that belief. What do you do when you realize that you need to package the truth with something else in order to save the world?” David S. Meyer, UCI professor of sociology, political science, and urban planning and public policy The Washington Post May 20, 2022


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Graduation 2022

By the Numbers ....................................................

8,383 bachelor’s degrees:

• 26% in social sciences • 2,601 community college transfer students • 3,454 federal Pell Grant recipients • 43% first-generation college students • 1,921 Latino students

871 master’s degrees 413 doctoral degrees 143 law degrees 92 medical degrees

Fostering the Hispanic Professoriate UCI announced that it’s a founding member of the new Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, a group of 20 of the nation’s top research universities which are partnering to increase opportunity for those historically underserved by higher education. The HSRU alliance aims to achieve two key goals by 2030: double the number of enrolled Hispanic doctoral students and increase by 20 percent the Hispanic professoriate in alliance universities. The 20 universities have all been both categorized as R1 (very high research activity) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and designated as Hispanicserving Institutions by the U.S. Department of Education. UCI attained HSI status in 2017, becoming only the second member of the prestigious Association of American Universities to have done so. UCI has been committed to increasing the ranks of its Latino graduate students and faculty. Over the past 10 years, the campus doubled the number of its Latino Ph.D. students (217 to 416) and faculty (108 to 182). As of 2021, 7 percent of the faculty and 13 percent of Ph.D. students were Latino.


Lucky Sign Steve Zylius / UCI

A spectacular double rainbow reigns over the Student Center during a late afternoon storm on Feb. 22.

Spring 2022



Understanding Why Immunity Declines With Age It’s no secret that our ability to fight off infection – and even cancer – declines with age. In fact, the army of T-cells we rely on to recognize foreign invaders and launch a systematic attack wanes as we age, becoming significantly weaker by our 60s. The questions then are: Why? And what can we do to intervene? UCI scientists are beginning to unravel this mystery. Under the direction of Dr. Michael Demetriou, professor of neurology and director of UCI’s Center for Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care, and Dr. Haik Mkhikian, assistant professor of pathology, researchers have discovered that adding sugar chains called glycans to proteins compromises T-cell function, shining a light on a natural process that occurs with aging. “These branched glycans increase with age because of increases in a sugar metabolite called N-acetylglucosamine and the T cell growth factor interleukin-7,” Demetriou says. The increased glycan branching reduces T cell function, lowering our ability to fight infections when we reach our golden years, he adds. Seniors are more likely to get severely ill and die from common bacterial infections, such as salmonella and E. coli. And they’re disproportionately affected by novel viruses. In fact, people over 65 have accounted for more than 75

percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. To make matters more complex, the elderly produce a less robust response to vaccination, which leaves them more vulnerable to new infections and reinfection. “These new findings suggest that reversing the elevation in branched glycans may coax tired T-cells to act like their younger counterparts,” Demetriou says. “And that could open the doorway for novel therapeutics.” Years from now, doctors may even use this pathway to help seniors sidestep severe infections, boost their immune response to vaccines and act as a bulwark against diminishing immunity.

Recovery Program Offers Hope to People With Long COVID-19 If you’re suffering from ongoing health problems months after a COVID-19 infection, you’re not alone. According to the American Medical Association, up to 30 percent of people with the novel coronavirus develop something called long COVID-19 syndrome. These patients experience everything from depression and “brain fog” to chest pain and shortness of breath for at least three months after the initial infection.


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To address prolonged COVID-19, UCI Health launched the COVID-19 Recovery Service program in April 2021. “At the time, there were only 30 to 40 clinics across the country focusing on helping patients who have long COVID symptoms,” says Dr. Jaclyn Leong, a UCI Health internist and co-director of the program. And with each new surge in positive cases, more patients are seeking treatment for issues that persist long after the initial infection has waned. Since the program’s start, UCI Health has seen more than 750 individuals requesting care. Unfortunately, long COVID-19 produces a constellation of symptoms that overlap with other conditions, making it a challenge to determine what someone has. In fact, during patients’ first visit to UCI’s COVID-19 Recovery Service program, doctors focus on teasing out whether their health problems are due to long COVID-19 or another ailment. “Once we confirm that a patient has long COVID, there isn’t one pill that fixes everything,” Leong says. Instead, experts use a combination of therapies – such as pharmaceuticals, physical therapy, targeted brain training and mental health services – to address each of the symptoms. “We’re still trying to figure out how to best treat the syndrome, but we know that when ‘long-haulers’ work with a multidisciplinary team – including cardiologists, neurologists, rehab specialists and psychologists – they do get better over time,” Leong says.

What I’ll remember about my cancer treatment is how I was treated. With next-day access to our cancer specialists, you have the benefit of time, confidence and the top-ranked cancer expertise in Orange County. Our personal approach to your care starts the moment you connect with us, and it continues with every step of your journey. It’s comprehensive treatment, dedicated to your needs.

NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center

Visit ucihealth.org/cancer or call 714-450-6103 to schedule a next-day consultation. Model used for illustrative purposes.


A Musical Bridge Rajna Swaminathan (center), UCI assistant professor of music, is one of only a few women who play the mridangam, a South Indian double-sided drum, professionally. Here, the acclaimed artist, composer and scholar makes her UCI debut April 15 in Winifred Smith Hall, performing with the New York-based ensemble that she founded called Rajas (a Sanskrit word that she says means “for the human energy that drives us toward action, creation and transformation”). The group presented a collection of music using Swaminathan’s original compositions as points of departure from its new suite, “Apertures.” Rajas brings together multiple musical approaches that explore South Asian music and jazz with improvisational methods. Says Swaminathan: “This music is about creating openings and bridging the many perspectives we carry in our bodies.”


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Spring 2022


Steve Zylius / UCI




Glacial Undertaking The end of 2021 brought the conclusion of one of the most ambitious polar ice research projects ever organized. The six-year, NASA-funded Oceans Melting Greenland mission gave glaciologists at UCI and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory time for an unprecedentedly thorough survey of the ice-ocean interface at the world’s largest island. “We looked all around Greenland, leaving not a single spot unexamined,” says OMG deputy principal investigator Eric Rignot, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science and senior research scientist at JPL. The project’s main objective was to answer a key question: What is the role of the ocean in the melting of land ice in Greenland? It’s an important line of inquiry, because if all of Greenland’s ice were to melt, global sea levels would rise by about 24 feet. Rignot and his colleagues boarded small aircraft and boats to reach previously unexplored regions and used an array of instruments to measure the temperature and salinity of the water reaching glaciers’ undersides and to create highly accurate maps of fjords and other zones where the ice reaches the ocean. What did they find? “Very deep, warm ocean water that our changing climate is pushing closer to Greenland’s shores is responsible for melting rates that are 10 to 100 times faster than melting at the surface,” Rignot says. While the trove of high-precision data from the OMG mission gives researchers a better understanding of Greenland, he says the Earth’s southern polar cap should be studied as well. “We need to do something similar in the Antarctic,” Rignot says. “If we don’t have this extensive mapping and collect all these critical observations, we will not be able to explain what we are seeing today or make reasonable projections of what these glaciers are going to do tomorrow.”

Eric Rignot


UCI Magazine

Spring 2022




Maurice Sanchez ’78

Associate Justice, 4th District Court of Appeal

Steve Zylius / UCI

Hometown Judge Maurice Sanchez made history in January when he was unanimously confirmed as associate justice of California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 3. He is the first Latino and first person of color to serve on the bench. Sanchez, 65, who earned his bachelor’s degree in social ecology from UCI in 1978 and law degree from UC Berkeley in 1981, grew up in Santa Ana, where the appellate court is based. “To be appointed one of the eight justices on our local court of appeal is a tremendous honor and responsibility,” Sanchez says. “Historically, it’s humbling to be the first person of color on this court, which is about 40 years old. I never would have dreamed when I was a kid riding my bicycle around the streets of Santa Ana that I would be in this position.” Sanchez is the son of hard-working Mexican immigrants who settled in Santa Ana with the dream of giving their four children opportunities they never had. But his father died of emphysema when he was 8, and his mother


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worked long hours while her daughters looked after their younger brother. Despite their difficulties, the Sanchez children took their schoolwork seriously. Sanchez attended Mater Dei High School on a scholarship, and he and all his siblings earned college degrees. After receiving his J.D., Sanchez began his legal career with Rutan & Tucker in Costa Mesa. He later worked as in-house counsel for Hyundai Motor America and Mazda Motor of America Inc. He returned to private practice with Alvarado, Smith & Sanchez and later became an equity partner with two Am Law 100 firms – Baker & Hostetler, where he was named national leader of the distribution and franchise team; and Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, where he helped launch its Los Angeles office. Sanchez has represented more than a dozen motor vehicle manufacturers, trying numerous cases in several states before both administrative agencies and in court, including bench and jury trials and appeals. He

was responsible for drafting and implementing national dealer agreements and policies for six major motor vehicle companies. In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Sanchez to the Orange County Superior Court bench, where he was assigned to the Family Law Panel. He served for three years – until embarking on his newest role. Sanchez recently answered a few questions posed by Mimi Ko Cruz of UCI’s School of Social Ecology.

Who is your role model? I have had many role models, but if I had to choose one, it would be Justice Cruz Reynoso, who was the first Hispanic person to sit on the California Supreme Court. A man of great intellect and great humility, Justice Reynoso was born in Orange County [Brea] and was a true champion of those less fortunate.

Why did you pursue a career in law? I decided to pursue a career in law after taking some law classes at UCI: constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and one or two others. I also took a paralegal class at a community college, just to get a feel for what law would be like as a career. I didn’t know any lawyers at the time. The instructor, a practicing attorney, encouraged me to go to law school, and so I applied.

What is your philosophy? My philosophy is to live the best life you can, by your own definition. Don’t worry about what others say you should do with your life – only you can determine that.

Do you have any UCI memories that made an impact on your career or life? There was an adjunct professor, Dian Ogilvie, who taught criminal law and procedure. I never practiced criminal law, but she made it sound so interesting that it really made me want to go to law school.

What are your hobbies? I enjoy watching sports, both live and on TV, especially the Lakers. I’ve been a fan since the early ’60s. I enjoy history and reading about historical figures, especially the [nation’s] founders. I very much enjoyed the musical “Hamilton” and the book it was based upon, by Ron

Chernow. One of the more interesting parts of the book was the role of women, especially Eliza Hamilton, in the Revolution. John Adams’ biography by David McCullough also contains interesting passages about his wife, Abigail. Lastly, I enjoy trivia. Here’s a question that combines my love of history and sports: Five universities have produced both a U.S. president and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Name them. Answer: 1. the University of Michigan: Gerald Ford and Tom Brady; 2. the University of Delaware: Joe Biden and Joe Flacco; 3. Stanford University: Herbert Hoover and John Elway, as well as Jim Plunkett; 4. the Naval Academy: Jimmy Carter and Roger Staubach; and the toughest one, 5. Miami University (Ohio): Benjamin Harrison and Ben Roethlisberger.

“Live the best life you can, by your own definition. Don’t worry about what others say you should do with your life – only you can determine that.”

What is your favorite book and why? I revere Abraham Lincoln. A country lawyer, he rose to the presidency and saved the nation from coming apart in the Civil War. My favorite book on him is Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It describes how Lincoln built his Cabinet to contain all those people who disagreed with him and how he loved to hear differing viewpoints in coming to his own conclusions. At first, his Cabinet members thought they could overwhelm this country bumpkin who was elected president, but they all came to respect his intellect and his ability to build consensus. I strive to be more like him in this regard.

Any additional thoughts for readers? Fortune favors the bold. Don’t stop yourself. If there is something you want to do, go for it, or at least find out how you can eventually get there. Take that first step. You never know where it can lead you – maybe to something you didn’t know existed but that you really love doing. If you can’t get paid for it at first, volunteer. Eventually, if you’re good enough, you can be paid for your work.

Spring 2022



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EARTH GUARDIANS UCI researchers seek solutions to the many effects of climate change By Jim Washburn


iewed from a satellite, the hub of the UCI campus easily stands out from its surroundings, since it looks rather like a huge eye, with the green iris of Aldrich Park staring back at you. It’s an apt vision, since the university has been a watchful eye over this world for most of its history. UCI’s founding chancellor, Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., a soil chemist, had a steadfast concern for the environment, from picking up stray candy wrappers on campus to seeing that – at a time when many universities were slow to address students’ surging interest in ecology – UCI was devoting several biological science courses to it. In 1970, Aldrich launched the nation’s first school of social ecology, to study human society as a system as complex and interconnected as nature. In 1983, UCI atmospheric chemist F. Sherwood Rowland issued his first paper linking chlorofluorocarbons to damage of the Earth’s protective ozone layer. When his subsequent studies amounted to a stunning indicator of mankind’s effect on the ecosystem, some derisive voices

Photos by Steve Zylius

likened him to Chicken Little claiming the sky was falling. The Nobel committee felt otherwise, and Rowland’s 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry (shared with UCI postdoctoral scholar Mario J. Molina) confirmed UCI’s status as a center for climate science. Fellow atmospheric chemist Ralph Cicerone joined UCI in 1989 to develop the Department of Earth System Science – another national first – bringing researchers from several disciplines together to identify environmental problems and solutions. Later UCI’s chancellor, Cicerone left in 2005 to become president of the National Academy of Sciences. There are sites on campus now named for all three scientists, but their legacies are far more evident in the numerous faculty across campus – a few of whom are highlighted on the following pages – who continue today to push at the boundaries of our knowledge of the world, the challenges that climate change poses to it, and the possible solutions that might provide for a better tomorrow.

Spring 2022


James Randerson

Containing Wildfires With Satellite Data “It was an amazing time when I started at UCI in 2003,” says James Randerson, a much honored, published and cited professor of Earth system science. “We had the atmospheric scientist Ralph Cicerone as chancellor. We had the first Earth system science department in the country – and for years, it was the only one. I think UCI led the way for universities realizing the importance of understanding what climate change and sustainability are going to be like in this century.” Randerson advises the U.S. Department of Energy, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2018 became the inaugural Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science. His lab’s current projects include globally mapping wildfire patterns to understand how climate extremes influence them; using satellite remote sensing to learn how fires are affecting ecosystems; finding ways to gauge the vulnerability of terrestrial ecosystems and their capacity to store carbon as climate changes; and improving climate models to better forecast the biosphere’s future. “We’re mainly interested in using this information to arrive at solutions,” Randerson says. “One thing we’re working on with NASA is a $200 million constellation


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of satellites to provide global, around-the-clock data measuring fire outbreaks and how they’re spreading. This could be invaluable in containing fires before they spread. The damage from wildfires here in the Western states alone runs into tens of billions of dollars annually.” His team is finding plenty to be concerned about, such as larger and more frequent wildfires in the U.S. West; drought-damaged trees less able to store carbon or survive fires; lightning storms expected to increasingly spark fires across the Arctic tundra, releasing trapped carbon into the atmosphere; and the severity of climate change stunting economic growth and equity around the world. Emphasizing the hopeful aspects of their work is key, he says. “I’m optimistic that UCI can really contribute to important solutions, but you can easily get overwhelmed by the scope and magnitude of what’s happening on the planet,” Randerson says. “Many students experience what you could call climate fatigue. So I try to frame our discussions to keep a balance between providing optimism for how we can transform things and reminding them how precious the time is that we have to accomplish those things.”


Stalagmites Reveal Ancient Clues Kathleen Johnson, UCI associate professor of Earth system science, studies the history of Earth’s atmosphere and climate from a deeply counterintuitive vantage: underground in ancient caves. Holding a 2-foot speleothem that looks like petrified marble cake, she explains, “This piece of stalagmite spans about 40,000 years of history, reaching back beyond the peak of the last ice age. It’s a little like an ice core, but instead of water being frozen, the chemistry of the water has been transferred to the chemistry of these calcite layers that were deposited by the water as it dripped into a cave. The oxygen and carbon composition tells us things about the climate above the cave at the time it formed.” Studying stalagmites is not a new science, but Johnson is applying novel methods to seek new answers. “One of the main points of paleoclimate research is that looking at the mechanisms under which climate has changed naturally in the past helps us better understand the climate system today and what the implications might be for the future,” she says.

Johnson sources materials with the help of recreational cavers, park managers and local community members and has been underground herself in various parts of the world, where, along with the stalagmites, she’s encountered bats, roaches, plenty of grime and, once, a Burmese python. Her recent research centers on the Asian monsoon region, a crucial part of the global climate system, with much of the world’s population relying on predictable summer rains. Johnson’s studies indicate that a major dry spell over 8,000 years ago may have been precipitated by a shift in oceanic water circulation, which could happen again in the not-too-distant future. “We’re also finding that there’s a striking correlation between monsoon strength and changes in the Earth’s orbit,” she adds. “Learning about these past changes helps us have an eye toward what the future might hold.”

Kathleen Johnson

Climate Computing Statistics, computing and machine learning play a significant role in trying to find solutions for climate change. “Computer models can help make predictions about climate events or help us understand the relationship between different components of the environment,” says Veronica Berrocal, UCI associate professor of statistics. She uses computing and statistics to arrive at answers to complex environmental questions. Two recent projects involve tracking the effects wildfires have on public health and using satellites and computer models to gauge changing pollutant levels across California. “Computer models can help fill gaps in information,” Berrocal adds. “If you’re trying to track air pollution, for instance, and there are areas where there are no monitors, statistical models can extrapolate their levels based on monitoring data from nearby areas and computer model outputs.”


Spring 2022



Lighter-Than-Air Solutions to Heavy Problems If hydrogen power can produce half the energy that Jack Brouwer does when talking about it, it’ll be a formidable force for the future. Once he gets going, it’s a nonstop flow of ideas. Brouwer is a UCI professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and directs the campus-based National Fuel Cell Research Center. “My research focuses on how we might integrate very high levels of renewable primary energy resources into all applications economywide,” he says. “Even if we’re making the most of sun and wind power, we still need more zero-emission resources, along with ways of storing energy.

“The solutions I focus on are hydrogen electrolyzers and fuel cells. I look at how we might be able to use water plus renewable electricity to make hydrogen, store and distribute it throughout society, and then use it where it makes the most sense.” Brouwer envisions a near future in which electrical grids run on zero-emission, hydrogen-powered fuel cells and turbine engines and in which hydrogen-based systems power aircraft, cargo ships and long-haul trucks. “Green steel” plants employing hydrogen in a solid oxide electrolysis system would reduce the huge carbon footprint of steel production. He also foresees the gas as a major means of energy storage, saying: “Hydrogen has advantages over other chemical batteries. For example, airplanes can’t handle the weight or mass of traditional energy storage systems, while hydrogen is the lightest fuel that we know of, which is why we use it in rockets.” Hydrogen isn’t without its hurdles, one being that it’s highly flammable. Though it’s been safely handled under industrial uses, Brouwer notes, it will take work to render it suitable for general use. Selling officials on hydrogen power was also once a hurdle, but he points to the recent bipartisan federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which has allocated $9.5 billion to advancing technology for hydrogen production. “That’s more funding than we’ve ever seen,” Brouwer says, “and it really accelerates the timeline for a zero-emissions future.”


Jack Brouwer

Infrastructure and Floods “I was the kid who always had his arm out the car window, feeling the flow of the wind resistance on my hand. Now I develop computer codes and numerical methods to simulate flooding based on the mechanics of fluid flow,” says Brett Sanders, UCI professor of civil and environmental engineering as well as urban planning and public policy. Though drought is a more immediate concern in California, Sanders cautions that the state is overdue for a historic flood. The last one, in 1862, inundated much of Southern California. “There’s a massive flood risk, and our infrastructure doesn’t seem up to the task of containing these events,” he says. “With my simulation tools, we’re increasingly able to predict and plan for such events – and in a way where outcomes are more equitable to everyone.” The simulations also help him to imagine flood control plans that could have other benefits. One example Sanders cites is to redesign the Santa Ana River channel to better deal with flooding while also helping the waterway carry much needed sediment to coastal wetlands and sand-starved beaches. He says: “What can we do to best handle a flood but also design it to be of use when it isn’t flooding – to help us have a more sustainable water supply or a healthier ecosystem or a more livable city?”



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Jun Wu

Linking Environmental and Human Health Not long ago, smog was as much a part of the Southern California landscape as the Hollywood sign it sometimes obscured. Though less visible and greatly diminished, air pollution is still a part of our lives, says Jun Wu, a UCI professor of public health in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “We still see a lot of adverse health effects,” she says. “Concentrations of fine particulate matter have even risen due to wildfires. And while outdoor pollution temporarily dropped during the COVID shutdown, we published a paper showing that indoor pollution increased, because with everyone staying indoors, there were more combustion byproducts from cooking, more chemicals from cleaning products and so on.” Wu and her department colleagues and students track such data, particularly in underserved communities, to present stakeholders such as health officials and civic leaders with information and potential solutions. “I look at environmental exposures of people to various agents, such as air pollution, noise, heat, wildfires, etc. –

and also at the health impact of those exposures,” she says. For example, Wu is collaborating with Alana LeBrón, a UCI assistant professor of public health in the Department of Health, Society and Behavior, on a study of lead contamination in Santa Ana and its effects on children’s health and academic performance. In addition, she’s helping communities tackle concerns about air pollution and wildfire impacts, including industrial and firework emissions in Santa Ana. Wu’s work isn’t all about dealing with problems: “I’m very excited to be exploring the beneficial effects that parks and other green spaces can have on better health outcomes for people – how they can help relieve stress, improve concentration and encourage physical activity. Trees can also absorb certain chemicals from the atmosphere, while a tree canopy provides shade. Unfortunately, the vulnerable communities that have more pollution are also the communities that have less green space, so the goal is finding ways to address that.”

Spring 2022



Adam Martiny

Plankton Building Blocks The smallest ocean microorganisms have been and continue to be building blocks of life on this planet, and they may come in especially handy in our future, according to Adam Martiny, UCI professor of Earth system science as well as ecology and evolutionary biology. As an indicator of plankton’s ubiquity, he notes that scientists nine decades ago were puzzled to find that the deep ocean had a chemical makeup very similar to that of plankton on the surface. It didn’t take long to determine that the phenomenon was the result of billions of years of plankton living, dying and sinking. Martiny adds, “Everything that lives in the ocean either eats a microbe or eats something that’s eaten a microbe. They form the base of the food chain.” And there’s this: Phytoplankton, a type of plankton that converts sunlight into energy through photosynthesis, absorb CO2 – as do trees and plants on land. “As the CO2 in our atmosphere keeps rising and things get hotter, we likely can’t reduce our emissions fast enough to avoid some pretty dire conditions,” Martiny

says. “So we also need to remove some of the CO2 we already have in the atmosphere. We don’t have the space to plant enough trees for that, whereas if you look from here to Hawaii, there’s a lot of water there. If we could stimulate phytoplankton growth with nutrients all the way out to Hawaii, it would potentially make a dent in the large amounts of CO2 we have in the atmosphere.” If such a plan sounds risky, that’s because it is. Martiny says: “Are we willing to change the entire ocean in order to take CO2 out of the atmosphere? With any solution we look at, we really need to understand the consequences, because if we roll them out, we’re going to change part of the planet, and we better make sure that we get it right. But if we don’t try, we might be looking at a few thousand years of a very hot planet. “There’s still a lot that we have to learn,” he adds. “Understanding these pathways is going to lead to important engineering principles for carbon removal in the future, and UCI is gearing up to be an important part of all that.”

Tracking El Niño The El Niño weather phenomenon exerts its influence over much of the world and can bring droughts, floods and other extreme conditions, making it crucial that climate scientists understand its cycles. Complicating that, “the El Niño of the 21st century is not the El Niño we knew in the 20th century,” says UCI Earth system science professor Jin-Yi Yu, whose expertise is in climate dynamics, particularly atmosphere-ocean interactions. He was a pioneer in the discovery that El Niño often shifts to a second point of origin – in the mid-Pacific, not just near the Peruvian coastline – affecting its patterns, frequency and intensity. Much of Yu’s research is done within complex computer weather models from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to which he adds updated records of sea surface temperature cycles, wind data and other variables. “El Niño affects everything from crops in California to hurricanes in the Atlantic to fisheries in India, and we need to keep advancing our understanding,” Yu says. “If, for example, we ever want to do something to mitigate or reduce some effects of global warming with geoengineering, it’s essential to understand everything we can about El Niño.”



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The Law of the Land – and the Sea and Air “Climate change is the central challenge of our time, and, obviously, that makes it a moral imperative to try to think through how we address it,” says UCI Chancellor’s Professor of law Alejandro Camacho. “It’s also a personal concern: I care about my children and their children and how the planet can adjust, and that doesn’t happen without responsive policymaking.” As far back as 2006, while teaching law at the University of Notre Dame, he was challenging legal processes, goals and institutions that were too rigid to take the “change” part of climate change into account. Camacho says: “An example of maladaptive management would be a policy that is never revisited or adjusted. More effective governance involves systematically learning from new information and changing circumstances and adjusting policies accordingly. Climate change is a global example of the need for that.” It’s a theme Camacho explored, with co-author Robert Glicksman, in the 2019 book Reorganizing Government: A Functional and Dimensional Framework. It suggests the need to rethink and adjust not only public processes and goals but also institutions over time, with the intent of making them more responsive, equitable and effective. When he joined UCI Law 13 years ago, it was coming full circle for Camacho. Before receiving a J.D. from Harvard University and an LL.M. from Georgetown University, he earned bachelor’s degrees at UCI in criminology, law and society as well as political science. “I took environmental law and environment protection courses here. I found the issues to be incredibly difficult and complex but also incredibly important to me,” Camacho says. “It made me decide that environmental law was my calling. It’s where theory turns into action.” Along with teaching an environmental law practicum, he’s active in a range of related activities. Among them, Camacho is the founder and director of UCI’s Center for

Land, Environment and Natural Resources, where, he says, “the core initiative is what we call workshop roundtables, which bring together experts on a particular environmental topic to advance dialogue and knowledge – and, hopefully, advance policy. We bring together experts from academia, the public sector, nonprofit organizations and sometimes industry. And it’s not just having a conversation; it’s designed to lead to a document that can be used to help advance policy on these matters.”

Alejandro Camacho

When Events Collide It can be difficult enough to track or predict a single climate event. Amir Aghakouchak, UCI professor of civil and environmental engineering as well as Earth system science, specializes in researching what happens when two or more combine. He has refined the use of remote sensing devices such as satellites and radar to track such events and has shared his “toolbox” for other scientists to use. “Interacting hazards are happening with greater frequency,” Aghakouchak says. “What happens when drought and heat waves combine? When terrestrial flooding coincides with ocean flooding? How will these things react differently if the planet’s temperature goes up a degree? Three degrees? There is so much to take into account – from the effect on vegetation and soil microbes’ ability to absorb carbon to the societal and social justice dimensions of these events.”


Spring 2022


Julianne DeAngelo

Scaling Up the Future A half-century ago, the famed Yankees catcher and malapropism master Yogi Berra declared, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” That observation has taken on a grim significance in the ensuing decades’ cascade of floods, droughts, fires and other climate events that suggest the future belongs not so much to the human imagination as it does to the carbon dioxide we’ve released into the atmosphere. Meet Solutions That Scale, an interdisciplinary research group launched in January 2021 by the School of Physical Sciences. Its mission statement posits a future that’s not just survivable but flourishing. To get there, STS is engaging scientists and other experts from across the UCI spectrum to work with business leaders, government officials and civic leaders to develop and test solutions to pressing environmental problems – and then develop ways to upscale those solutions to be applied on a global level. One ambitious project is aimed at finding alternatives to the fossil fuels that power the freight industry. The effort is led by Earth system science Ph.D. student Julianne DeAngelo – one of STS’s initial cohort of fellowship students – with assistance from UCI professors Steven Davis, Jack Brouwer and others. DeAngelo is exploring hydrogen, biofuels and additional alternative power


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sources to arrive at “the most cost-effective way to get the freight industry to net-zero” carbon emissions. As part of its public outreach, STS conducts a seminar series, with one recent example being a webinar in which 2022 Andrew Carnegie Fellow Michael Méndez, UCI assistant professor of urban planning and public policy, discussed “Extreme Wildfire Impacts to Undocumented Latina/o and Indigenous Migrants.” For solutions to be implemented, STS executive board member Richard Matthew, professor of urban planning and public policy, says, “it’s crucial that we have business leaders, policymakers and community leaders in the room. We need business leaders to bring their managerial and investment skills to bear on issues so they can be realized. We need the policymakers with the know-how to develop regulations. “What we’re saying is let’s work together and find solutions that make sense from an economic perspective, from a community justice perspective and an ecological perspective. Let’s try those solutions out here. Then – just as California has always been a source of ingenuity and innovation for the planet – our solutions can be scaled up across the globe to help other areas addressing similar issues.”


Rays of Hope “Have you seen how the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is structured?” asks Steven Davis, UCI professor of Earth system science and civil and environmental engineering, who wrote a chapter in a previous IPCC report. “The first part covers the fundamental realities of how the climate is changing. The second assesses what the impacts will be on humans, our infrastructure and so on, while the third part asks, ‘What can we do about it?’ I’ve spent the bulk of my career squarely in that third part, looking for solutions to mitigate the problems with greenhouse gas emissions and other climate issues.” Davis took a winding path to Earth system science, first earning B.A.s in political science and philosophy, then a J.D. “But I found I wasn’t loving law,” he recalls. “My wife was studying physical oceanography, and it looked like a lot more fun. I always enjoyed environmental science, so I went back to grad school and earned a Ph.D. [at Stanford University] in geological and environmental sciences. Four years later, in 2012, I joined the great group of colleagues here in Earth system science, and it’s felt like home ever since.” The aforementioned IPCC report does not lack for grim climate assessments, and newspapers have almost daily accounts of record droughts, fires, heat waves and other environmental crises. “I see a lot of despair out there, but I’m actually feeling more optimistic about climate problems because we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of the attractiveness of the solutions,” Davis says. “Renewable energy technologies like solar and wind, batteries and electric vehicles have all plummeted in cost – to the point where people are going to start preferring them not because they necessarily even care about the climate, but because they’re the most attractive, best performing and, in some cases, cheapest options out there.

“It once cost thousands of dollars to get a watt of solar power; now it’s more like 30 cents,” he continues. “And new tech is coming along all the time, such as perovskite solar panels. I think we’re really on the brink of what will be a drastic decrease in our energy system CO2 emissions.” Davis envisions a similar turning point with businesses recognizing greater economic opportunities in building the infrastructure needed to address climate change in the coming decades. “This is just the start, and there are still a lot of things to wrangle with, like getting the CO2 out of concrete and steel production,” he says. “I see all this as puzzles to be solved, and that’s something people are good at.”

Steven Davis

Bridging Environmental Humanities When it comes to tackling issues of the environment, the humanities have a lot to bring to the table: critical analysis, cultural attunement, storytelling, historical context, and a deep understanding of human beliefs and motivations. So in April, UCI’s School of Humanities launched the Environmental Humanities Research Center to give scholars from the school’s various disciplines – such as history, philosophy and ethnic studies – a chance to share each other’s work and create new dialogues concerning climate change and sustainability. “Colleagues across the school have for years been doing vibrant research and teaching involving issues of ecological and climatological crisis without necessarily communicating with each other,” says center director James Nisbet, chair of UCI’s art history department. “The center is a way to join forces. We also will reach across the schools to share different perspectives on climate change.” Another branch of the center’s mission is to conduct community outreach, he says, “where the public will see the center and UCI as a home for interaction and environmental conversations.”


Spring 2022


The Effects of Human Populations There are scarcely any aspects of human society today that are not touched by climate change. In such a time, it’s only natural that social ecology and the science disciplines across Aldrich Park would become increasingly interconnected. “The initial thinking behind social ecology was informed by forest ecology, biology and other nature sciences,” says Richard Matthew, associate dean of research and international programs in UCI’s School of Social Ecology, as well as a professor of urban planning and public policy and political science. “The perception of social ecology that imbued its founding is now broadly accepted: Human society is as complex a world as nature is, with feedback mechanisms, nonlinear relationships and emerging properties. Social ecology borrows ideas from nature to understand social relations and social dynamics and, now more than ever, is looking at how these social and natural systems interact.” He and his team are generally working on several projects at any time, some in tandem with other UCI faculty, different universities, conservation organizations Richard Matthew


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and the United Nations. One major effort deals with issues of climate-driven migration. “It looks like roughly 1.2 billion people on the planet are vulnerable to being displaced by climate change in the next several decades,” Matthew says. “Migration is often viewed in negative terms, but movement has historically been the single most common way humans deal with environmental stress. “Most migrants are already vulnerable populations, and they’d be leaving behind what little they have. How can we help them decide their best options? Are there things we can do to help them stay where they are? If they move, can we help them arrive at destinations where they’re an economic benefit to the community? Can we help them avoid conflict zones? Those are questions where we’re looking for solutions.” He doesn’t harbor any illusions about the years ahead, saying: “There are going to be famines, displacements and suffering, but there are also grounds for optimism and hope. Humankind is remarkably adaptive and innovative even under conditions of tremendous adversity.”

THE COOL CAMPUS A group effort and a green conscience fuel UCI’s environmental record By Christine Byrd


or more than a decade, UCI has been celebrated as one of the nation’s most environmentally conscious campuses, including 12 consecutive years at the top of the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” ranking. Recently, UCI beat 900 other colleges and universities across 40 countries to earn the best score from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s sustainability rating system. But as the saying goes, it’s not easy being green. From designing eco-friendly buildings that power high-tech research to teaching students how to compost in their apartments, sustainability at UCI requires a dedicated effort and all hands on deck. “I don’t think we always knew how to harness our collective power,” says Anne Krieghoff, a UCI sustainability program manager. “You’ve got to involve everybody in the process – from the chancellor to the boots on the ground. You can be idealistic, but you really need everybody.” While no one can pinpoint exactly when UCI’s environmental coolness started, most agree it was well underway by the time chemistry professor F. Sherwood Rowland and postdoctoral scholar Mario J. Molina won

Photos by Steve Zylius

the 1995 Nobel Prize. Their groundbreaking research linked the growing hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer to synthetic chemicals then common in aerosol products, leading to global policy changes. Wendell Brase, associate chancellor for sustainability, has made energy efficiency a priority at UCI since the 1990s – not only to save the planet, but also to reduce the campus’s high energy costs amid state budget cuts. In 2011, when the U.S. Department of Energy challenged institutions to cut energy use 20 percent by 2020, Brase made sure UCI was the first to the goal post, seven years ahead of schedule, drawing accolades from President Barack Obama in his 2014 UCI commencement address. But modifying energy use at that scale requires more than turning off the lights when leaving a room. Brase focused on what’s known as deep energy efficiency: retrofitting heating, cooling, lighting and control systems in existing facilities to slash their power consumption by at least half. While labs take up only 20 percent of space at UCI, they consume more than 50 percent of the campus’s total energy, with fans, filters and deep freezers whirring 24/7. Brase worked with teams of engineers, environmental safety leaders and designers to develop

Spring 2022


Smart Labs, a system of software and sensors to optimize energy efficiency in research facilities. The UCI Smart Labs protocols have been adopted at seven U.S. national labs, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re always thinking about solutions that scale up in California and globally – that’s part of the mission of the university,” says Brase, who partners closely with faculty experts to put their ideas into practice. “At UCI, we don’t stop at studying a serious environmental problem. We ‘walk the talk’ and generously share all our sustainability practices and innovations with other institutions around the world.” While the campus’s ever-expanding footprint makes sustainability more challenging, being “under construction indefinitely” has its benefits. Thirty-two newer UCI buildings have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which evaluates the sustainability and resource efficiency of projects. And 21 of UCI’s new buildings earned the top honor of LEED Platinum – more than anywhere else in the nation.

Better Behaviors Big-ticket projects aren’t the only focus of campus leadership. Small-scale behavioral changes can add up to major impact as well. Carrie Metzgar, UCI sustainability and planning analyst, runs a popular Green Labs program that educates lab staff and researchers on how to keep their lab humming at optimal efficiency. For example, she gives away dusters to participants to clean the coils and vents on their deep freezers, a simple act that can reduce energy use by 25 percent and make the appliances last longer. “Training students to become researchers who are mindful of sustainability has a ripple effect as they go on to careers – and can even be that little thing that

pounds of food from UCI Dining get donated annually.

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Zero Waste A campus of 56,000 students, faculty and staff inevitably sheds a lot of detritus. UCI produces 10,000 tons of trash a year but manages to keep 80 percent out of landfills – the best diversion rate in the University of California system. The campus continues working toward the UC’s goal of “zero waste,” which, in practice, means a 90 percent diversion rate, since there will always be some waste that can’t be recycled, reused or composted. Just 15 years ago, UCI’s diversion rate was a mere 10 percent. That’s when social ecology alumna Anne Krieghoff joined Facilities Management and introduced a campuswide paper recycling program. “When you think about curbing climate change, trash is your gateway drug,” she says. “It’s the one thing we all can do something about.” Over the years, Krieghoff helped add more recycling programs. Today, UCI’s food waste goes to the LA Sanitation District, where anaerobic digesters convert the calories into electricity and recycled water. Campus tree trimmings go to the Orange County Great Park for composting. Even Styrofoam – that environmental


tons of plastic are saved annually by UCI’s 100+ hydration stations for filling reusable water bottles.





of UCI’s waste gets recycled, reused or composted, instead of going to a landfill.



takes them to the next level in a competitive hiring environment,” Metzgar says. Some grant makers have started considering the climate impact of labs they support, tying funding to sustainability. Metzgar points out that some researchers may already be using sustainable methods without even realizing it. “These daily practices are easier than folks tend to think,” she says. “Using natural light instead of overhead lights when possible, shutting the fume hood sash when not in use, reporting water leaks, sharing equipment and supplies with neighboring labs. It’s important for us, as UCI community members, to understand that simple habits to improve sustainability do, once they’re multiplied, have a significant impact.”


of UCI fleet vehicles are powered by alternative fuels or use hybrid technology.

Facilities Management educates the campus during Earth Week 2016 with its eye-opening “Mt. RecycleMore.”

anathema – gets reborn as surfboards, thanks to a local company, or compressed into reusable “bricks” that can be made into new Styrofoam. One significant challenge still ahead: phasing out single-use plastics by 2030. On-campus eateries have already shifted to compostable utensils made of corn starch, and this summer, plastic bottles will be discontinued – even those from the ubiquitous Pepsi vending machines, which will revert to aluminum cans and boxed water. If you’ve ever stood puzzled before a bank of bins labeled “recycle, compost and landfill,” then you needed a UCI “trash talker,” a student trained to help guests at large events sort their paper plates, dirty napkins and bread crusts into the proper receptacles. But diverting waste can only go so far on a planet with a growing number of inhabitants and a finite amount of space. “In the last five years, we’ve seen a shift toward

electric vehicle charging stations are available on campus.


gallons of recycled fryer oil from UCI’s dining halls are turned into biodiesel annually.



Background photo: UCI’s central plant provides most of the campus’s power and is marked by its iconic Peter the Anteater water tower. A major project completed in partnership with the Irvine Ranch Water District in 2018 enabled the central plant’s cooling towers to use recycled water – saving 80 million gallons of drinkable water each year. This change alone helped UCI cut usage of potable water by 50 percent – far exceeding its goal of using 36 percent less by 2025.




megawatts of solar power are produced annually via on-campus solar panels – enough to power 2,300 homes.

focusing on reducing what you use, not just thinking about it being recyclable,” Krieghoff says. “For example, think about getting Amazon to put all of your items in one package instead of multiple boxes and shipments. People are starting to get on that bandwagon.” Goodwill bins in every on-campus housing community enable students to donate 60 tons of clothing and other used items each year – that’s equivalent to the weight of 36 cars. “We’re teaching first-year students how to live sustainably,” Krieghoff says. “They’ll learn it here, then they’ll take it with them wherever they go.”


trees make up UCI’s “urban forest.”

Spring 2022


Undergraduate Estrella Ramos tends to the Arroyo Vista Ants in Your Plants Garden, a student-run effort that includes an orchard, greenhouse and over 40 raised beds. Seed libraries in recycled newspaper dispensers (below) are located at several sites to encourage students to “take a seed, leave a seed.”

Green Eating Anteaters like to eat – it’s right there in the name. UCI Dining Services, which partners with Aramark, serves more than 12,500 meals every day and aims to make eating on campus sustainable while cutting down on waste. Long gone are the days of going to a dining hall and piling a tray high with plates of food. Dining is trayless, and students are gently yet frequently reminded not to take more than they can eat. “When I was a student, I remember taking my tray and going to Pippin Commons in Middle Earth and stacking up all the food I could,” says Metzgar, who graduated from UCI in 2011. “What going trayless has done to help reduce food waste is incredible.” The Anteatery and Brandywine dining halls are among the first zero-waste dining facilities in the UC system. While efforts are made to match supply with demand, including cooking in small batches to prevent waste, any


of water used for campus landscaping has been recycled.

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trees have been planted by volunteers, making UCI a Tree Campus USA for the past 13 years.

prepared dishes that haven’t been served get donated to local food pantries. Residents also receive reusable cups, silverware and clamshell containers for to-go orders, so instead of onetime use disposable items, they can return everything to be washed and reused. Sustainability is part of the food sourcing process as well. Produce comes from within 250 miles of campus; all eggs served are cage-free; and dining halls have been designated as fair trade since 2018. On the patio outside Mesa Court’s Anteatery, 30 vertical gardens yield 1,800 bundles of leafy greens, squash, tomatoes and herbs every month. The aeroponic towers use 90 percent less water and grow at least twice as fast as conventional gardens. The dining halls also lean into plant-based food options, where nearly one-third of meals are now vegan or vegetarian. “We’re introducing the concept that food is not only meat and potatoes or burgers and fries,” says Anteatery executive chef Sharron Barshishat, who is vegan. “This is the perfect environment to introduce a variety of flavors as we feed students who are the future leaders of our society.”

Student Power Students too are keen to advance environmental initiatives at UCI. Last year, two undergraduates spearheaded a campaign to have UCI formally designated as a Bee Campus USA, establishing a committee to ensure that the campus hosts pollinator-friendly plants. Even before that, students were maintaining four gardens on campus, planting, tending and harvesting fruits, vegetables and flowers. Seed libraries at several locations encourage students to try out their green thumbs at home or in the community gardens – or donate seeds from their own successful plantings. Campus

coffee shops regularly give away coffee grounds for gardening, body scrubs or other do-it-yourself projects. Additionally, students were the driving force behind UCI becoming the first U.S. university to fully electrify its campus bus fleet, back in 2017-18. Anteaters voted to raise student fees to fund the purchase of 20 electric buses, which provide 2 million rides each year around campus and neighboring communities. Before fall quarter begins, student funds will expand the fleet by 25 percent. The Green Initiative Fund, managed by students and also financed by a fee initiative, supports projects every year that range from campus water bottle refilling stations to research and signage at the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve, on the northern edge of campus. UCI Student Housing annually trains 20 “EarthRep” ambassadors who serve as peer-to-peer sustainability educators in their residential communities, and student “green captains” at every dining location coordinate educational activities like trivia games and buffet-style displays of untouched food thrown away by diners. The Student Leadership Institute for Climate Resilience, an intensive, three-day training program developed at UCI and hosted by the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, is currently being adopted and piloted on other UC campuses. “Our dedication to sustainability inspires and is inspired by the students,” says Rachel Harvey, sustainability program manager for UCI Student Housing, who runs several training and internship programs. “We endeavor to meet them where they are. If they come in excited about recycling and waste reduction, we provide training and opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement. When students are ready for more, we help them engage with topics from carbon offsets to environmental justice work to the green careers of the near future.” Alyssa Romea is a third-year undergraduate studying political science and environmental science and policy who helped spearhead the Bee Campus USA initiative and


of UCI students, faculty and staff recognize the importance of acting on sustainability.



of housing residents annually say that sustainability programs raised their consciousness of environmental issues.

UCI was the first college campus in the nation to transition to a fully electric bus fleet, which it did in 2018. As of May 2022, the 20 electric buses have logged over 800,000 miles.




from the student-led and -financed Green Initiative Fund is granted annually to combat climate change and shrink UCI’s carbon footprint.

now serves as an academic coordinator for the Sustainability Resource Center, speaking to classes about issues she’s passionate about. “When I first applied to UCI, I worried about the sense of community at such a large school. But the sustainability community here is strong,” Romea says. As she soon discovered, Anteaters have over 20 student organizations dedicated to sustainability. “Students here see problems and have ideas and initiative to want to change them,” she says. “It’s about finding resources and professional guidance to see those innovations come to life, and the SRC gives us access to resources, faculty and staff to actually make a difference.” Ultimately, the impact of UCI’s sustainability programs extends beyond the campus and past the current moment. “We’re not just creating a sustainable UCI,” Metzgar says. “We’re preparing a new generation of leaders who feel ready and empowered to contribute to creating a more sustainable, resilient, equitable and livable world.”


points: UCI’s sustainability score from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education – the highest score in the world.

Spring 2022


Seeing the Forest Through the Trees Steve Zylius / UCI

Three Questions With Benis Egoh To Benis Egoh, UCI assistant professor of Earth system science, a forest is not some abstract thing represented by the data and computer models she uses in studying arboreal ecosystems. When she was growing up in Cameroon, in equatorial Africa, a forest meant home. It’s a place Egoh carried “in my heart” when she headed to college (B.S. in zoology, University of Uyo, Nigeria; M.S. in conservation biology, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Ph.D. in zoology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa) and then into the world at large, where she has helped formulate climate and sustainability plans for the European Commission and other organizations. Egoh joined the UCI faculty in 2019 after, she says, “doing a lot of research on where to go. I was thrilled by the innovations in climate science by those here who are now my colleagues. And when I read about all the trees


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on campus [which now number over 30,000] and all the open space nearby, I decided UCI was the place to be.” Her work today largely involves crafting policy proposals for a sustainable future – from California’s strained ecosystem to the environmentally challenging palm oil farms proliferating in Cameroon and many other developing nations. In February, Egoh received a Sloan Research Fellowship, awarded annually to early-career scholars with the potential to be the next generation’s scientific leaders – making her one of just 64 faculty members in UCI’s nearly 58-year history to earn this recognition. She spoke with UCI Magazine contributor Jim Washburn in April shortly after returning from a trip to Cameroon, where she’s working on a documentary about sustainability.

How has your childhood influenced your work? When I was growing up, the forest was right outside our door. It was part of our everyday life. My father worked for a banana and palm oil plantation, which was a mix of fields and forest. Much of our food came from the forest. When we got out of school every day, we’d go meet our parents in the fields, stopping on the way to pick and eat bananas and other fruits. My father also would put out box traps to attract animals that we’d use to make food. So many of the things I learned I got direct from nature. The beauty and complexity of the forest fascinated me. That helped me years later when I did conservation planning. When you’re preserving nature, of course you look at the charismatic species, like the elephants and the lions, but there’s so much more, like the ants that carry out a lot of the ecological processes you don’t necessarily see. If you don’t conserve the small things, then you also lose the bigger things. My growing up surrounded with nature also made me very much interested in the part humans play in nature. These things are so close to my heart because this is how I was educated.

What are you currently working on? My work now is focused on two things. One is looking at the impacts of climate change on humans and nature, using California as a study area. How do we model the changes? How do we measure the costs and benefits? For example, if we were to restore the forests in ways that help prevent fires, what is the benefit that we get from that forest, and who benefits? Will the benefits be sufficient to interest parties in getting money on the table for the restoration? Will the cost of restoration be offset by what’s saved on fighting fires? This is a small part of what we’re looking at. The other work, which we are doing in Cameroon – including filming a documentary – is looking at how the trade in commodities like palm oil and cocoa impacts both nature and people. They bring jobs and money to a community, but we must understand the effect on biodiversity and deforestation, as well as other issues such as the seizure of people’s land, child labor, the inequity of when people doing the labor aren’t paid enough to sustain or improve their lives, and factors such as fertilizer runoff ruining water supplies and the loss of carbon storage when forests are cleared. We want to be able to show policymakers, businesses and farmers the monetary value of preserving forests, the resources they can sustainably get from forests, and the

growing demand in the world for commodities that are sustainably produced. My work is always based on using research to find solutions. Policymakers are often accused of making poor decisions, but sometimes they don’t have the information they need to make better ones. So my work is to present information to them as a tool they can use.

“When you’re preserving nature, of course you look at the charismatic species, like the elephants and the lions, but there’s so much more, like the ants that carry out a lot of the ecological processes you don’t necessarily see. If you don’t conserve the small things, then you also lose the bigger things.”

Given the recent U.N. climate report and other grim environmental news, what keeps you working toward a better future? I can see all the reasons why some choose the doom route. But you can also look at how much of the environmental loss we have slowed or stopped. There’s a lot of reforestation and restoration work going on. I’m very positive that we can balance it out somehow, but there’s a lot more that we need to do. Our science is not enough if we don’t take it out there and convince people with it. My biggest goal at UCI is to train our students so that they’ll continue with the work we do, not only as scientists but also as advocates for the environment. Maybe some of them will influence the policymakers and politicians of the future. Maybe some of them will be the policymakers. We have to keep finding solutions with our science and have to keep pushing and convincing. It’s a long fight, but I think there will be a future for us.

Spring 2022



UCI Magazine



Two Ph.D. students put their marine science knowledge into immediate practice to study how oil spills affect critical ocean microorganisms


By Greg Hardesty

he process is about as low-tech as it gets. Standing on the Newport Pier, Melissa Brock slings a plastic bucket tied to a rope over the side, drops it below the ocean surface to fill it with chilly seawater, and begins the muscle-straining task of hauling the sloshy load back up. Then she and fellow Ph.D. student Joana Tavares carefully pour the water into small containers. Back in two labs at UCI, the marine scientists begin their high-tech analysis. They and their lab leaders and student colleagues peer into powerful microscopes to look at organisms too small for the human eye to see and perform DNA extraction to detect bacteria and viruses. They also search for nutrients and contaminants such as hydrocarbons. Early last fall, Brock and Tavares had more than enough on their plates as they toiled on their doctoral dissertations, with Tavares planning to graduate with a Ph.D. in Earth system science in November 2022 and Brock expected to earn her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology in spring 2024. But when a pipeline break in early October leaked thousands of gallons of oil off the coast of Huntington Beach, they added a massive undertaking to their already crammed schedules: the newly formed Southern California Oil Spill Project at UCI.

Photos by Steve Zylius

The effort involves analyzing the composition and health of phytoplankton and other microorganisms following the 25,000-gallon oil spill and contrasting them to samples collected over the last decade by UCI students at the Newport Pier and other spots along the Orange County coast. By comparing the new samples, as well as ones that will be harvested after the oil spill situation has played out, to that 10-year dataset, Brock and Tavares hope to shed light on the effects of oil spills on the tiniest forms of marine life. “When most people picture an oil spill,” says Matthew Bracken, UCI professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, “they picture cute and feathery and fuzzy animals like birds and sea otters covered in oil – that’s the macro scale. “But what Melissa and Joana are doing is digging into the microscale processes that we don’t have a good handle on,” he continues. “There’s this entire food web of phytoplankton and other microbes that underpins everything from salmon to crab to herring to whales, and yet we can’t see them. And if we can’t see them, it’s hard to figure out how something like an oil spill is going to impact them. “An oil spill has the potential to take the entire bottom out of the food chain and cause the system to collapse if these microorganisms are affected.”

Spring 2022


Doctoral students Melissa Brock (left) and Joana Tavares compare ocean water samples collected in Huntington Beach after a massive oil spill.

Beginning Stages Since the oil spill, Brock and Tavares have increased the frequency of their sampling trips to the Newport Pier to three times a week. They don’t have any final results yet because they and their UCI colleagues are still in the early stages of analyzing the various samples. Their research also involves determining how microorganisms degrade the oil by consuming it, adding to the array of natural processes (wind, waves, the sun) that have the same effect. Their quick action after the oil spill has impressed UCI faculty. Tavares works in the lab of Kate Mackey, the Clare Boothe Luce Associate Professor of Earth System Science, and Brock works in the lab of Adam Martiny, professor of Earth system science and ecology and evolutionary biology. “We’re all quite amazed at this,” says James Bullock, dean of UCI’s School of Physical Sciences, of the women’s


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“An oil spill has the potential to take the entire bottom out of the food chain and cause the system to collapse if these microorganisms are affected.” seawater research. He hosted a webinar on Earth Day this year, April 22, in which Brock and Tavares were the stars of the show. For an hour – as they shivered under their jackets on a cold and breezy spring afternoon – they patiently described their work and how they became fast friends and colleagues when both separately asked their professors if they could start collecting samples the Monday after the oil spill. “Within 10 minutes,” says Brock, who along with Tavares is passionate about

applying research to understand the effects of global climate change, “we knew we’d be doing this. It took some creativity and trust, but here we are. It worked out.”

A Blueprint for the Future The Southern California Oil Spill Project is the latest example of UCI’s long track record of studying marine biogeochemical cycles. Since 2015, Martiny has been running UCI Oceans, which involves scientists from multiple schools, especially the School of Physical Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences. The initiative was created to tackle pressing offshore and onshore environmental concerns and investigate questions on both the local and global scale. The Earth Day webinar also featured a representative from The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, Christopher Olivares, an assistant professor of civil and

environmental engineering who studies environmental biotechnology and pollutants. He arrived at UCI a few months before the oil spill happened and has been taking samples from Brock and Tavares and running them through a spectrometer to look for the presence of long-chain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. “This has been an exciting way to get started at UCI,” Olivares says. Also pitching in on the Southern California Oil Spill Project is UCI alumnus David Valentine, professor of Earth science and biology at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He advised Brock and Tavares on how to properly collect samples. “Professor Valentine was just fantastic,” says Tavares, who earned an undergraduate degree in oceanography at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande and a

master’s degree in marine studies at the University of Delaware. She believes the project will serve as a blueprint for future marine research into oil spills: “Someone else in a different location that’s dealing with an oil spill can take these steps, these protocols that we put together, and then reproduce them.” Brock earned an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of West Florida and a master’s degree in coastal sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi. She says her continued work with Tavares has been a great experience. “Our advisors and labs have been incredibly supportive,” Brock adds. “They also provide a lot of opportunities for undergraduates to get involved. They recognize this project’s relevance to the local community, and I think that’s incredibly impactful.”

Spring 2022


Hot Shots UCI’s Emmanuel Coste starts the season with a bang on Jan. 21, upsetting the top-ranked men’s college tennis player in the country, August Holmgren of the University of San Diego. After splitting sets, the graduate student won the third set, 7-5, for the victory. The native of France, who is working toward a Master of Finance degree at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business, has been ranked as high as 60th this season. UCI’s men’s tennis team went on to win the Big West Championship (above left) on May 1, advancing to make its 12th appearance in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before closing out the season with a 17-7 record – which marks the Anteaters’ most wins since 2016 and best win percentage since 1999.

Matt Brown / UCI Athletics


Steve Zylius / UCI

Helping At-Risk Scholars ..............................................................................................................


By Iryna Zenyuk

eb. 24, 2022, was a regular day in the lab for me, with a proposal review panel and meetings – nothing extraordinary. I direct a large group and have a leadership role with the UCI National Fuel Cell Research Center, so every hour of the day is accounted for. But this “regular” day forever changed my life – along with the

lives of millions of people around the world – as Russia invaded Ukraine, shelling its major cities Kyiv and Kharkiv. Immediately after seeing the shocking news on TV, I messaged my cousin in Kharkiv to try to understand what was happening on the ground there. It was 4 a.m. in Ukraine, and her family was gathering belongings to relocate to a safer place. Disoriented and unprepared, they had not seen the war coming, just like many of us here in the U.S. My cousin spent the next four weeks hiding in a basement while being shelled every day. Her husband was in Russian-occupied territory with his


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parents for that period, and their daughter managed to escape to Poland 10 days later. They still haven’t seen each other. This is a typical situation for many families who have managed to survive the Russian war on Ukraine. During the first week, I went to bed and woke up reading and watching news in disbelief: seeing cities being destroyed, civilians killed, children displaced, people finding shelter in basements and train stations. It all felt surreal. I had visited Ukraine in August 2021 in advance

of the festivities marking its 30 years of independence. It was a glorious time watching the capital, Kyiv, preparing for the celebration; seeing the churches and other 1,000-year-old historical places all renovated; hearing the Ukrainian language everywhere; and just enjoying the good weather and relaxing during a peaceful time. Being together with family and friends in western Ukraine reassured me that times were good in the country and that people were hopeful for a bright future. At the time, there was a controversy over a military parade that the president had planned to celebrate Independence Day, as we Ukrainians do not consider ourselves a militaristic nation, and having a parade to showcase all our military equipment seemed out of place. In August, few anticipated that the war in Luhansk and the Donbas initiated by separatists and backed by Russia years earlier would spread to other parts of Ukraine. I am Ukrainian American. I immigrated here at the age of 15 and became a U.S. citizen shortly thereafter. I completed all my higher education in the U.S. Until my early 20s, I lived in a Ukrainian diaspora community in New York City, participating in activities such as annual festivals and church retreats. My mother and brother still live there, and I get to visit them several times a year. I haven’t lost touch with my Ukrainian roots: I speak the language fluently and try to participate in Ukrainian activities whenever possible. This war, like no other, has managed to unite Ukrainians all over the world. In the last several weeks, I have met more Ukrainians at UCI than during the entire three years I’ve been here as a professor. As the days passed by, I felt the need to do something to help fellow Ukrainians, and an idea came to mind to host academics here at UCI. Little did I know that the university is a leader in this area and has a history of such humanitarian work. I was introduced to Jane Newman, a UCI professor of comparative literature who founded the campus Scholars at Risk program back in 2017. Since then, the UCI schools of education, humanities, law, social sciences and pharmaceutical sciences have hosted a Turkish scholar and are currently hosting two Cameroonian scholars and three Afghan scholars, with a fourth scheduled to arrive in June. Along with the scholars are some 13 dependents (partners/spouses, children and, in one case, a younger sister) who were also offered sanctuary. Scholars at Risk is an international program that, according to its website, “protects scholars suffering grave threats to their lives, liberty and well-being by arranging temporary research and teaching positions

“As the days passed by, I felt the need to do something to help fellow Ukrainians, and an idea came to mind to host academics here at UCI.”

at institutions in our network as well as by providing advisory and referral services.” The program helps more than 800 scholars and scientists worldwide per year. Since Professor Newman was still busy getting the Afghan scholars settled at UCI, we decided that I would lead the Ukrainian effort under her mentorship – launching a fundraising campaign, soliciting applications once the funds are raised and, lastly, helping the displaced scholars once they arrive. The fundraising involved a direct ask of UCI leadership as well as setting up a crowdsourcing campaign. And so far, with the assistance of the provost, the vice chancellor for research, nine deans and campaign contributors, we have gathered more than $200,000 and are ready to host two scholars! UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts also held a successful fundraising concert (#StandWithUkraine), organized by Ukrainian American pianist and UCI instructor Yuliya Minina. Since the very beginning of the effort, a dedicated campus cohort has greatly helped promote the crowdsourcing website and UCI’s Ukrainian scholar initiative: Vladimir Minin, professor of statistics; Kevin Bossenmeyer of the KUCI radio station; Dan Cooper, professor of pediatrics; student volunteer Jose Alberto Jr. Castaneda Montejo; and Maria Tkachuk from Beall Applied Innovation. This core group has met with me and Professor Newman to coordinate activities on a regular basis. I am fortunate to work with such a terrific team and grateful for all their contributions. UCI has been extremely supportive of the Ukrainian cause. People have shown tremendous generosity. We are ready to move to the next stage: selecting the academics and bringing them to campus. (We already have several applicants.) For years, I have known UCI for its excellence in education and research. But this experience has taught me that UCI is more than that: It’s a wonderful community, and it’s a family. Zenyuk is an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. She is also associate director of the UCI-based National Fuel Cell Research Center.

Spring 2022


Eco Witnesses Julie Coffey, a field research and land management specialist with UCI Nature, explains some finer points of the natural vegetation as she leads a group during the UCI Ecological Preserve’s BioBlitz on Earth Day 2022. Participants documented their observations through the iNaturalist app.

Steve Zylius / UCI


Steve Zylius / UCI

A Captain for the Planet Alumna Shyla Raghav is a leading global advocate on climate change mitigation and adaptation .............................................................................................................. By Kristin Baird Rattini

As a child, Shyla Raghav ’07 watched the animated series “Captain Planet and the Planeteers.” After the titular superhero and his five human helpers tackled each episode’s environmental concern – from waste management to deforestation to global warming – the “green” team told viewers how they too could be part of the solution. Raghav accepted the challenge. “I knew early on that I wanted to commit my life in some way to defending and protecting the planet,” she says. She has done so on a scale that would make Captain Planet proud. Through more than a decade of environmental work – most notably with the World Bank, the United Nations and Conservation International – and her integral role in the negotiations of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Raghav has been instrumental in influencing international climate change policy. One of the few women of color leading the environmental movement in the United States – and among the youngest – she serves as an inspiration and role model for the next generation of aspiring climate change trailblazers.


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Originally from Northern India, Raghav’s family lived in Australia and Nigeria before settling in Irvine when she was 6. As a teenager, she participated in recycling programs, organized her classmates to raise money for rainforest conservation and reused everything that she could. “I made my own notebooks with scrap paper and would write really small so I could get the most out of every piece of paper,” Raghav says. It was an easy decision for her to pursue bachelor’s degrees in applied ecology and international studies at UCI. Sure, the university was local, but the bigger draw was the quality and interdisciplinary nature of its programs. “Every practitioner of any science should also have training in how to apply their expertise in the context of global problems,” Raghav says. “My UCI experience laid the foundation for my career to come.” She joined the Green Campus program – supported by the bipartisan nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy – which encouraged both student engagement and advocacy within the university administration. With guidance from

Wendell Brase, then UCI’s vice chancellor for administrative and business services, the team lobbied for the use of biogas in university buses, swapped out incandescent light bulbs for compact-fluorescent lamps and launched an educational campaign targeting fume hoods, the most energy-intensive devices on campus. “It was a valuable experience, and to this day, he’s a mentor of mine,” Raghav says. After earning a Master of Environmental Management at Yale University, she headed to the Caribbean, where she lived in Dominica and Belize for a year while managing the World Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan. “It’s absolutely essential for anyone working on climate change to have firsthand understanding of the inequitable distribution of climate impact around the world,” Raghav says. “It gave me the confidence to speak on behalf of this global injustice and to be an advocate for underrepresented communities. As a woman of color, I felt I had earned the right to be in the room.” In 2012, she joined the climate policy staff at Conservation International, a nonprofit that works to spotlight and secure the critical benefits that nature provides to humanity. Soon after, the rising star was invited into one of the most high-profile rooms in the climate change realm: She would advise the Maldives delegation in negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference from 2014 to 2015. At the time, the Maldives chaired the Alliance of Small Island States, an influential coalition of low-lying island nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Over two years, Raghav helped develop and refine the alliance’s positions

on climate change, adaptation and finance. The signing of the historic Paris Agreement on Dec. 12, 2015, “was exhilarating and cathartic,” Raghav says. “It was a huge relief to see that the international process still maintained its relevance and role in addressing what is truly a global problem that will require a global solution.” As she ascended the leadership ladder at Conservation International – becoming vice president for climate change in 2019 – Raghav worked on solutions both abroad and at home. She visited more than 30 countries where the organization is establishing sustainable fisheries, restoring mangroves and forests, and protecting greater swaths of land from development. She spearheaded the creation of Nature4Climate, a coalition of nonprofits raising the profile of natural climate solutions, which can provide one-third of the costeffective climate mitigation needed by 2030 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. And – embodying Captain Planet’s catchphrase, “the power is yours” – Raghav updated Conservation International’s carbon footprint calculator, intended to show people the impact of their lifestyle choices on the climate and how they can be part of the solution by buying carbon credits to offset their emissions. “It was really important to give individuals some agency in their own climate story and their own ability to make a change in their communities and the world,” she says. In March 2022, Raghav embarked on her latest leadership role, this time as chief portfolio and partnership officer for Time Inc.’s new CO2 initiative, a platform for small- and medium-sized businesses

to cooperatively invest in climate solutions. “We’re seeing how we can move away from one-off investments toward holistic, integrated and systemic solutions,” she says. Raghav’s impact on climate change policy over the past decade led to her recent selection as one of 120 If/Then Ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The program recognizes talented female STEM professionals across a variety of industries who are interested in inspiring the next generation of girls to consider STEM careers. The ambassadors gathered on the National Mall in March so that each woman could meet her doppelganger: an orange, life-size, 3D-printed statue of herself. The Smithsonian Institution hosted “#IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit,” featuring the figures, to celebrate Women’s History Month.

“It’s absolutely essential for anyone working on climate change to have firsthand understanding of the inequitable distribution of climate impact around the world.” “It was surreal,” Raghav says. “At first, I felt a fair amount of imposter syndrome. But being able to stand next to my statue, meet girls who passed by, and see the ideas and excitement the exhibit sparked for them made me recognize that I belonged there. Each and every one of our stories is powerful and representative of the diversity of ways women are changing the world and imagining a new future.”

Spring 2022


Class Notes

Arthur Turfa, M.A. ’76, German He’s been a U.S. Army chaplain, a poet, a college and high school teacher, and – for one gloriously strange afternoon – a pickup basketball player with members of Frank Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention. The Rev. Arthur Turfa’s eclectic path has also taken him from Pennsylvania, where he grew up, to Germany, New Mexico and his current home in South Carolina, where he writes, taught, and served as an Evangelical Lutheran pastor. Since retiring from the Army Reserve in 2006, Turfa has published four poetry collections, a novel and two books of verse inspired by art. His work has also appeared in several journals. “I am like Theodor Fontane, who started writing later in life,” he says, referring to the German novelist and poet who began his literary career at age 58. Turfa’s poetry is a mix of free verse, sonnets and villanelles, often focusing on places – from fields and forests to the Underground Railroad and Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

..................................................... Elizabeth “Betty” Gayle ’87, civil engineering On the heels of helping to design and build a concrete canoe at UCI, Betty Gayle returned to her native Guam and became – in 1992 – the island territory’s first licensed indigenous (Chamorro) female engineer. She has worked on everything from golf courses and hotels to sewage systems and a jungle river water treatment plant. Gayle is a vice president at an architectural firm, and her latest project entails managing the design of all roads, grading, and telecommunications and utilities infrastructure for a new U.S. Marine Corps base on Guam. She also oversaw plans for an Air Force base machine gun range while making sure it didn’t disrupt a habitat for endangered butterflies. Outside work, Gayle dabbles in ceramics and sculpture and enjoys travel. Additionally, she served on the University of Guam Board of Regents when it established a new school of engineering in 2016.



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Rigo Rodriguez ’94, comparative literature and Spanish, M.A. ’99, urban and regional planning The youngest of 13 children born to Mexican farmworkers (his dad came to the U.S. as a bracero in 1944), Rigo Rodriguez ricocheted around high schools in Jalisco, Riverside and Chicago – and got rejected by more than 20 colleges – before gaining late admission to UCI in 1988. With $8 in his wallet and an Army bag carrying his clothes, the Salinas native hopped aboard a Greyhound bus to Irvine, settled in and began to blossom. Plunging into campus activism, Rodriguez helped organize protests that goaded the university into forming ethnic studies programs. He also served as Associated Students of UCI president and later earned a master’s degree before getting a Ph.D. in geography at USC. Today Rodriguez chairs Cal State Long Beach’s Chicano and Latino studies department and is president of the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education. He has also been a member of various civic, government and nonprofit agencies in Santa Ana.

..................................................... Ryan Rost ’00, English, ’02, music, M.F.A. ’14, music Plucking his upright bass, Ryan Rost has played in museums, aboard boats, at nightclubs, in churches and even on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” In late 2020, he released a jazz trio album, “I Was Here,” but he performs in multiple musical genres, from Japanese folk to hip-hop to rock to country. Raised in Garden Grove, Rost now lives in Brea with his Anteater wife, Jessica (Nelson) Rost ’02, and their two young children. He is currently working on another record, this time with a folk singer-songwriter. Rost is also doing sound design for a UCI Dance Visions production. Down the road, with his jazz trio and a vocalist, he plans to cut an album of rearranged pop songs from various decades. Between music gigs, Rost enjoys woodworking, home remodeling projects and playing other instruments, including the ukulele, piano and lap steel guitar.

Nafisa Ahmed, J.D. ’20

Shanty Wijaya ’06, molecular biology and biochemistry When she came to UCI from Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2001, Shanty Wijaya planned to make her mark as a molecular biologist. Instead, although she spent seven years as a bioscience researcher after earning her degree, Wijaya wound up helping to manage a bicycle manufacturing plant in China before returning to Southern California and launching Allprace Properties, a boutique company that renovates and flips old houses and also builds spec homes. Her real estate transformation projects have been featured in Architectural Digest and domino and on Coveteur.com, among others. Wijaya says a portion of the proceeds from homes she sells gets donated to Humble Design, a nonprofit that furnishes the residences of families and veterans emerging from homelessness. When she’s not reimagining landscapes and interiors, Wijaya likes to travel, explore nature, eat spicy foods, and spend time with her husband and son.

..................................................... Sharon Allen, M.S. ’13, nursing Since Sharon Allen wrote a devotional book for nurses in 2018, her career has taken a decidedly spiritual turn. The Ohio nurse practitioner, grandmother and community college instructor started a Bible-based mentorship and prayer group that morphed from three people gathered around her dining room table into a chapter of the Nurses Christian Fellowship with members in five states. Some of the growth might be pandemic-related. “So many nurses reached out and said this is the time we need it the most,” says Allen, who shifted the meetings to Zoom after COVID-19 hit. In addition, she got certified as a natural health professional and Christian counselor, then opened Covenant Health and Wellness Center in Cleveland, which connects physical well-being to emotional and spiritual fitness. Allen has also continued writing, authoring four more faith-based books. Originally from Tennessee, she grew up in Cleveland and returned there after UCI, working for a federally qualified health center before striking out on her own.

To submit a Class Notes update, email alumni@uci.edu.

Growing up Muslim American in the wake of 9/11 inspired Nafisa Ahmed, who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh as a child, to pursue a legal career. Because of hate crimes and discrimination aimed at members of her faith, “I saw lawyers as people who understood how to use the law to protect our community, and I wanted to feel that same sort of safety through knowledge,” she says. Today, thanks to a two-year Equal Justice Works public interest fellowship, Ahmed serves as an attorney at Peace Over Violence, where she helps domestic abuse survivors of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian heritage navigate family law issues such as divorce, restraining orders and child custody disputes. Curiously, though, “I spend a lot of time at weddings for someone who works as a divorce attorney,” Ahmed notes. “I was a bridesmaid five times in 2021.”


In Memoriam Duvall Hecht, head coach, men’s rowing Olympic champion and Books on Tape creator Duvall Hecht, who founded the UCI men’s rowing team in 1965, died of heart failure Feb. 10 at his home in Costa Mesa. He was 91. Hecht, who won a gold medal in the “pairs without coxswain” rowing competition at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, first took up rowing at Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in journalism in 1960. Hecht also served in the U.S. Marines as a fighter pilot and later flew as a commercial pilot. But he found it boring and left after a year to teach English at Menlo College in Atherton. Hecht then began working in the investment world and, finding his drives in Southern California dull, started what would become the Books on Tape empire, which he sold to Random House in 2001 for $20 million. Along the way, Hecht befriended UCI Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. and persuaded him that UCI should have a rowing team. He coached the team for six years until leaving for a stint at UCLA in the 1970s. But Hecht would return to UCI, where he served as head coach again from 1992 to 2001. Friends of UCI Rowing said of him: “To many of us, Duvall was more than a coach. He was a mentor and an inspirational leader whose words and wit propelled many of us into becoming who we are today.”

Spring 2022



Z O T !

Berry Cool Fourth-year neurobiology major Eiad Mohamed blends a fruit smoothie using his own energy channeled through a bike blender at UCI’s sixth annual Sustainival, held Feb. 14 at Gateway Plaza. Celebrating the university’s green culture, the fair was sponsored by the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, with additional support from the Green Initiative Fund and UCI Student Housing Sustainability. It featured booths from more than 25 campus and community organizations.


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Steve Zylius / UCI

RIDE. WALK. RUN. Join the

UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 UCI Aldrich Park Virtual opportunities are also available Since 2017, the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge has brought together thousands of people with one goal: to create a cancer-free world. This community movement gives people like you the chance to help support innovative research that can lead to the next breakthrough in cancer treatment. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds go to promising pilot studies and early-phase clinical trials at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ride, walk or run and be a part of our mission to defeat a disease that affects us all. Register today at anti-cancerchallenge.org.

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