BOLD Spring Magazine 2022
b ec a use b re a ki ng th e mo ld is par t o f yo ur Ant eat er leg acy
featu red 4 Message from Maurer 6 An agent of change Elizabeth Hafen, political science and psychology senior, credits the student enrichment programs in UCI social sciences for inspiring her plans to be a community changemaker
8 A cut above
Commencement speaker Akunna Ekeh’s intelligence and character shine through her work as a mentor, entrepreneur, and soon-to-be law student
12 Building peace, one piece at a time Kugelman Fellowships help UCI graduate students advance citizen peacebuilding worldwide
16 Family matters Commencement speaker and proud first-generation Latina Jacqueline Torres has been on a mission to uplift her “academic brothers and sisters”
18 Mapping her career path Diana Lavery ’06, M.A. ’08 leverages skills from UCI’s Demographic and Social Analysis program
20 Latina physicians Glenda Flores, UCI Chicano/Latino studies associate professor, analyzes and offers solutions on the undervalued yet critical role Latina physicians play in U.S. healthcare
22 Hope and redemption Jesse De La Cruz, political science senior, has beat the odds to become a community leader and new college graduate
24 Global entertainment insider
Howard Hsieh ’95, political science, vice president of business strategy and development at Paramount Pictures, stays connected with his alma mater as a founding member of the Dean’s Leadership Society
26 The one to ask Elizabeth Montoya, sociology and immunology and microbiology senior, achieves success one question at a time
30 A multi-faceted approach UCI-led team receives National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator grant to study and stop spread of mis-, disinformation in financial services industry
32 Fostering a global perspetive UCI’s new Ph.D. program in global studies diversifies education and supports the next generation’s appreciation of place in a complex world
34 Paying it forward
Marketing maven Danika Wong ’06, international studies and political science, fuels growth of the Social Sciences Alumni Network
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38 UCI researchers develop hybrid humanmachine framework for building smarter AI Model uses human and algorithmic predictions and confidence scores to boost accuracy
40 Giving back, from campus to courtroom Dean’s Leadership Society members Susan and Brett Williamson ’86 cherish their Anteater connections
43 Dean’s Leadership Society Investing in the next generation
44 Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society
62 On a mission Berna Idriz '20, international studies and political science, wants to change the world
64 Faculty bookshelf Works by UCI social sciences faculty span the social sciences
65 Experts on UCI social sciences video series tackles timely topics
66 Alumni class notes Updates from the social sciences Anteater community
A league of extraordinary women
46 No grit, no glory After a tough rejection sent him reeling, political science senior Joshua Swank has learned the value of grit and determination
48 Removing barriers, expanding reach UCI social scientists “build and broaden” research, opportunities among minority-serving institutions with support from the National Science Foundation
50 Social sciences alumni superconnector Blake Baxter ’04, Social Sciences Board of Councilors member and Alumni Network founding chair, builds bridges between alumni and their alma mater
53 Alumni Network Wherever you go, Stay Social!
54 Understanding economic inequality, one experiment at a time Nishtha Sharma, economics Ph.D. ’22, pursues research, applied internship experience on the ways economic discrimination affects individuals’ decisions
56 Making her mark Michelle Thomas, psychology senior and inaugural Black Lives Matter Research Scholar, is working to advance understanding of Black, marginalized communities
58 What’s next: Inflation UCI economist Eric Swanson discusses the current state of the U.S. economy and forecasts what’s ahead
60 Finding research inspiration in life experience Zeinab Kachakeche, language science graduate student, reflects on her research endeavors and experience as a mother pursuing a Ph.D.
b e BOL D ----a publication of the UCI School of Social Sciences ----writers, designers, editors & photographers Heather Ashbach, Bria Balliet, Nora Bradford, Christine Byrd, Cara Capuano, Luis Fonseca, Jill Kato, Steven Zylius special thanks to contributing photographers: Daniel Cewinski, Beverlie Lord, Maggie Garcia ----School Leadership Bill Maurer, Dean Barbara Sarnecka, Associate Dean Jeanett Castellanos, Associate Dean Anita Casavantes Bradford, Associate Dean Angela Jenks, Vice Associate Dean Rebecca Ávila, Assistant Dean Communications & Marketing Heather Ashbach, Executive Director Luis Fonseca, Digital Media Manager Development Tracy Arcuri, Senior Executive Director Liz Codispoti, Director Melissa Churlonis, Coordinator ----featured on cover: Undergraduate commencement speakers Akunna Ekeh and Jacqueline Torres were selected from among their graduating peers to deliver the social sciences commencement addresses this year.
----Be Bold is offered in digital and print formats.
Bill Maurer Professor, Anthropology & Law
n the UCI School of Social Sciences, community is a powerful word. It’s the heart of social sciences, the foundation from which we seek to understand the world and our place in it. It’s also the shared sense and spirit upon which our school is built - one that emboldens mold breakers to create positive change and improve the human condition. In this issue of Be Bold, I’m so proud to present stories of our Anteaters who embody this passion and purpose. You’ll read about first-generation students like Jacqueline Torres and Elizabeth Hafen who are paving new pathways with their up-coming graduation from UCI and plans to pursue careers helping others thrive.
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Bill Maurer, UCI social sciences dean.
You’ll learn about Akunna Ekeh whose entrepreneurial spirit sparked a new business venture that created community during COVID, and Fulbright scholar Elizabeth Montoya who plans to use her dual degrees to help marginalized communities overcome health disparities. You’ll read about exciting new research projects that are working to build smarter AI, stop the spread of misinformation, remove barriers and expand research and college opportunities for historically underserved populations, and more. You’ll learn about our alumni and community friends - like Howard Hsieh ’95, Larry and Dulcie Kugelman, Danika Wong ’06, Susan and Brett Williamson ’86, Blake Baxter ’04,
and our soon-to-launch Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society - whose support is helping us uplift and engage our community and Anteater family, now more than 58,000 alumni strong. And so much more. I hope you enjoy this issue of Be Bold as much as I do. And as you read the stories, I encourage you to reach out to learn more about the ways you can get involved in our social sciences community and help us change lives.
For her, each opportunity led to another and cemented her drive to be an agent of change for her community. Hafen and her siblings grew up watching their single mother work all hours as a family attorney in Mexico. Ask Hafen where she got her drive from, and she needn’t look far. “My mom’s dream was to come to the U.S. and live the American dream. I want to become that dream. I want to do everything I can to be exceptional,” Hafen says. When she was in middle school, she and her family escaped a domestic violence situation. They moved into a women’s shelter where they stayed until she was partway through high school. “It was really rough,” she says about those years. “It made me want to help others, so they don’t have to live through what I lived through. Having been raised in a women’s shelter made me want to be a positive vehicle for change,” she says. When she arrived on campus, Hafen wasted no time seeking out resources to do just that. She received an email to join FGFQ and used it as her launchpad. The support program helps first-gen students transition to university life by creating small group communities where students can share and learn from each other’s experiences. Through her FGFQ mentor, Hafen discovered more programs, which led her to others.
an agent of change
Elizabeth Hafen, political science and psychology senior, credits the student enrichment programs in UCI social sciences for inspiring her plans to be a community changemaker
Scan to learn more about the school's many enrichment programs.
ifth-year senior Elizabeth Hafen sees herself as a product of the many programs the UCI School of Social Sciences has to offer. From the FirstGeneration, First Quarter Challenge (FGFQ) and the Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) to the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI), the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Healing Ambassador Program (DIRHA), and the Dean’s Ambassadors Council, she’s taken advantage of nearly every enrichment program the school offers.
She credits a lot of her success in college to the mentors she’s found at UCI – and she encourages other students to seek out the same. “Find a mentor who encourages and pushes you to be your very best, and keeps you on your toes,” she says. Her mentor encouraged her to participate in SAEP, an intensive five-week program designed to offer research experience to firstgeneration social sciences majors. It was here where Hafen believes her critical-thinking skills were kicked into high gear as she began to reflect on her own story and considered what issues were important to her. “I remember growing up asking why certain things were the way they were and being told that’s just the way it is. After coming to UCI and learning about the policies and systems that are in place throughout society, I realized why it was so hard for my family to be
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successful and I want to help change that,” she says. Teresa Neighbors, who directs the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion undergraduate programs and was previously director of SAEP, was impressed with Hafen’s critical thinking skills and ability to apply what she was learning. “Elizabeth quickly stood out as a well-rounded student, equally focused on academics as well as community service to improve equity,” Neighbors says. From there, Hafen went on to join DDI, another program that was particularly formative from both an academic and personal perspective. Participants in DDI explore critical issues that are impacted by race and race relations in America, such as anti-blackness; the Asian American achievement paradox; allyship and the politics of solidarity; the queer rights movement; art and racial resilience; arguments for and critiques of multicultural/diversity initiatives; and more. The intensive year-long program aims to support students in realizing their power to reduce racial/ethnic prejudice both within and beyond college campuses. Throughout the year, students participate in seminars and travel to sites of historical and contemporary importance to the experience of race in America. They meet with policy makers, local officials, nonprofit organizations, and community members to gain insights into race issues from the people living there. “Travel allows students to strengthen their skills at navigating important - and often controversial - topics with sensitivity to the diverse narratives that underlie issues of race in America,” says Neighbors. During spring break of her second year, Hafen traveled with her DDI cohort to Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Montgomery, and New Orleans. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was a visit to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial structure at the center of the site is constructed of over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the U.S. where a racial terror lynching took place. As visitors walk through the exhibit, the floor descends until the columns are dangling above and the visitors are in the position of spectator. “The heaviness weighs on your shoulders. The columns keep going and going,” says Hafen.
Elizabeth Hafen with her DDI cohort in San Francisco.
“You can learn about slavery in textbooks, but the memorial gave me a different type of understanding.” Hafen, who is Mexican-American, describes how her cohort drove between destinations on the Southern leg of their trip. “Most of my peers were Black and it was a very different and difficult experience driving through the South learning what we had just learned,” she says. “After DDI, I wanted to be more involved and have more of an impact on my community. If I was going to talk the talk, I wanted to walk the walk. I tried not to impose, but to be an open ear and a good ally,” Hafen says. She honed those skills through her role as a mentor to high school students in DIRHA. The program, created in response to the racebased violence of the 2017 Charlottesville protest, examines the often-unconscious beliefs created by racism. As a DIRHA mentor, Hafen led weekly discussions on topics ranging from immigration, gender, and sexuality to religious diversity. “Elizabeth quickly earned the trust and respect of her mentees through her ability to relate and lead with compassion,” says Neighbors.
Approximately 20 high schools participate in DIRHA across Orange County. A total of 500 mentors have reached an estimated 25,000 youth, teachers, and community members through their programs. As a mentor, Hafen challenges and encourages her students to broaden how they think. “I tell them that they weren’t born with this ideology and ask them to question where it came from. I want them to understand why they may think a certain way,” she says. After she graduates in spring, Hafen plans to pursue a joint Master of Public Policy and J.D. program. She’s developed a taste for government through her service as a senator for ASUCI and member of the Dean’s Ambassador’s Council, and she wonders if maybe just maybe - she might want to pursue a life in politics one day. But before then, she has dreams of starting her own law firm that specializes in public policy and legislation targeted toward community improvement. Senator Hafen or not, she is already exceptional and an embodiment of the American dream. •
a cut ABOVE Commencement speaker Akunna Ekeh’s intelligence and character shine through her work as a mentor, entrepreneur, and soon-to-be law student
When the pandemic hit, Akunna Ekeh saw an unmet need and started her own hair braiding business.
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s graduation approaches, Akunna Ekeh is feeling grateful. The political science major is one of only two undergraduate students selected to address the School of Social Sciences graduating class of 2022, and she wants to tell everyone how she feels. “I want to thank my parents and UCI publicly. I’ve gained so much confidence and wisdom here. Ever since I was little, my parents have stressed education. They told me it would give me freedom,” she says. In the fall, she’ll be flexing that freedom at law school – just as soon as she decides which offer to accept. She’s been admitted to some of the top programs in the country, including Duke, Georgetown, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Howard, ASU, and Emory.
“My parents worked hard to give me every tool I need to succeed. I want to take advantage of every opportunity,” she says. “Calling my parents to tell them my LSAT score has been the highlight of my life. I was so proud to tell them that their hard work was worth it.” As she reflects on her time as an Anteater with her eye toward all of the great things ahead for her and her classmates, Ekeh’s message is one of hope and inspiration. “When you’re doing something you love and you’re fighting for what you believe in, success comes naturally. There’s no need to rush. We have a lot of work to do as a society and we should embrace it. For me, success is about giving back to my community and being able to look back on my life and say that I contributed positively to the world.”
Akunna Ekeh has her pick of law schools following graduation in spring.
Family ties Ekeh has made the most of her time at UCI and stands out, not just for academic excellence, but also for the positivity and personal touch she’s brought to her courses and extracurricular activities. “I call my students my school sons and daughters, but I wish she was my real daughter. You can quote me on that,” says political science lecturer Alfonso Valdez, who had Ekeh as a student in several of his courses. “She’s a wonderful person. She’s going to be successful no matter what she does,” he says. “She has a unique aura that invites people to talk to her. She’s confident, but not boastful. She’s strong, but not a bull in a china shop. She has an openness that makes people feel comfortable in who and what they are.” Ekeh grew up in Antioch as the second of four children in what felt like the “perfect place.” Her parents were born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. about 25 years ago. While most of her extended family remains in Nigeria, she was surrounded by a close-knit community of her parents’ Nigerian-born friends. In childhood, Ekeh was independent and could often be found with her nose in a book and two to three others stacked on her nightstand. The model set by her parents has fueled her ambition from day one. Her mother worked nightshifts as a registered nurse so that she could attend her children’s activities during the day. Her father’s hours were no better. As an entrepreneur, he couldn’t count on a regular schedule and would often wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning for work. Despite his “crazy” hours, Ekeh’s father seemed to find the time and energy to take Ekeh and her siblings to the movies, the water park, or to San Francisco on the weekends.
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For me, success is about giving back to my community and being able to look back on my life and say that I contributed positively to the world.
“My parents had the biggest impact on me. They didn’t have gender roles. My dad cooks and cleans, just as much as my mom. Seeing how my dad would invite my mom into conversations showed me the respect my parents have for each other and taught me that my voice deserves to be heard in all spaces,” she says. An immediate connection Ekeh received a full scholarship to an out-ofstate university, but after visiting UCI’s campus she knew where she was going to enroll. “I went on a tour and fell in love. The campus was beautiful. I attended Black Family Celebrate UCI and met students who were starting the same year. The connection was there. I told my parents, UCI is where it’s at.” While Ekeh was often content being alone with a book throughout childhood, she found a new appreciation for mentors and community once she arrived on campus. “At UCI, I met people who helped bring out the best in me. Thais, from housing, encouraged me to become a resident advisor my third and fourth year and it turned out to be great. My students would come to my door and bring me dinner because they knew I couldn’t cook. I saw the importance of being a resource for others. I’m still in contact with my former students,” she says. Ekeh also served as a resource for low-income high school students through UCI’s Saturday Academy of Law program. Every weekend, she would log onto Zoom to speak with students about law, first amendment rights, and their plans for attending college. “The program motivated me to possibly become a professor one day. Plus, I think there
Akunna and her family at her mother's 50th birthday party.
was a benefit to the students seeing someone who is like them, doing the type of things they may want to pursue,” she says. Another fond memory Ekeh has is living in the Academic Excellence Black Scholars House her freshman year. She remembers staying up until early morning getting to know her housemates and discussing their political beliefs. “It was really great to be in that house. So many lasting friendships were formed there,” she says. Braiding business When the pandemic hit and canceled or forced many in-person activities to go online, Ekeh kept plenty busy as a full-time student and volunteer. But when she discovered she had some extra time on her hands, she turned to YouTube to learn how to brain her own hair. Soon, she was braiding her friends’ hair and posting their pictures on her Instagram. It wasn’t long before others started contacting her to see if she could do their hair and her entrepreneurial spirit took hold. She set up a website so people could make appointments and her hair braiding business was born. During her busiest period, Ekeh had four to five clients a week, with each appointment taking five to eight hours. “We watch TV and talk, often about our experience living in Irvine,” says Ekeh about the time she spent with her clients. “It’s a nice bonding experience and a nice chance to meet another Black person. A lot of people came from outside of UCI."
"I met a woman who was in the secret service at the White House,” she says. In addition to practicing law, Ekeh hopes that someday she’ll be able to open a small hair salon on the side. “The goal is to service everyone, but to offer special prices to high school and middle school students so that they can get their hair done at affordable prices - less than 50% of the market price. My dad and I have been discussing this dream for some time,” she says. Legal ambition First, though, she’ll be working to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer – one she’s had since she was little. “I remember my parents struggling to get my grandparents visas. I saw the power of laws and policies. When I finish my education, I will be able to be the bridge between the law and the average person.” If past performance is any indication, Ekeh will make a huge mark on the lives she touches. “She’s not your standard student,” says Valdez. “She’s the cream of the crop. Not only academically, but it’s her demeaner, her willingness to help others, her caring attitude. She’s one of only a handful of students who stood out like this in the 16 years I’ve taught at UCI. She’s a cut above the rest." •
Dulcie and Larry Kugelman have a passion for peace that’s propelled their partnership with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding since 2001. The couple is intimately involved in the School of Social Sciences; Dulcie is on the steering committee for the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society and Larry now serves as the chair of the Board of Councilors.
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building peace, one piece at a time Kugelman Fellowships help UCI graduate students advance citizen peacebuilding worldwide
or 12 years, Bruce Hemmer, Ph.D. ’09, has worked behind the scenes to prevent conflict and maintain stability in dozens of countries around the globe, traveling from Uzbekistan to Singapore and Zimbabwe to Belize, helping U.S. embassies analyze conflict dynamics, develop peacebuilding strategies, diplomacy and programs, and monitor and evaluate their effects. As a senior conflict prevention officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, Hemmer relies on skills he honed as a UCI graduate student in political science, researching conflict in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, with the support of two Kugelman Fellowships from UCI’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. “My graduate research included field work in two countries, organizing over 80 interviews with local peacebuilding organizations and experts on sensitive topics, conducting a survey of experts, measuring various contextual variables, and finding ways to analyze it all quantitatively and qualitatively,” says Hemmer. “That level of data complexity was very germane to what I’ve done at the State Department, including training U.S. officers and local partners in other countries to conduct conflict analysis and monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding efforts.” Hemmer is among the more than 125 UCI graduate students from social sciences, social ecology, and humanities who have won Kugelman Fellowships since the program began in 2006, thanks to funding from Dulcie and Larry Kugelman. In the time since, the couple has gotten intimately involved in the School of Social Sciences; Dulcie is on the steering committee for the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society and Larry now
serves as the chair of the Board of Councilors. Their fellowships have enabled students to study conflict and peacebuilding efforts all around the globe – Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Rwanda, Somalia, Yemen. Fellows have gone on to positions as tenure-track faculty at the University of Notre Dame, University of South Florida, University of Wyoming, and Kent State, while others, like Hemmer, were drawn to continue working directly in the field. “The experience of going out into the field and collecting your own data and analyzing it is different than using existing data sets, and sets you up for doing that again in real life,” says Hemmer, whose dissertation compared how the political engagement peacebuilding organizations in Northern Ireland and Bosnia were affected by their varying levels of experience with democracy. “What was attractive about working for the State Department was the ability to apply what I’ve learned to problems in the real world, and affect how millions of dollars are spent every year.” Hemmer is currently one of the lead experts guiding how U.S. agencies including the State Department, USAID and Department of Defense are implementing the Global Fragility Act, which requires 10-year conflict prevention plans in selected countries, developed in close partnership with local government, civil society, and the private sector. Congress has already provided $100 million for the first year of implementation, and more is expected in subsequent years. Embodying conflict Dulcie and Larry Kugelman see themselves as embodying the historic Northern Irish conflict, despite being happily married for nearly 50 years.
Dulcie was born in Britain and raised in a Protestant family, while Larry’s mother was a staunch Irish Catholic, and this dichotomy contributes to their significant interest in peacebuilding, particularly in Northern Ireland. Larry joined the Peace Corps when he finished college in 1966, and spent the next two years in Iran answering President John F. Kennedy’s famous call to “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” When he returned to the U.S., he worked in the healthcare industry, a space he felt had considerable room for improvement, and subsequently served in numerous roles including as president and CEO of Cigna Healthcare of California and as CEO and director of Health Plan of America. Because of Larry’s career, the family relocated often, and Dulcie took college courses here and there while raising their two children. She became especially interested in peace movements in the 1980s, when concern over nuclear weapons buildup was soaring. Eventually, when the family settled in Orange County, she earned her bachelor’s degree in peace studies from Chapman University in 1996, just as her son graduated from high school. Just months after opposing factions in Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, ending decades of violence, Dulcie and recently retired Larry packed their bags and headed to the center of the conflict to pursue a master’s in peace and conflict studies at the University of Ulster.
Dulcie remembers attending the wake of a staunch IRA family member with some concern that her British background might be revealed. “Living there we got to understand that the past is never forgotten, and the pain of deep trauma and grievance resonates through the generations to the present day,” Dulcie says. “Reconciliation in the face of these memories is both desperately needed and so difficult to reach. It is a tribute to the hard and courageous work of citizen peace builders there that the peace is holding.” For years, the couple made biannual pilgrimages to Northern Ireland to support the work of classmates and NGOs, including the grassroots citizen peacebuilding program Seeds of Hope, founded by the sister of a former IRA leader. “We were never looking to solve people’s problems, because that’s not our place,” Dulcie says. “But we tried to be supportive of their efforts, in any way we could.” Peacebuilding at home That support continued back home, as well. Through their relationship with the local nonprofit Share Our Selves, the Kugelmans were introduced to UCI’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding in 2001, and immediately became integral to the center.
“You could read everything about Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t prepare you at all for actually being there and what it might be like to live in a conflict zone and make a difference there,” says Dulcie.
In 2007, largely through their work with the Carter Center, they helped bring former President Jimmy Carter to speak at UCI. Around that same time, they began supporting graduate student fellowships.
“Because what is peace? You can think about it as being something quiet and calm, but in fact building peace and trying to get to peace is a very active, hard work process.”
“The Kugelman Fellowship program is one of the most significant, ongoing accomplishments of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding,” says David Snow, Distinguished Professor emeritus of sociology and director of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. “Consistent with the center's mission, it provides funding for UCI graduate students, principally in the social sciences, to pursue research on conflict and conflict resolution and peace initiatives worldwide.”
While living near the university in Londonderry/Derry, on the side of the river that was home to the Catholic community, the Kugelmans quickly experienced the challenges of living in a community shaped by decades of conflict.
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We’re interested in encouraging students to take a look at peace, how all of these parts fit together for a more peaceful world, and to do more research in areas related to peace. We want to support them and help them grow. -Dulcie Kugelman
The 12 Kugelman Fellows funded in 202122 span a wide range of interests: one is conducting field research in Northern Ireland on the legislative election, another is exploring post-genocide peacebuilding in Rwanda, and a third is examining the international complexity of providing protection for Rohingya refugees. “According to these and the many other of the Kugelman Fellows with whom I've spoken, their research projects, which typically result in a dissertation, would not have been possible without the Kugelmans’ support,” says Snow. “Not surprisingly, the Kugelman’s longtime interest in peace building and generosity in supporting kindred graduate student research finds parallel expression in their gracious and compassionate community outreach beyond the campus.” The fellowships can be used for travel, equipment, field interviews, living expenses, and in some cases, serve as seed money for trying to get an even larger grant. Fellows are eligible to reapply for funding in multiple years. “We came into contact with grad students and realized most needed to raise money to do their research, yet they had fewer avenues for raising money than professors,” says Larry. “We started to see what they could do with a small amount of money, and it was incredible.” The Kugelmans are equally generous with their human resources, as well, connecting students like Hemmer – who was among the first cohorts of Kugelman Fellows – with their contacts in Northern Ireland, when useful for research.
As the fellows graduate and go on to their own careers, the Kugelmans have enjoyed staying in touch. “We’re really very proud of the students,” says Larry. “We feel a personal bond and attachment to them, and it gives us a lot of pleasure to see them doing well, seeing them changed by their experiences.” “We realize we are making an investment in people,” says Dulcie. “We’re interested in encouraging students to take a look at peace, how all of these parts fit together for a more peaceful world, and to do more research in areas related to peace. We want to support them and help them grow.” •
family matters Commencement speaker and proud first-generation Latina Jacqueline Torres has been on a mission to uplift her “academic brothers and sisters”
ome June, Jacqueline Torres, psychology and Chicano/Latino studies senior, will get on stage to speak to her fellow UCI School of Social Sciences graduates at their wellearned commencement ceremony. “I want to break stereotypes of people of color. I want people to see Latinas as part of higher education,” says graduating senior Jacqueline Torres.
“It’s been a difficult and devastating few years,” says Torres. “There was COVID, the danger Black and Brown communities faced and continue to face, Asian American hate crimes. I saw an opportunity to stand up to the mic and honor the class of ’22 and advocate for our communities,” she says about the opportunity to address her fellow graduates. Despite the difficulties of the past few years, Torres remains optimistic. If anything, the past few years have taught her to face challenges and difficult conversations head on. “I want to encourage my classmates to use their power, their education, to make a better world. I want them to acknowledge racism and sexism. I want them to recognize people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ community. I want them to see how our different intersectionalities play a huge factor in how we’re treated, so we can form a more empathetic and passionate world,” she says. The power of education Torres grew up in Inglewood and Lawndale. Her family was her lifeline. “My family members were my number one supporters and my first friends. They taught me how to be respectful and how to be respected. They taught me to honor what I stand for,” she says. Her family also taught her the value of an education. “They always supported me in pursuing higher education. They taught me that an education is a privilege and an honor,” Torres says. When it came time to decide where to attend college, Torres chose UCI for its location and generous funding package.
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I want to encourage my classmates to use their power, their education, to make a better world. “I was really passionate about my high school AP psychology class. After that, I knew I wanted to be in a space of helping and uplifting others. I just didn’t know what that would look like yet or how to turn it into a career,” she says. First steps Torres seems so self-assured and community-oriented, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time she didn’t feel comfortable in her surroundings. But Torres admits that during her first two years at UCI, she experienced a bit of an adjustment period. “It was lonely going to a class of 400 people when no one seemed interested in talking to me. I didn’t know what to say or how to navigate the situation. As a first-gen Latina, I was really experiencing imposter syndrome,” she says. By her third year, Torres made finding a community a priority. Once she discovered the Latinx Student Psychological Association (LSPA), her college experience shifted. Through LSPA, she formed strong relationships with faculty and like-minded students who were also interested in pursuing a graduate degree. LSPA was also where she met undergraduate studies associate dean Jeanett Castellanos. Castellanos, or Dr. C. as she’s affectionately called by her students, served as an inspiration to Torres in many ways. “Dr. C. plants a seed in you and helps you grow. She welcomes you in, to what she calls her academic family, and refers to us as academic brothers and sisters. Seeing a Latina faculty member who was so invested in students inspired me to do more. She seemed like a she-ro,” says Torres. “After LSPA, everything snowballed,” Torres continues. “LSPA and Dr. Castellanos opened a lot of doors. I found my identity. I connected to my community and culture. I found passion and purpose.”
Torres was inspired to apply to research positions and was fortunate to be offered an opportunity in Castellanos’ research lab. She was also motivated to pursue her own research on Latinx spiritual practices, to mentor high school students, and to become a life coach for her fellow Anteaters in the Creating Options and Conquering Hurdles (C.O.A.C.H.) program. From the long list of Torres’s accomplishments, the achievement of which she is most proud is just showing up to her first LSPA meeting, where she is currently copresident. “I advocated for myself and formed a community on campus. I was able to repress that imposter syndrome and take that first step to join LSPA and then become a peer advocate for Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) and then apply to be an ambassador for Deconstructing Diversity Initiative. The most beautiful part is my passion for community has continued to develop,” she says. Better together Another “she-ro” Torres credits for her success is associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies Ana Rosas. Rosas invited Torres to be part of her undergraduate research team and together they worked to plan events supported by UCI Illuminations. “Seeing Latina faculty like Dr. Rosas was really impactful. As a first-gen student, it was really intimidating approaching faculty in what felt like a white-dominated space,” says Torres. “Dr. Rosas wanted to know more about me and really cared about what I wanted to achieve. Sometimes I would throw out phrases in Spanish and she understood. It felt like I was talking to a family member.” Rosas confirms Torres’s commitment to cultivating and investing in community. “Jacqueline is among a handful of students who, when meeting with you, will always check in on how you are doing, what are important projects to consider contributing to, and how are fellow Latina/o/e/x students doing as they undertake demanding course and employment schedules, especially in the fields of Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/e/x studies. She does not underestimate how, as members of the UCI community, we have so much to learn from each other when we connect and the formative importance of dialogue when supporting each other,” says Rosas.
Bright days ahead Torres has done an excellent job taking the emotional insights she’s gained from psychology and the social-economic context of Chicano/Latino studies and putting them into action. “She encouraged fellow students to discuss their feelings as they undertook the important work of advancing their academic and civic engagement goals while being there for loved ones shouldering the rigors of the COVID-19 pandemic across a diversity of contexts and spaces,” says Rosas. In fall, Torres plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in psychology with the hopes of working with college students someday. During her gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, she will work as an academic counselor to high school students applying to college. In addition, she will be working with faculty from The Paris Institute of Political Studies and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Monterrey, Mexico on a quantitative research investigation focused on undocumented Mexicans in sanctuary cities. “I want to break stereotypes of people of color. I want to advocate for gender equity for my little cousins. I want people to see Latinas as part of higher education,” says Torres. “I have grown at UCI. UCI has shown me what’s most urgent. The understanding I learned at CARE, the need to end racialethnic prejudice through the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative, the importance of engaging in intentional research focused on uplifting our communities through Summer Academic Enrichment Program and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the training I received as a peer life coach for the C.O.A.C.H. program have all prepared me for life ahead,” she says. •
Diana Lavery ’06, M.A. ’08 leverages skills from UCI’s Demographic and Social Analysis program
iana Lavery ’06, M.A. ’08, has leveraged the skills from her master’s degree in demographic and social analysis (DASA) to chart a career helping policymakers understand the world around them with data maps and visualization tools. Her own career map spans California to Washington, D.C., and includes working on the U.S. Census and helping state higher education systems with their planning. All of it, she says, she owes to her experiences at UCI. Setting out Lavery visited the UCI campus from her hometown of Encinitas, California, for tournaments with her high school Quizbowl team, an academic trivia competition. She liked the campus right away, and enrolled as a math major, but soon switched to economics, where she could apply her math skills. Like many of her classmates, Lavery interned at an investment banking firm, but the finance industry didn’t feel like home. Then, she took a population studies course about demography. “I found demography fascinating, and then came to learn there’s a whole master’s program about this stuff, and it’s at UCI,” Lavery says. After graduating in winter 2006, Lavery applied to the DASA program. Just a handful of master’s programs in demography exist (most are doctoral programs) and, of those, only UCI’s can be completed in one year. “It makes for a busy year with all the courses and the independent project, but students come out much stronger in a very short time,” says David Schaefer, professor of sociology and director of UCI’s DASA master’s program. One of the program’s signatures is that each of the students in the small cohort are paired with a faculty advisor and work closely with them on their project.
Lavery’s advisor was sociology professor Wang Feng, a widely recognized expert on demographics and birthrates in China. Lavery worked with him to use large data sets from the Centers for Disease Control and other sources to examine the relationship between a mother’s education and infant mortality in the U.S. “A doctor who is delivering babies is looking at 300 births a year, whereas a demographer is looking at millions. They can see things differently,” says Lavery. “The U.S. has stark differences in infant mortality depending on the mother's education level, even within racial groups.” Power of internships Housed in the Department of Sociology, the DASA program is highly interdisciplinary, and students are encouraged to take classes in different fields. Lavery enrolled in courses in education and public health – both fields where many program alumni have successfully pursued careers. Other recent graduates have gone into the private sector or pursued Ph.D. programs. “There’s room for an elective each quarter which allows students to tailor their coursework to their particular professional goals,” says Schaefer. For Lavery, it was an elective on geographic information systems (GIS) that not only helped her get her first job, but also set her on the career path she continues today. Lavery had been working in a paid internship at the County of Riverside as a GIS analyst in land records and mapping. The exact skills she learned in class that quarter turned out to be what the county needed, updating government records with new addresses as the region grew and developed. After graduating, Lavery moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship with the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan research organization that supports the U.S. Census Bureau’s data dissemination efforts.
I would not have had any of my full-time jobs without the DASA program.
There, she worked alongside other graduate students in demography – most of them pursuing Ph.D.s – to conduct research and inform policy. Lavery says the powerful impact of those two internships would be felt for years. Both of her first two jobs after graduating were at the same organizations where she previously interned. First, she worked at the County of Riverside, leveraging her experience working on the U.S. Census to help local officials prepare for the massive undertaking of counting every living soul in their geographic area. Then, she returned to the Beltway for a fulltime job at PRB. Anteater connections The network of friends, mentors, and mentees that Lavery established at UCI has been lasting. She met her future husband, Pierre Auza, when they were both undergraduates. Then, in the DASA master’s program, Lavery built strong relationships with her classmates, including one who would ultimately be her roommate and bridesmaid at her wedding.
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“I found demography fascinating, and then came to learn there’s a whole master’s program about this stuff, and it’s at UCI,” says alumna Diana Lavery.
Even from the other side of the country, Lavery fostered connections to UCI by serving as a mentor for a UCDC student who went on to complete the DASA program and launch a career in public health. Ultimately, Lavery and Auza, who earned his Ph.D. in engineering from UCI, settled in Southern California. Her work then turned to a focus on using demographic data and GIS mapping to aid higher education, first with the Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corp, where one of her main projects was for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She parlayed that experience into a job with the California State University system, the country’s largest public university system. Although Lavery had regularly made gifts to UCI as an alumnus, her workplace experiences with the higher education sector reinforced the importance of supporting public education. At RAND, in particular, she saw how research proposals for the military were easily supported, while education research
seemed to be constantly seeking funding. Now she is a donor and member of the School of Social Sciences Alumni Network.
margins of error, so let's make sure our products can display that error on the map without confusing people.”
“I donate to the UCI social sciences, no questions asked,” says Lavery. “I know the state money has been going away over the years, and it costs more to provide this world-class education and sustain a top-tier research university than what we paid as students.”
Lavery brings a valuable perspective to the team, based on her years working in the public sector, coupled with her educational foundation in social sciences and economics.
Career growth For the past five years, Lavery has worked as a product engineer on the Living Atlas Policy Maps Team at Esri, a company that provides GIS mapping and analytics software that’s used by companies and government organizations as they leverage data to tackle challenges from COVID-19 to climate change. “We decide how the software should visualize data in a certain way, and make a series of maps that policymakers are going to want,” explains Lavery. “We take a step back and say, American Community Survey data is a big topic for governments, and it comes with
“I would not have had any of my full-time jobs without the DASA program,” Lavery says. “Sociology and social sciences turn out to be a strong thread in data analysis, because you shouldn’t just make a visual map because the data is convenient. You need to know what people are interested in understanding, and to see the bigger social fabric.” •
latina physicians Glenda Flores, UCI Chicano/Latino studies associate professor, analyzes and offers solutions on the undervalued yet critical role Latina physicians play in U.S. healthcare
atina physicians – who comprise less than 2 percent of the total population of medical doctors in the U.S. – often play an outsize role as translators and caregivers compared with Latino and nonLatinx peers. These unpaid gendered and cultural taxes can be silent career killers and cause for burnout, says Glenda Flores, UCI Chicano/Latino studies associate professor. And COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. “Latina physicians deliver culturally competent care that’s indispensable to the communities they serve, yet these skills are routinely uncompensated, tokenized, and taken for granted,” she says. “Their work beyond the traditional doctor-patient relationship has been a critical lifeline for their pandemic patients as Latina physicians have served as cultural support systems when families aren’t allowed to be physically present with their sick loved ones.” The resulting mental, physical and career exhaustion, and possible remedies, are topics Flores explored in pieces appearing in the journals Contexts and Gender & Society, the latter co-authored with Maricela Bañuelos, UCI sociology and Chicano/Latino studies emphasis graduate student. “We need to recognize the bilingual and cultural abilities that prime Latinas for uncompensated work while also being more cognizant of biases we, as patients and peers, have for people we perceive to be in positions of power,” she says. “And we need to make sure students from undergrad on up understand sociocultural biases that are ingrained in systems and how, through mentorship, we can work together to address and fix them.”
"We need to make sure students from undergrad on up understand sociocultural biases that are ingrained in systems and how, through mentorship, we can work together to address and fix them,” says Glenda Flores, UCI Chicano/Latino studies associate professor.
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Hitting a nerve The role Latina physicians play in the U.S. healthcare system – a particularly poignant one made more visible during the pandemic - wasn’t something Flores initially set out to study. The topic came to light during interviews for her award-winning book, Latina Teachers, in which she explores the role Latina educators play in promoting educational success and cultural identity for their Latinx students, often through practices that challenge norms about culture’s place in the teaching profession. “During interviews, a lot of teachers said they were studying for careers in STEM – biology, microbiology, the like – but they were socially channeled into teaching,” she says. Among the educators she interviewed who had planned to pursue medicine, two consistent themes emerged: the need to immediately support their families and the importance of accessible mentors. “Teachers are often the first professionals many students see in action. And with a higher percentage of underrepresented populations serving as educators as opposed to doctors, students can relate to and see themselves more readily as teachers,” says Flores. After finishing the book, she began to explore in greater depth what careers in medicine look like for Latinx individuals compared with non-Latinx peers. To date, she’s conducted 58 physician interviews and, prior to COVID, shadowed daily appointments to understand varying professional and patient experiences and interactions. Her questions and observations focused on the role culture plays in their work and how Latinx physicians broke barriers to achieve their MDs, and will be the focus of a new book tentatively titled, Pursuing Medicina [Medicine]: Gender and Ethnicity in the Work Worlds of Latinx Physicians. Similar to Latinx educators, she found cultural competency to be, in many ways, an asset when administering patient care. Latinas, more so than Latinos, are more likely to be bilingual and maintain it, Flores explains, and this is a particularly important point for the work Latina physicians carry out.
“Latina physicians play the critical role of ‘cultural brokers’ to help ease social interactions with Latinx patients,” Flores explains. “Using language and cultural competence, they foster trust; practicing mannerisms such as personalismo, they denote respect; and communicating an understanding of cultural beliefs and common homemade remedios (remedies), they build goodwill that creates acceptance among their Latinx patients to follow the medical advice.” Paying the price But this work comes at a price. “The Latina physicians I spoke with said that they were less likely than their bilingual or monolingual male counterparts to say ‘find someone who can do this because I need to focus on other parts of the job,’” she says. “When the women did, they faced backlash that men didn’t experience.” These microaggressions perpetuated in various observed patient experiences in which Latina doctors were asked when the doctor would be in, highlighting the common perception that “doctor” meant male, traditionally white, Flores says. Latina doctors expressed frustration at not being recognized for their professionalism alone and the lack of leadership positions available to them, despite feeling they take on more patients and patient care responsibility. And when COVID hit, disproportionately impacting racially and ethnic minority communities, the isolating virus made the need for more bilingual and culturally competent caregivers even more pronounced. As a result, the unseen and uncompensated labor borne by Latina physicians was magnified, Flores says. “COVID pushed everything to a new level because people couldn’t communicate with their family members,” Flores says. “For nonEnglish speaking and immigrant patients, American medicine can be hard to understand. To be in a room by themselves and not know anyone, these bilingual Latinx physicians became lifelines for their patients.” At the same time, she notes the emotionally and physically taxing role is a recipe for burnout.
Latina physicians deliver culturally competent care that’s indispensable to the communities they serve, yet these skills are routinely uncompensated, tokenized, and taken for granted.
A multi-pronged solution So what’s the solution? Flores’s study in Gender & Society points to three possibilities. “First, medical institutions should consider compensating Latina physicians for the covert workload escalators that their gender and cultural competencies create. Second, we can educate people better about the biases they bring into interactions with men and women and people from different racial/ ethnic groups. And third, mentors matter. So does educating students on the variety of pathways they can take to an M.D.” The latter are two areas she’s working to directly change through her work at UCI as both an educator and mentor. “Mentorship takes time, but it’s worth it and necessary to help students learn that there are a lot of paths they can take to create change,” she says. • Scan to read studies.
Jesse De La Cruz speaking at the Jesse Youth Engagement Workshop on Community Organizing with Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon’s youth program.
REDEMPTION Jesse De La Cruz, political science senior, has beat the odds to become a community leader and new college graduate
esse De La Cruz has a lot to be proud of. He has two wonderful little girls. He runs a successful public relations and communications consulting business he built from years of community organizing. And soon, he’ll be a proud UCI political science graduate of the class of 2022. But life didn’t always look this way.
He remembers how deeply he felt this threat. Throughout his years in the criminal justice system, he spent several stints in solitary confinement – once for three consecutive months.
A brick wall De La Cruz was born and raised in Watts in South Central Los Angeles. “I grew up in the foster care system and was told I couldn’t rise above the neighborhood,” he says. “I unfortunately made some poor decisions and did some crimes and have spent time repaying my debt to society,” he says.
“I remember being in tears because I just wanted to go out and play, but instead I was in shackles in a prison jumpsuit. When you hit a brick wall, you fall and hit bottom,” De La Cruz says. “But I kept digging deeper when I hit bottom. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t find anything fulfilling. I remember thinking, this is insane. I can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result. I had to change. I wanted better,” he says.
By age nineteen, he was incarcerated, surrounded by towers and guards holding rifles. The building’s corridors displayed signs that read “no warning shots.”
A turning point For De La Cruz, change started inside. His cell mate turned out to be the college coordinator and became De La Cruz’s mentor.
“He enrolled me in school. He brought me stacks of math papers and told me to do them. He’d set down a pile of books and say, read them,” De La Cruz says. “He taught me the value of education and the value of being able to convey my thoughts and experiences with others." Upon his release, De La Cruz struggled with problems other formerly incarcerated people face. He applied to many jobs and was denied. Without access to work, De La Cruz decided to build his experience by volunteering. He was drawn to politics and went door to door campaigning for various political campaigns. Volunteering eventually led him to a job as a cluster coordinator for the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
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“We invited gangs to the table. We created separate zones, like a teen center, and tried to make the parks more of a family experience,” he says. De La Cruz was later hired as a lead community organizer by a non-profit organization that aims to turn empty lots into green spaces and served as a board member on the City of Los Angeles’s Youth Development Task Force. More than a school While his professional career was taking off, De La Cruz sought to further his education as an Anteater. “I had a friend and a colleague who went to UCI and spoke highly of it,” he says. “Studying political science at UCI is the best decision I ever made because it gave me the perspective and tools I needed to understand the root causes of some of the challenges my neighborhood and other lower-income communities of color face.”
Jesse De La Cruz.
De La Cruz spent less than two quarters on campus before going remote because of the pandemic, but he credits the student organization Foster Youth Resilience in Education (FYRE) for helping create a community during his Anteater years. “We were able to share our experiences and celebrate our success,” he says.
UCI is more than a school. It’s a community and a family.
As a full-time student, worker, and father of an infant and toddler, he's also appreciated the resources available at the university. “UCI is more than a school. It’s a community and a family. It’s dedicated to improving the lives of its community," he says. "They have appropriate resources that are distributed in an equitable way. They have a diaper bank and food bank programs. Not having to worry about basic provisions helps give students like me a competitive edge.” Digging deeper Studying political science has helped De La Cruz see the larger context of the neighborhood disparities that made surviving in South Central Los Angeles so difficult. He took several classes with Steven Bilakovics, political science lecturer. “Jesse pushed himself to dig deeper into the fundamental dilemmas and complexities of American politics and society, and to think through how what we studied might apply to addressing the challenges of today,” Bilakovics says. “He approached the courses, and his education more generally, not merely from an academic or career-oriented perspective, but to genuinely learn about and be of benefit to the world in which we live.” For De La Cruz, the coursework offered context to his lived experiences. “I understand the lineages of slavery to colonization to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to gentrification,” De La Cruz says. “You start to see patterns and who is targeted. In my neighborhood, there were years of disinvestment and racism. I feel like I am a refugee from the war on drugs and of gang violence and of poverty. My community was infected with criminogenic conditions. I had the cards stacked against me.”
By sharing the realities of his neighborhood, he aims to provide contextual understanding - and perhaps a more compassionate awareness - for why lives can get off track. What the future holds As for his future, De La Cruz hopes to continue to grow in public service and can see himself redesigning the built environment using a human-centered user experience (UX) design approach. “Perhaps the great life challenges he has faced enabled him to see beyond the significance of grades and a diploma to the true purpose of an education, and so too excel at UCI and succeed, I fully expect, in his postcollege aspirations,” says Bilakoviks. De La Cruz is thankful for the mentors who’ve enabled him to start a new pathway, and he wants to help pave the way for others. “I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful mentors in my life and I want to pay it forward. I want to move people to take action for themselves,” he says. “I’m also a proud father of two baby girls who mean the world to me and whose unconditional love has taught me to care deeply about what the future holds.” He hopes that by sharing his story, others will find hope and meaning in their future, as he has with his. “We’re the sum of our experiences, and it’s important to tell your story," he says. "I hope by not shying away from these conversations about my past, I will help and inspire someone. I want them to have hope and redemption.” •
s an executive at Paramount Pictures, Howard Hsieh ’95 helps create the future of entertainment – from new streaming content to virtual reality. His unique ability to fuse quantitative business analytics with creative endeavors helps him plan what’s next for the global company, which is responsible for such blockbusters as the Transformers and Mission Impossible franchises. But back when Hsieh was a political science major in the UCI School of Social Sciences, like most students, he had no idea how his own future would play out, or the role UCI would continue to play in his life decades later. “It’s so interesting how these dots all connect, looking back,” says Hsieh. “My time at UCI completely informed who I am today.”
Through his roles with Paramount Pictures and the UCI School of Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society, alumnus Howard Hsieh is envisioning the future of entertainment while creating a larger, more visible network for social sciences alumni leaders.
Howard Hsieh ’95, political science, vice president of business strategy and development at Paramount Pictures, stays connected with his alma mater as a founding member of the Dean’s Leadership Society
Learning to lead Hsieh acquired a global perspective at a young age. Born and raised in Southern California, Hsieh spent brief periods living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Taipei, Taiwan. In his first year at UCI, Hsieh switched his major from economics to political science, which deepened his understanding of international affairs – and allowed him to avoid some of the math and statistics he didn’t enjoy. “When I coach young students today, part of the advice I give them is that they don’t need to know what they want to do. But they need to try a lot of things, because finding out what you don’t want to do is just as important,” he says.
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Through the Dean’s Leadership Society, I’ve been able to connect with UCI alumni here in LA. The network is strong.
the UCLA Anderson School of Management while working full time. In 2008, Hsieh transitioned to Paramount Pictures, where he is now the vice president of business strategy and development, responsible for planning for the future of the business: new products, new partnerships, and new ways to leverage technology. Although Paramount is a household name in the U.S., it’s an even bigger player in the global market – and especially dominant in Europe. In this space, Hsieh draws on lessons from his undergraduate years, and his time living abroad. “Everyone understands we live in a global marketplace, requiring global cultural awareness and understanding,” says Hsieh. “And ultimately that is what political science is.”
Hsieh was active on campus and, although he didn’t consider himself a student leader, he knows he developed lifelong leadership skills during his time at UCI. He was a teaching assistant, counselor for the Student Parent Orientation Program (SPOP), active fraternity member, and a resident advisor in Arroyo Vista when it first opened. In fact, he lobbied then-dean of student affairs Sally Peterson to include an Asian American theme house in the new residence halls. “My experience tells me you can create your own path at UCI, as long as you can convince people to support it,” Hsieh says. “Everybody wants to create an environment where individuals can flourish.” Going global After graduating, Hsieh worked in finance and accounting, first for his family’s mid-size scrap metal recycling business, and then for Getty Images back when it was a startup focused on bringing the photography industry into the digital age. But Hsieh wanted to go to work for a large company, so he went to one of the biggest: Disney. At Disney, Hsieh worked on finance and business development, and was involved with such high-profile projects as launching Hong Kong Disneyland, building a cruise ship fleet, and selling the professional sports teams the company then owned: the Angels and Mighty Ducks. Though he managed to avoid quantitative courses as an undergraduate, Hsieh was now knee-deep in numbers and spreadsheets. He decided to earn his MBA from
Understanding global cultures is just one of a wide variety of skills required to make and market movies today. Of course, there are the artists who write and act, but also technical engineers who put the finished product on streaming services and analysts who have to understand the global entertainment market. “We are in such a fun time in the media technology space, with tons of disruption,” he says. “As a company and a team, we look for talent from everywhere and skill sets of all different types, from arts, science, math, engineering.” Each year, Hsieh introduces a new cohort of students to this exciting world. He hires two MBA interns to work with him at Paramount – one with strength in quantitative skills and the other more qualitative, because industry success requires both. He’s also proud of founding the largest media entertainment business case competition in partnership with UCLA Anderson, which is now in its eighth year. Envisioning the future “I spend my entire day now thinking about the future and how people consume content, whether that’s playing games or watching a movie,” Hsieh says. This ranges from strategizing which movies the company should produce, to how Paramount+ can compete with other popular streaming services. He’s even planning for a not-so-distant future when you can stream Paramount’s content in your self-driving vehicle.
Hsieh’s connection with UCI was rekindled while visiting campus with his family for Homecoming in 2015. Standing in the newly built Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway that day, Hsieh was flooded by fond memories of his time as a student. He also met dean of social sciences Bill Maurer in the lobby, and quickly embraced a proposal that they work together to connect more alumni to their alma mater. Their ongoing conversations led to Hsieh becoming a founding member of the Dean’s Leadership Society. “Howard is a brilliant example of how our alumni leverage their UCI education to impact global society in meaningful and, yes, entertaining ways,” says Maurer. “As we strengthen relationships with alumni all across the country, we’re grateful for Howard’s efforts to deepen connections among Anteaters in LA, who are doing fascinating work.” Through the DLS, Hsieh has connected with faculty spearheading leading-edge research projects, as well as alumni leaders in the community. In 2018, Hsieh hosted an event at Paramount Pictures’ Los Angeles offices, featuring UCI faculty experts discussing virtual reality. “Through the Dean’s Leadership Society, I’ve been able to connect with UCI alumni here in LA. The network is strong,” he says. “If you’re looking for information, resources or expertise, the School of Social Sciences is a great place to start.” As a leader in DLS, Hsieh has added a new aspect to his forward-thinking work: he’s not just envisioning the future of entertainment, he’s also creating a larger, more visible network for social sciences alumni leaders like him, in Southern California and around the globe. •
Scan to learn more about the DLS.
the one to ASK Elizabeth Montoya, sociology and immunology and microbiology senior, achieves success one question at a time
First-gen scholar Elizabeth Montoya earned a Fulbright award this year to study abroad in London.
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n a way, Elizabeth Montoya’s life trajectory has been dictated by her ability to ask questions. When she was about seven, her father told her she should go to college because she was full of questions. Montoya didn’t really know what college was back then or how to get there (again, she was only seven), but sometime after, when she was at the public library, she found pamphlets about attending college and read them. Fast forward to today where Montoya now finds herself about to graduate from UCI with an honors thesis about Central American immigrants’ access to health care. She’s been awarded a Fulbright award to study abroad in London, and she’s been accepted to Queen Mary University of London’s master of science program in global public health and policy. “I’m grateful for the love and support of my family and friends, and I am so happy to be part of the forever Anteater family - one that has supported me and given me the resources to achieve more and help others reach their potential,” she says. “First generation in everything” The daughter of El Salvadorian immigrants, Montoya is the oldest of her three sisters. And as the first born, she’s also the first to attend college. As she puts it, she’s “first generation in everything,” experiences which have inspired her independence and position as a role model. “I was already translating for my parents at age five. It was up to me to ask questions and figure out what my resources were. I realized I could share what I learned with others. I knew I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do,” she says. When asked if she is naturally shy, she says she isn’t sure because she never had the chance to be. “If anything, it made me very outspoken, which has been beneficial in navigating academia. I don’t get nervous asking professors questions,” she says.
Andrew Penner, sociology professor and Montoya’s mentor, is impressed with how she navigates classroom discussions. “She’s the kind of contributor to a discussion that I aspire to be. She’s someone who’s thoughtful and isn’t reticent to talk, but picks her moments carefully. She has insightful things to say and contributes generously, but doesn’t dominate the space. After you walk away, you find yourself thinking about something she said,” says Penner. Road scholar Around the time Montoya’s father was telling her she should go to college, she already knew she was interested in the medical field. So when she went to a doctor’s appointment, she asked the doctor what she needed to do to become a doctor, too. “I liked the idea of helping people and I thought it was awesome that doctors could make people feel better. I also thought the level of respect they had was amazing,” she says. At UCI, she’s double majored in immunology and microbiology and sociology. “I’m so interested in our immune system and how it can both hurt and help us,” she says. Her introduction to sociology came when she registered for a course to fulfill a general education requirement. After that first class, she was hooked. “I thought it was so cool to be able to study societies and try to understand the whole perspective. It’s so important for a doctor to not only understand the science, but the human aspect of the patient as well,” she says. Penner is struck by her particular combination of majors. “They are two fields that go together in my mind, but aren’t typically put together. The fact that she bridged these fields was really fantastic,” he says. When the pandemic hit, Montoya was commuting to campus by bus from Long Beach. She spent four hours on the bus each day to attend classes. When the campus went remote and Montoya no longer had to commute, she discovered she had a lot more time on her hands. She redirected that time to taking more classes.
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During the 2020-21 academic year, she enrolled in 25 units or about six courses per quarter. (Students are considered full-time when they take three courses per quarter.) The reason she registered for so many classes was because transfer students are given three years to complete their degree. If she wanted to double major, she’d have to up her course load. She did and made the Dean’s List every quarter. Luckily, Montoya no longer has to worry about a long commute. She lives on campus as a resident advisor (RA) for a dorm that houses transfer students like herself. Last year, during the pandemic, she really had to think on her feet to come up with programming for her residents via Zoom. “I wanted to prepare them for when school was back in-person. I told them about the resources available on campus. If I was a new student, it was the stuff that I would want to know,” she says. Seek and she shall find Montoya’s impressive list of activities is a result of her talent, goodwill, and ambition. She’s nothing if not resourceful and finds opportunities through research and by asking around. And her method has paid off. She's currently funded by the National Institutes of Health as a MARC’s scholar and works in a lab as part of the program. There, she leads her own research project and has trained other undergraduates in animal husbandry and genotyping. She hosts a public affairs show on K-UCI, the campus radio station, where she finds herself asking even more questions. And she’s a senator for the Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI). The accomplishment for which Montoya is most proud is helping to establish a “safety-net grant” for students who needed extra financial support during the pandemic, something she helped set up with her fellow senators. She read over 100 applications for one of the largest grants ASUCI has ever funded.
I want to be a role model. I want to give back.
The first step Montoya also mentors and tutors middleschool students in STEM subjects through a non-profit called Viva Tech. “When I tell them I’m a first-generation college student, they can’t believe it. I want to be a role model. I want to give back,” she says. Montoya envisions that mentoring will always be a part of her life. She wants to attend graduate school to study immunology and she eventually wants to work with marginalized communities to help overcome health disparities. “I want to be a wealth of knowledge for other students and for my siblings. I want to tell them not to be afraid and to ask for help. Most of the time, people want to help you, but you have to take the first step,” she says. And if her sisters, fellow students, or frankly anyone, have a question about how to become a top scholar while lifting others up, she’ll be the one to ask. •
“Every day people receive algorithmically-driven targeted advertisements on their smartphones and other devices which, in the financial sphere, include loan offers or credit-score boosting services,” says Bill Maurer who’s leading the project to change these practices.
UCI-led team receives National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator grant to study and stop spread of mis-, disinformation in financial services industry
martphones have evolved to connect people with much more than a simple phone call. One of many critical needs the devices now serve: providing financial services to underbanked, underserved populations, says Bill Maurer, UCI anthropology and law professor and social sciences dean. “Access to financial systems helps previously unbanked populations - who are disproportionately from racialized and marginalized communities - build credit and wealth,” he says. The director of UCI’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, Maurer is an expert on how populations around the world spend, save and interact with money.
And yet as access has become more pervasive, so, too, have new financial technology - fintech - services, apps, and other fringe services that target this financially vulnerable population. “Every day people receive algorithmicallydriven targeted advertisements on their smartphones and other devices which, in the financial sphere, include loan offers or creditscore boosting services,” says Maurer. “Services marketed often include outright scams or disinformation designed to prey upon unsuspecting consumers with thin or no credit files due to their lack of prior banking history.” These practices sow distrust that perpetuates the racial wealth gap as consumers pay higher fees for basic services or exclude
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themselves entirely from the system. And it’s a social problem, says Maurer, one that requires a social scientific solution. He’s leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers and institutional partners in a large-scale study to understand mis- and disinformation about money, banking, and finance among racialized and marginalized communities in the United States. They’ve received $750,000 from the National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator - a program that aims to translate and speed basic research to have national-scale, societal impact - to approach the issue from a social science perspective using ethnographic research, content analysis, and data modeling.
Access to financial systems helps previously unbanked populations - who are disproportionately from racialized and marginalized communities - build credit and wealth.
The project is one of 28 grants awarded in this year's cohort and one of the only funded to date that centers on the contributions of the social sciences. Joining Maurer on the initiative are: • Jim Weatherall, UCI logic & philosophy of science professor, who studies the spread of misinformation • Erin Lockwood, UCI political science assistant professor, who studies finance and political legitimacy • Roderic Crooks, UCI informatics assistant professor, who studies community data activism • Matthew Harding, UCI economics professor, who studies finance and algorithmic credit scoring • Taylor Nelms, ’15 UCI anthropology Ph.D. and Filene Research Institute senior director, who studies financial inclusion and community-based financial service Together, they’re partnering with the U.S. credit union system to pilot the Algorithmic Observatory (AO), a community-driven forum for monitoring and countering mis- and disinformation.
Beginning with a regional approach in Southern California, they’re leveraging relationships between Filene and credit union partners to access data on specific communities that are targeted with predatory mis- and disinformation practices. They’re analyzing and developing models that assess common delivery mechanisms – social media, emails, others - products, messages, and their spread. Simultaneously, the researchers are pushing out more reliable information to the affected communities via non-profit financial inclusion partnerships while advocating for policy changes. Their goal, when they have a working model, is to expand the Algorithmic Observatory nationwide. “By approaching this issue from a community-driven approach, we hope to illuminate practices that are perpetuating inequity while also working to right it,” says Maurer. •
FOSTERING A GLOBAL
UCI’s new Ph.D. program in global studies diversifies education and supports the next generation’s appreciation of place in a complex world
lex Piña worked as a hair stylist for 10 years before becoming the first in her family to go to college and, ultimately, pursue a Ph.D.
D. Alex Piña is a member of the inaugural global studies Ph.D. program cohort.
“I had a lot of interests but also a lot of criticisms of the way things are in society, and doing hair was a creative outlet I could use to support myself,” Piña says. “Even the way I approached hair was as a form of protest, challenging hegemonic racial and gender norms.”
These days, Piña says her scholarship is her activism. As a member of the inaugural cohort of graduate students in the UCI School of Social Sciences Department of Global and International Studies, Piña explores how international tourism contributes to the poverty and oppression of locals who welcome and serve visitors, and the widespread ripple effect of those interactions. Both her research methods, and the burgeoning field of global studies in which she has found an academic home, cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. “The way the world is now, and the way we consume information, makes it difficult to continue seeing everything within the parameters of nation-states,” Piña explains. “Global studies looks beyond those structures so you can understand the complex way that the world works now, from immigration to agriculture.” Piña’s classmates’ varied research interests include how the Filipino diaspora fills a significant role in American elder and healthcare; China’s interventions in Latin America; and the invisible impacts of the sprawling Amazon warehouse that just opened in Tijuana, Mexico. Fast-growing department Global and international studies is one of UCI’s fastest growing departments. Already home to 550 undergraduates, the department hired six new faculty in fall 2021, bringing the total to 12, and welcomed its second cohort of graduate students for a count of 20. Eve Darian-Smith, professor and chair of global and international studies, came to UCI from UC Santa Barbara in 2017, the same year she co-published with associate professor of teaching Philip McCarty the foundational work The Global Turn: Theories, Research Designs and Methods for Global Studies. “I see global studies as the intersection of humanities and social sciences, providing an umbrella for conversations about substantive
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issues that encompass geography, history, law, philosophy, communications, ethnic studies, Black studies, Indigenous studies, and more,” says Darian-Smith. Darian-Smith was drawn to UCI by the opportunity to build a global studies program from the ground up with the support of social sciences dean Bill Mauer. In 2018, the longstanding program in international studies officially became the Department of Global and International Studies. Since then, Darian-Smith has hired 10 new faculty who not only represent a variety of academic disciplines from geography to anthropology, but who hail from different places: Nigeria, Haiti, Guam, Brazil. The faculty’s work intersects with other schools, too. In fact, Darian-Smith is working on a research proposal on wildfires involving faculty from humanities, public health, Earth system science, and materials science. “We attract people who ask innovative questions, seek different kinds of conversations, and who are willing to learn from each other,” says Darian-Smith. “We have this extraordinary group of people from underrepresented communities in the U.S. as well as from disparate parts of the world who bring alternative perspectives to the Euro-American academy. These faculty are vital in building inclusive theories and methods, and revisioning our dynamic interdisciplinary curriculum.” Facing big global challenges Darian-Smith suspects that many of the hundreds of undergraduates from all majors who flock to the popular introductory Global Studies 1 class are surprised by the course content. While many students are already familiar with international politics, and may even have experience with programs such as the Model United Nations, the global studies program delves into issues that involve state and non-state actors and institutions, as well as engages enduring legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism playing out in our contemporary world. “We like to unsettle them,” Darian-Smith explains. “We tend to push against international studies, which nests geopolitical levels from the local to the global in a vertical fashion, and instead look at how global political, economic, cultural, and legal processes inform social relations and impact people’s lived experiences on the ground. Our revisioning
is exciting because it deals with new issues such as cyberwarfare and the global rise of authoritarianism, and rethinks current challenges such as migration in terms of climate change instead of just war.”
sciences field focused on the way people, ideas, and things move around in the world unevenly. Piña hopes to do ethnographic fieldwork in Latin America for her dissertation, observing hotspots of LGBTQ tourism.
Hundreds of undergraduate global studies programs have cropped up internationally in the last 20 years, and there are at least 60 graduate-level programs worldwide. In UCI’s Ph.D. program, which enrolled its first class in 2020, students must be well-grounded in a wide range of literatures and theories that helps them develop their interdisciplinary research, Darian-Smith says.
“I’m interested in the political economy of queer tourism,” says Piña. “The way we understand progress relates movement and freedom, yet embedded within that are certain politics that preserve an interlocking system that supports oppression among certain types of people, communities, and parts of the world.”
“We are receptive to exploring any of the big global challenges of the current moment,” says Darian-Smith. “Our faculty and fellow graduate students provide an innovative, dynamic, interdisciplinary community that will help you think through methodological and theoretical questions for whatever you want to discover.” Of the 20 doctoral students in the young program, 15 come from underrepresented minorities, and half are first in their family college graduates. D. Alex Piña is both. Academic aspirations Growing up in LA, the daughter of a Marine and a hairstylist, Piña says she was always “cerebral.” But it wasn’t until she was wellestablished in her own hair styling business that she paid her way through community college and transferred to UCLA to major in global studies. She already had her mind set on earning a Ph.D., and two faculty mentors took her under their wing. While studying abroad in Paris, Piña realized that she was relying on an entirely different social script. At home, almost everyone could see she was Latina, while in France, she was widely assumed to be Algerian. Meanwhile, Parisians assumed her gender-nonconforming friend was gay, but she faced no threatening bathroom encounters abroad, as she had in the U.S. “Navigating a foreign space, we move through society differently, and our privileges change,” Piña says. From that realization was born her honors thesis and the seed of her graduate research project in mobilities — a contemporary social
Piña applied to other graduate schools in both global studies and anthropology, but ultimately chose UCI’s new program largely because of Darian-Smith, whose work Piña read as an undergraduate. Throughout her first year in the program, which was fully remote, she says her advisor Long Bui, associate professor of global and international studies, reached out frequently to make sure she was connected to virtual lectures, workshops, and grant opportunities. As she started meeting her colleagues in person over summer, she found them to be supportive and curious, each pursuing their own distinct and fascinating areas of research. While still early in her program, Piña aspires to become a professor at an R1 research university, where she envisions the common thread of her research will be inequality, wherever it emerges. By the time Piña finishes the program, Darian-Smith hopes to have recruited even more faculty into the department, and to have drawn students from across social sciences and humanities to participate in graduate seminars, and the graduate emphasis in global studies. “With social media, young people today are more global than the rest of us, so they already see the world as highly problematic and challenging,” says Darian-Smith. “Global studies provides an intellectual environment that diversifies education and supports the next generation’s appreciation of their place in a complex and interrelated post-nationalist world.” •
paying it FORWARD Marketing maven Danika Wong ’06, international studies and political science, fuels growth of the Social Sciences Alumni Network
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anika Wong ’06 steers her team into the unknown every day. What questions will customers ask their AI-powered chatbots tomorrow, and what new features will they come to expect in the next six months or six years? Wong leans into this emerging industry with adaptability, flexibility, and curiosity – which she honed as a UCI student. “There was no class for marketing an AI company or political science course for the decentralized metaverse. It gets back to basic curiosity: looking at market trends, identifying opportunities, and figuring out how to bring them together,” Wong says. “Social sciences gave me the opportunity to learn how to learn.” As Wong’s career grew, she also developed a deeper appreciation for her college experience, and started lending her marketing expertise to help grow a different kind of startup: the rapidly expanding UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network. Exploration Wong was interested in business from the time she first arrived at UCI – just a short drive from where she grew up in Huntington Beach. She took classes running the gamut from linguistics to economics, but quickly settled on double majoring in political science and international studies. Both built on her previous experience with the Model United Nations, and helped her grapple with the complex issues surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which cast a long shadow over her senior year in high school. But college was about more than academics. “I’m not motivated by a need to get a bunch of As, or to get to some specific next step,” Wong says. “I wanted to explore the full campus life.” To that end, her first year she joined UCI HAPA, an organization for mixed race Asians. Her second year, she joined a sorority, eventually becoming its vice president of recruitment. She also worked as a counselor for the Student Parent Orientation Program (SPOP) and served on committees for the Associated Students of UCI, helping put on the homecoming festival and other events. In her senior year, she had a marketing internship with a travel company. Through all of these activities, she met her husband, Adam Yamaguchi ’06, and created memories to last a lifetime.
“UCI gave me so much. It’s where I grew into myself, where I met my husband, and it provided me the opportunity to have unique and diverse experiences that set me up to do a lot of things in my career,” Wong says. “Now I want to help future generations go faster and get farther.” Millennial marketing Wong’s first full-time job after graduation was on campus as a marketing coordinator in the UCI Career Center. Ironically, she had never used its services as a student. But this made her an ideal person to strategize about how to reach others who, like her, were racing head first toward their graduation date without taking the time to plan for what comes next. Working at the center not only made Wong a huge advocate for its services, but also equipped her with a new set of skills for job hunting. “It’s so hard to get a job out of college when you don’t know exactly what you want to do,” she says. After a stint in interior design, Wong returned to marketing with an ecommerce job at Macys.com, testing features we now take for granted, like the “quick view” button on products or the ability to make purchases directly through a social media platform. She later moved to New York with the company’s millennial marketing team, where she first focused on marketing to this coveted audience, then focused on how to leverage mobile as a new way to shop and engage with the brand. It was in the Big Apple that Wong began to appreciate the value of the UCI alumni network. “In New York, networking was a bigger part of career building than I had experienced before. I started realizing that the UCI network is a really good well to draw from,” she says. “The idea of getting a job from a job board seems so crazy now. It’s all about who you know.”
Wong left Macys in 2015 for an advertising technology firm, and soon returned to Southern California with her husband and young daughter. Finding Satisfi “A common thread in my career is looking for that new thing that no one is doing yet, something a little bit different,” Wong says. Today, Wong is the chief marketing officer and head of product for Satisfi Labs, which uses conversational artificial intelligence to power chatbots and voice assistants for entertainment venues, tourism sites, and athletic teams – including about half of all professional sports teams. Their natural language processing (NLP) understands a variety of questions customers ask about finding their tickets, nearby parking, or a venue’s updated COVID-19 safety requirements. Although chatbots get a bad rap, Wong points out that the huge increase in online information, global connectivity, and demand for realtime answers has outpaced anything human staff could realistically respond to.
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What I love about this network is that we’re really making a concerted effort to engage with alumni and show people why it’s important to stay invested. They attended Homecoming, donated to Giving Day, and started talking with old college friends about how to help more alumni like themselves reconnect with their alma mater and, especially, with the School of Social Sciences. “Where I’m at in my life, settled down with an established career and family, I’m starting to understand and think about my long term legacy,” Wong says. “I realize maybe I can contribute some money and some expertise.”
Danika Wong ’06 with Kevin Weaver ’11 (left) and Roger Whitenhill ’04 (center) at a private tour of the Jonathan Art Foundation collection of California plein air art at the Jonathan Club, downtown Los Angeles. Scan to learn more about the Alumni Network.
“We’re looking toward a world where companies have to figure out how to answer an exponential number of questions for a much larger and more global group of customers,” Wong says. “Ten years ago in ecommerce, we’d never have guessed people would expect their clothes delivered to their doorstep in two days. Now we’re asking, what will the future of the AI chat experience look like, and what will people expect in terms of the quality of the conversation?” Soon, Wong says, we’ll all be buying tickets to shows by simply asking Alexa or another virtual assistant. But the rapid evolution of the industry is something Wong thrives on. “Does marketing mean the same thing today that it did when I was a student? Absolutely not. The point is there is no roadmap, you just have to be open to the opportunities and jump in and learn,” she says. Network growth When they moved back to California, Wong and her husband remained connected with UCI’s alumni network.
As one of the founders of the Social Sciences Alumni Network, Wong lends her marketing savvy and advice to help the school connect with alumni, no matter where they are in their journey, from brand new graduates to those who are already enjoying retirement. “The Alumni Network is like a startup in that we don’t have a long tradition or long history of social sciences alumni, because UCI is only 50 years old,” Wong says. “But what I love about this network is that we’re really making a concerted effort to engage with alumni and show people why it’s important to stay invested.” With more than 58,000 social sciences alumni, the robust network includes professionals in fields from entertainment to policy making, who support and encourage each other, as well as the school’s 1,000+ new graduates each year. “I didn’t necessarily appreciate everything that UCI gave me at the time. But now I want to give back and help someone else experience what I did,” says Wong. “It’s about paying it forward to future generations of Anteaters.” •
UCI researchers found humans can improve the predictions of AI even when human accuracy is somewhat below that of the AI – and vice versa.
UCI researchers develop hybrid human-machine framework for building smarter AI Model uses human and algorithmic predictions and confidence scores to boost accuracy
rom chatbots that answer tax questions to algorithms that drive autonomous vehicles and dish out medical diagnoses, artificial intelligence undergirds many aspects of daily life. Creating smarter, more accurate systems requires a hybrid human-machine approach, according to researchers at UCI. In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they present a new mathematical model that can improve performance by combining human and algorithmic predictions and confidence scores.
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Humans and machine algorithms have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Each uses different sources of information and strategies to make predictions and decisions. -Mark Steyvers, Professor, Cognitive Sciences
“Humans and machine algorithms have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Each uses different sources of information and strategies to make predictions and decisions,” says co-author Mark Steyvers, UCI professor of cognitive sciences. “We show through empirical demonstrations as well as theoretical analyses that humans can improve the predictions of AI even when human accuracy is somewhat below that of the AI – and vice versa. And this accuracy is higher than combining predictions from two individuals or two AI algorithms.” To test the framework, researchers conducted an image classification experiment in which human participants and computer algorithms worked separately to correctly identify distorted pictures of animals and everyday items – chairs, bottles, bicycles, trucks. The human participants ranked their confidence in the accuracy of each image identification as low, medium, or high, while the machine classifier generated a continuous score. The results showed large differences in confidence between humans and AI algorithms across images. “In some cases, human participants were quite confident that a particular picture contained a chair, for example, while the AI algorithm was confused about the image,” says co-author Padhraic Smyth, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of computer science. “Similarly, for other images, the AI algorithm was able to confidently provide a label for the object shown, while human participants were unsure if the distorted picture contained any recognizable object.”
When predictions and confidence scores from both were combined using the researchers’ new Bayesian framework, the hybrid model led to better performance than either human or machine predictions achieved alone. “While past research has demonstrated the benefits of combining machine predictions or combining human predictions – the so-called ‘wisdom of the crowds’ – this work forges a new direction in demonstrating the potential of combining human and machine predictions, pointing to new and improved approaches to human-AI collaboration,” Smyth says. This interdisciplinary project was facilitated by the Irvine Initiative in AI, Law, and Society. The convergence of cognitive sciences – which are focused on understanding how humans think and behave – with computer science – in which technologies are produced – will provide further insight into how humans and machines can collaborate to build more accurate artificially intelligent systems, the researchers said. Additional co-authors include Heliodoro Tejeda, a UCI graduate student in cognitive sciences, and Gavin Kerrigan, a UCI Ph.D. student in computer science. •
GIVING BACK, FROM CAMPUS TO COURTROOM Dean’s Leadership Society members Susan and Brett Williamson ’86 cherish their Anteater connections
n three decades as an attorney, Brett Williamson ’86 has won cases for high profile clients from the governor of California to the maker of Botox. But his time as a political science student at UCI, back when he was as green as the rolling hills around the young campus, laid the foundation for his future success. His professors, he says, “treated me like someone they thought had promise, whose opinions and insights were valuable.” From the outset, Williamson was a political junkie. He wrote his honors thesis on redistricting and apportionment under the guidance of electoral systems expert Bernie Grofman, Jack W. Peltason Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of political science, and Mark Petracca, professor emeritus of political science. Although Williamson predicted U.S. election law would eventually prohibit partisan gerrymandering – which it hasn’t – the research project prepared him for the discipline and diligence he needed to excel in law school. “My college years were when I became an adult, in a supportive environment with really challenging and interesting discussions,” Williamson said. “Because of the rigor of the social sciences program at UCI – the professors, their attitude, and how they sparked my curiosity and interest in law – I was able to do well in law school, and then I had all the options in the world.”
Career in court Williamson joined O'Melveny & Myers when he graduated from law school, and has practiced at the firm for 32 years as an intellectual property litigator representing clients including Apple, Google, Samsung, and Hulu. In 2012, he won a widely publicized trial for Allergan over trade secrets of its flagship product Botox. While these cases brought him professional acclaim, fighting for social justice issues brings him personal satisfaction. “The recent cases that I’m most proud of are pro bono matters related to criminal justice and racial equality,” he says. “If there weren’t attorneys willing to do those cases for free, they would never come to light.” Some of his better known pro bono successes include defending Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order putting a moratorium on executions in California, and helping to strike down municipal ordinances in Santa Ana and other cities that criminalize sleeping outdoors – a case for which his chief expert witness was Jim Meeker, UCI professor emeritus of criminology, law and society. “UCI provides laudable examples of how academia – and particularly the social sciences, sociology, and social ecology – can inform criminal justice,” says Williamson. “I appreciate the things I learned as an undergraduate and am able to use them in my own practice.”
Susan and Brett Williamson are active Anteaters on both coasts.
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Elisa Tran and Lara Nguyen led this year’s third annual OC Make-a-Thon to develop projects for people living with disabilities.
Difference makers have to have self confidence and express themselves well, and UCI students have that in remarkable quantities. -Brett Williamson
When he started at O'Melveny, Williamson was one of just three UCI alumni at the firm. But he’s watched as their numbers have grown over the years. “What’s really been noticeable over the last decade is how many people who come through the office and interview have been UCI undergraduates and now, with the law school, we see a lot of UCI Law grads, as well,” says Williamson. “It’s a testament to the university, because the people we interview come from the very top law schools, and that such a large percentage are coming from UCI is really laudable.” “I sense that the university is attracting people who are not afraid to make their way, and to let the world know that they are there to make an impact,” he adds. “The difference makers have to have self confidence and express themselves well, and UCI students have that in remarkable quantities.” Bicoastal family Williamson met his wife Susan at Corona del Mar High School, where she says he was already a star student. Serendipitously, they ran into each other on the day of his UCI graduation, and she learned he was bound for law school at USC, where she was an undergraduate. They married after he finished law school, settled in Newport Beach, and raised three children who are now adults: a neuroscientist, an attorney, and an officer in the Marines. As their children went off to college, Susan launched her own career as a therapist with Orange County’s Mariposa Center, providing services primarily to low-income women who are often the victims of domestic violence or other crimes. Even though she is not a graduate of UCI, Susan says she feels welcomed into the Anteater family at the many events she and Brett attend.
“Everyone is so friendly and easy to talk to, and they don’t hold it against me that I didn’t go to school there,” Susan says. “I feel like everyone has a common goal: to lift up the next generation of graduates and help them on their way to accomplishing great things.” A few years ago, finding their nest a little too empty, the pair decided to set up a second home in New York City, closer to their grown children. Since Brett can work from the O’Melveny office in Times Square and Susan can see clients via videoconference, they now split their time between the two coasts. One thing that helped ease the transition: the Big Apple’s thriving network of UCI alumni. Within months of moving in, they received an email that the School of Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society was hosting an event at a bar in midtown Manhattan. It was the first of several events they would attend to meet local alumni from a variety of fields, including Broadway performers. “Here we are in the city, yet doing an event for an alma mater 2,500 miles away. We both left there so energized,” says Susan. “It helped reaffirm for us that we were doing the right thing by being bicoastal, and that we would meet people there besides our kids.” Anteaters forever Over the years, Williamson stayed in touch with his faculty mentors, college friends, and the School of Social Sciences – which often called on him for his expertise. Political science professor Martin Wattenberg remembers Williamson as one of his best students at the time, and subsequently followed Williamson’s career, including his 1994 run for Congress. During the protracted legal battle over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, Williamson served as the legal expert on a well-attended panel discussion hosted by the School of Social Sciences.
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dean’s leadership society Investing in the next generation
he Dean’s Leadership Society provides an opportunity for alumni, parents, community, faculty, and staff to support the school at various commitment levels, while receiving special recognition and opportunities to engage in the school’s growth.
“His expertise was especially appreciated in those days before we had a law school,” says Wattenberg. “He’s always very giving of his time for school events, and I’ve always enjoyed discussing politics with him. He is surely a model UCI alumnus.” Through Williamson, O’Melveny has hosted several Dean’s Leadership Society events in person and virtually, on hot topics such as U.S.-China economic issues and the 2020 election. The events provide opportunities for alumni and community members to gain insights and ask questions about complex topics from recognized experts including UCI faculty. “Even as someone who attended USC Law School, I love how strong UCI has become in their fundraising and drawing together their community,” says Brett. Events that were once sparsely attended have blossomed into bustling affairs, where the pair discover people they know from their own professional and social circles who now share ties to UCI. Williamson marvels at how much the university has changed, and how the university and the School of Social Sciences have set bold goals for rankings and fundraising – and then met them. “As I look back on my days at UCI, I was there when there were still grassy hills where University Center is now,” says Williamson. “I feel like I saw on the horizon what the university would become, and I’m proud to know I’m a product of that program.” •
Members join an influential network of supporters and like-minded individuals who are deeply committed to enriching the UCI social sciences and university’s national prominence. Gifts to the DLS support key programs and services that impact the greatest needs – positioning the school for excellence. Past gifts have supported award winning student programs and scholarships for UCDC and Mock Trial students, along with critical funding for faculty retention and recruitment. Members enjoy access to a robust signature calendar of events throughout the year and have received recognition with a charter member brick campaign and classroom renovation naming campaign. If you’re interested in joining, contact Liz Codispoti, Director of Development, 949.824.8079 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Membership levels range from the Young Professional at $1500 to Dean’s Partner at $25,000.
Scan to learn more about the DLS.
women of the
dean’s leadership society A league of extraordinary women
fficially launching June 8, the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society deepens and enriches women’s engagement with the UCI School of Social Sciences. As a vital philanthropic group, it unites women through philanthropy, leadership, and mentoring to position the school for excellence while shaping the future of the university. The Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society inspires and engages women of the social sciences community as philanthropists, diverse leaders, and decision-makers to make the greatest impact on areas that matter most to them. Members have the flexibility to direct their giving to key programs and services that reflect their passions and interests. The organization promotes connections among women through professional fields, philanthropic areas of interest, degrees/majors, board service, and other relationships.
Through the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society Scholar Network, members provide mentoring to graduating students – engaging the next generation of women philanthropists. In addition, the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society hosts luncheons, community service events, and an annual Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society symposium. Recognizing the important role women play as community leaders, faculty, alumnae, students, and donors, the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society embraces a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access that encourages, supports, and advocates for the diverse voices of its members and builds pathways to philanthropy for women from all backgrounds. For more information about the Women of the Dean’s Leadership Society, future events, and special engagement opportunities, please contact Tracy Arcuri, email@example.com, or Liz Codispoti, firstname.lastname@example.org. •
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launching in summer Shelley Thunen
t can be said that rejection is actually just an opportunity for redirection - a chance to take a path you hadn't considered, but that may offer something greater. But not so for Joshua Swank. The political science undergrad’s first experience with true rejection ended up being an occasion to dig his heels into the path he wanted and challenge himself to make it happen. Four years later, he’s set to graduate from UCI as the Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Undergraduate with the degree he’s dreamed of and opportunities in academia, politics, and research at his fingertips - all due to his refusal to give up on his goals.
UCI Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Undergraduate Joshua Swank hasn't let rejection stop him from pursuing his dreams.
no grit, no glory After a tough rejection sent him reeling, Joshua Swank, political science senior, has learned the value of grit and determination
As a life-long high achiever with a clear vision of a future in politics, Swank’s self-image was tied to his accomplishments in this area. He remembers campaigning for people to vote as a 4th and 5th grader, showing a knack for impassioned debates in junior high, and running for class president of his high school with an off the cuff speech he delivered after losing his notes minutes before. He was involved in extracurriculars and filled his high school career with AP courses on his path to attend a UC school. So when not one, but all of his UC college applications came back as rejections, both his future and his self-perception were thrown for a loop. “You hear people say things like, ‘when one door closes, another one opens.’ But it was very disheartening, to be honest,” he says. “When those rejections came in, there was a period of time where I really didn’t know what I was going to do after I graduated high school. It’s not an enjoyable place to be.” He used this time to do some soul searching and plan where to go and what to shift his focus to next. Then, as he was reading his way through the book Love Does by Bob Goff, he came across a line of text that changed his approach to the entire situation.
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The fact that my time at UCI almost didn’t happen made me all the more motivated to make the most of my time here. One of Goff’s stories recounted the tale of an upstart student following his rejection from law school. But in response to a door being shut in his face, this young scholar didn’t search for another door. Instead, he sat outside the admissions desk in silent protest until the admissions director let him in. “Sometimes, God wants us to kick some doors down,” Swank remembers reading. “That really hit a chord for me. I thought, maybe I just needed to prove how much I wanted this. And really, I needed to remember who I was. I needed to trust what I knew I was capable of.” Swank decided he would keep trying for his UC dream, and chose to write a letter of appeal to UCI (though he had considered sitting outside the admissions office until they agreed to let him in). Then, he just had to wait. The weeks between sending his appeal letter and receiving UCI’s decision went by in a blur. He was trying to finish his high school courses, spend time with family and friends, and prepare for graduation without knowing where he would be in a few short months. Then, two days before his graduation ceremony, he got the good news. “It felt a bit like that scene in Toy Story 3, where the toys are moments away from being incinerated and then out of nowhere a claw comes and picks them up and saves them,” he remembers. “It was this huge relief and then excitement that it worked out. The fact that my time at UCI almost didn’t happen made me all the more motivated to make the most of my time here. I was just ready to hit the ground running as soon as I got on campus.” Over his nearly four years at UCI, Swank has utilized every opportunity to keep himself on the path toward diplomacy and politics. He’s studied abroad in the Middle East, served as
a counselor on the Youth Advisory Board for Congresswoman Katie Porter, written a 30page academic paper on American national identity as a student researcher for UROP, represented more than 6,000 UCI undergrads as an ASUCI social sciences senator, interned for Orange County 5th District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and, most recently, worked as a legislative intern for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein through the UCDC program. His passion for politics and policy comes from his father, a U.S. Army Ranger turned Department of Homeland Security Public Affairs Officer, who took Joshua and his sister to many naturalization ceremonies when they were growing up. But the younger Swank never felt pressure to follow a similar path. He simply found meaning in the opportunity to serve others in his country. “My parents have always been supportive no matter what I wanted to do,” he says. “But I feel a need to push myself and serve my country, in whatever form that takes. I have found that civic engagement makes the most of my potential to lead and advocate for the democratic values we all hold dear.” His time in the UCDC program has allowed him to experience a new side of politics at a national level, gaining exposure to the transportation, energy, and foreign policy sectors while drafting memorandums and researching federal policy in the U.S. Capitol Building. He hopes to work for the State Department one day, but before he does he has some exciting opportunities at his fingertips.
He will be attending Oxford University this summer as part of the Education Abroad Program, and he has been accepted into UCI’s Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics program that allows students to complete a portion of their master’s degree during their undergrad and finish it with one additional year. But before he decides if or when that will happen, he is waiting to hear back about a Fulbright Scholarship which would take him to Amsterdam for a year. “I’m a semi-finalist as of now, but I should find out soon,” he says. “I’m particularly drawn to the Fulbright program because of its emphasis on immersion in the culture you’re visiting. As a Fulbright Scholar, you are essentially a student diplomat while you conduct your research, and since I’m interested in ultimately going into foreign policy in some form it really appeals to me.” His research proposal for his Fulbright application, focused on Russian disinformation campaigns and “hacktivism” in social media, is particularly timely in today’s climate, and he hopes that he will have the opportunity to explore the topic further. But it's safe to bet that, even if circumstances try to take him another way, Swank will find a way to make it happen. “Another quote I love is from Fahrenheit 451, and it talks about the importance of tenacity,” he says. “It says, ‘Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore.’” •
EXPANDING REACH UCI social scientists “build and broaden” research, opportunities among minority-serving institutions with support from the National Science Foundation
multicampus grant writing training program and a STEM-focused partnership to study brain responses in decision making – both aimed at elevating minority faculty and student research - are two new UCI initiatives to receive National Science Foundation Build and Broaden Program funding. The program supports research, training opportunities, and research infrastructure building activities at minority-serving institutions. "These grants reflect how UCI is at the forefront of propelling social and behavioral science through an intentional strategy of growing inclusion and diversity,” says Bill Maurer, social sciences dean. “We truly are leading the way." Since 2017, UCI has been designated as both a federally recognized HispanicServing Institution (HSI) and Asian American and Native American Pacific IslanderServing Institution (AANAPISI) with campus enrollments of at least one-quarter Latinx, and at least 10 percent Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander, students, respectively. Removing barriers to build research success among faculty at minority-serving institutions The first program, led by Holly Hapke, Ph.D., UCI social sciences research development director, aims to identify and address barriers to grant proposal development and submissions by roughly 4,500 social sciences faculty across 28 minority-serving public universities in California.
“Social science participation in extramurally funded research is historically low at minority-serving institutions,” says Hapke. "A number of factors discourage faculty at MSIs from developing robust extramural funding portfolios. Apart from individual-level barriers related to confidence and skill, lack of institutional infrastructure and support, incongruent tenure and promotion expectations, and potential biases in the review process stand out." With a $796,858 grant from NSF $203,155 directly to UCI - Hapke and project leads at UC Santa Barbara, California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), and the Chancellor’s Office of the California State University are working to remove these obstacles and expand research opportunities. They’ve established the California Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Social Science Advancement (CAHSSA) through which they’ll implement and evaluate grant proposal writing webinars, writing groups, and writing retreats; lead train-the-trainer workshops and social science leader seminars; and conduct content analysis of proposal reviews to analyze how social science research is constructed and practiced across institutional types.
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These grants reflect how UCI is at the forefront of propelling social and behavioral science through an intentional strategy of growing inclusion and diversity. We truly are leading the way. -Bill Maurer, Dean UCI social sciences projects aimed at elevating underrepresented faculty and student research have received National Science Foundation Build and Broaden Program funding.
“Our comparative analysis of NSF reviewer comments on social science proposals from faculty at HSIs and non-HSIs may also help uncover and eliminate biases that may exist,” says Hapke, the result of which would help open up more opportunities for “innovative and collaborative Hispanic-serving social science research projects and proposals.” Their efforts will reach more than 4,500 social scientists across the Cal States and UCs. Expanding STEM-focused social sciences research across minority-serving institutions Cognitive scientists Ramesh Srinivasan and Jeffrey Rouder are leveraging their STEMfocused research expertise through the second NSF-funded project, a collaboration with California State University San Bernardino-Palm Desert Campus (PDC) where more than 80 percent of students identify as Latinx. The professors from UCI’s Department of Cognitive Sciences - ranked among the nation’s top programs for cognitive neuroscience – specialize in using EEG and models of behavior to understand brain functions involved in human perception and decision making.
With a $650,469 grant - $356,875 to UCI they’re working together with Pablo Gomez, psychology associate professor at PDC, to enhance STEM opportunities for underserved students at PDC. Planned work includes developing new science content for PDC courses; launching “NeuroScienceFest” one-day activities at PDC; developing a novel three-week summer school at UCI for PDC students in STEM skills (experimental design, math skills, computer programming, data analytics); internships for PDC students at UCI; and opportunities for students to work in PDC research labs with bimonthly support from UCI graduate students and faculty on experimental technologies and methods used to study perceptual decision-making. “The short-term goal is to provide an opportunity for PDC students to gain STEM skills by contributing to active state-of-the art research in cognitive neuroscience,” says Srinivasan. “One longer-term goal is to help them discover new future research opportunities and directions at R1 universities like UCI and develop career goals in STEM fields.”
The other long-term goal of the project is to develop the research training capability in cognitive neuroscience at PDC with a unique focus on tactile perception. “The partnership also provides opportunities for UCI graduate students to develop teaching skills for students who were exposed to varying STEM opportunities in primary school,” says Rouder. •
social sciences alumni
SUPERCONNECTOR Blake Baxter ’04, Social Sciences Board of Councilors member and Alumni Network founding chair, builds bridges between alumni and their alma mater
lake Baxter ’04 splits his time between Los Angeles, New York, and Singapore, as he runs an international venture capital firm and two startups based on blockchain technology. While some have called him a “supergeneralist,” he’s a “superconnector,” too, who brings together people, ideas, and capital everywhere he goes – including at his beloved alma mater, UCI. Baxter’s tendency to dabble in a little bit of everything started young. Growing up in Calabasas, California, he played every sport he could – soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, track, and ballroom dance. He also played instruments, and was an especially good bass trombone player, so it was originally the arts that brought him to UCI, where he planned to major in music. But he was hooked on sociology from his first class, where the professor sent students to conduct social experiments – like facing backward in a crowded elevator or standing still to observe people in a crowded gym. “I thought, ‘This is fun, studying people and figuring out what makes them tick,’” Baxter says. “And people are weird; I’m weird, you’re weird, let’s all embrace our weird.”
Campus connections Baxter would learn a lot about people beyond his classes, too. The fraternity he joined, Kappa Sigma, was hugely influential in his life. “The fraternity took groups of people from every single walk of life and put us together,” he says. “My roommate is one of my best friends to this day, but we were so different that people called us the odd couple. There were other odd couples, too, and that led to respect and helped build lifelong friendships.” Connections he made through the fraternity led to a plethora of other opportunities on campus, as well. “The fraternity enabled a wide range of experiences for all its members,” he says. “It created connections to other aspects of campus, and made it seem like every pathway was available – if you took the initiative.” Baxter served as a counselor for the Student Parent Orientation Program, helping freshmen – and their often anxious parents – ease the transition to college life. He also volunteered with an after-school program in Santa Ana, where he and fellow students provided homework support to kids whose parents worked late and needed after school care.
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There’s such a huge network of opportunities at UCI that it doesn't matter what you’re into, there’s something to dive into.
“Seize every single opportunity,” Baxter advises current Anteaters. “There’s such a huge network of opportunities at UCI that it doesn't matter what you’re into, there’s something to dive into. The campus community out there is so important and impressive.” Uncorking opportunities While a student, Baxter’s job was the epitome of turn-of-the-century college cool: he worked at Abercrombie & Fitch. After graduation, he earned his real estate license and led the West Coast expansion of his fraternity for its national headquarters – while also maintaining a steady stream of side projects. Ultimately, networking in Los Angeles led him to become the right-hand man to an ultrahigh-net-worth, globe-trotting investor. Baxter was soon applying socioeconomic theory from classes to the real world, advising and consulting for international companies to help expand their networks and partnerships. On a trip to Korea, Baxter noticed exorbitant prices on wines that could easily be found in a grocery store back home. So, he and a fellow UCI alumnus and fraternity brother founded BW Global to export fine wines and spirits to Asia. The business allowed him to soak up knowledge of wines, as well as
In 2017, Blake Baxter joined the social sciences dean’s Board of Councilors and, in 2019, he was named founding chair of the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network with the goal of helping alumni reconnect with each other and the school.
their marketing – choosing labels and bottle shapes that would appeal in specific markets. After the export business was absorbed by bigger companies, Baxter became executive director of Blackrun Ventures, a private equity and venture capital firm based in Singapore that invests in a range of startups in financial technology, healthcare, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence industries. Buying into blockchain When bitcoin launched in 2009, Baxter was a naysayer. But a few years later, as blockchain and financial technology, or fintech, became a hot topic in investor circles, Baxter took a closer look and started realizing its potential. “The way I see blockchain and cryptocurrency is that it’s not one business, it’s a technology that can grow and push forward other industries,” Baxter says, pointing to the metaverse and non-fungible tokens as examples of industries enabled by blockchain technology.
“Blockchain enables high frequency transactions to occur so that someone can, for example, enter a metaverse, and have a frictionless experience buying tickets to U2 in concert at the Rose Bowl.” “Not only are you going to be able to buy something in the real world, and your character in the metaverse is going to be able to use it, and vice versa,” he adds. But the potential isn’t only for consumers. Businesses, too, will change the way they interact and exchange goods and services by leveraging blockchain technology. He shares an optimistic view on how blockchain, Web 3.0, and the metaverse will transform almost all industries. Baxter continues to serve on several corporate and advisory boards because he enjoys strategy and building and growing businesses. Currently, he advises multiple companies on blockchain technology, including a real estate company using blockchain to handle escrow, title, and other parts of the purchase process; and an agriculture company that uses digital tokens to track its food sources and verify authenticity. “All companies should, at a minimum, understand this space and how to position themselves appropriately,” he says. In 2018, through what Baxter describes as kismet, he met his newest business partner, Antonio Collier. Their company, Olive Limited, is developing patents to “tackle future world problems” such as solving the scarcity issue of rare-earth elements and precious metals we’ve come to depend on for current and emerging technology. And, yes, it definitely involves blockchain. Advocating for alumni Baxter stayed in touch with the campus through the years, but he realized that wasn’t the case for all of his friends. “Everyone has that story of the time they went back to campus, and realized how much had changed and grown,” he says.
“I personally know a lot of alumni doing amazing things who want to reconnect with the school and enjoy the social aspects of the alumni network. There’s got to be a way to create those pathways for reconnecting to our shared experiences.” In 2017, Baxter joined the social sciences dean’s Board of Councilors and, in 2019, he was named founding chair of the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network with the goal of helping alumni reconnect with the campus that holds so many of their favorite memories, and network with each other. “The effort that Dean Bill Maurer, Tracy Acuri, Liz Codispoti, Ian Delzer, and Melissa Churlonis have put into supporting the Social Sciences Alumni Network, to the benefit of all 58,000+ alumni of the school, shows just how important this is to the school to engage with social sciences alumni and reconnect them to campus and their fellow Anteaters.” says Baxter. Undeterred by COVID-19, Baxter and fellow organizers focused on a series of Be Bold virtual events, including a virtual homecoming featuring alumni who have gone on to succeed in fascinating jobs – from driving race cars to opening a bakery. The group also supported initiatives such as collecting donations for the FRESH Basic Needs Hub food drive and raising money for UCI Giving Day. Although alumni missed being together on campus, the virtual events have the silver lining of being easy for alumni to join from anywhere in the world. As things open back up, Baxter expects the momentum to grow even stronger. “It’s been really fun and I’m really looking forward to where the Social Sciences Alumni Network goes as things start to open up – happy hours and coffee meetups,” Baxter says. “We’re going to continue that cohesion, magic, and energy that we all experienced at UCI.” •
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When you engage in the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network, and all the network has to offer you, the reach and connectivity is unmatched. UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network Coffee Meet Up at A Market, hosted by Dennis Kause '79.
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ALUMNI NETWORK Scan to learn more about the Alumni Network.
Wherever you go, Stay Social!
our connection to UC Irvine doesn’t end when you graduate. In fact, it’s just the beginning. As a UCI social sciences alumnus, you belong to a growing Alumni Network over 58,000 Anteaters strong who continue to make remarkable contributions around the world. In addition to exciting engagement opportunities offered by the university-wide UCI Alumni Association, upon graduation, all social sciences alumni are automatically considered a member of the UCI School of Social Sciences Alumni Network, a lifelong network committed to building relationships, providing camaraderie, and forging meaningful connections with the school. The UCI social sciences Anteater family is a shared bond that knows no boundaries – it is a powerful network that offers exclusive opportunities for alumni across the globe to stay in touch with each other, the school, and the Anteater family.
Wherever you live, work, or travel, the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network offers virtual and in-person opportunities for engagement throughout the year. Through our online community, be Bold 2.2 - a networking series that connects alumni around the world through peer-to-peer engagement - strengthens and enriches bonds across the Network. Check out the calendar of events via our QR code to find out how you can stay close to your social sciences Anteater family. Whether you’re looking to connect and collaborate with alumni in your chosen field or with those who share your interests, we offer a myriad of ways for you to get involved. Start by joining our UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network LinkedIn. There, and through our class notes updates, catch up with classmates and share your adventures, successes, and family news.
Become a supporting UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network Gold Member and “Stay Social” As a Gold Member, you provide additional support to key programs and services that impact our greatest needs and help position our school for excellence. Alumni Network programs and services are powered by Gold Members and made possible by the support of Anteaters like you! To learn more about engagement opportunities, contact Tracy Arcuri, email@example.com, Liz Codispoti, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us online at the QR code above. And wherever you go, Stay Social! •
rom the streets of India to experimental rooms at UCI, Nishtha Sharma, UCI economics Ph.D. ’22, studies how economic discrimination affects individuals’ decisions. Her work has covered topics like gender discrimination in her field and attitudes toward those who ask for money at city intersections. She hopes that through her work, she can begin to tackle economic discrimination based on gender, race, immigration status, religion, and other identity markers. “Previous work has largely focused on discrimination from the perspective of those who discriminate such as employers, property renters, and admission committees. However, the role of those who are discriminated against and those who enjoy advantages is just as important for overall social outcomes,” explains Sharma.
In September, Nishtha Sharma will join New York University’s Abu Dhabi Division of Social Science as a three-year postdoctoral fellow.
understanding economic inequality, one experiment at a time Nishtha Sharma, economics Ph.D. ’22, pursues research, applied internship experience on the ways economic discrimination affects individuals’ decisions
In one example of her research, Sharma observed people who sell trivial items on bustling city streets. For many of the vendors and their customers, their interactions weren't about the wares they were selling. When Sharma interviewed them, she found that 63% of street vendors didn’t even mention the products. Rather, the items functioned as a signal of bad luck in the job market and prompted charitable interactions from passers-by. For many, street vending is likely a response to anti-beggar rhetoric, especially in India where she conducted the study, she says. Through studies like this, Sharma has investigated ideas about how people make economic choices. “In my head, I can cook up a theory and have certain predictions, but I really need to test it empirically with people and see if my theory stands the test,” explains Sharma. Thanks in part to the many tools, resources, and opportunities that UCI offers, she has succeeded in putting many of her theories to the test.
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In my head, I can cook up a theory and have certain predictions, but I really need to test it empirically with people and see if my theory stands the test.
Research applied Over summer, Sharma expanded her economic expertise through an internship at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There, she worked with the Strategy, Policy, and Review Department to develop a tool to better understand economic gender issues within various countries. The question at the center of her work was “which gender equality policies actually foster gender equality?” Using data from about 170 countries over more than 40 years, she investigated policies that dictate whether women can own property, apply to jobs, and earn competitive wages among other things. She and her colleagues found that the most important factor for gender equality, while controlling for the level of development of the country, was equality in the workplace. Sharma’s work at the IMF gave her the tools to study gender equality from a big-picture perspective, which nicely complements her microeconomic background. “I find gratification in knowing that our findings will inform future policymaking in the IMF member countries,” she says. Why UCI? When choosing and applying to graduate schools, Sharma was drawn to the UCI economics department for its expertise in microeconomics. Specifically, the Experimental Social Science Laboratory (ESSL) at UCI, run by Michael McBride and John Duffy, caught her attention. As an interdisciplinary resource, the ESSL has been home to an impressive collection of studies on individual and interactive decision making. During her graduate experience, Sharma has been awarded with honors like the Graduate Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship, a Center for Global Peace and Conflicts Studies Research Grant, the Kugelman Fellowship, and a
research grant from the Initiative to End Family Violence Institute. Economics graduate students like Sharma study everything from micro theory to macroeconomics to econometrics and at UCI, they have the resources to investigate a broad range of research questions. The department is also bustling with many new faculty, including this year’s new hires Meera Mahadevan, who studies environmental and energy economics within developing countries, and Miguel Zerecero, who studies spatial and labor economics. “Many students complete internships at the IMF and other central banks each year,” said William Branch, economics professor and department chair. The department’s graduate program is also highly ranked, coming in 17th among public universities and 38th overall in U.S. News & World Report’s latest rankings. “Economics at UCI's mission is to improve the social wellbeing of people through research that enhances the functioning of the economy and the efficacy of government policies, while also providing inclusive access to lifealtering undergraduate and graduate educational opportunities,” says Branch. “The recognition of our efforts is a testament to the hard work of the faculty, graduate students, and staff.” Alumni from the department have gone on to work at a variety of places including Hamilton College, Google, and the U.S. Census Bureau, to name a few. As her time at UCI draws to a close, Sharma is excited to begin a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at New York University’s Abu Dhabi Division of Social Science. "I am immensely grateful to my advisors at UCI for their patience and support," she says. "I hope to make them proud with my work ahead." •
Allison Lim '15 is the second youngest chief of staff in the California state Capitol and one of only a few Asian Pacific Islander women chiefs.
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Michelle Thomas, psychology senior and inaugural Black Lives Matter Research Scholar, is working to advance understanding of Black, marginalized communities
rom scholarship to community engagement to her own lived experiences, advancing understanding of Black and other marginalized communities guides Michelle Thomas’s every action. As one of the inaugural recipients of the UCI School of Social Sciences Black Lives Matter Research Scholarship, she got a funding boost for her work on intergenerational trauma in the Black community – a topic she plans to pursue further through a Ph.D. in clinical psychology after she graduates in spring.
"I consider among my biggest accomplishments at UCI making lifelong friends and leaving behind the Black Psychology Student Association where Black psych students can thrive on campus," Thomas says.
“Colorism and racist ideologies and laws have perpetuated trauma. I want to expose these systems with research. I want to help people heal in my career as a clinical psychologist,” she says.
“She is a proactive, innovative, and dedicated leader on the ground, building up. This is not just a student who is trying hard. Her work ethic and talent go hand in hand. She is cognizant of disparities in society and wants to help marginalized communities. And she is well-rounded in research training, practical experience, and leadership skills.”
The research scholarship recognition is one of several she’s earned during her time as an active Anteater on campus. The psychology major and African American studies minor is also the recipient of two Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program grants and a Summer Undergraduate Research Program grant. She honed her skills through participation in the Summer Academic Enrichment Program where she received intensive training in research methods, statistics, and public speaking. She interned with the ASUCI Mental Health Commission and helped create the first virtual Reclaim Mental Health Conference. She participated in the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative where she attended seminars and traveled across the U.S. learning about race relations throughout the country. She mentored high school students through the Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Healing Ambassador (DIRHA) program and led weekly discussion groups about racial inequality, tension, and privilege. She’s a founding member and a co-president of the Black Psychology Student Association. In this role, she invited guest speakers to participate in virtual discussions with UCI students about the Black community and mental health.
She hopes her investment in this organization will create a pathway for the students who come after her. Her mentor, social sciences associate dean Jeanett Castellanos, has no doubt the groundwork Thomas has laid will change lives.
Thomas is so focused and accomplished, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. The fourth-year senior admits, though, that she felt a little lost her freshman and sophomore years. “It was really difficult being in a room of 300 people and being one of only a few Black people or the only Black person in the room. The best thing that happened to me was living in the Academic Excellence Black Scholars house,” she says. “I lived with 30 other Black students and coming home to a house full of Black people was refreshing. I realized I was not alone in these experiences.” She also credits much of her success to the incredible mentors who invested their time in her growth and success. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the mentors I’ve had,” she says. “Jeanett Castellanos helped me see what I want to do with my life and what I want to do for future generations.” Another mentor, DeWayne Williams, psychological sciences assistant professor, offered the same.
“He also helped me see the power of having a Black professor. I want to be that example and point of contact for future students who look like me,” she says. Thomas is paying it forward as a life coach for Creating Options and Conquering Hurdles (C.O.A.C.H.), a motivational program that assists students in accomplishing their academic, social, and personal goals. As a life coach, Thomas has received extensive training by mental health professionals from the Counseling Center to help guide other students. It’s an opportunity she counts among her most enjoyable at UCI, but it almost didn’t happen. Thomas applied to the program her third year and wasn’t accepted. She applied again and got in. A lot of Thomas’s achievements can be attributed to this same level of perseverance and perspective. “My first two years at UCI, I applied to research labs and didn’t get in. I applied to jobs and didn’t get them. I wondered if it was me. But now, looking back at all the opportunities I eventually did get, I realize that it all happens for a reason,” she says. “My friend Dashia and I say to each other, ‘What was meant for you will come to you.’ In the moment, the rejection can be discouraging, and it can be hard to see the reason, but you will be where you need to be at the end,” she says. As her time at UCI comes to a close, she’s getting ready for the next chapter in her academic journey with a gap year to focus on doctoral degree program applications. No matter where she ends up, says Castellanos, Thomas will make her mark. “With this degree, her goal is to maximize her potential for societal contribution,” says Castellanos. “Michelle is a super star and she will make great changes in this world. I am proud of her and her accomplishments. I can't wait to witness her future - it has so much promise.” •
UCI economist Eric Swanson provides expert perspective on inflation.
INFLATION UCI economist Eric Swanson discusses the current state of the U.S. economy and forecasts what’s ahead
arlier this year, the consumer price index – a measurement of changes in the cost of goods and services published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – experienced its largest one-year increase since January 1982. What does this mean for things like gas and grocery prices? Eric Swanson, professor of economics, shares his expertise on inflation below. What’s causing current inflation? Some of the recent price increases are partly due to disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine, especially in the crude oil market. However, inflation was high and rising even before Ukraine and is fundamentally being caused by low supply and strong demand. Supply is low primarily because of supply chain disruptions that have been well-publicized in the press.
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For example, there have been plant shutdowns and citywide lockdowns in the U.S. and abroad that have delayed the production and shipment of goods all along the supply chain, and we’re still working through all of the backlogs that created. Moreover, China continues to lock down entire cities, so those disruptions are ongoing. At the same time, demand has been strong. Although some consumers suffered an income hit due to the pandemic, many did not because of increased government payments for unemployment insurance and stimulus checks. In addition, many consumers reduced consumption significantly during the pandemic – for example, they did not travel or dine out very much – so they have more savings in the bank than normal, and they have pent-up demand for consumer goods. U.S. consumption expenditures are back to their pre-COVID trend (and remember that the economy in 2019 was very strong), while supply has still not recovered.
How long will the increase in inflation continue? That’s the million-dollar question that everyone wants to know the answer to. The Federal Reserve and Treasury argued at first that the increase in inflation was temporary, but they have now abandoned that characterization and acknowledge that inflation is likely to be elevated for at least a few years. The good news is that inflation should gradually start to trend downward as the supply chain problems get worked out. The bad news is that it looks like it will still take several more months for those supply chain problems to subside. Moreover, inflation tends to have some momentum, so even when the supply chain issues are resolved, it will take several additional months for inflation to fully settle down. Thus, I would expect inflation to gradually fall over time from where it is today but not return to its previous low level until about 2025. What needs to happen to curb inflation?
The main thing that needs to happen is for supply to return to its pre-pandemic trend. Lockdowns in China need to stop, and the U.S. needs to allocate more workers to trucking and transportation, which are currently experiencing worker shortages that contribute to the backlogs at the ports and all along the supply chain. Improved productivity, such as through increased automation and efficiency throughout the supply chain, could also help. An alternative approach would be for the Federal Reserve to reduce consumer demand by raising interest rates. In fact, the Fed recently started doing just that, raising short-term interest rates by 0.25 percent and announcing plans to raise rates six more times over the course of this year. What’s on the horizon for our economy? Is there something we need to worry about next? Interest rates are currently near historic lows, and they are sure to increase over the next few years as the Fed rolls back the very accommodative monetary policy it implemented during the pandemic. Many asset prices (such as housing and stocks) benefit from low interest rates, so going forward, the increase in interest rates will put pressure on those assets. People need to be aware that house prices and stock prices do not increase every year, and there could be some market volatility as interest rates go up. •
I would expect inflation to gradually fall over time from where it is today but not return to its previous low level until about 2025.
finding research inspiration in life experience Zeinab Kachakeche, language science graduate student, reflects on her research endeavors and experience as a mother pursuing a Ph.D.
fter becoming a mother, Zeinab Kachakeche decided to postpone her college career. Her unconventional road to graduate school strengthened her research abilities and invigorated her to excel in her classes. Now a Ph.D. student in language science at UCI, she uses a range of approaches to study how human language works and her bilingual background motivates her crosslinguistic research. Unconventional undergraduate When Kachakeche enrolled as an undergraduate student at UCI, she did so with her toddler and baby in tow. She had taken classes at a community college before having her children and was captivated by a course on language acquisition. As a new mother, she observed her kids living out the textbook definitions of language learning in front of her eyes. So when she started as a transfer student at UCI, she knew exactly what she wanted to study: language science. “Thinking back now, I couldn't have started at UCI at a more perfect time,” Kachakeche says. “The quarter arrived, UCI had just started the language science major and I had a passion for language.” Since she had been out of school for two years, Kachakeche couldn’t wait to begin classes again. She returned to her coursework with vigor, beginning her research immediately upon arrival. She joined professor Lisa Pearl’s lab, where she was inspired to extend a research project from English speakers to Arabic speakers, as Kachakeche is a native Arabic speaker herself.
“Zeinab continues to impress me with her clear intelligence, her scientific communication skills, her work ethic, her emotional maturity, and her focus on broadening the foundation of language science research to better include the diversity of human language,” Pearl says. After working with Pearl for a few quarters, Kachakeche heard about a crosslinguistic study conducted by Greg Scontras, also a language science professor, and jumped at the opportunity to help with the research. Kachakeche began running her own experiments and even received funding to continue her research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at UCI. Moving on to language science Ph.D. Energized by her undergraduate research, Kachakeche decided to apply to graduate programs and in 2020, she was one of the first enrollees in the new Ph.D. program in language science at UCI, which launched that same year. Since beginning her graduate studies, she has researched the differences between languages that put adjectives before nouns or after nouns (pre-nominal and post-nominal languages). “While English uses adjectives before the noun, Arabic uses them after the noun. For example, in English we would say ‘the big blue ball’, but in Arabic we would say ‘the ball blue big’,” she explains. By analyzing a large dataset containing examples from 74 different languages, she was able to study whether speaking a language that uses pre- or post-nominal adjectives changes how often speakers of these languages use adjectives.
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The faculty highly respect their students here.
Since beginning her graduate studies, Zeinab Kachakeche has researched the differences between languages that put adjectives before nouns or after nouns (pre-nominal and post-nominal languages).
Her findings, which were published in 2021, show that pre-nominal languages exhibit higher rates of adjective use than postnominal languages. She is now collaborating with researchers at Stanford University to create an interactive experiment examining how speakers of different languages refer to objects and what adjectives they use in doing so. “The work is innovative and exciting,” says Scontras, “precisely the sort of interdisciplinary scientific study of language we wanted to create a home for when we designed our new graduate program.” Why UCI? Though she was accepted to several programs, UCI was her top choice because she felt so welcomed by the faculty. Although having kids while in graduate school may seem daunting, she encourages parents to pursue their passions and seek out a supportive department to work in.
The language science department has continued to expand since introducing its Ph.D. program in 2020, now comprising fourteen graduate students and six core faculty members. Two of the faculty members are new to UCI as of fall 2021: Xin Xie, who studies how perceptual flexibility shapes speech comprehension, and Connor Mayer, who studies how innate biases shape the language learning process. The department now encompasses a variety of types of research and is one of the only language science programs in the country. “Keep in mind I wouldn't have done this without overall support,” Kachakeche says. “The department here is very supportive and I have a very supportive advisor. The faculty highly respect their students here.” She hopes to continue on in academia and offer the same support to her future students that she has received. •
Berna Idriz wants to save the planet – and she’s got a pretty good start. The UCI alumna credits her Anteater experience for helping her land a coveted fellowship, a full-time dream gig, and the opportunity to co-write a presidential candidate’s climate platform.
MISSION Berna Idriz '20, international studies and political science, wants to change the world
t was spring her senior year at UCI and Berna Idriz was sweating. The temperature was 105 degrees outside. Wildfires raged across the West. She was writing her honors thesis about climate change. While she was struck by the timeliness of her topic, she doubted she’d have much use for it once her thesis was submitted. But the following winter, Idriz was awarded a fellowship with Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area land-use policy organization, largely based on the research experience and knowledge she gained from writing her thesis. “I got this fellowship because of my honors thesis, and I have actually used my research to inform many of my projects at work,” she says.
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“I wouldn't have landed this opportunity if it weren't for that thesis. I am working on real world research projects that directly stem from my experience at UCI,” she says. Idriz now works full-time as a climate and equity associate for Greenbelt Alliance where she conducts research on how to incorporate equitable nature-based solutions in municipal climate action plans. “One of the reasons we got to this point is that we have an extractive relationship with the environment. If we work in tandem with what nature already does and develop nature-based solutions, we can improve resiliency and fight climate change,” Idriz says. As an example, she explains how river plants use the interface between land and water to prevent flooding or absorb heat when temperatures rise. “Nature is already doing its job. Our job should be to steward these zones,” she says.
Finding her path Idriz wasn’t always focused on the environment. When she first arrived at UCI, she was interested in studying her family’s countries of origin (Idriz was born in Bulgaria to Turkish parents) and perhaps pursuing a career in diplomacy, due to her proficiency in four languages - English, Turkish, Bulgarian, and Spanish. But participation in experiential learning programs within the School of Social Sciences helped her discover her new passion. One of those programs was the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI) through which students learn both in the classroom and through travel to sites of historical and contemporary importance to the experience of race in the United States. As part of the program, Idriz traveled to Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. In New Orleans, Idriz and her peers met with a founding member of the Louisiana Black Panther party. The activist explained how the impact of Hurricane Katrina was still very present in communities of color. “He told us in such an emotional way that the foundation of our work should be addressing climate change. He’d been an activist for 50 years, he participated in the Civil Rights movement, but the thing that gave him the most anxiety was the climate crisis and how it will exacerbate inequality. He said he was worried about us young people and what we’ll have to face,” she says.
The experience solidified her commitment to fight the climate crisis. “I want to take action to protect those who are the most vulnerable. The world is a very unfair place and I want to do my part to make it a little bit better, however cheesy that sounds,” she says. Idriz’s altruism is echoed by her mentor, Eve Darian-Smith, global and international studies professor and chair. “Berna is very empathetic and generous. She is driven by the pursuit of making the world better. She works and volunteers to such a degree that I had to tell her to stop,” she says half-jokingly. Political drive Idriz’s desire to improve the world also applies to political activism. While a student at UCI, she worked as a climate policy intern
I want to take action to protect those who are the most vulnerable.
for NextGen America. While there, the founder of the progressive policy group, Tom Steyer, ran for president. Idriz joined his campaign and impressed his team so much that they offered her a full-time position and asked her to write the first draft of his international climate plan. “My mind was blown. I was able to take my lived experiences and reflect it in his policy plan,” she says. Tom Steyer isn’t the only candidate Idriz has campaigned for. She also worked as an organizer for the California Democratic Party who supported the campaign of U.S. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA 45th District). Because of this role, she was invited to hear former President Barack Obama speak in Anaheim. “I’m this girl, from this country no one even knows about, and here I am invited to hear Obama speak,” she says. “It was surreal.” Hope for the future As part of her work, Idriz is constantly reading scientific studies to stay abreast of any findings related to climate change, including the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) report. Despite calling it “very doomsday,” she is optimistic about the future. “Unlike other issues, there’s a solution. The science exists and there’s becoming more and more of a consensus. So many young people are moving the needle forward,” she says. Idriz has every reason to be optimistic about her own future too. Conducting research at Greenbelt Alliance has confirmed her goal to pursue a Ph.D. “I’m so grateful I chose UCI. It was truly life changing. I met a network of people who, when I expressed my ideas, made me feel that the sky’s the limit,” she says. •
BOOKSHELF Works by UCI faculty span the social sciences Scan for Q&As and podcasts.
rom a deep dive into the importance rest plays in our overall health and wellness to an examination of the role politics play in peoples' recognition and response to democratic threats, faculty books published this year span the social sciences.
Check out our faculty bookshelf for Q&As, podcasts, and features about new works from our established experts. •
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Scan for videos.
UCI social sciences video series tackles timely topics
ill we ever be a cashless society? Why are wildfires increasing in intensity and frequency each year? Is the supply chain crisis that we’ve witnessed throughout the pandemic a new issue or one that’s been a long time in the making? How do baseball teams measure player value - and what if current metrics have it wrong? What unique relationship characteristics bring happiness and protect health? And how has misinformation managed to take over mainstream science? These are some of the issues our UCI social scientists tackled in this year’s Experts On video series. Check out our episodes below and visit us online to view the series in full.
UCI Experts On: Supply chain issues Gustavo Oliveira and Li Zhang, global and international studies, offer insight on the global supply chain crisis and alternative solutions for holiday spends.
UCI Experts On: Global warming Eve Darian-Smith, professor and chair of global and international studies, breaks down the role political and economic decisions play in our world's mounting climate crisis.
UCI Experts On: Health and Happiness Belinda Campos, UCI Chicano/Latino studies professor and chair, dives into her research on unique sociocultural contexts that can be beneficial for relationships and protective of health.
UCI Experts On: Money Bill Maurer, social sciences dean and anthropology and law professor, talks cryptocurrency, credit cards, and the future of cash.
UCI Experts On: Misinformation Cailin O'Connor and Jim Weatherall, logic and philosophy of science professors, talk misinformation and science. •
UCI Experts On: Baseball statistics Michael McBride, economics professor, breaks down his new metrics for player valuation based on team contributions, rather than individual skill.
Katrya Ly ’20 with students at OC United Way’s community service event, Rally for Change.
alumni CLASS NOTES
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Updates from the social sciences Anteater community Andre Ramirez ’07, economics Founder, Flick Power Andre Ramirez recently founded Flick Power to help households lower their bills and carbon impact. Using in-house developed and patented light switch technology, Flick notifies users when energy is most expensive by using color coded signals on the face of the switch. In so doing, Flick aims to make lowering energy bills and reducing daily environmental impact effortless and routine. Supported by angel investors including a UCI Trustee, one of Flick's first pilots is with UCI Student Housing where the technology is proving to help significantly reduce energy use during critical times of the day. Flick will soon be launching a Kickstarter to give early access to its switch, which will provide anyone in North America the ability to lower their bills and carbon footprint from daily energy use. Katrya Ly ’20, social policy and public service Orange County United Way Katrya Ly is currently an education specialist with Orange County United Way, serving
students all over Orange County. She is managing programs for college readiness, college access, and career preparation. Her favorite part of working at the OC United Way is meeting the resilient students who are making a change in their lives and communities.
pioneer new thinking in the use of indicator messaging techniques to build and manage audience perceptions. This approach is being beta tested today in the CENTCOM area of operations for use globally in Great Power Competition campaigns.
Erik Skaggs ’88, economics Espire Services LLC
Matthew Stein ’00, political science Partner, Law & Stein
Erik Skaggs graduated with a bachelor’s in economics in 1988 and served as ASUCI president 1987-88 when he helped establish the current UCI shuttle bus system. Today, Skaggs is a U.S. Army combat veteran and the chief innovation officer at Espire Services, a defense contractor based in northern Virginia. He is the architect and intellectual property owner of a new audience segmentation methodology called BESM - Base Enabler Segmentation Methodology. BESM is operationalized through the GrayPlan.IO interactive analytic platform and is currently being used by US DOD Special Operations to identify, baseline, and influence networks of friendly and hostile entities. His work with Special Operations Forces has also helped
Matthew Stein’s trust litigation and estate planning firm, Law & Stein in Irvine, recently had the opportunity to help a senior community. When defending those entangled in elder financial abuse, inheritance disputes, and trust litigation, his firm often works with clients who either have, or know someone who has, Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, with that number projected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050. The disease not only affects one person, but their entire family and friends who love them, which is why Law & Stein is a proud supporter of the local Alzheimer's Orange County nonprofit organization. In early spring, the firm donated essential gardening items and then
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lens for transformative action. She has been featured by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and CalMatters and has provided presentations and workshops on voting and the election process to numerous local and statewide organizations. She experienced an epiphany after the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, and felt called to utilize her experiences and knowledge to play a more direct role in empowering historically excluded communities to realize their political power and potential. Dennis Kause ’79, social science Dueling Ducks Brewery
Jackie Wu ’11, Principal, J Wu Consulting.
Dennis Kause and his son, Daniel, opened Dueling Ducks Brewing Co, which just hit its one-year anniversary. Dueling Ducks is serving some of Orange County’s finest craft beers, offering an ever-evolving menu that is all brewed in house. When Kause isn’t at Dueling Ducks with his son, he can be found cheering on UCI baseball at Cicerone Field. Christopher Opfell ’77, psychology Trial Farmers Insurance
got busy working to put together a garden for the Acacia Adult Day Services in Garden Grove. They removed the old soil and put in new soil, removed and installed new planting borders, installed a succulent garden, painted benches, and built a tool shed. The community now has a place to plant flowers and vegetables or just sit and enjoy the garden. The firm’s volunteers enjoyed every minute of it and are so grateful for the opportunity to continue to support the Alzheimer’s community. Zot! Zot! Zot! Jackie Wu ’11, political science Principal, J Wu Consulting Jackie Wu started J Wu Consulting last year to serve nonprofit organizations seeking to make a greater impact through politically empowering their clients and members. An Asian American woman-owned consultancy, J Wu Consulting offers civic engagement, voter outreach strategy, communications, and grant writing services. She helps clients bring about positive social change by focusing on community empowerment, storytelling, and social justice through a compassionate
Christopher Opfell went to Pepperdine Law after UCI and has been a trial attorney in Los Angeles for the past 40 years. While he is still working full time, he’s looking forward to retirement from law and becoming an artist. Angel Lira ’20, political science Fulbright Fellow Two years ago, Angel Lira started his application for a Fulbright Research Grant to Paraguay with UCI's Scholarship Opportunities Program office. He’s now living in Asuncion one month into the grant working alongside Fundación Paraguaya, whose director and founder is Martin Burt, UCI visiting professor in global studies. Lira is studying the barriers to civic engagement and political participation that rural youth in Paraguay experience. Lira considers himself fortunate and privileged to be representing UCI as an alumnus abroad in the Fulbright program, and couldn't have done it without the School of Social Sciences. “Who knows if I would be a Fulbrighter today if I hadn't heard Professor Burt give a lecture in the International Studies Forum class! I will be in Paraguay for the remainder of the year, and am planning on taking a two month backpacking trip through South America before I return to Southern California. Zot! Zot! Zot!” •
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