be bold - uci soc sci spring magazine 2019

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BOLD Spring Magazine 2019

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


be bold

featu red 4 Message from Maurer 6 Pantsuit generation Business economics senior Crystal Ho had life-changing experiences at UCI and in D.C.

contents 06

10 Family, food, and historical fiction Social sciences commencement speaker Erin Costigliolo reflects on what’s fueled her UCI research, education, and daily commute

12 Technology designed with disability in mind UCI anthropologist Tom Boellstorff has traveled both the virtual and physical worlds to learn how persons with disabilities use and need technology, making stops along the way to advocate for the importance of funding social sciences research

16 Proving race matters Sociology grad student Monique Kelly won the Chancellor’s Club Fund for Excellence Fellowship for her work on racial inequality in Jamaica

18 From ordinary to Extraordinarius Longtime UCI staff member Michael Arias ’11 receives Alumni Association’s highest honor

22 Community connection Social sciences commencement speaker Truong Nhat Vu Xe is making a difference for marginalized communities through research, outreach, and activism

24 Bridging a gap Alumna Dana Ballout ’08 brings stories from the Middle East to mainstream U.S. media - including one she got to tell for NPR’s “This American Life”

30 Ad man ’08 alumnus Sunny Zaman’s zest for life covers food, travel, and his high-powered job in digital media and advertising


32 How hormones can hijack a healthy slumber UCI cognitive scientist Sara C. Mednick studies the science of sleep and its impact on memory

34 Coming full circle Exposure to UCI’s Global Connect program as high school freshmen steered current program interns to UCI and plans for careers in education, international relations

38 Lauds & laurels, risk and reward Guided by vision and passion, tenacity and grit, UCI’s Outstanding Alumni Athlete Shannon Eusey ’92 is the Anteater spirit personified


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40 Natural storyteller From founding a magazine to making a living as an influencer, senior Aditi Mayer has a good story to tell

44 Just for the run of it In his day to day life, alumnus Jeff Stout ’88 runs his own high-powered recruiting firm – but in his free time he’s a dedicated philanthropist who helps people dealing with homelessness get back on their feet

46 A life in theatre, a life in service Paula Tomei, economics ’79, receives 2019 Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award in the School of Social Sciences

48 Power of attorney The loves and lessons of senior Sharis Manokian’s Mock Trial experience

50 A balanced life How ’01 poli sci alumnus Chris Lee’s battle with nonHodgkin lymphoma “shaped everything for the better”

54 Finding her way How Eileen Zimmerman, ’98 economics, found creativity and balance by becoming her own boss with Wander Wet Bags

56 Returning to Rwanda A prestigious Fulbright Hays grant will allow anthropology grad student Anna Kamanzi to continue her fieldwork in Africa

58 Ready for liftoff Born and bred at UCI, BottleRocket is changing the way people recycle

60 When research becomes personal First-gen faculty member and mentor Glenda M. Flores earns honors for teaching, research on Latina educators

61 Q&A: The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread New book acts as guide for understanding and mitigating misinformation in a media-frenzied age

62 Ties that bind Alumna Catherine Griffin, ’86 economics, shares experiences that made her an Anteater for life

64 Making a difference Dalai Lama Scholars from UCI social sciences organized third annual campus event to develop products for people with disabilities

66 A career helping others Psychology alumna, author, and radio show host Jennifer Hill ’02 has made a career out of finding others their dream jobs

68 A perfect fit Belinda Robnett is the inaugural associate dean of faculty development and diversity in social sciences, a role that seems tailor-made for the sociologist who studies diversity

70 Catalysts for change Local high school students participating in UCI’s new Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program are countering stereotypes

72 Making her mark Cross country runner Keely Boyd is helping close the distance between students and hunger

74 Into the extreme Book by UCI anthropologist explores interdependent relationship of our world in outer space

76 AAAS fellows Seven UCI researchers named AAAS fellows, an honor conferred for distinguished academic contributions

77 NATO’s learning crisis UCI poli sci professor Heidi Hardt draws on interviews with political officials and top military brass to highlight need for NATO reforms to strengthen military operations

78 Advancing equity & social impact Keely Hanson, political science ’11, uses research and empathy to make her mark




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b e BOL D ----a publication of the UCI School of Social Sciences ----writers, designers, editors, & photographers Heather Ashbach, Bria Balliet, Christine Byrd, Barry Faulkner, Luis Fonseca, Pat Harriman, Jill Kato, Daisy Murguia, Kara Roberts, Steven Zylius special thanks to contributing photographers from: DIRHA, Global Connect, UCI Athletics, USC ----School Leadership Bill Maurer, Dean Michael McBride, Associate Dean Jeanett Castellanos, Associate Dean Belinda Robnett, Associate Dean Dave Leinen, Assistant Dean Marketing & Communications Heather Ashbach, Executive Director Luis Fonseca, Digital Media Production Development Tracy Arcuri, Executive Director Liz Dahl, Director Ian Delzer, Associate Director Melissa Churlonis, Coordinator ----featured on cover: ’08 alumnus Sunny Zaman’s zest for life covers food, travel, and his high-powered job in digital media and advertising. Pictured on cover in the Wadi Rum Desert in Southern Jordan. More on page 30.

----Be Bold is printed annually with soy-based biorenewable inks on FSC® certified, responsibly sourced paper. Please recycle.

from the


Bill Maurer Professor, Anthropology & Law

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Hope, promise, and pride were felt by all Anteaters, young and old, as we cheered on our men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament this year.


ope. When I read the stories in this edition of Be Bold, a feeling of promise, of infinite hope shines through.

You can feel it brimming in the stories of our first-gen mold breakers - like Crystal Ho, Truong Nhat Vu Xe, Monique Kelly, and Aditi Mayer - for whom a UCI degree is only the beginning. It burns brightly in our stories on Global Connect, the Olive Tree Initiative, UCDC, and the Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program – programs purposely designed to bring global awareness and understanding to UCI and beyond. It’s inherent in our research features on maverick faculty like Sara Mednick who’s exploring the role of women in and as subjects of - science.

And it radiates in the countless stories of alumni like Jeff Stout, Shannon Eusey, Jennifer Hill, Chris Lee, Keely Hanson, Dana Ballout, Catherine Griffin, Paula Tomei, and Keely Boyd (to name a few) who are boldly making their mark by creating positive change for others. With so many horrendous acts of hate filling our daily feeds, stories of hope are something we can all use a little more of. In darkness, let there be light. Fiat lux and enjoy the read. •



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pantsuit GENERATION Business economics senior Crystal Ho had life-changing experiences at UCI and in D.C.


s a little girl, Crystal Ho envisioned herself as a businesswoman, wearing a white pantsuit, exuding power and success. But while that vision of success inspired her to work hard in school, there was also a fear pushing her forward. As a first-generation college student and the daughter of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants, Ho felt a constant pressure to prove to her parents that their sacrifices were worth it. “I joke to my mom that I’m her sole investment,” laughs Ho, who is an only child. “But I really felt like I needed to compensate for her sacrifices, and I think a lot of us feel like we owe our families something.” She chose UCI because of its proximity to her family in Los Angeles County, and because of the business economics major offered by the School of Social Sciences. “Business economics struck the perfect balance between following my own passions but also being practical about gaining skills that would lead to a well-paid job,” she says. Determined to wring every experience out of her four years of college before entering the working world, Ho arrived at UCI with a bucket list, which included studying abroad. She checked that off her second year by spending a quarter in Hong Kong.

UCI smoothed the way for Crystal Ho and other Pell Grant recipients like her to participate in the UCDC program by offering a $1,000 need-based scholarship.

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Crystal Ho, second from left, with Aaron Yang, Congresswoman Chu, Ryan Bae, Grant Haxton.

But Ho kept herself open to all kinds of opportunities, and it was those unexpected experiences that proved the most transformational.

and engage the heart of American democracy,” said Matthew Beckmann, associate professor of political science and faculty director of UCI’s capital internship program.

“When I came to UCI, I didn’t expect to be doing research, learning how to code, or interning in Washington, D.C.,” she says.

To earn a spot in the program, Ho needed to first secure an internship in D.C. Fortunately, her hometown Congressional representative is Judy Chu (CA-27), the first Chinese American woman elected to U.S. Congress, and Chu’s office jumped at the opportunity to hire their constituent.

Ho became more interested in politics after the 2016 election - when a woman in a white pantsuit narrowly lost the presidency. “Being an Asian American woman with limited resources - except for my education - I realized I am a political statement myself,” she says. Ho decided to head to the capital as part of the UCDC program - a UC-wide program in Washington, D.C., where students from each campus take classes, do internships, and experience life inside the Beltway. “There’s something transcendent about staying in our nation’s capital to live, work,

UCI smoothed the way for Ho and other Pell Grant recipients like her to participate in the UCDC program by offering a $1,000 needbased scholarship. Since that scholarship was introduced on campus, UCI has nearly doubled the number of UCI Pell Grant recipients participating in UCDC. “One of the things that makes UCI so special is that we don’t just teach students about notions of civic duty and public service; our curriculum provides opportunities for students to put those ideas into practice,” says

As a first-generation, low-income, AsianAmerican, female college student, I was empowered by UCI to explore all the possibilities…sometimes even beyond the scope of what I thought I could achieve.

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Bill Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences, which helps fund the need-based scholarship program. The benefits of the UCDC program extend beyond students to the capital itself. Research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that Congressional employees, for example, often lack diversity, even in offices that represent ethnically diverse districts. “By building a pipeline from the nation’s greatest public university system into the nation’s capital, the University of California has allowed students to gain the experiences, hone the expertise, and build the networks that will allow them to overcome historical barriers that have stood too tall, too long,” says Beckmann. For Ho, the UCDC experience included meeting with the Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus, reading and summarizing dozens of news clips each day to keep the congresswoman and her staff abreast of emerging issues on the Hill and back home, and working long hours - usually sipping Soylent at her desk for lunch. There were moments of Washington glamour, too. Ho helped plan the book release party for a U.S. Congress publication that celebrated the history of Asian Americans in Congress from 1900 to 2017. Ho and her colleagues from the congresswoman’s office were guests at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies annual gala - a glitzy affair for up to 1,000 people, with tickets going for $500 per person. “It felt surreal, to be running around the Capitol of the U.S. - literally the Capitol,” says Ho. Ho says her experience in Washington, D.C., changed her life, and as she begins her postcollege job hunt, her internship on Capitol Hill is one of the crown jewels of her resume. “My advice to other students, regardless of major, is that if you can take a chance on going to UCDC, go,” she says. UCDC wasn’t the only program that shaped Ho’s college experience in unexpected ways. Her freshman year, she participated in the School of Social Sciences’ research-focused Summer Academic Enrichment Program for

first-gen students. Through that program, she began a research project on women of color in entrepreneurship, a topic that has continued to interest her throughout her career at UCI. So much so, that she added a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship from The Paul Merage School of Business, and recently gave a business pitch at the UCI New Venture Competition. “I’m trying to educate myself so that one day down the road, I can do something that could help other women start businesses and create a pathway for their own independence,” Ho explains. In her final year at UCI, Ho seized another unexpected opportunity: she learned coding. In an economics class taught by Brian Jenkins, assistant teaching professor of economics, Ho harnessed the Python coding language to create graphs to visually represent economic data. “This is a game-changer for me,” says Ho. “Without it, I would be stuck with economic theory in my notebooks.” Instead, she can create infographics and models that help people see and understand complex economic information. She expects this skillset will be critical in helping her land a job as a business analyst or economics researcher when she graduates, either home in Los Angeles or back in D.C. Ho knows that the June commencement ceremony will be emotional for her whole family. Not only because graduating from college proves that she did not waste her parents’ sacrifices, but also because she is that much closer to realizing her dream of becoming a businesswoman sporting a power suit. “As a first-generation, low-income, AsianAmerican, female college student, I was empowered by UCI to explore all the possibilities,” she says. “Sometimes even beyond the scope of what I thought I could achieve.” Her advice for other first-gen college students following in her footsteps? “Maximize your time here. Optimize your opportunities here. Extract as much as you can from it.” But then she pauses. “And breathe. Just breathe.” •



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family, food, & historical


Social sciences commencement speaker Erin Costigliolo reflects on what’s fueled her UCI research, education, and daily commute

UCI has been an incredible part of my journey in helping me and my fellow classmates develop the skills we need to thrive – the passion, intelligence, and empathy to succeed in creating the change we wish to see.

Double majoring in environmental science and economics allowed Erin Costigliolo to combine her passions while giving her an outlet through which she plans to effect change.

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rin Costigliolo is a big fan of historical fiction - the type involving time travel, romance, and a healthy dose of plot twists. And as a four-year commuter student traveling 90 miles a day round trip to campus, audiobooks provide a welcome escape from the noise and nuisance of Southern California traffic. “On a good day, I spend about two hours on the road,” she says, noting that her electric car helps her shave off time in the carpool lane while making the environment a little happier - something she cares deeply about. While many students might have opted to live a little closer to campus, Costigliolo says her commute from Glendora gives her the best of both worlds - the opportunity to earn a world-class education at a top-ranked institution while staying close to home where she makes pasta from scratch with her dad, mom, and sister every Sunday (and pizza on Thursdays). And luckily, her favorite audio series - Outlander - includes eight books, one that’s 55-hours long. In June, Costigliolo will graduate with campuswide honors, double honors - and completed theses - in both her economics and environmental science majors, and a nearly 4.0 GPA. She earned induction into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society as a junior - something very few students achieve - and she’s the campus nominee for both the Harry S. Truman and Udall Undergraduate scholarships. Of the roughly 2,000 social sciences students who will receive their bachelor’s degrees this year, she’s one of only two students selected to be a school commencement speaker. As her undergraduate experience draws to a close, she reflects on how food, family, and a love of fiction fueled her Anteater experience - and why she’s planning to extend her commute to UCI a little longer. A little bit of history In the Costigliolo household, food and family go hand in hand. Since before Erin and her sister were born, her parents have followed an all-vegetarian diet. Meal times growing up were - and still are - a family affair as the foursome finds new recipes while perfecting the old, all with a vegetarian flair. In high school, the Costigliolo home was the site of many late night study groups fueled with fresh fare fixed by Erin’s father.

But having eating habits that differed from her friends meant she spent a lot of time early on learning about what she was putting into her body, and why.

“Anytime I need a break, there are so many beautiful outdoor areas I can walk through and feel a sense of calm,” she says. “Aldrich Park is my favorite spot.”

“I remember in elementary school having to defend myself and my food choices to my classmates, so I really educated myself on the values of a vegetarian lifestyle,” she says. She shared what she learned in a fourth grade school project on the environmental and health dangers of methane emissions from cows. The research cemented her vegetarian way of life. “Being a vegetarian - and now vegan - became part of my identity,” she says.

Double majoring in environmental science and economics provided a way to combine her passions while giving her an outlet through which she plans to effect change.

Finding her fit In middle school, her family - all of whom are history buffs - went on a colonial tour of the East Coast. They visited a tavern in Philadelphia where the Founding Fathers would convene after meetings and share meals together. “We were reading some of the recipes they penned and I was so surprised to see one on tofu by Benjamin Franklin. I had no idea the Founding Fathers knew what tofu was or how to make it!” She also got to see “Hamilton” on Broadway, which marked off a major bucket list item. In high school, she gravitated toward science and math - areas in which she excelled. Her environmental interests and advocacy also advanced. She joined Greenpeace and quickly developed a knack for going doorto-door on the organization’s behalf. “Canvassing for a cause is a great way of reaffirming why you’re passionate about something,” she says. “When you talk to people everyday about a topic, you learn more about why you care and why it’s important.” She put those same skills to work campaigning in both English and Spanish for Democratic Representative Lou Correa who holds California’s 46th Congressional District seat. She even got to be part of a BBC Mundosponsored debate that was streamed live via Facebook and aimed at Latinx audiences in advance of the 2018 election. When it came time to choose a university that fit her educational interests and environmentally conscious lifestyle, Costigliolo fell in love with UCI and its natural beauty.

“Environmental science teaches us about why the earth system works the way it does and how that affects people,” she says. “Economics gives us the tools to understand choices and move culture and society forward through policy, so combining the two makes sense for wanting to impact sustainability through policy.” The research track As a freshman, she was accepted into UCI’s Campuswide Honors Program, which put her on track to pursue academic research. She’s now finishing up two honors theses on the rebound ratio of food waste and the social cost of animal protein production. The studies represent her most proud accomplishments at UCI. “Research allows you to go from absorbing information presented in class and textbooks to going out and trying to find your own information,” she says. After graduating in June, she plans to continue pursuing research as a doctoral student with a focus on public and environmental economics. She was accepted into two Ph.D. programs - including UCI’s, which she committed to in April. So her June commencement address will cap off an excellent undergraduate career, but not the end of her time as an Anteater. And that’s just fine with her. “UCI has been an incredible part of my journey in helping me and my fellow classmates develop the skills we need to thrive - the passion, intelligence, and empathy to succeed in creating the change we wish to see,” she says. “The social sciences have taught us a deeper understanding of people and societies, and I’m so excited to see how we all use this foundation to promote positive change.” •



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technology designed with disability in mind UCI anthropologist Tom Boellstorff has traveled both the virtual and physical worlds to learn how persons with disabilities use and need technology, making stops along the way to advocate for the importance of funding social sciences research

Cecii Zapien helps Cody LaScala with his VR glasses while Tom Boellstorff and team meet with technology makers in Silicon Valley.

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n the 15 years since Second Life hit the market, the online virtual world has given more than 15 million registered users the ability to transport and transform themselves in a space designed completely by the avatars who call it home. While receiving less publicity in recent years, roughly half a million users still log significant “inworld” hours - and an estimated 40-60 percent count themselves as disabled. This statistic shouldn’t be surprising, yet for many - including those tasked with creating the next new “thing” in the tech world - it is, says UCI anthropologist Tom Boellstorff. “Billions of people use online environments - social networks, games, virtual worlds take your pick,” he says. “Around 20 percent of the world’s population is classified as disabled. And since humans first picked up sticks to use as canes and crutches, disabled

persons have been at the forefront of technology innovation, so it’s natural that they would be doing creative things in virtual worlds, too.” But technology isn’t often designed with these specialized needs in mind. And that’s something Boellstorff - through academic research in the virtual and physical worlds is hoping to change. It’s a case he made last spring in Silicon Valley when he met with Second Life creator Philip Rosedale and his team at High Fidelity; with Ebbe Altberg, the head of Linden Lab which runs Second Life; and in D.C. before multiple members of Congress, several of whom determine levels of National Science Foundation funding which has supported Boellstorff’s work. It’s also the focus of a new documentary highlighting how online worlds facilitate deep connections for disability communities. And that’s where Tom Bukowski’s story picks up.

Tom Boellstorff in his office while conducting research in Second Life.

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When Boellstorff first entered Second Life in 2004, he did so as the avatar Tom Bukowski with a gamer’s background and an ethnographer’s intent. A member of the first generation in the U.S. for whom video games were a part of everyday life, it was a somewhat easy jump for the early adopter of technology and simulation games like Sim City. Boellstorff had paid close attention growing up to the first iterations of three-dimensional worlds that linked global players online through text and voice, but he hadn’t yet studied them formally as an academic. While pursuing his Ph.D., he completed an extensive ethnographic study of the lives of gay men in Indonesia which was the focus of two subsequent books. So when he was looking for his next big project, the Stanford-trained anthropologist set his sights on a new challenge: virtual worlds. He took all of his ethnographic experience to the new realm where he says many of the same participant observation study methods he’d previously employed applied. “I observed people in action as avatars and conducted interviews as one myself,” he says. “What I really liked about Second Life and what drew me in as an anthropologist is that you can change everything about yourself, from your environment to your clothes to your entire embodiment. You can literally be a fridge if you want to.” For Boellstorff, the goal was to blend in, observe, and - when appropriate - interview, so rather than appearing as a vampire or a cat or an inanimate object like a fridge, his default avatar looks similar to his physicalworld self - a white male with brown hair and a goatee. But he has updated his avatar over the years and has been known to show up to Halloween parties in Second Life as a robotic cat or a jellyfish. But how other people choose to embody themselves is incredibly interesting, he says, and he spent quite a bit of time on the topic with those he encountered. The idea became even more intriguing as he began to interact with many people who identified as having disabilities. Like Fran, a 90+ year-old woman whose mobility is limited due to Parkinson’s disease in the physical world, but in Second Life, she’s a young, flawless looking blonde who glides with ease. And Shyla, a middle-aged woman with chronic pain so

severe that she spends most of her day in a specially designed chair lying on her back. In Second Life, she’s a superhero gecko who can fly around and interact with anyone. “Virtual worlds create a persistent place that allow social relations to happen that otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t,” Boellstorff says, “and that’s why they are so popular among the disabled community.” Cody LaScala is another person Boellstorff has met through Second Life. LaScala is a 30-year-old who experienced a near-death drowning on his first birthday, and has been confined to a wheelchair with a round-theclock caregiver ever since. LaScala uses adaptive technology and the help of his caregiver, Cecii Zapien, to actively participate in Second Life. While some people use the nearly unlimited avatar options possible in Second Life to make themselves appear different from their physical-world selves, LaScala’s purposely mirrors his physical-world self. “I see myself as someone who has a little different abilities - I don’t see myself as disabled,” he says. “My avatar means everything to me. It means I can do whatever I want, and there’s more power to me in having it resemble the physical me.” The notion is something Boellstorff explores deeply in his research. He’s received $277,000 in funding since 2015 from the National Science Foundation to better understand how online environments impact social interaction and self-understanding as well as physical world experiences of disability. He also studies which aspects of online social interaction are linked to specific disabilities and how differing platforms and devices are used. As part of his research, Boellstorff and Donna Z. Davis, his co-researcher from the University of Oregon, were able to create their own island in Second Life called “Ethnographia Island.” Some disabled participants were given plots of land for the duration of the research project (which ended in July 2018) so they could build anything they wished that expressed their experience of disability. They also ran focus group meetings on the island where Shyla, LaScala, and others shared their stories of living with a disability.

Virtual worlds create a persistent place that allow social relations to happen that otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t, and that’s why they are so popular among the disabled community. Some of these stories ended up appearing in “Our Digital Selves,” a documentary produced by Bernhard Drax that chronicles this research project. Through interviews in both the virtual and physical worlds, the film follows the work of Boellstorff and team from inside their Second Life activities to Silicon Valley where they meet with Second Life’s creators to talk about technology design for the disabled community. LaScala even recreated the scene of his accident in the film as a way to share his story. The documentary debuted at a Congressional meeting that was part of the 2018 Coalition on National Science Funding Exhibition and Hill Day. Boellstorff was one of several social scientists who got to showcase his work - considered as “blue sky” research for which the practical benefits may not be immediately apparent - and thank Congress for their support. “We know from experience that it is precisely basic research that often leads to innovations of lasting societal impact,” he says. LaScala also made the trek - with Zapien and participated in a Q&A about his experiences using virtual worlds, discussing how they provide vital social connections and new personal and economic opportunities for disabled people. Boellstorff’s hope is that by sharing this research and the stories of those whose lives have been changed by the possibilities virtual worlds provide, the technologies of tomorrow will be designed with the disabled community in mind, and “blue sky” funding will continue to be available to pursue the unknown. •



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proving race MATTERS Sociology grad student Monique Kelly won the Chancellor’s Club Fund for Excellence Fellowship for her work on racial inequality in Jamaica


onique D. A. Kelly remembers her “aha moment” vividly. She was an undergraduate at a historically black college in North Carolina, Johnson C. Smith University, gathered around the table with a few of her Jamaican friends. She started, “We as black people - ” before her friends cut her off with their laughter. You, they said, are not black. Today, Kelly is a sociology graduate student and the recipient of a UCI Chancellor’s Club Fund for Excellence Fellowship to support the final stage of her dissertation on race and skin color inequality in Jamaica. “If you ask anyone in Jamaica, they say it’s not race that matters, it’s only class,” explains Kelly. “Even though there is acknowledgement that race, or being lighter skinned, is attached with real or perceived social status, there is no connection to how these influence allocation of material resources on an institutional level in Jamaica.” Kelly grew up believing that race didn’t matter and education was the key to social mobility, but there were subtle hints in her childhood that belied this. Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Jamaica, by a single mother, and living in an extended family home with her grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins, Kelly undoubtedly experienced class struggle. But strangers on the bus sometimes assumed that since she had lighter skin, her stop should be in a nicer neighborhood, or that she must be from a middle class family.

Holding on to the concept that education was the key to social mobility, Kelly told her mom that she would never have to worry about paying for her schooling. Kelly made good on that promise, earning scholarships to a competitive all-girls high school where she was not only an excellent student, but an athletic star in track. Determined to see her daughter advance socially, Kelly’s mother provided her daughter with experiences most working class children didn’t have, like classical piano lessons and training in voice and speech presentation. “I hated all of it,” Kelly says. “But my mom really wanted to push me.” When she earned a scholarship to a college in the U.S., her family was extremely proud of her. As a sophomore psychology major, Kelly found a job as a research assistant for a professor. She laughs now, remembering that at the time, she cared nothing about the job except that it was a paid position. Soon, though, she distinguished herself as an excellent researcher, and that professor became her mentor. At the urging of her mentor, Kelly applied to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) summer internship at the University of Michigan her second summer. It was there, while working on graduate-level statistics projects as a data archivist, that Kelly realized for the first time that she could have a future as a researcher.

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Kelly came to UCI’s demographic and social analysis master’s program after she became aware of sociology professor Ruben Rumbaut’s work - in particular, the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, which she used during a summer research project. By the time she completed her master’s, she formed lasting connections with other graduate students, and found another mentor and advisor, sociology professor Stanley Bailey. She decided to stay and earn her doctorate at UCI. For her Ph.D. research, Kelly used the AmericasBarometer survey data, and the Jamaica census, adding nuance to the quantitative data by conducting interviews with 25 Jamaican citizens living in Jamaica, the U.S., and the U.K. Her research debunks the claim that race has nothing to do with social mobility in Jamaica. “Yes, class matters in Jamaica, but class is historically and contemporarily still tied to skin color and race,” she says. Why does this matter? If people don’t believe racism or racial inequality is impacting their lives, they are not going to push for policies that would end systemic racism.

Leaning on both her personal experiences and her research, Monique Kelly works to make UCI an inclusive environment for graduate students.

She’s already had one article published in a peer reviewed journal, with two more under review. “Quantitative research on racial stratification in Jamaica is all but missing, and Monique is using existing datasets to make a badly needed contribution in this area,” says sociology professor Stanley Bailey, her co-advisor and co-chair. “Furthermore, her qualitative analysis brings in rich detail and thereby increases the exceptional contribution that her multi-method dissertation will make to the field.” One of Kelly’s frustrations is that many of her interview respondents - even though it was not a representative sample - did not see racism or colorism as a central social problem in Jamaica, purely because it is much more subtle than in the U.S. “Everyone tries to apply U.S. standards, but the U.S. is so exceptional in how it handles race that it’s not really a good global standard,” says Kelly. “I want to challenge that notion, and talk about the contextuality of race and how it is applied differently in various contexts. It’s not enough to say it’s worse in

the U.S. because it still affects people’s lives greatly in Jamaica.” Leaning on both her personal experiences and her research, Kelly works to make UCI an inclusive environment for graduate students. She serves on the Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE) School of Social Sciences Council, and she rarely passes up an opportunity to offer mentorship. She mentors first-year sociology graduate students, students in the UC Community College to Ph.D. Scholars Program, and students in the Competitive Edge Summer Research Program. She also serves as the mentor coordinator for the Sociology Graduate Student Association. “All of my mentees have been females of color, and they need to know they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through,” says Kelly. She happily shares stories with them about stumbles she made early in her academic career, and how she learned from them.

Soon, Kelly will be sharing her insights with a new group of mentees - and gaining new mentors of her own. She has secured a twoyear post-doctoral scholarship at Michigan State University. When Kelly graduates from UCI in June, she will have been in the U.S. for 11 years, become a citizen, and shed light on the realities of racism in Jamaica. Kelly’s mom, who immigrated to the U.S. several years ago, will also graduate this spring, with her associate degree from a community college in New York. Both women are a long way from where they started - both geographically and socially. “That’s one of the things that makes Monique so impressive,” says Bailey. “She is contributing exceptional research to the field of sociology while simultaneously navigating the ever-present structural disadvantages associated with her unique socio-economic and racial statuses.” •



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EXTRAORDINARIUS Longtime UCI staff member Michael Arias ’11 receives Alumni Association’s highest honor


ichael Arias was a 20-year-old college dropout when he was hired at UCI as a clerk in the copy center in 1978. When he retired 40 years later, he was the foremost advisor to the chancellor and the highest ranking staff member on campus - not to mention an honors graduate from the School of Social Sciences. It was hard work and good humor that carried Arias from a job running a Xerox machine the size of a car to one managing the inner workings of a top-10 public research university. In May, he received the Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Extraordinarius award.

Go-to guy Growing up in a working class family in Santa Ana, Arias attended UC San Diego for a short time before returning home for financial reasons. With shoulder length hair and a disarming smile, Arias happily worked full time in the copy center of the School of Physical Sciences, duplicating documents for everyone from accountants to the future Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sherwood Rowland. A quick study who was good with budgets, Arias soon drew the attention of officials in the executive vice chancellor’s office, who invited him to apply for a job with the academic budget team. Arias had to borrow a colleague’s blazer and belt for the interview.

At the age of 50, Mike Arias went back to school, taking classes at lunch and nights, and finishing his bachelor’s in the School of Social Sciences.

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Since retiring from UCI in 2018, Mike Arias is enjoying relaxing, traveling, and spending time with his family.

But soon enough, he would have his own closet full of suits and ties. He went on to serve as assistant dean in the School of Social Sciences, chief of staff for three executive vice chancellor & provosts, and eventually as associate chancellor and chief of staff for Chancellor Howard Gillman. Because of Arias’ long history with UCI, many administrators - especially those who were new to the campus - sought his advice. “When I arrived as provost and executive vice chancellor in 2013, Mike played a critical role in helping me become quickly and successfully acclimated,” wrote Gillman in his message announcing Arias’ retirement in 2018. “I relied greatly on his deep knowledge of the university and insightful advice.” Arias’ job roles, and the trust he built with colleagues, meant he was at the center of many significant projects through the years.

This included the development of UCI’s strategic plan; the establishment of the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, the School of Law, and the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences; the planning and construction of the UC Irvine Douglas Hospital; the construction of two student housing complexes and the Anteater Learning Pavilion; and the planning for the Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Building. “In many respects, Mike built the processes and offices that sustain the campus, from operations to finances and academic programs,” says Bill Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences. “Mike is the Horatio Alger of UCI.” As the university grew from a sleepy commuter campus into a mature institution, Arias became the go-to fixer, called in to diffuse disagreements, resolve conflicts, and advise on crises.

I somehow evolved into a role where I looked after people, and found good fits for people, where they could thrive. That’s hands down the best part of my time at UCI.

Mike Arias with colleagues and friends William R. Schonfeld (then dean of social sciences) and assistant dean Dave Leinen.

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“Mike was our stalwart leader in helping us to manage major controversies on campus, and even being there to help us through minor personal or professional challenges we faced,” said Edgar Dormitorio, interim vice chancellor of student affairs. “It was not uncommon to see him offer a listening ear or supportive words of wisdom to staff and colleagues.”

Medicine and felt overwhelmed by her new job responsibilities.

A guide for many As Arias grew professionally, he made a special effort to mentor others, guiding countless faculty and staff in their careers, many of whom wrote heartfelt letters supporting his nomination for the Extraordinarius award. They shared stories of how Arias took them under his wing, coached, and guided them through various professional challenges - usually over a cup of coffee and with a healthy dose of laughter.

For Arias, mentoring others in their careers at UCI has been his proudest accomplishment.

“Whatever the subject, Mike used humor or found a gentle way to get to the heart of any matter,” says Doug Haynes, vice provost for academic equity, diversity, and inclusion, who considers Arias a mentor. Often, his mentees were faculty and staff stepping into administrative roles for the first time. Rebecca Brusuelas-James says that Arias reached out to her when she first became an assistant dean in the School of

“Mike reached out to offer a regular monthly mentorship meeting to help guide me in my new role,” she says. “I had no idea these meetings would span the next nine years of my career and provide me with profound guidance and support.”

“I somehow evolved into a role where I looked after people, and found good fits for people, where they could thrive,” said Arias. “That’s hands down the best part of my time at UCI.” “I don’t want to sound like it’s all altruistic,” he adds, in typical self-effacing manner. “I benefited from people looking out for me and after me, and I felt it was important to do the same for others. UCI is a better place because of its people.” Some say UCI people are better because of Arias. “Michael, more so than anyone I know, has had a major role in the development, mentoring, and support for staff at the university,” says Michael Gottfredson, who served as executive vice chancellor & provost for 12 years.

Back to school It would be impossible to spend so much time at an institution of higher education without feeling the shadow of his unfinished degree, and indeed Arias thought several times of finishing his bachelor’s. “For a while, I really wore the absence of a degree like a badge of honor,” he says. But at the age of 50, Arias realized it would be better for the university and for the leaders he worked for, if he got his degree. Arias went back to school, taking classes at lunch and nights, finishing his bachelor’s in the School of Social Sciences in two years, while working full time in the EVC & provost’s office. The best part of the experience for Arias was gaining empathy for what students go through - their profound sense of uncertainty and anxiety over finances, final exams, and finding a job. “It was important to walk a mile in the students’ shoes, especially after living in Aldrich Hall for a million years,” he says. “You think you can identify with what students are going through, but you really can’t. It was good for my soul.” When he graduated magna cum laude, Arias was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, served as the secretary of UCI’s chapter, and used his influence on campus to waive the student initiation fee for incoming members. New beginnings After 40 years at UCI, Arias and his wife Linda, who is also a UCI retiree, are looking forward to relaxing, traveling, and welcoming their first grandchild this summer. But he expects to stay involved with UCI. Indeed, he can be found often enough on or around campus, sharing advice or old stories over coffee. He received the Extraordinarius award alongside other Lauds & Laurels honorees on May 23. “Mike is always easy going and self-deprecating, never really owning how truly wonderful he has been to so many,” BrusuelasJames says. “He is already extraordinary to so many of us.” •



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COMMUNITY c o n n e c t i o n Social sciences commencement speaker Truong Nhat Vu Xe is making a difference for marginalized communities through research, outreach, and activism Truong Nhat Vu Xe is quick to credit his mom as the driving force behind his educational passion and pursuit.


hen Truong Nhat Vu Xe was just two-years-old, his family came to California from Vietnam in search of a better life. He watched as his parents, with less than a middle school education, worked long hours to provide for their family in the San Jose community where Xe and his three siblings grew up. Fast forward 19 years. Xe will graduate in June with double majors in business economics and social policy & public service, and certification as an ABA-accredited paralegal - all done within just three years of study at UCI. He’s pursued and presented research on sustainability and public policy, and worked as a course assistant for three classes and programs in three different schools. He’s mentored high school students on financial literacy and law practices, and first year undergrads on college readiness methods. He’s traveled abroad to work with underprivileged communities while holding part-time jobs in everything from tax work to legal aide - all in addition to being an active member in his fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, and UCI’s student government, ASUCI. And to top it all off, in a class of roughly 2,000 graduates, he’s earned the opportunity to be one of only two student commencement speakers at the social sciences ceremonies. He truly has gotten everything he could out of his college experience. So what’s been the driving force behind his educational passion and pursuit? The answer’s an easy one for Xe: “My mom. She’s my role model.”

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It was incredible being in courses relevant to being an informed, community leader. Family-focused His mom worked in a nail salon to provide for the family while navigating the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture. She was eventually able to open her own salon in Santa Cruz - where Xe got his first part-time job - and is now a thriving small business owner and active advocate for the community in which she works. “Being in the salon and watching my mom work tirelessly taught me firsthand the value of hard work. Watching her interactions with members of the Santa Cruz community and seeing how much they appreciate her allowed me to see how much she cares about community.” Through her experience, he saw early on that a college degree could give him the jumpstart his parents didn’t have. When he was accepted to UC Irvine, he made a conscious effort to take advantage of every opportunity that came his way. Community counsel Coming to UCI - a seven-hour drive from home - was a big move for Xe. He’d grown up in a predominantly low-income Latinx community and being a first-generation college student, he didn’t quite know what to expect. So, he sought counsel from the community around him, a resource from which many first-gen students draw. A coworker urged him to join a fraternity, advice that aligned with a recommendation from a student leader he met on his campus visit. And while Xe admits it was a step outside his comfort zone, he took the dive into Greek life on campus as a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity. The experience has come to mark many of his fondest memories as an Anteater. “My fraternity helped me find confidence and so many professional growth opportunities,” he says. “And the brotherhood shared with so many unique individuals is

something you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. I never expected to get so close to a group of people, and seeing how far we’ve come and the great leadership opportunities and internships we’ve all gotten to be part of is pretty surreal.” Community research and outreach Watching his mom’s small business grow from an idea to a successful source of income for his family led Xe to pursue a major in business economics. During fall quarter of his first year, he discovered and declared a double major in social policy & public service (SPPS). “I instantly fell in love with the SPPS curriculum,” he says. “It was incredible being in courses relevant to being an informed, community leader.” Xe was soon working on three different research projects, one - for the UCI Costa Rica Program - which took him abroad. He studied effects of ecotourism on villagers’ quality of life and traveled to the Central American country for one-on-one interviews with rural residents. “I learned a lot from this project – mainly that to make environment-friendly programs work in new areas, you should not change the way people do things. Instead, the focus should be on helping people find ways to do the things they’re already doing in a way that may be better for the environment,” he says. He also discovered a passion for sustainability he would further hone through research with the UCI Multidisciplinary Fellowship and in his SPPS capstone course. The latter is where he met Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences undergraduate associate dean, teaching professor, and highly involved mentor to many first-gen students on campus. “Truong has extensive practical experience in the community. Engaging him, you will find a charismatic and sensitive individual filled with compassion and leadership abilities,” she says. “His interests in sustainability and public service are long-standing and he has a proven record of investment and commitment to service and scholarship.” Through his capstone project, he worked with The California Endowment - Santa Ana Building Health Communities non-profit to create feasibility and cost-benefit analyses for co-ops interested in starting sustainability programs. He also helped host a conference where business owners and residents addressed issues they face in Santa Ana.

The experience was a proud moment for Xe who identified on a personal level with the community the project served. “It was so great to facilitate a conference where everyone networked while learning to use the resources they have around them to create change,” he says. Putting it all together Somehow, Xe also found time to put theory into practice for UCI. As ASUCI’s commissioner for sustainability, he helped educate students on best practices while raising campus awareness on issues like waste reduction and recycling. He was instrumental in bringing to campus green books – an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional exam blue books. Xe also connected with community outreach programs including the UCI Saturday Academy of Law where he volunteered time in the six-week legal learning program for 130+ high school students. He served as an advisor for the Center for Investment and Wealth Management LIFEvest Program where he mentored a group of 30 high school students from underserved communities on budgeting and investing practices, along with college readiness and career exploration techniques. And, he helped students develop personal action plans for college through UCI’s Freshman Edge/Summer Bridge Program. For his academic and outreach efforts, he was recognized last year as the Schonfeld Scholar. “He’s such a conscientious scholar who’s fully aware of social inequality in society,” Castellanos says. “He’s a social advocate for social change. He wants to improve conditions of marginalized communities and is always looking for ways to represent and help those in need, as both a scholar and activist.” With everything he’s accomplished and been involved in, it’s hard to fathom that Xe’s time at UCI spans only three years. When asked how he managed to fit everything in, he’s again quick to credit mom. “Her work ethic and passion for helping her community really left a mark on me,” he says. When he graduates in June, he plans to work for a year while studying for the LSAT and GMAT and then apply to joint MBA/JD programs. His ultimate goal: to become a lawyer who helps develop policies enabling more people to become small business owners - like his mom - and live their version of the American dream. •



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bridging a


Alumna Dana Ballout ’08 brings stories from the Middle East to mainstream U.S. media - including one she got to tell for NPR’s “This American Life”



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n the decade since graduating from UCI’s School of Social Sciences, Dana Ballout ’08 has been a journalist, documentary filmmaker, and radio producer. She’s lived in Beirut, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Wherever she goes, she tells stories of everyday heroes facing harrowing experiences - from war to sexual abuse. “I gravitate toward these stories,” she says, “and I think it’s important to tell these stories.” Recently, millions of NPR listeners heard Ballout tell one such story on “This American Life,” about Syrian radio host and activist Raed Fares who was assassinated late last year.

“Dana has worked really hard, taken risks, and even worked when not being paid for a while,” says Daniel Wehrenfennig, executive director of the Olive Tree Initiative, who has known Ballout since she was a student. “You can do a lot when you’re passionate enough about what you do, and willing to take risks.” East and West Born in California, Ballout spent most of her childhood in post-war Lebanon, sometimes surrounded by conflict, before following her older brother to UCI in 2005. She was drawn to political science and international studies courses for her major, but much of her learning took place outside of the classroom.

“UCI gave me the chance to be part of something larger than my classes,” says Ballout. As an undergrad, Ballout lobbied campus officials to start a Middle East studies minor and served as president of Model United Nations. Her most lasting impact, though, was cofounding the Olive Tree Initiative, which gave students the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine and meet people whose daily lives were affected by the conflict. More than 600 students have participated in the program over the last 11 years. “I wanted others to see what the conflict really looked like,” says Ballout. “I think it’s

Since graduating from UCI in ’08, Dana Ballout has been a journalist, documentary filmmaker, and radio producer reporting on everything from everyday heroes to sexual abuse.

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UCI gave me the chance to be part of something larger than my classes.

Dana Ballout.

important that people look in the face of what they think is the ‘enemy.’” When she graduated from UCI in 2008, Ballout returned to Beirut to put her international studies degree to work for the United Nations Development Program. As a wave of anti-government sentiment bubbled up in Lebanon, Ballout photographed anti-sectarian protests demanding political reform in Beirut. Eventually, at the encouragement of a mentor and friend, she was inspired to go to journalism school. With a full scholarship to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Ballout moved to Chicago - even though she had never even visited the city before. There, she had the opportunity to practice her reporting skills covering local political heavyweights like mayor Rahm Emanuel. When she completed the year-long master’s, Ballout moved to Washington, D.C., and interned for Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera English, before becoming a producer for the newly created Al Jazeera America when the station launched in 2013. “TV is a very powerful tool, if you have the right audience,” says Ballout.

“Unfortunately, the people watching Al Jazeera America were the ones who were already educated on the issues.” Before Al Jazeera America closed down for good, Ballout once again returned to Lebanon. The progressively violent Syrian war was drawing increased international intervention, and Ballout was hired to cover the conflict by the Wall Street Journal - the pinnacle of print journalism. On any given day, she might travel to Lebanon’s countless informal Syrian refugee camps or be on the phone with civilians who were living under siege, their families starving as bombs exploded overhead. But Ballout says she was never the type of reporter to crave an adrenaline rush. “There were moments when I was asking myself, what am I doing here?” she says. “One minute I’m talking to a person and the next minute they’re dead, or I would wake up with photos of dead children on my phone that people have sent.” Raed Fares, who would eventually become the subject of Ballout’s segment on “This American Life,” was one of the sources Ballout would check in with periodically.



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Reporting and narrating “Good Morning, Kafranbel” for “This American Life” was one of the most exciting moments in Dana Ballout’s career.

At one point, Ballout was making her morning phone calls to her sources, asking how many women and children had died in bombings the night before. “It was as if someone were telling me what they ate for breakfast,” she says. Tragedy had become routine. Emotionally drained, Ballout quit her job and returned to Southern California, where her sister had just given birth. She hoped the attention on the new baby would be personally renewing. Back in Los Angeles, Ballout produced podcasts for the Middle East-focused “Kerning Cultures,” and joined the production team for a Netflix show. “In my overall desire to tell stories and make an impact, I keep trying to find the medium that would be the most powerful form of storytelling,” she says. Being a bridge At the end of 2018, Syrian radio host and activist Raed Fares was murdered. Although

Ballout had never met him in person, the news profoundly upset her. Fares had founded Radio Fresh, a community radio station that promotes ideas of equality and democracy, and covers hyperlocal news in a war-torn region of Syria - including broadcasting warnings about incoming air strikes. As extremist Islamist groups took control of the region, officials insisted Radio Fresh stop playing music and allowing women on the radio. Fares’ responses were subversive: the station played sounds of tweeting birds and bleating goats instead of music, and modified female reporters’ voices with computer software to sound less feminine. The station is now in danger of shutting down, not because Fares is gone, but because the U.S. has pulled funding. Ballout was trying to place a story about Fares and Radio Fresh in mainstream American media when “This American Life” reached out to “Kerning Cultures.” Ballout was soon reporting, helping produce, and eventually narrating the 22-minute segment, “Good Morning, Kafranbel.” As a long-

time listener and huge fan, the opportunity was one of the most exciting moments in her career. The radio show, hosted by Ira Glass, is heard by 2.2 million listeners on 500 radio stations each week, and the podcast version gets downloaded by another 2.5 million listeners. For one week, Ballout worked in the show’s New York office, collaborating with Glass and the rest of the team. “The ‘This American Life’ producer Diane Wu was so good at helping to tell the story in a way that was human and relatable,” Ballout says. “I find that so many stories around Syria often are not told with the dignity that they deserve, but she let me tell the story with dignity.” This included letting clips of an Arabic speaker’s voice finish a complete sentence before the translator’s voice broke in, and keeping in a joke about a rural Syrian accent that would be lost on English-speaking listeners. Actually, Ballout was impressed that “This American Life” was interested in telling Fares’ story at all.

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olive tree INITIATIVE Fostering global engagement through experiential education

F Dana Ballout pictured with her inaugural Olive Tree Initiative cohort on their visit to the Middle East.

“People don’t want to hear about the Syrian war any more,” says Ballout. “But Ira Glass told me that sometimes you have to trick people into caring about stories that matter. You start off making it relatable by framing it as a story about community radio, something people relate to and then all of a sudden - bam! - you’re in a Syrian war zone. By then listeners are already in too deep.” Ballout says the entire process was not only professionally invigorating, but emotionally healing for her. “The reason Dana is so good at what she does is her empathy, that she really cares for her subject,” Wehrenfennig says. “She tells stories of normal people doing something heroic, and those stories share part of a larger truth.” “And as a woman from the Middle East, Dana can be a bridge between that part of the world to Western and American audiences,” he adds. Later this year, audiences will have another opportunity to experience Ballout’s

work, with the release of the independent film “Groomed,” about how sexual predators groom their victims, establishing an emotional connection before beginning the abuse. As a co-producer on the movie, Ballout had to meet and interview a convicted child molester. While the subject matter is deeply disturbing, Ballout insists it’s important for people to look in the eye of the “enemy” and, while not to sympathize, to humanize them. Ballout even manages to find beauty in human perseverance she witnesses. “It always inspires me in ways that make me so grateful,” she says. “In the midst of all these traumas, there are pockets of human resilience. That’s what’s amazing to me. There is beauty in all of them.” •

ounded in 2007, the Olive Tree Initiative is a UC Irvinebased educational program with chapters around the world. OTI focuses on the globally relevant subject of intractable conflicts through an innovative model of experiential learning that includes structured campus learning and discussion, community involvement, and trips to regions studied in the classroom. Committed to nonpartisan education, OTI brings together ethnically, politically, and religiously diverse students and offers them a safe space for dialoguing about the various narratives and perspectives on current conflicts in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and South East Asia. The cornerstone of the OTI student experience is an intensive study abroad trip with on-the-ground exposure to the people, politics, and realities of the regions studied. The experience is both social and educational in a way that humanizes the “other,” thereby creating a more robust community where diplomacy, critical conflict analysis, and strong friendships combat prevailing simplistic narratives. Roughly 60-70% of OTI alumni continue their studies in some of the most elite national and international graduate programs and law schools, winning Rhodes, Fulbright, and Mitchell scholarships, Dalai Lama endowed scholarships, and Rotary fellowships. Learn more at:



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AD MAN ’08 alumnus Sunny Zaman’s zest for life covers food, travel, and his high-powered job in digital media and advertising

Sunny Zaman (center) with team members at a company event in Chicago.


ccording to a colleague, Sunny Zaman is a guy who flies on planes, wears nice suits, and talks a lot for a living. “And I eat really, really good food,” he adds. Zaman, who graduated from UC Irvine with a bachelor’s in political science in ’08, is a group account director at Publicis Media, one of the top three communications companies worldwide. He oversees digital advertising for one client, a “little company called Toyota.” For the most part, Zaman’s colleague’s description of him is correct. As part of his job, he spends about a week in LA and the rest of the month traveling. He does indeed wear nice suits. “It may sound superficial,” he says, “but I want to look the part. It’s important to not only act, but look like a professional.” And he does talk a lot for a living. His day to day is spent in business strategy meetings, making phone calls, giving presentations, and mentoring his team.

And where does that “really, really good food” come in? An unofficial part of his job is entertaining clients. “After a long day of meetings, clients want a martini and a good meal,” he says. Zaman is more than happy to oblige. In fact, he’s so in to eating and preparing good food, he owns not one, but two sous vide machines and a Searzall blowtorch he uses for handheld broiling. “I really sound like an LA guy,” he says laughing. “Did I also mention I’m really into yoga and lattes? Just kidding about that last part.” Zaman’s self-deprecation is charming and it’s easy to see why he’s well-liked by both clients and colleagues. One of the things he loves best is the communication aspect of his job. He’s good at building relationships and conveying what can often be complex issues into stories that are easy to understand. Big dreams After graduating from UCI, he got a job (through an alumnus) in commodities trading.

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He took his career in his own hands and with two of his fraternity brothers from UCI - developed a mobile app publishing platform. They eventually hired nine employees and published about 50 apps all together.

UCI is a key element of who I am today. It’s where I discovered how much I loved connecting with people and coming up with solutions.

“I thought I was going down the finance path. I thought I was going to get an MBA. I thought I was going to be a cool Wall Street guy,” he says. Then 2008 happened and the markets crashed. Zaman looked for a new path.

“I thought I was going to retire by age 32,” he says. But then the mobile publishing platform space got crowded. Zaman sold his startup and accepted a job in media advertising from a competitor. He exceled in media advertising and was quickly promoted. Before he knew it, he was running Ford Motor Company’s digital advertising in parts of Latin America and flying to Mexico every other week. A mover and a shaker “I don’t like being bored,” Zaman says. But boredom doesn’t seem like a problem in Zaman’s life. Listening to a rundown of a recent vacation is enough to exhaust most people.

His trip started in London where he watched his favorite soccer team, Chelsea, play a match at Stamford Bridge stadium. He then continued on to the Middle East and Africa where he played drums with Bedouins in the deserts of Jordan and found himself inches from a lion in Tanzania. This trip also took him to Egypt, Zanzibar, Rwanda, Turkey, and Morocco. “I like to immerse myself in cultures,” he says, but sometimes immersing yourself in cultures comes with a cost. When he was in Rwanda, a gorilla punched him in the groin. (He was fine.) As if his job wasn’t time consuming enough, he’s also involved with developing a couple of startups on the side. It’s probably no surprise that he admits to drinking way too much caffeine. Anteater days With all he’s accomplished, it’s hard to believe that Zaman only graduated from UCI as an undergraduate ten years ago. While he “doesn’t know where to start” when recalling fond memories of his college days, he admits that his Anteater pride was not immediate. When he was first admitted, he remembers asking himself, “How exciting does it sound to be an Anteater?” But then he arrived on campus and found that life at UCI was a lot more exciting than he expected. He loved getting to know other students from diverse backgrounds, working with dynamic professors, and being involved in Greek life. He loved the leadership opportunities afforded to him through Phi Kappa Psi and how typing in the wrong code while registering for classes led him to become a TA for a graduate course. He even started his own club where he invited local entrepreneurs to speak to the members of his group. “The university did a lot for me. It’s a key element of who I am today. It’s where I discovered how much I loved connecting with people and coming up with solutions,” he says. Finding balance While Zaman has had a lot of career success, he knows it’s not everything. “I believe it’s important to be active in seeking happiness. I don’t think happiness has to come from career success,” he says. He speaks about trying to make each day better than the last, be it at work, in his personal life, or in another’s. “I understand that I’m not saving the world, but if I can do something that makes someone else happy, I consider it a good day.” •



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Her recent findings have been published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, and since joining UCI’s faculty in fall 2018, she received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to dive deeper into the effect of menstrual cycles on sleep and long-term memory in women across their lifespan. Here, she talks about sleep’s role in our overall health, why getting good Z’s may fluctuate in women, and what that means for long-term cognitive function. Why we need our Z’s “Our bodies perform a number of processes throughout the day - digesting food, information, feelings - that deplete our natural energy resources and molecular makeup,” says Mednick. “Sleep is the antidote to all of our daily active processes.”

how hormones can hijack a healthy


UCI cognitive scientist Sara C. Mednick studies the science of sleep and its impact on memory


leep - like eating and drinking - is one of our most basic needs (just try going a night without it - past your mid-twenties - and see what happens). But sometimes this natural process gets disrupted, and scientists are finding it happens more often, and like clockwork, in women. The culprit? Periods, says UCI cognitive scientist Sara C. Mednick. The longterm effects of the waxing and waning of sex hormones could be putting women at higher risk of memory-related disorders like Alzheimer’s, which hits twice as many more women than men aged 75 and older. The author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Mednick is a New York actress-turned Harvard-trained expert on the science of sleep: how it impacts memory, how interventions like pharmacology and electrical brain stimulation can be used to improve it, and how sex and age can help or hinder it. The director of UCI’s Sleep and Cognition Lab, she’s pioneered studies using a nap design that’s replaced nocturnal studies as the dominant research method for understanding the role of sleep in memory formation.

A good night’s sleep restores glucose metabolism and balance between our fight-orflight and rest-and-digest processes so that humans can function - biologically, mentally, emotionally, and physically. And in research published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Mednick contributes to a growing body of evidence showing which specific aspects of sleep are critical in memory consolidation. “Sleep is the only time the brain slows down and recuperates from the activity it’s involved in during the time we’re awake,” she says. In the transition from wake to sleep, the brain goes from a state of high activity with asynchronous firing of neurons to a much slower pace in which all neurons begin to fire as one. This synchronized firing allows for the transfer of information from short-term to long-term storage areas of the brain via large coordinated brain waves, she explains. “As we fall into deeper and deeper sleep, the waves get bigger. At the peaks, neurons from different brain areas fire together and this allows for the communication and transfer of information,” she says. This pattern gets repeated over and over across the different stages of sleep, helping the brain absorb information from the day, commit it to memory, and restore itself. When this pattern gets interrupted due to poor or lost sleep, cognition and memory are affected. Why men and women sleep differently Men and women are biologically different (not shocking news). But what is somewhat surprising is that historically most scientific studies performed to understand everything from sex to sleep use only male research subjects.

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“Even rodents used in scientific research are only male,” says Mednick, citing a commonly held view in science that females introduce too many hormonal variables which can complicate findings. While this may lead to a more convenient path to findings, says Mednick, it isn’t accurate to presume women will respond the same as men to treatments derived from single sex-based studies. And since women represent roughly half of the world’s population, understanding the way their bodies work and respond to treatment is important. “Science has been slow to respond to studying women and the general overall need for more studies that focus on issues affecting only women,” says Mednick. And that’s where her research is filling a very large gap. But first, a little background on the female four-week menstrual cycle. In week one, when a woman is in active menses (or her period), she’s low in all hormones. In the second week, estrogen levels spike which has been shown to enhance fine motor skills and verbal fluency. And in week three, there’s a peak in progesterone which has been linked with better spatial and navigational performance. Week four is when all levels start to decline, leading women to experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. “We know that women have different hormones that fluctuate over a four-week cycle,” she says. “I’m interested in how changes in the hormone cycle impact sleep and memory.” Sara C. Mednick.

In another study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Mednick put men and women to a memory game-like test before and after a nap. During their snooze, research participants were outfitted with electroencephalogram (EEG), electrooculogram (EOG), and electromyogram electrodes to monitor brain wave activity, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements. Women were studied at two different points in their four-week menstrual cycle to help determine whether or not hormonal changes impacted sleep and/or memory performance. “Regardless of menstrual phase, women had better pre-nap performance than men,” Mednick says, which fits previous research showing women to have better word and picture recall and recognition, and story recall and name recognition than men. But when testing post-nap, women in their nonperimenses phase (weeks two/three) and men outperformed women in the week prior to or in active menses (weeks four/one). “Clearly, sex hormones play a role in memory consolidation,” says Mednick. “Our goal then became figuring out why that was happening, how it might be improved, and how we can learn from it.” When they investigated further, Mednick and researchers - homing in on EEG data found electrophysiological events during sleep were different in men and women, depending upon the women’s menstrual cycle. In addition to performing poorer on the memory test post-nap, women in the week prior to or in active menses had poorer sleep. The findings mark the first time researchers have combined work to pinpoint the effect of menstruation on memory consolidation due to sleep loss, says Mednick. “There have been people doing research on sex hormones’ effect on cognition and on sleep, but no one is putting it all together.” And for her, it’s only the beginning. Next steps Scientifically understanding that women are most deficient in memory and sleep during periods of low sex hormones shouldn’t be seen as a point of discouragement for the female population, says Mednick, but rather, an opportunity. “A lot of medical science sees women - PMS and menopause specifically - in a disease model,” she says. “I find that offensive. Let’s instead see it as an opportunity.”

Being a woman in a scientific field, I see how much women can change the story we’ve been telling in science. It’s really exciting to get to contribute to that.

“This knowledge can help women better prepare and optimize themselves with their cycle. Therapies, lifestyle interventions - so many doors open when we start to understand an issue better.” In March, she was awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant from National Institute on Aging to expand her research across the lifespan. Men and women from varying ages - young, midlife, pre- and post-menopause will be spending time in her sleep lab while Mednick tracks blood hormone levels, sleep, and memory function over four weeks to learn how hormones vary and impact sleep and memory across a woman’s lifespan. The research will cover a full menstrual cycle to produce a much clearer picture of what sleep looks like for women compared to men, younger women vs older women, and how sleep impacts memory over the lifespan. “I found my passion in my curiosity for the overlooked,” she says. “Being a woman in a scientific field, I see how much women can change the story we’ve been telling in science. It’s really exciting to get to contribute to that.” •



be bold

coming full

CIRCLE Exposure to UCI’s Global Connect program as high school freshmen steered current program interns to UCI and plans for careers in education, international relations

“Global Connect gave me a head start in knowing what I wanted to do - which helped me focus and come into college knowing which classes to take,” says Adrie Van Wonterghem.

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be bold


hen UCI undergrads Adrie Van Wonterghem and Hunter Carr were in high school, they took a course that brought UCI-level material and students into their Orange County classrooms. The experience opened their eyes to real world global issues and gave them direct access to university student role models. When it came time to make a college choice, UC Irvine was already on their horizon. This year, both Van Wonterghem and Carr have come full circle as UCI Global Connect interns in OC high school classrooms. And when they graduate, they’re planning to pursue careers in education and international relations, thanks to their time in Global Connect.

Global Connect provides excellent preparation for a career of service. -Hunter Carr

The fast track Adrie Van Wonterghem is passionate about education. A third-year student at UCI, the political science and education double major has plans to graduate early, get her master’s degree, and pursue a career as a teacher and eventually, as a principal. When the highly driven Anteater was a freshman at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, she enrolled in a course that she says gave her a big head start in achieving these goals.

The class was Model United Nations, and the curriculum was guided by UC Irvine’s Global Connect program. Each week, students from UCI would come to her classroom and teamteach current issues in international studies alongside her high school teacher. “It was such a great experience working with college students and having access to their experience, and seeing through them what we could achieve,” she says. The platform of real world, applied info delivered by kids not much older than her piqued Van Wonterghem’s interest in becoming an educator, and in attending UCI. “Global Connect gave me a head start in knowing what I wanted to do - which helped me focus and come into college knowing which classes to take,” she says. “The program showed me that I could teach not just the basics, but that I could apply education to a more global perspective to things happening in the real world and go beyond relaying information to engage students in what’s going on around the world.” The experience and exposure to UCI through Global Connect - and having several Anteater alumni on her high school’s teaching staff - played a role in her decision to attend UCI four years later, and of course, get involved in Global Connect as one of the program’s high school interns herself. “One of the best parts about Global Connect is seeing the impact it has made in our high school students’ lives,” says Jessica Bit ’09, who directed Global Connect through December and was involved as a UCI student from 2007-09. “It’s so rewarding to see our former students enroll at UCI in a major that was inspired by Global Connect. It’s even more meaningful when they intern with Global Connect so that they can give back what they learned to the younger generation.”

Hunter Carr participated in Global Connect as a high school student and returned to teach for the program as an Anteater.

Making connections Launched in 2001, the university-led high school curriculum program has reached more than 8,500 students in Newport-Mesa and Saddleback Valley school districts. Topics covered under the UCI-created curriculum include nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and cybersecurity in a global society - areas not covered under current state education standards but topics in which UCI researchers excel. The real-time course content reflects the continually changing world landscape while bringing new and updated university research directly to high school

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students. And the year-long curriculum is a University of California regent-approved A-G elective. From the UCI side, Global Connect is a hotbed for outstanding students with educational aspirations. Over 700 UCI undergraduate and graduate interns have gone through the program, helping develop and teach course content. More than two-thirds of the undergraduates have gone on to attend graduate school or become educators - like Van Wonterghem plans to do. Nine former interns have received Fulbright scholarships, and in November, Manuel Chavez, a Global Connect and UCI alumnus, became one of the youngest Anteaters ever to be elected to public office when he ran for and won a seat on Costa Mesa’s City Council, just one year after graduating from UCI. “It’s such an honor to be able to play a role in helping to develop our Global Connect interns into leaders,” says Bit. “It’s been my greatest joy sending them off into the real world and seeing the impact they make in their fields.” A career of service Ask Hunter Carr, Global Connect intern and senior international studies major, how he got involved in the program, and his story starts similarly with his high school experience. “I took the Global Connect course at Laguna Hills High School as a freshman, and I loved it. It was such a unique opportunity for a high school kid - not really the experience you usually get. Our UCI interns would bring up current events from the real world to start up the class, and we’d use these talks to get into the modules - that was really cool.” He specifically remembers the module on globalization as his favorite and most eye opening. “Up to that point, I hadn’t really been introduced to globalization formally, so it served as a framework to bring together all these separate topics I had knowledge of and helped explain to me why the world works the way that it does,” he says. The course cemented his desire to go into a career involving international relations, travel and work. He ended up taking a roundabout route to UCI through community colleges and a Cal State university, and as soon as he landed on campus, he sought out to be involved in Global Connect from the university side.

“It’s a good intro into the classroom,” he says. “You get to be a great resource for a particular group of students, and that’s a really cool, fun experience. Working with the high school students and seeing them relate and make connections to the things they know is really rewarding.” When he graduates, Carr hopes to join the Coast Guard, and he says what he’s learned in Global Connect will be a huge boost. “Global Connect provides excellent preparation for a career of service interacting with different countries on security, worldwide migration, weather, climate, and trade,” he says. In January, the program came under new directorship with Stephanie Hertel at the helm. Also a program alumnus, Hertel is working to maintain the program’s trajectory while growing its reach. “I hope to expand the program by bringing it into the spotlight and catching the attention of more faculty and graduate students. Additionally, we’ve begun to reach out to businesses in our community, drawing on their expertise and industry perspective to create an even more engaging, relevant experience for our high school and undergraduate students,” she says. More good things to come, without a doubt. •



be bold

Lauds & Laurels, risk and reward Guided by vision and passion, tenacity and grit, UCI’s Outstanding Alumni Athlete Shannon Eusey ’92 is the Anteater spirit personified Shannon Eusey.


hannon Eusey doesn’t do anything halfway. Unless you count half marathons, in which case yes, she’s done a few. But that was before she decided to move on to the full 26.2, of which she’s now completed eight, (six being world marathon majors). And she’s just getting started. It’s that kind of determination that has led to the success stories in her life, of which there are many. These successes include her family, her academic career, and most notably, her booming investment firm Beacon Pointe, which she co-founded with her father Garth.

Not surprising, then, that Eusey ’92 was one of 22 Anteaters honored at this year’s Lauds & Laurels awards ceremony, where she received the Outstanding Alumni Athlete award which recognizes Anteaters who excelled not only as student athletes, but also in their communities and respective fields. For Eusey, who played volleyball at UCI from 1988-92, receiving this award is a tremendous honor: “I am grateful and humbled to be honored with this award and to join others who are being awarded. I have a deep connection to UC Irvine and am thrilled to be in the company of incredible people being recognized this year.”

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Tenacity and grit Volleyball brought Eusey to UC Irvine. Recruited out of club ball by coach Mike Puritz, Eusey joined the team in 1988, where she excelled as a defensive specialist. At only 5 feet 5 inches, she didn’t have the benefit of height in a game where every inch is a distinct advantage. Eusey says that what she lacked in stature, she made up for in tenacity and grit: “I had to outplay my size.” Puritz, who coached UCI volleyball for 16 years, fondly recalls Eusey (then Flint) as a “fiery, fierce competitor” who had the determination to prove her worth on the court day after day. “It’s definitely no surprise to me that she’s successful,” he says. “She had that competitiveness, she had that grit - that fighting spirit when she was an 18-year-old.” Being a student athlete at UCI shaped not only her collegiate experience, but “one hundred percent” helped her create valuable habits that have benefited her to this day. Needing to balance the demands of schoolwork along with athletics, she learned the value of focus, prioritization, and discipline. It was these qualities, reinforced and honed during her time at UCI, that laid the foundation for Eusey’s future successes. She’s shared her love of athletics and team sports with her own four children, all of whose soccer teams she’s coached at one point or another, despite her packed work schedule. Being an athlete has also helped her find talent for her firm: many of her employees at Beacon Pointe were D-1 athletes in college.

Eusey with friend Jill Carter after completing the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

When asked why she’s drawn to hiring athletes, she says commitment and determination are common character traits, and “they know how to play nice on a team.”

“Understanding every piece of the puzzle helps frame and answer the question of how to invest their wealth and how to make strategic decisions in their portfolio,” she says.

The social sciences Eusey majored in social sciences at UC Irvine. Though her primary interest was in business, she feels that the enterprising, evolving nature of the social sciences program helped shape her overall outlook on business and gave her a broader perspective. She credits UCI with being “more entrepreneurial in their thinking” when it came to course offerings and syllabi.

On running Having built a successful enterprise, Eusey was eager to challenge herself once again. When she was in her mid-forties, Eusey decided to give running “a try.” Though at first she struggled to run even a mile, Eusey trained with the same dedication she had shown in her volleyball and business pursuits.

This “out of the box” thinking helped her identify a different path in a traditional industry - financial services. Eusey notes that much of her business is based on human behavior, and that having a broader understanding of social sciences in the business world has helped shape the mission for her company. She’s incredibly grateful for her time at UCI, which was “a really great starting point for both academics and athletics… the experience was incredible.” Vision and passion Passion and determination have driven much of Eusey’s life, and it’s something that she learned around the dinner table growing up. Listening to her dad describe his dedication to helping people meet their investment goals, Eusey, as well as three of her siblings, were inspired to follow in his footsteps in the financial services industry. In 2002, she and her dad joined forces with the founding of Beacon Pointe Advisors, which now has over 140 employees in 12 states, and $9.6 billion in assets under their advisement. Dad, Shannon, and siblings Mollie and Mark all now work there together. Of his daughter’s many successes, Eusey’s dad is not the least bit surprised. “Shannon has always been very focused and driven to succeed which was certainly the case when she played volleyball at UCI. She brought these attributes to Beacon Pointe Advisors.” The firm’s focus on the total picture, along with a passion for personal finance, is what drives her company to this day. With a desire to look at investment management from a 360° perspective, addressing motivators, fears, and personal goals for all clients, the business has thrived, even during the financial downturn of 2008. Evaluating each client’s total financial picture and personal goals is critical, says Eusey.

When she ran her first marathon in 2016, her time qualified her for the famed Boston Marathon. Not satisfied with stopping there, Eusey has now completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a prestigious series of six marathons held around the world. She did this alongside four female friends who inspired each other and kept each other going. They now have a goal to run one-to-two marathons a year together. Running provides “peace, calmness - and strategic thinking,” and gives her a different perspective on a situation, whether it be business, family, or otherwise. She does her best thinking while running, and often sends herself texts and notes to follow up on later. Knowledge sharing In addition to all of the above, Eusey sees it as her responsibility to pass financial knowledge on to future generations. She lectures on wealth management at UCI at the Center for Investment and Wealth Management in The Paul Merage School of Business. Additionally, Eusey co-authored the book Your Dollars, Our Sense: A Fun & Simple Guide To Money Matters, which is based on blog posts from “The Sense,” which offers clear, easy-to-understand financial management tips from women, to women. Lauds & Laurels Whether she’s running a marathon or her company, Eusey is all in. With the focus, determination and undeniable ambition she exhibits, one can’t help but wonder what might be next on her goals list. Regardless, it’s clear that Eusey personifies the qualities that are recognized by the Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Alumni Athlete award. •



be bold

N AT U R A L storyteller

From founding a magazine to making a living as an influencer, senior Aditi Mayer has a good story to tell

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be bold

Through activism, Aditi Mayer has become a frequent speaker on social justice, minority representation, and cultural appropriation in the fashion industry including participation in a panel discussion at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.


or UCI senior Aditi Mayer, the act of storytelling has been essential to her academic journey. She’s majoring in both international studies and literary journalism, and the way she sees it, these disciplines go hand in hand.

Journalism has been a way for me to understand the human side of the issues I learned about in international studies.

a journalist and an activist. However, I’ve never believed the politics of objectivity as much as I’ve believed in a movement toward transparency. I’m conscious of the voices I’d like to amplify through my work.”

Globe trotter If international studies has given her the context and scope, journalism has given her agency and meaning.

Her desire to see issues “face-to-face” has taken her across the globe. She’s been to La Paz, Mexico where she studied gentrification and teenage pregnancy as a fellow with UCI’s Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation. She’s been to Rome under a UCLA Travel Correspondent scholarship, and to Dhading, Nepal where she documented an all-women farming community composed of survivors of domestic abuse. Within the U.S., she has traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and parts of the American South to study race relations as part as UCI’s Deconstructing Diversity Initiative.

“How can we address problems if we don’t see them face-to-face?” she asks. “You’re often told in journalism that you can’t be

“She’s able to engage people in ways that aren’t typical. Her deep concern for the well-being of others coupled with her warm

“With international studies, you’re trying to understand issues on a macro, structural level. With literary journalism, you’re trying to understand issues through a micro, interpersonal level. Journalism has been a way for me to understand the human side of the issues I learned about in international studies,” Mayer says.

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“I’ve spent a large part of my UCI career looking to engage with the communities who experience the issues we learn about. I want to go beyond the statistics and engage with those who experienced these things firsthand,” she says.

“She has a vision of what she wants from her university experience and is able to execute it in a way that very few students do. She comes up with ideas that are compelling, exciting, and that people want to support. She’s extremely self-motivated and independent in ways I haven’t seen in twenty years of teaching,” says urban planning and public policy professor Richard Matthew. Matthew, who also serves on the board of directors of InSight Magazine and is the director of the Blum Center which incubates it, says getting InSight up and running took an extraordinary amount of work on Mayer’s part. In addition to finding funding, she hired over 30 staff. “It was a great success. She’s great at networking, bringing people together, and getting things done,” he says.

Journalist One of Mayer’s proudest moments at UCI has been seeing the impact InSight Magazine, the student-run digital and print magazine she founded, has made. InSight Magazine explores poverty and inequality in Southern California and was partly established on funding Mayer secured herself.

The first issue, which launched last spring, included features on human trafficking in Anaheim and an undocumented adult film star. “It’s one thing to have an interesting perspective on the world, but it’s another to have the tools and the will to take action,” says literary journalism lecturer Amy DePaul.

and welcoming nature enables her to facilitate dialogue and deep analysis about topics people might ordinarily shy away from. She’s been able to apply this skill beyond the classroom to her own work,” says social sciences lecturer and Deconstructing Diversity Initiative director, Teresa Neighbors. Mayer refers to her quest for opportunities to learn outside of the classroom as an “obsession.”

Aditi Mayer wearing the Met Store’s Roman Bead Collection as part of a sponsored post for her blog,

Influencer Around the time Mayer arrived at UC Irvine as a freshman, she created a blog (ADIMAY. com) that explores ties between style, sustainability, and social justice. “A lot of young women will post pictures of themselves, but her photos were so much more sophisticated. On her blog, she talks about what it means to be a woman of color in the fashion industry and about environmental issues. She expresses skepticism about the fashion industry in a highly informed way, while also having a very sophisticated aesthetic,” says DePaul. As her following grew (she currently has about 20,000 followers), so did the opportunities. She has never marketed herself as a public speaker, but over the past couple of years, she has become a frequent speaker on social justice, minority representation, and cultural appropriation in the fashion industry. After her first invitation to speak, the requests have had a bit of a domino effect. In November, she was a panelist at an event at the USC Pacific Asia Museum with Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguygen. has gathered enough of a following that clients, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, now pitch her ideas for sponsored content.

Finding a community While curiosity is certainly a motivator behind Mayer’s academic and extracurricular pursuits, the goal to take care of her family as a first-generation, low-income student is also something that motivates her. “There’s a high standard I hold myself to as I’d like to be the financial anchor for my family - and I think that’s a sentiment shared by many children of immigrants with backgrounds similar to mine,” she says. “At first, I had to get used to the idea of mentorship and to the idea of asking for help. I thought I had to figure everything out on my own. Despite the large class sizes, there are so many professors at UCI who are willing to be there for you. There’s a community out there to help you. Seek this community out.” The next chapter Mayer took her last final in March. She plans to continue to support herself with the money she earns from speaking engagements and sponsored content on her blog. She’s wrapping up a documentary she made about Punjabi-Indian fashion designer Mohanjeet funded by grants she received from UCI’s undergraduate research programs. She plans to continue working on a long-term photojournalism project about undocumented garment workers in Los Angeles. As Mayer gets ready to graduate, she reflects on her personal and academic journey. “UCI has helped me develop my own story. My growth as an individual and creative is tied to the opportunities granted by UCI. Like many, college was a political coming of age for me. UCI gave me the tools to talk about the issues that were really important to me and figure out what I could do about it.” Whatever is next, there’s no doubt Aditi Mayer will have a story others will want to follow. •



be bold

just for the

RUN of it

In his day to day life, alumnus Jeff Stout ’88 runs his own high-powered recruiting firm - but in his free time, he’s a dedicated philanthropist who helps people dealing with homelessness get back on their feet


hen was the last time you woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went for a three-mile run?

If you’re like most people, the thought of sleeping in outweighs the run more often than not. But social sciences alumnus Jeff Stout, economics ’88, isn’t most people. An avid runner, he strongly believes in its “transformative power.” And, as president of the board of the organization Back on My Feet, he helps those struggling with homelessness learn to use running as a catalyst to change their lives. Back on My Feet operates under a simple concept - if participants stick to their promise to complete early morning runs three times per week for four to six weeks, they become eligible for work training programs. Programs include resume writing, interview skills, and more, and if they complete these programs, Back on My Feet’s corporate partners - including Marriott Hotels and AT&T - have jobs ready for them. In their model, running is the beginning of a new, productive way of life. And according to Stout, it’s a way to cultivate a sense of pride and accomplishment even before getting a new job or a home of their own.

“There’s something about getting more fit and having the discipline that waking up at 5:30 a.m. and running creates - it gives them a sense of accomplishment,” Stout says. “If you get up and run three miles, you’ve done something for the day. They find it as a source of inspiration.” Stout knows firsthand about inspiration in his own line of work. It’s what led him to his current role as founder and president of BlueSky Professional Services Group, an executive recruitment company based in Los Angeles. Prior to founding his company, Stout worked as a partner at Accenture, a major national consulting firm. But along the way, he began to question if that role would ultimately make him happy. After some introspection, Stout started running his qualms by friends and colleagues looking for new opportunities. “I went to a banking conference that year and met for coffee with some former clients, hoping they might have an opportunity for me or had heard of something,” he says. “All three I met with told me I should start my own company.”

Hearing that surprised Stout, but it also offered the inspiration that he was looking for. He had never considered starting his own company before, particularly while he was in school. As he puts it, it just wasn’t something that people did. “The world back when I graduated was very different than today - nearly everyone I knew went to work for a big company and no one really thought about starting their own business,” he says. But after hearing from his clients, Stout decided to take action. He started BlueSky later that year and hasn’t looked back since. He likes the freedom that running his own business offers, but he particularly enjoys that his work ethic is directly related to his success. Whereas at a large company your salary is your salary and your job is your job, when you’re the one in charge, what you do makes a tangible impact on your business. His prowess in the business world was honed in part while he was at UCI. In addition to his heavy involvement in the Greek

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Jeff Stout, founder and president of BlueSky Professional Services Group and board president of Back On My Feet.

system (he was vice president of Phi Delta Theta and remains an active part of the community) he also founded the Undergraduate Business Association, an on-campus organization that’s still popular among Anteaters today. And he remains active in his alma mater through the Dean’s Leadership Society (DLS) in the School of Social Sciences.

There’s something about getting more fit and having the discipline that waking up at 5:30 a.m. and running creates - it gives a sense of accomplishment.

But for as successful as Stout has been, he feels a keen responsibility to pay it forward. It’s why he has made a concentrated effort to give back whenever possible, as a member of the Board of Governors of the Ronald McDonald House, a member of DLS, and with Back on My Feet. And while all his involvements mean a lot to him, it’s still the mission of Back on My Feet that resonates the strongest.

Since becoming involved with the organization when it launched in 2007, Stout has seen Back on My Feet help 5,500 people get out of homeless shelters and back into the work force. He has also witnessed people go from being in poor health and living in a shelter to running their first marathon while gainfully employed less than a year later. But the benefits of the program and the running can often take effect even sooner.

“With age and maturity you start to realize that you were blessed with a certain set of circumstances and certain set of decisions that you made. But had things just flipped the other way in an instant, you could be in the same situation they are in,” he says. “So it’s a really cool thing to be involved in.”

“After a month, participants can tell their family ‘I’ve been waking up at 5:30 a.m. every day for a month, running three miles a day,’ and it’s something they can be proud of, that demonstrates their work ethic and dedication to change,” Stout says. “Everyone needs a second chance sometimes.” •



be bold

a life in theatre, a life in

Paula Tomei, managing director of South Coast Repertory.


Paula Tomei, economics ’79, receives 2019 Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award in the School of Social Sciences


heatre has been a constant in alumna Paula Tomei’s life. Growing up, she was immersed in dance, music, and art classes. She remembers seeing her first play when she was in eighth grade (incidentally, at South Coast Repertory where she would spend her career). In high school, she “caught the theatre bug” and loved the responsibility she and her classmates were given to run school productions - selling tickets, advertising, building sets, and making costumes.

As an undergraduate at UCI, she enjoyed taking classes in theatre and dance and while there was a brief period when she thought she was going to be a dentist (an organic chemistry class changed her mind), the appeal of a life in theatre pulled her back. “If you really want to enjoy life and not feel like you’re punching a clock, pursue something you’re passionate about. Pursue something that feeds your soul. If you stick with it, the chances are you’ll be a success. The need to do that will shine through,” she says.

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A life in service Tomei is the 2019 recipient of the Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award for the School of Social Sciences. The award recognizes an alumnus who has achieved professional prominence in their field and who has made significant contributions to UC Irvine and the community.

If you really want to enjoy life and not feel like you’re punching a clock, pursue something you’re passionate about. Pursue something that feeds your soul.

Today, Tomei is the managing director of the Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory (SCR) in Costa Mesa, where she’s in charge of the business aspects of the theatre. There is a lot which makes her job unique. For one, “It’s like running a new startup every six to eight weeks,” she says. Unlike other theatres that book touring productions, SCR creates shows from scratch. After choosing the play, SCR decides who should direct, which actors to cast, and then builds the sets and costumes on site. “I love the fact that we work with living playwrights and develop new work,” she says. SCR has three to four plays in production at any given time (two on stage and another one to two in rehearsal). “Very few theatres in the country produce the amount of shows that we do in a season,” she says.

Tomei’s history of service is extensive. It covers the top non-profit organizations in her field and in the county. “You get more than you give back. I’ve always found that to be true,” she says. Tomei assessed both state and national theatres as part of her role as a site visitor for the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. Reflecting on that experience, she says, “The more remote, the more surprising in my experience. It’s astonishing to see what’s happening at these theatres. Often times they’re the only theatre within hundreds of miles. I only wish more people could experience visiting others firsthand and see how life changing these theatre productions can be, no matter where they’re located.” Tomei’s service also extends to UCI, where she serves on the Illuminations Council for Arts & Culture Initiative and on the Dean’s Leadership Society Executive Committee for the School of Social Sciences. “I’m so proud of UCI and of the fact that I’m an Anteater. Irvine opened doors for me. It’s so important to me to continue to support it,” she says. A life in the theatre After graduating from UCI with a degree in economics (she liked that she could pursue her interest in business, while taking theater and dance classes on the side), Tomei took a road trip with a friend and ended up in Ashland, Oregon.

She had traveled there many times before in high school to see theatre. While in Ashland, a friend told her about a job at SCR. Unfortunately, the position had been filled by the time she returned. So despite her parents’ concern that she wasn’t putting her economics degree to use, Tomei called SCR’s office to inquire about job openings week after week for about two months. Her persistence paid off because when a position did open up, she was called in for an interview and hired on the spot. “After the interview, I was told to go to lunch and come back. I’ve been there ever since,” she says. Tomei has been at SCR for forty years and her career rose in tandem with the theatre. As SCR thrived, Tomei thrived with it. “I started out processing subscription orders. I loved talking to people, getting the word out about SCR. It was fun!” she says. “I learned everything from the ground up from smart people who took me under their wing.” Ultimately, the people are what have kept Tomei at SCR for so many years. “It’s a privilege to support artists and provide art for a community that appreciates it. It’s easy to be passionate. Plus, there’s nothing typical about each day, which is part of the attraction. It keeps me on my toes! I wouldn’t change a thing.” She pauses. “Okay, maybe I’d change that I was ten years younger, but still knew what I know now,” she says laughing. •



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power of

attorney The loves and lessons of senior Sharis Manokian’s Mock Trial experience

Sharis Manokian at UCLASSIC 2019, UCLA’s Mock Trial winter invitational, where she received an attorney award and UCI placed 1st and 5th.


enior Sharis Manokian admits that after graduation this June, she will be going through withdrawal. At that time, she’ll have to step down as UC Irvine’s Mock Trial president and say goodbye to her team. If you add the years she participated in high school to the years she participated at UCI, Manokian will have been competing in Mock Trial for the past eight years. When you’re 21, it’s hard to imagine many activities you’ve being doing consistently since you were 13. “Once I started, I never wanted to quit,” says Manokian, who plans on attending law school. “I’ve always wanted a career where I had a positive impact on the world. For me, Mock Trial is the closest thing I’ve found to experiencing this. Even though the trial isn’t real, there are moments when you can’t help but think ahead to when you’re a real attorney and how what you say could have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.” It’s easy to see why Manokian is so attached to her team. They’ve had quite the storied past couple of years. “Last year, we

won two bids to the national tournament in Minneapolis. It was amazing. All the top teams were there - Yale, Harvard, and a bunch of the other Ivies. We went not expecting much and just thought it would be a good experience. But we ended up placing third in the nation and only missed advancing to the final round by one point after going through three tiebreakers,” says Manokian. At UCI, there are four Mock Trial teams composed of six to ten students at any given time. At the beginning of the year, teams across the country are given the same fictional case by the American Mock Trial Association. Teams perform both the prosecution and defense portions of the trial during each competition, after which a panel of judges scores the teams to determine the winner. The fact that UCI sent two teams to nationals last year when there are only 48 spots nationwide is extremely impressive. This year, UCI placed first at almost all of its tournaments, but didn’t manage to secure a bid to the final round. “Not advancing to nationals was a good reminder that we’re doing this

because it’s fun,” says Manokian. “We’re not going to remember the wins and losses, but each other.” (Although she sounds optimistic, Manokian jokes it’s only easier to talk about the team’s loss now that a few weeks have passed.) Manokian’s talk about friendship is genuine. Most of the friendships she’s formed at UCI were established through Mock Trial. And for all of the simulated drama, there’s not a lot of drama outside of the courtroom.

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The UCI Mock Trial team at the Anteater Invitational 2018.

now seeing students she first met as freshmen graduate.

Mock Trial taught me how to speak so that people listen.

When pressed if there are any rivalries between other universities, say like UCLA, Manokian says, if there are, they’re unspoken. “I mean, we’re all friends,” she says. Mock Trial coach and psychological science doctoral student Emily Shaw is most proud of how the culture of the team has developed. “They are all so happy to be together and doing Mock Trial. They’re genuinely friends with each other and talk about each other like family,” Shaw says. She’s has been coaching the UCI team for four years and is

“The most fulfilling aspect of being part of Mock Trial is watching how much the students grow. Their confidence grows, their writing and speaking abilities grow, and they come into their own in so many ways. It’s amazing what this activity brings to our students,” she says. Manokian has learned a lot during her years on Mock Trial. In particular, her public speaking and leadership skills have flourished. “Mock Trial taught me how to speak so that people listen. It’s taught me how not to be shy and to just talk to people. When I first became president, I was too concerned with everyone liking me. I learned that what really inspires people is someone who isn’t afraid to make decisions and is realistic about what needs to happen. This has been an invaluable experience that I don’t know how I would have gotten otherwise,” she says. “Sharis stands out in so many ways,” says

Shaw. “She’s the epitome of responsibility and reliability. She operates independently and is able to predict what the team might need. She picks up the slack whenever it’s needed and makes sure the whole operation is running smoothly. She’s also excellent at Mock Trial. She served as a captain on our A-Team and was so strong we had her as both a defense and a prosecution attorney.” And while it may seem that Manokian eats, sleeps, and breathes Mock Trial, she’s also been a calculus tutor for UCI’s Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC) for the past three years. In addition, she’s an active leader in the local chapter of Homenetmen Scouts, an Armenian-American scouting organization back in her hometown of LA. Manokian plans on taking the LSAT this summer and applying to law school in the fall. And in case she’s still having withdrawals a year from now, there are Mock Trial teams in law school. She’s already looked. •



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a balanced


How ’01 UCI poli sci alumnus Chris Lee’s battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma “shaped everything for the better”

After a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Chris Lee’s love for competition fueled him to train for and complete a marathon.

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be bold


ompetition excites Chris Lee. In youth, it’s what drove him to become a nationally ranked junior tennis player. In his career, it’s the motivation behind his rise from bank teller to senior vice president. After a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it’s what fueled him to train for and complete a marathon. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was back mentally and physically,” he says about that time.

I appreciated life and all my friends and family who stuck by me in a different way after I got sick.

Today, Lee seems to have it all. His career in the banking industry has been filled with steady promotions. He’s an active member of the Dean’s Leadership Society at UCI through which he helps the School of Social Sciences raise money to support scholarships, research, and school-wide initiatives. He’s been on the board of trustees for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, where he served as president, and where he was named Man of the Year for raising $219,000 over a ten-week period, which was a record at the time. (Yes, he’s even competitive when it comes to charity.)

Chris Lee and his family volunteer with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

In addition, he’s in the midst of developing the business council for the Festival of Children, a foundation which provides resources for children’s charities. He’s happily married and the father of three, and when he’s not busy training for a marathon or an ironman triathlon, he admits to overbooking his family’s weekends with social engagements. Most importantly, he’s healthy. The importance of a college degree Lee’s life is full and balanced, but this hasn’t always been the case. In his twenties, he learned hard lessons, which altered how he approached his life. Lee had been recruited to play tennis for UC Irvine as a freshman and when he arrived to campus, he believed tennis was his purpose. Academics took a backseat. This was unpopular in his family, where academics were not only revered, but expected. Getting a college degree was not a question in the Lee household and in his third year at UCI, he became precipitously close to being kicked out. Lee decided to take a quarter off. He needed time to regroup. And while he learned a lot of important lessons about people and sales waiting tables during that quarter (many of which turned out to be useful in his career in banking), the biggest lesson he learned was the importance of a college degree. “I knew there was only so far I could get without it,” he says.

The Sweatshirt Off Your Back campaign encourages wearers to try their hand at giving

Lesson learned Amazingly, when Lee reenrolled at UCI the following quarter, he completed three years worth of credits in one. He maxed out the number of units he could enroll in at UCI and simultaneously took classes at Saddleback College, Irvine Valley College, and a computer trade school. There was a big difference when Lee returned to UCI. “I wasn’t there because my parents wanted me to be. I was there for myself,” he says. He may have suffered a setback, but he learned a lot about what he could accomplish when he focused. He learned how to become more efficient with his time. He learned how to work. Cloud nine Lee completed his degree in political science

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in 2001. After graduation, when he was having trouble getting his foot in the door in the computer industry, a friend recommended that Lee apply to Wells Fargo. At first, he thought the job would be something that would hold him over until the computer industry opened up, but he soon discovered that he was not only good at his job, but he really liked it. Compared to his crazy college schedule, his job at Wells Fargo felt like a dream. “I could afford not to live with six people! I didn’t have homework! I was on could nine!” Lee says. Life in his twenties was good. Lee married his high school sweetheart. He distinguished himself from his colleagues and was promoted along the way. But then he began to develop pain in his lower back and right quad, as well as experience night sweats. The ibuprofen he took to minimize his pain masked some of his symptoms and it took three months to find a diagnosis. A diagnosis In January 2006, Lee was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. An MRI of his right pelvis revealed a 3.5 cm tumor. He went through six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation and experienced all the side effects that go along with it - the hair loss, the fatigue, the fluctuations in weight, the compromised immune system. Despite this, Lee says, “It shaped everything for the better. I know it sounds funny to say that about cancer. But at that point in my life, I was so materialistic. I realized I could’ve had a billion dollars in the bank and it would’ve been all for nothing. I was really humbled. I appreciated life and all my friends and family who stuck by me in a different way after I got sick.” About a year after remission, Lee was feeling a little listless and was looking to pour himself into something besides work. He still enjoyed playing tennis. He still enjoyed watching sports, but he wanted to find something bigger, something he could be passionate about. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Soon after, Lee discovered the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. At first, he joined their Team in Training, an endurance training program which raises funds for cancer research. Then he assembled a team of family

and friends for Light the Night, a fundraising walk at Angel Stadium. Over the past 11 years, Lee has participated in a lot of fundraising campaigns. “The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has been a good way for me to balance career, health, and family,” he says. “It’s brought my extended family closer together as they pitched in with my fundraising efforts. I’ve been able to introduce my kids to volunteering. I’ve met people who will be friends for life.” Balance Today, Lee’s life is one of balance. It’s something he cultivates. “My work with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has become a way of life,” he says. Competition still excites him, and although he admits that it can still get the best of him at times (“my wife teases me about how much I still care about winning on the tennis courts”), it’s not what defines him. He’s been able to combine his love of competition with his love of people, as well as with his love of volunteering for something he believes in. •



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few years ago, Eileen Zimmerman felt a little too much like she was running on a hamster’s wheel. If she wasn’t stuck in traffic, she was stuck in a meeting. When she got home from work, she felt rushed to put dinner on the table and put her kids to bed before it was time for her to go to bed herself and repeat the cycle. When one of her kids went through an adjustment period at school, she knew she needed to be home. Something had to give. A fresh start Without a plan, she quit her job as a product manager at a software company. At first, she thought she’d go back into marketing consulting. It was something she had done before and something she was good at. But around this same time, Zimmerman found herself needing a bag to store her wet bathing suits and sweaty gym clothes in when she traveled from the beach or gym. She didn’t want to use a plastic bag that could leak or cause mildew to grow on her garments. She didn’t like the quality and design of the wet bags she found in stores. So, she decided to make one herself.

Eileen Zimmerman.


her way

How Eileen Zimmerman, ’98 economics, found creativity and balance by becoming her own boss with Wander Wet Bags

She hadn’t sewn since 7th grade, but she had a sewing machine, and she was resourceful. After some trial and error, she was pleased with her results and gave a few of her bags as gifts. Zimmerman put her sewing machine away. She thought she was done. But then, her sister-in-law asked for one of her bags to take with her on vacation. A friend liked the bag Zimmerman had given her so much, she asked if she could buy six for gifts. To test if her bags were marketable beyond her friends and family, Zimmerman posted one on Etsy. It sold immediately. She was not only surprised by how quickly it sold, but by the fact it sold to someone in Alaska (and not LA or Miami like she’d expected). It was just one bag, but Zimmerman thought if there was interest in her bags in Alaska, maybe she was on to something.

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Everyone has ideas, but 99.9% of it is just doing the work. As CEO of Oru Kayak, Ardy Sobhani ’04 says the key to being a successful entrepreneur is checking your ego at the door.

Finding a way What Zimmerman finds most surprising about her entrepreneurial journey is that the old adage, “You can do anything you set your mind to,” is true. “Everyone has ideas, but 99.9% of it is just doing the work.” When asked about how she found a manufacturer for her bags, she says she Googled it, called people, and just figured it out. When she heard a song that she thought would be perfect for a branding video, she researched music licensing, called the musician’s record company, and in a matter of days secured the rights to the song. “I just found a way,” she says. “Find a way” has become a mantra that has worked extraordinarily well for her. Just three years after establishing Wander Wet Bags, Zimmerman has sold her bags to an impressive list of clients. Her biggest business comes from companies who order her bags for gifts. She recently signed a contract with a luxury car company and a worldwide beauty brand. Her bags can also be found at luxury hotels and resorts in the U.S. and abroad. What’s also impressive about Zimmerman’s success is that she accomplished it without sacrificing her values. When she worked for others, she found herself saying, “When I’m CEO, I’ll pay people what they’re worth, not cut corners, etc.” Now that she’s the one in charge, she says, “I wanted to walk

the walk.” All of Zimmerman’s bags are made in the USA and the materials are locally sourced. “I choose people over profits,” she says. The long view This isn’t to say that Zimmerman didn’t hit any bumps along the way. One of her most challenging moments came when her manufacturer lost the first run of her bags during the shipping process. She remembers thinking, this is the point where people quit. She had invested so much time and money into that first run and now it was gone. If she hadn’t been so confident in her product, she might have called it quits. But she’d received such positive feedback at pop-ups and farmers markets, she knew there was demand. “My customers believed in me, so I believed in my customers,” she says. After the blow of the lost order, Zimmerman says, “I pictured myself falling down on mile seventeen of a marathon. At first, I thought, someone get me a stretcher and carry me out of here. I let myself have a moment and then realized I hadn’t gotten this far to quit. I was going to walk and limp if I had to, but I was going to finish the race.” Anteater forever Through all the ups and downs of starting her company, Zimmerman is grateful for her economics degree from UCI and the friendships that began there. “The general edu-

cation classes I took really changed how I viewed the world and how I understood how people interacted with each other,” she says. “Plus, a lot of the foundational concepts like opportunity cost, utility curves, and sunk costs are principles I routinely think about for my business.” And the women she met through her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, are still some of her best friends. Balance With the creation of Wander Wet Bags, Zimmerman has found her calling. “I was good at product management, but it wasn’t a good fit personality-wise. I love being creative in a way I hadn’t realized and it took leaving my job to discover this. If I had listened to myself more, about what made me happy and excited, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out what I really wanted to do.” Ironically, Zimmerman doesn’t have as much time for the beach and gym classes that inspired her to create Wander Wet Bags in the first place. And while she’s trying to make more room for recreation in her life, the need for it feels less pressing. She may be working just as many hours as she did before, but finding a work-life balance is much less stressful now that she loves her work. •



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returning to RWANDA A prestigious Fulbright Hays grant will allow anthropology grad student Anna Kamanzi to continue her fieldwork in Africa

In July, Anna Kamanzi will return to Rwanda for the fifth time, basing herself in the capital of Kigali and traveling to rural areas on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park to conduct her research with Twa people and non-governmental organizations.

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or anthropology graduate student Anna Kamanzi, Rwanda has become like a second home. In 1994, the small central African country drew international attention in the wake of a horrific genocide where as many as a million people were killed within 100 days. Kamanzi first visited Rwanda 17 years after its civil war ended, and by that time the government had outlawed any mention of ethnicity - trying to avoid anything that would further divide people. As Kamanzi did preliminary research with a human rights organization, she came across a group of people rarely talked about in Rwanda, the Twa. Making up less than 1% of the country’s population, these indigenous people used to live in the country’s tropical forests. “I became interested in their experiences and why they were so excluded from dominant narratives about Rwanda,” says Kamanzi. The Twa people were pushed out of their homes in the country’s lush national parks largely due to wildlife conservation efforts. Not only are the Twa landless, their previous livelihoods differ from the majority of the country’s farming communities. Regardless of whether their struggles as an ethnic group can be talked about openly, they often face discrimination in their day to day lives. “Because reconciliation efforts have attempted to remove ethnic and indigenous categories in Rwanda, it makes it difficult for Twa people to make claims to land rights or specific protections based on their indigenous status,” explains Kamanzi, who speaks Kinyarwanda. “I am interested in how Twa people and various organizations who work with them craft alternative representations of their identity and position themselves in order to navigate transitional justice efforts which limit certain identity discourses in the country.” Kamanzi’s advisor, anthropology professor Victoria Bernal, points out that most existing research on indigenous people focuses on the U.S., and this project will help understand the experience of indigenous people in the 21st century elsewhere in the world. “Despite Western obsessions with notions like ‘tribalism’ and ‘tribal conflict’ when looking at Africa, the ways African ethnic identi-

ties are constructed, reproduced, and transformed in our rapidly changing world remain poorly understood. Anna’s project will advance knowledge in this area,” says Bernal. In July, Kamanzi will return to Rwanda for the fifth time, basing herself in the capital of Kigali and traveling to rural areas on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park to conduct her research with Twa people and nongovernmental organizations. Her longest trip to Rwanda was in 2013-14 for a year, when she was the first Cal State Chico student to win a IIE Fulbright research grant. At that time, she studied how urban and rural Twa communities differed in their access to social services and livelihoods after being relocated into village settings.

I chose UCI for its collaborative and welcoming vibe, especially among current grad students.

This time, Kamanzi’s research is funded by a prestigious Fulbright-Hays grant, which will support 9 months of fieldwork in Rwanda. “Fulbright-Hays is a very competitive award, so it is particularly impressive that Anna was awarded a Fulbright-Hays so early in her graduate studies,” says Bernal. “This is a stellar achievement.” For Kamanzi, the benefits of winning the Fulbright-Hays go beyond the prestige. “What I really love about Fulbright is that they build in a means of support for spouses and dependents,” says Kamanzi. “So for me, getting a Fulbright grant really meant that not only was my research supported, but my family was supported.” As she completes her fieldwork in Rwanda, Kamanzi will have her two children with her, as well as her husband, who is originally from there. Not only will the visit provide a vital research opportunity, but it will offer valuable time with extended family in the region. Kamanzi admits that raising a family while conducting graduate research and teaching classes is not always easy. In fact, she worried that pursuing a Ph.D. as a mom would make her feel marginalized herself. “Deciding to pursue a Ph.D., especially as a mother, was a huge decision,” says Kamanzi. “I didn’t want to commit to a campus that had an unhealthy environment for graduate students or where I wouldn’t be supported as both a student and a parent, so I chose

UCI for its collaborative and welcoming vibe, especially among current grad students.” Thankfully, not only the other graduate students but also the faculty at UCI helped make it manageable. “I speak from personal experience when I say that academia is tough and unforgiving when it comes to motherhood, in particular,” says Bernal. “So I feel that I understand the obstacles Anna faces and I have greatly enjoyed mentoring her and seeing her project develop.” Even before she accepted the offer to come to UCI, fellow graduate students who were also raising children reached out to Kamanzi to make her feel welcome. Eventually, she and several other parents formed a reading group that evolved into a strategy group to address the unique needs of parents in academia. Calling themselves the Ph.D. Mama Collective, the team published an op-ed about how universities can better support graduate students who are parents. “There’s been a really wonderful community of student parents that I’ve become a part of,” says Kamanzi, “and that has made my experience so much more enjoyable.” •



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ready for LIFTOFF Born and bred at UCI, BottleRocket is changing the way people recycle


CI’s School of Social Sciences is no stranger to its entrepreneurial students going on to form successful startups, but it’s a bit rarer for our Anteaters to form their business from the ground up while still undergrads. Impressively, that’s exactly what Arthur Avetisov, ’15 political science and economics, and Brian Leung, ’16 international studies, managed to achieve with their up-andcoming recycling business, BottleRocket. With not one, but two bright social sciences alumni at its helm, it’s no surprise that BottleRocket has been a success. Created with the goal of blending convenience and technology with the environmental benefits of CRV recycling, the company has found a way to reward people for recycling, while requiring minimal effort from the consumer.

“BottleRocket is the first direct to consumer CRV pickup that allows you to earn money for recycling from home,” COO and co-founder Brian Leung says. “It’s super easy and quick for the consumer and it takes away all the inconvenience and stress of traditional recycling.” And the process really is incredibly simple. Just fill the provided bin with CRV recyclables (bottles and cans), then call, text, or go on the company website to schedule a pickup. BottleRocket will collect your recycling, then deposit any earnings into your online account. Best of all, 99.7% of their material goes back onto shelves in the form of new products in two months flat. “The process allows people to engage and have fun with recycling without any of the work, and it shows them they can have

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a tangible impact on the environment,” Leung says. The company has already seen great success in Orange (its official launch city) and expanded services to Tustin and Santa Ana. And it’s not just for private homes. BottleRocket is available for residential areas and apartments, and for businesses and even schools.

We want to be able to impact people in their daily lives and encourage them to be more sustainable and think eco-consciously.

The UCI entrepreneur-founded BottleRocket makes it easy to recycle by providing inhome bins and pick-up services.

Apart from being environmental rockstars, Avetisov and Leung are perfect case studies to support the effectiveness of UCI’s entrepreneurial support organizations. In fact, they utilized almost every UCI resource available to them when getting their business off the ground. As students, the two met as part of the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity and realized their respective backgrounds could work very well together. Avetisov had experience in recycling (he had taken a gap year before college to start his own recycling center) while Leung had interned at a Bay Area startup. And when they both agreed that there was something wrong with such an outdated recycling culture in such a technologically developed world, they set to work to remedy the situation. After developing a model of their proposed business, the two took their idea to the then-brand-new ANTrepreneur Center, who helped them flesh out their idea, identify their target market, and launch their very first beta test at UCI. “Our goal was to sign up 100 students for our beta launch, and the spots filled up in less than 48 hours,” Leung says. BottleRocket was a hit at UCI, winning the 2015 ANTrepreneur of the year award from the ANTrepreneur Center (then Blackstone LaunchPad). And after the test run was complete, the aspiring entrepreneurs took their data and business plan to The Cove, home to UCI’s Applied Innovation, to get it off the ground for real. The “front door” to collaboration between UCI and outside industries, Applied Innovation is a place for startups to seek

partners and funding from outside the university. For Avetisov and Leung, it was where they were able to take BottleRocket from a spark to a full-blown fire. Now two years later, the company is expanding faster than ever, and the help UCI provided has not gone unnoticed. “I tell everyone that this process was the highlight of my college experience,” Leung says. “I think expanding these centers [Applied Innovation and The Antrepreneur Center] is one of the key things UCI has done over the last few years. It got us into entrepreneurship, it got us into startups, and it put us in touch with a network to really launch our idea off the ground.” More than that, Leung says that he believes these programs are incredibly important in that they provide voices and opportunities to young entrepreneurs who may, because of their youth, otherwise be overlooked. “A lot of adults look on from the outside and say, ‘hey they are just students, what can they do to make an impact or what do they know about business?’” Leung says. “But I think just being students - being ambitious, being young, having that motivation - we were able to overcome a lack of experience and use the resources we had to learn on our own. And UCI provided us the chance to do that and create really unique products and services.” With such a fondness for UCI in their hearts, Avetisov and Leung are thrilled that their most recent expansion has been in Irvine, having come full circle from where they first formulated the idea for BottleRocket four years ago. In addition, a recently redesigned website and a soon-to-come mobile app are making the recycling experience even more user-friendly. “As a sustainability company, we want to be able to impact people in their daily lives and encourage them to be more sustainable and think eco-consciously,” Leung says. “So we’re trying to start a movement. And by starting this service it’s kind of like the lightning rod - we’re attracting new ideas all the time.” •



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when research becomes

PERSONAL First-gen faculty member and mentor Glenda M. Flores earns honors for teaching, research on Latina educators


hicano/Latino studies associate professor Glenda Marisol Flores knows a thing or two about Latina educators. The author of Latina Teachers: Creating Careers and Guarding Culture, she earned the American Sociological Association’s Outstanding Contribution to Scholarship Book Award last year for her work on 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. (Her book also received an honorable mention from ASA for the 2018 Distinguished Contribution to Research Book Award.) Her work on California’s fastest growing non-white racial/ethnic group to enter teaching - college-educated Latinas - has been supported by the American Association of University Women, the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, the Ford Foundation, and the National Academy of Education. But Flores doesn’t just study Latina educators - she is one. She joined the UCI Department of Chicano/Latino Studies in 2012 and quickly made a name for herself as a top teacher in social sciences. She’s earned the school’s Outstanding Teaching Recognition for five different courses on topics ranging from labor and intersections in education to qualitative methods, theoretical foundations in Chicano studies, and Chicanas in the U.S. She helped launch UCI’s first-gen program for students – like her – who are the first in their family to go to college. And this year, she was named the Social Sciences Dean’s Honoree for Celebration of Teaching, putting her in like company with 20 of UCI’s most outstanding instructors across campus.

Glenda M. Flores.

“Glenda is a student-centered community advocate who promotes scholarship, guides undergraduate research, and mentors students toward successful educational trajectories,” says Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies. “Innovative and invested in fostering transformative educational experiences, she works intentionally in shaping UCI’s curriculum to ensure a multicultural, anti-bias learning environment.” Flores’ teaching style draws from both her personal experiences and her research, and in a way, the classroom experience has brought her full circle. An Orange County native, Flores earned her bachelor’s in Chicano/Latino studies and Spanish language and culture at UC Irvine. While working as a substitute teacher alongside many white, middle-class, female educators, she noticed that Latinx cultural resources were seen as obstacles to overcome, rather than assets - something she’d personally experienced as a third-grader. “As a child, my mother, an immigrant with less than a middle school education, had taught me long division the way she learned it in Mexico,” says Flores. “At a parent-teacher conference, my teacher

- a college-educated, white, middle-class, woman - said it was wonderful, but here in the U.S., I also needed to learn the American way of solving math problems.” The experience stuck with her and fueled her research topic at USC where she earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology. “My degree, combined with my firsthand knowledge in this community, has allowed me to recognize and explain how Latina teachers serve as ‘cultural guardians’ to Latinx students and their parents,” she says. And now, as a researcher who studies Latinas in education and as a Latina educator and mentor herself, she’s scaled her reach much further than she ever imagined. “As a graduate student I was always frustrated that Latinx culture was written about as an obstacle, a negative, or something that students needed to shed in order to succeed. And, I thought to myself why? Culture is so important to the way students learn,” she says. “Latinas and many others are drawing upon that to enhance education. It’s great to be a part of that and it directly impacts lives here at home in Orange County and on a national scale.” •

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The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread New book acts as guide for understanding and mitigating misinformation in a media-frenzied age


rom a simple “like” on social media to a damning headline of false facts on national news, contributors – unknowing and otherwise - to the rise of fake news can be found everywhere from high school desks to bullpens at some of the most reputable news agencies. In their new book, UCI logic and philosophy of science professors Cailin O’Connor and James Weatherall explain how fake news comes to be, who some of the biggest culprits are, and how we can all work to kill it before it grows legs. Q: A lot of people have argued that persistent false beliefs are best explained by individual failures - cognitive biases, blindspots, things like that. But is that the only or most important explanation of why we see so many well-meaning and well-informed people holding false beliefs? CO: This is one of the core points of the book. Most people, including academics, who have thought about false beliefs and fake news assume that the main problem has to do with our psychological biases. We accept new information that fits our current beliefs, things like that. But we want to push back on this idea. We think that to really understand why false beliefs can persist and even spread, you need to recognize that there is a deep social aspect to what we believe. Think about where virtually all of our beliefs, true and false, come from: someone told you something. Almost everything you believe you get from others. So now think about social media and how people’s social interactions influence the way they get info. Who are they trying to impress? And now think about fake news and propaganda from governments and industry. Fake news works because propagandists know how to take advantage of social ties and connections to promote the beliefs they want people to hold. Q: We have seen a startling amount of polarization in the U.S. in recent years, concerning not only opinions and values, but facts themselves. What explains this and what can we do about it?

CO: One example of this that we look at in the book is the chronic Lyme disease debate. Everyone agrees that Lyme disease afflicts a huge number of people every year. But it’s very controversial whether Lyme disease is always cured by a dose of antibiotics, or if in some cases there is a chronic form of the disease that can recur long after it has been treated. Lots of people are trying to figure out what’s happening, and there are two groups that have emerged with very strong, different beliefs. They can’t both be right, and they both produce a lot of studies. But they don’t seem to influence one another. The issue, we argue, is trust. Basically, each group only trusts evidence coming from those who share their beliefs. If you have similar beliefs to someone, you trust them. Once you have that sort of situation, you end up with people in very different camps only listening to the people who are like them - even when everybody involved wants to figure out the truth, like in the case of chronic Lyme disease. JW: One really important aspect of what Cailin just said is that we are not assuming that people in the Lyme disease case are only listening to evidence that supports their current beliefs, though of course this might also be happening. Instead, we argue that they are only listening to evidence from people who believe what they believe, and that, because of the sorts of questions those people end up asking, they only get exposed to a limited amount of evidence. Basically, if you think it is settled that chronic Lyme disease doesn’t exist, then you aren’t going to keep doing studies that try to prove it does exist, and you’re going to think that the sorts of people who do those sorts of studies probably have a screw loose somewhere. JW: Another thing we argue in the book is that there are actually several ways in which you can explain polarization, all of which could be right. But different explanations of polarization suggest different solutions, and in some cases these solutions oppose one

another. As Cailin just explained, trust can play a role. But another explanation of polarization is that people are only exposed to a limited range of evidence. In that case, the natural solution is to expose people to more perspectives. But the trust explanation conflicts with that. If you suddenly put two groups with very different beliefs in contact with one another, and they don’t trust each other, they can end up even more polarized. So if trust is the basic issue, what you need is people who are recognized as trustworthy by the community to bring people along. Q: How do journalists contribute to misinformation and false beliefs? In what ways do standard journalistic practices inadvertently mimic propaganda? CO: Until the ’80s, there used to be a law on the books, called the fairness doctrine, which required journalists to present both sides of an argument equally. But on scientific matters of fact, that creates a problem, because there is usually more evidence in favor of true things than false ones, which means that presenting both of them evenly means giving too much misleading evidence. So when journalists try to be even-handed, the public ends up seeing too much of the wrong evidence. It’s inherently misleading. JW: As we said before, an extremely effective propaganda tool is to try to distort the total evidence that the public sees. Essentially, you take scientific evidence and expose people to just some parts of it. This isn’t good. And treating scientific issues using something like the fairness doctrine mimics this sort of propaganda, by distorting the total body of evidence. CO: This is how journalists, in trying to do due diligence, unwittingly spread false ideas. • Read the full Q&A online at



be bold


hile many consider commencement the official end of their university experience, the word commencement, in fact, comes from the Latin word for beginning. For Catherine Griffin, who graduated from the School of Social Sciences in 1986, it was just that: the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Three decades after UCI founding Chancellor Dan Aldrich handed her a diploma, Griffin once again donned regalia at commencement 2017, this time carrying the ceremonial mace as her daughter Victoria received her degree. Many things have changed on campus over the years, but Griffin’s involvement remains consistent. She serves on the Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society and acts as a mentor for hundreds of sorority women. “I’ve kind of never left UCI,” she laughs. Academic foundations Griffin arrived in Orange County as a baby, soon after UCI opened in 1965. She fondly remembers her father, an engineer for Northrop Grumman during the height of the space race, spending lots of time at the new campus library. Although she considered attending colleges on the other side of the country, she picked UCI to his delight.

ties that BIND Alumna Catherine Griffin, ’86 economics, shares experiences that made her an Anteater for life

After a year, she chose economics as her major because it seemed most closely related to the entrepreneurial spirit that she so admired in her dad, who by that time held several patents. Although the courses mostly focused on economic theories, she says the experience equipped her with the skills to succeed in business. “They taught me how to think, know when to get help, and have confidence in myself,” she says. After graduation, she married her college sweetheart and fellow economics major, Michael, and they immediately set out building their new life together: not just as a family but as business partners. They bought,

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Students need to make an effort to meet their professors and their deans.

including Tizani, were nervous about inviting a professor. To serve as a good example, Tizani invited the dean of her school. At the event, the dean was so impressed with Tizani that he announced he was nominating her for an internship at SpaceX. Tizani ended up serving as a project manager for UCI’s successful Hyperloop team, a competition sponsored by SpaceX, and now works for Elon Musk. “It’s one of the many stories I can tell about UCI and the difference it makes for these women.”

grew, and sold several businesses before becoming consultants for other companies. They make the perfect team. “He does all the marketing, sales, and future planning,” Griffin explains, “while I do the finance, HR, and dealing with banks and tax accountants.” Over the course of her career, Griffin has proven her ability to turn any kind of business into a profitable one - from a dental practice in Atlanta to a senior living development in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. “You can have the best idea on the planet, but if you don’t have the business side figured out, you won’t be successful,” she says. Making the university feel smaller It was not only academics that laid the foundation for Griffin’s success. As a student, Griffin joined the sorority Tri Delta and served in various officer positions, each of which she says prepared her for her future career in some way, including hard skills like budgeting, and soft skills like having difficult conversations. “I still use what I learned from Tri Delta when I do an exit interview or when I have a disciplinary meeting with a staff member,” Griffin says. Today, Griffin supports and mentors new generations of UCI sorority women, serving in roles ranging from financial advisor to alumnae advisor. “Young women need to do what they can to make their university feel smaller,” she says. “To do that effectively, join a group.” The impression these young women leave upon Griffin is so profound that she tears up telling the story of Arwa Tizani. An engineering major, Tizani was serving as the chairperson for an annual event where members invite a faculty member or dean to the sorority house for a social hour. Most of the students,

Forming faculty connections While Tizani’s story is exceptional, Griffin advises all students to step out of their comfort zone to develop meaningful connections with their professors. “Students need to make an effort to meet their professors and their deans,” Griffin says. “If you don’t do that, if you just show up to class and don’t build relationships with faculty, then you’re missing out on the true university experience.” Griffin continues fostering strong relationships with faculty, including Bill Maurer, social sciences dean. “As a UCI parent and a proud member of the Anteater family, Catherine is always ready to jump at the chance to help others,” says Maurer. At his invitation, she’s presented at the school’s Family Weekend, sharing her experience and helping other parents support their college student in finding a mentor. “I’m grateful that dean Maurer continues to give me opportunities to help parents and their students to identify a strategy that will maximize their experience here at UCI,” says Griffin. One person who’s benefited from Griffin’s advice is her own daughter, Victoria. She says, “students should go talk to faculty because doing so changed my life. “ Since Victoria grew up visiting Tri Delta and the School of Social Sciences with her parents, it might seem logical that she would follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an Anteater. But that almost didn’t happen. Instead, Victoria chose to study environmental politics at UC Santa Barbara, until a series of tragic events including the Isla Vista shooting, in which two of her friends died, led her to transfer to UCI after two years. Victoria says she found it much easier to follow her mother’s advice to meet with

professors at UCI. “At office hours, professors welcomed me with open arms,” she says. Giving back In 2017, when Victoria graduated, Griffin was selected by the School of Social Sciences as the mace bearer, an honorary role for a distinguished alumnus of the school. When Victoria’s name was called to receive her diploma, she walked across the stage and presented a sash of appreciation to her mother. “I put it around my mom’s neck, and we both burst into tears and hugged each other,” she says. Thankfully, her dad caught the dramatic moment on video. It was a picture-perfect moment for this family of Anteaters. “Being involved and engaged here at UCI has been a huge blessing to me and my family,” Griffin says. Victoria remains inspired by her mom’s selfless support not just of her, but of hundreds of young women she encounters. “It’s not just Tri Delta, not just UCI; it’s amazing the way she’s able to connect with women in their mid 20s and she just plugs them into her network. She’s not doing it for herself, she’s doing it for the sake of that specific young woman who needs her help.” Griffin, who has made it a lifelong pursuit to give back to UCI, encourages the young women she works with to also consider giving back. “I tell them, if this experience was meaningful in any way, you need to give back. And if you do that, your own degree will become increasingly valuable.” Of course, with a husband, business partner, daughter, and countless young mentees, the value of Griffin’s UCI degree is already beyond measure. •



be bold

‘making’ a

difference Dalai Lama Scholars from UCI social sciences organized third annual campus event to develop products for people with disabilities


indness and compassion have been motivating factors for Elisa Tran, a senior in social policy & public service, and Lara Nguyen, a senior in international studies and public health policy, who have set out to make a positive impact at UCI. As the campus’s 2018-19 Dalai Lama Scholars, they led this year’s third annual OC Make-a-thon, an intensive three-day event that brings together students from multiple disciplines – many of them in engineering – to develop products for people living with disabilities. Tran and Nguyen received support from UCI’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship and a Barnes & Noble College Scholarship to “make” it happen. Participants in the 2019 event worked on projects ranging from a campus navigation app for visually impaired students to more accessible bathroom doors and adaptive gardening.

It’s a labor of love for Tran. “My mom faces many challenges common to those who have had strokes, such as navigating daily activities with one arm,” she says. “This affects her ability to put on her jacket, button her jeans, cook, and clean.” Tran brought her mother to the inaugural 2017 OC Make-a-thon and paired her up with a team who worked on a cane allowing her to get up on her own if she fell and also zip up her jacket without help.

“I was inspired to be a part of the OC Makea-thon after working at a camp for people with disabilities for three years,” Nguyen says. “I met some of the most resilient individuals who tackled structural barriers with such grace and happiness. However, I saw the injustice in that simple daily tasks such as swimming, eating, or walking on sidewalks became dangerous undertakings that required additional assistance.” “The campers were very individualistic and brave in that they wanted to accomplish things on their own but sometimes couldn’t because of the lack of tools for their disability. The OC Make-a-thon bridges the discrepancy and misunderstanding between the abled and disabled communities.” She and Tran even partnered with Anaheim’s H.O.P.E Center, which offers mental health services, because their goal is to also aid people with psychological impairments. They visited the center twice and met with staff who helped identify key needs to inspire projects at the OC Make-a-thon. Understanding the challenges confronting those with disabilities lets event participants take human-centered approaches to creating useful technology and practical products. In addition, the OC Make-a-thon gives students an opportunity to translate academic knowledge into real-life solutions. “While all of the projects never cease to amaze me, I think one of the most impactful for me was when a team developed a walking cane for blind individuals that had

motion detectors attached to the end in order to help them navigate through narrow hallways,” Nguyen says. “One of the team members had a close relative who is blind. Thus the passion and determination to really see the problem from another perspective and find an answer came from genuine intentions and heart. It was truly an incredible project to watch evolve.” The 2019 OC Make-a-thon was held the second weekend of April in UCI Applied Innovation’s Cove facilities. “We are honored to feature this event,” says Kate Klimow, chief administrative officer and director of external relations at UCI Applied Innovation. “One of our objectives is to bring together the UCI community to help advance campus innovation, entrepreneurship, and partnerships for the greater good of the wider community. This event does exactly that.” •

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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.



be bold

a career helping


Psychology alumna, author, and radio show host Jennifer Hill ’02 has made a career out of finding others their dream jobs

In fall 2017, Jennifer Hill and her family helped build a school in Nepal through the group BuildOn.

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ennifer Hill, psychology ‘02, is an expert at her job. Come to think of it, she’s probably an expert at your job, too. Hill is the founder of JHill’s Staffing Services, a Division of Marcum Search LLC, a recruiting firm that prides itself on expertly matching job seekers with open positions in top companies. As a longtime recruiter, she has made it her life’s work to not only find the top candidates for a company’s open roles, but to also coach job seekers through the entire interview process. So she really does need to know the job, the company, and the person inside and out. It was a business she found her way into unexpectedly, following an unplanned delay in her graduation from UCI. And it all turned out to be a happy accident in the end. Now, Hill runs a thriving business, hosts a weekly radio show titled “Get Yourself the Job” to assist those searching for new employment, has written a book, and spends what little free time she has left giving back, including as a member of the School of Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society. She also recently traveled to Nepal where she and her family helped build a school. Her story is proof that careers are full of unexpected twists and turns, but she’s become an expert at navigating them for herself and others - and it’s evident that her dream job lies in helping others find theirs. Hill has always been one to look ahead, plan, and actively pursue what she wants. (“That drive came from my grandpa - he always told me I could do or be whatever I wanted.”) But all her careful career planning went awry following her final semester at UCI. Through an unfortunate error, she was missing a prerequisite that she needed in order to graduate. “At the time I was so upset,” she says. “It felt like everything was just kind of ruined. But as frustrated as I was in that moment, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.” That delay in her official graduation meant she had to place law school (her original plan) on hold. But it also meant she had some time to scour job boards for an interim position. And that’s when she discovered the world of professional recruiting. “I got in at a company that wasn’t a great fit, however while working there I actually came across a job I was supposed to fill. But instead I reached out to the president of the company and told him he was going to hire me and I would be the best thing that ever happened to the company,” Hill says.

Her gumption grabbed the executive’s attention - she got the job, and she was quick to prove she didn’t oversell herself. She was breaking sales records left and right at the tender age of 22, but the market crash in 2007 meant a lot of the people she had placed in seemingly secure jobs were being let go, something she took very personally. “I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so guilt-ridden,” she says. “I felt like I had made all this money on finding people these jobs and now they were the ones getting laid off.” So instead of sitting around, she wanted to do something about it. Hill approached her boss with the idea of a new division that would provide training and resources to people to help them get back to work. They loved the idea, but weren’t in a place to pursue it. So Hill decided to open her own consulting firm specializing in just that. She ran the firm briefly, then was offered an opportunity to work for a former competitor’s startup firm. She took the gig and put her own company on hold, but not even two months in, she decided she couldn’t handle the money hungry atmosphere. She wanted to be in charge of a company that cared about the people they were finding jobs for more than the money. So she decided to go back to working for herself, and JHill’s Staffing Services was officially born. More than eight years later, the firm continues to set itself apart from the competition by the quality of care they offer their job seekers. “My rule of thumb is I will never recruit for a company that I wouldn’t go to work for myself,” Hill says. “Every single person that comes through our doors gets complimentary career coaching. So even if we didn’t have the perfect job when you came in, we would still coach you and give you feedback and interview tips. And so often we’ve had people we didn’t personally place who will thank us for the difference we made for them. I love that I get to help people find their dream jobs. And aside from being maybe a doctor, there are so few jobs where you get to make that kind of impact in people’s lives.” But Hill isn’t just impacting people’s lives through her day job. Since getting involved in self-development about a decade ago, she has made a conscious effort to give back as much as she possibly can. Her philanthropic efforts include mentoring youth from LA and OC through SOS Mentor (Shaping Our Students), helping to organize a women’s support and sisterhood group called Gratitude Girls in Los Angeles, and traveling to Nepal where she and her family helped build a school through the group BuildOn.

I want to make sure as many human beings as possible get access to a great education wherever they are in the world. “I had read a book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that was all about the struggles women face around the world every day, particularly sex slavery. It really affected me, and one thing the authors talk about is how one of the quickest solutions to these issues is education,” Hill says. “So every year for my birthday I throw a party fundraiser benefiting a specific cause, and in 2017 I decided I wanted to raise funds to build a school in Nepal.” Hill hopes to continue building schools around the world, but she is sure to focus on education closer to home as well. In fact, her involvement with the Dean’s Leadership Society in social sciences is one of the most recent projects she felt the need to take on. “The moment I met dean Maurer I was immediately drawn to his energy. And when I got to know a little bit about his vision for the school I knew this was a leader I could get behind,” Hill says. “I’m happy to see that the School of Social Sciences is in such good hands and I hope to help pay it forward in a way that lets future generations benefit from the same opportunities I was afforded.” In particular, she is happy to see Maurer advocating for the school to get the accolades it deserves and striving for a diverse student population. And it really all ties into the work she does in her recruiting firm. Hill knows the tools that will help individuals thrive in the job market, and a quality education is one of the greatest assets toward building a lasting and rewarding career. “For me education is paramount for everyone,” she says. “I want to make sure as many human beings as possible get access to a great education wherever they are in the world.” And with Anteaters like Hill helping to guide us, we’re all in excellent hands. •



be bold

a perfect FIT

Belinda Robnett is the inaugural associate dean of faculty development and diversity in social sciences, a role that seems tailor-made for the sociologist who studies diversity


ast summer, Belinda Robnett became the UCI School of Social Sciences’ first-ever associate dean of faculty development and diversity. Focused on elevating existing - and creating new - programs to facilitate excellence that includes attracting and retaining a diverse faculty and student body, the role seems a perfect fit for the sociologist who has spent more than three decades studying diversity from a racial-ethnic, gender, and social perspective. “I’m honored to be the inaugural associate dean for faculty development and diversity. The school has made significant strides under dean Maurer’s leadership, and I’m pleased to join the team,” says Robnett. “I hope to build upon existing programs that support professional development; provide mentoring resources; address family/work balance issues; and develop faculty leadership.” The job includes overseeing and further developing the school’s role in a number of diversity initiatives for both faculty and students. “My position has a unifying purpose, and that is building a learning and work environment that supports equitable inclusion and nurtures respect for diversity to facilitate advancement and excellence for all students and faculty members,” she says.

That mission is near and dear to the sociologist’s heart. Robnett grew up in south central Los Angeles and attended school in Compton. Her father earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at USC, thanks to help from the GI Bill, but struggled to find a job in his field in the pre-civil rights era. He spent his days bussing trays at a cafeteria in LA until the late 60s. At that point, legislation - coupled with her father’s college degree - made a professional move possible for the family of six. “Access to education and a changing view of race and rights opened up doors for my father and my family,” she says. “From there, it was never really a question whether or not I and my siblings would go to college.”

Listening is vital. And trust rests on action and accountability.

Robnett and her three siblings all went on to earn degrees. For the now-UCI professor, that included an A.B. in psychology at Stanford, Ed.M. at Harvard, and M.A. in psychology at Princeton. She went on to get her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Michigan where she focused heavily on racial and ethnic inequality. She then spent nine years on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and about seven years as a faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program at UC Davis before coming to UC Irvine in 1999.

Her research, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and Russell Sage Foundation, seeks to understand how racial-ethnic and gender hierarchies are formed by and maintained within formal and informal societal institutions including social movement organizations and the dating market.

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Belinda Robnett says communication, action, and accountability will be key to her success as associate dean of faculty development and diversity.

“It’s very clear that there are two different views of race and its relevancy in today’s world,” she says. “Too often, these viewpoints and the impact of prejudice and discrimination depend upon a person’s race or ethnicity. So facilitating a productive dialogue across racial-ethnic groups can be difficult. This perspective informs my view of how to approach diversity in our school and the overall environment in which we all live. My job will be to bridge the gaps to make our environment more hospitable and inclusive.”

across all our areas of expertise. We support a very large number of programs and student groups, as well as faculty development activities like the Faculty Success Program,” says Bill Maurer, social sciences dean. “But the road is long, there’s a lot to do, and we can’t rest on our laurels. With her academic and administrative background, Belinda is the perfect choice to serve as inaugural associate dean for faculty development and diversity. I am excited to work with her to build on what we have already achieved.” Robnett says communication, action, and accountability will be key to success as she creates a faculty committee and student advisory board to help carry out special programming to further establish common ground to facilitate equity and inclusion within the school.

Her scholarly work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Race and Social Problems, Sociological Perspectives, Social Problems, and Social Forces, among others.

She’ll also draw upon her past service record as a guide for implementing programs and initiatives within the university structure. Among her many contributions to the campus, she has served as the chair of the Subcommittee on Affirmative Action and Diversity, UCI Council on Faculty Welfare Committee; as the School of Social Sciences Equity Advisor; as a member of the Subcommittee on Racial/Ethnic Diversity, Council on Student Experience; as a member of the Special Senate Committee on Diversity; and as the director of the African American Studies Program.

In her new role as associate dean, she’ll draw upon her current research on the power of discourse about race and ethnicity in politics and the public domain.

“The School of Social Sciences is the trailblazer in supporting our diverse student body and in fostering recruitment, research, and teaching to support inclusive excellence

Her book, How Long? How Long? AfricanAmerican Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights, analyzes the formation of women’s leadership roles in the civil rights movement and highlights the gendered nature of leadership in social movements. She also examines racial hierarchy in the dating market, and illustrates that racial inclusion and exclusion is gendered.

“I believe all members of the social science community should have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. While underrepresented groups can often feel silenced, I hope to offer a set of communication best practices that are inclusive of all voices,” she says. “Listening is vital. And trust rests on action and accountability. The implementation of evidence-based methods and the communication of outcomes will be paramount to fostering diversity and a hospitable environment for all in the school.” •



be bold

Students involved with DIRHA attend UCI faculty- and staffled seminars focused on making complicated topics digestible, thought-provoking, and age-appropriate.

catalysts for CHANGE Local high school students participating in UCI’s new Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program are countering stereotypes


s news of race-based protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, began to unfold in August 2017, the country watched in horror as another act of hate claimed the life of Heather Heyer. For Gerald Solomon, it was a tipping point. “I couldn’t just sit there as violence driven by racism yet again dominated the 24hour news cycle,” he says. “I was frustrated and angry.” And as executive director of the Samueli Foundation, Solomon was in a unique position to channel those emotions into action. He picked up the phone and called his principals, Susan and Henry Samueli.

“I remember saying that we need to change the way people feel about each other, show people that every human has value - and that this can never, ever happen here,” he says. “The Samuelis said OK. And I knew where to start: with UC Irvine.” UCI is home to multiple programs aimed at promoting diversity and the understanding of different races, ethnicities, orientations, religions, and abilities. One in particular stood out as a model for Solomon. The campus’s Olive Tree Initiative had a 10-year track record of success in conflict analysis and resolution by promoting dialogue among people of divergent ideologies. With initial funding of $300,000 from the Samueli Foundation,

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the OTI-based Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program launched in spring 2018. “It seeks to reduce stereotypes through academic preparation, experiential learning, and leadership development,” says UCI’s Daniel Wehrenfennig, executive director of OTI and co-director of DIRHA. “Our goal is to build empathy, cultural competency, and leadership skills among high school participants so that they can pass on their knowledge to their peers.” The two-year program began with Orange County’s El Modena, Capistrano Valley, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, and Westminster high schools. Joining them in fall 2018 were Brea Olinda, Santa Ana, Cypress, Magnolia, Savanna, Dana Hills, San Juan Hills, and Woodbridge. A fall 2019 waitlist is available for additional schools, with interest expressed by Newport Harbor, Aliso Niguel, and John F. Kennedy high schools as well as Oxford Academy. Students involved with DIRHA attend UCI faculty- and staff-led seminars focused on making complicated topics - such as race, gender, and religion - digestible, thoughtprovoking, and age-appropriate. They work with UCI faculty and program mentors to develop a school project around one of those subjects and then share and discuss them at a reception for all member schools. Projects showcased by the inaugural cohort in December included a video created by Capistrano Valley students educating their peers on immigration’s deep roots in American history. The Garden Grove High School group organized a lunchtime talk series at which students could freely discuss issues of race, culture, and identity and confront stereotypes with the help of local leaders knowledgeable in these areas. “It’s incredible to witness what DIRHA is doing for student participants and its potential for changing entire high schools and communities,” says co-director Teresa Neighbors, a UCI lecturer. Via the program, the five pilot schools alone are estimated to have reached more than 12,000 students with messages of inclusion and inspiration. Students’ follow-up

It’s incredible to witness what DIRHA is doing for student participants and its potential for changing entire high schools and communities. -Teresa Neighbors

surveys of their classmates revealed increased awareness of diversity and inclusion issues, renewed self-confidence in individual identities, and a sense of empowerment to effect change. “At Garden Grove High School, the DIRHA program has raised empathy among different groups of students and taught us that even if we are different, we can find strength in working together and celebrating the common thread of humanity in every one of our campus groups,” says Sara Martinez, English teacher and DIRHA coordinator at the school. Just one year after its launch, the program is active in 13 Orange County high schools and plans to expand into the Los Angeles Unified School District. And another $100,000 in grants have come in from the California Wellness Foundation, the Orange County Community Foundation, and the Jewish Federation’s Rose Project. The success of the program has sparked hope in Solomon and the Samuelis that change can happen. “Youth have significant influence within and beyond their peer groups,” Solomon says. “By showing them how to counter actions and messages that perpetuate hate, we can alter belief systems that will last through adulthood. It’s truly remarkable to watch students make such a difference at the local level that can, ultimately, change the world.” •



be bold

making her


UCI undergrad and cross country runner Keely Boyd is helping close the distance between students and hunger

Keely Boyd at work at UCI’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub, the largest food pantry in the 10-school UC system.


unning up to 60 miles a week, Keely Boyd makes daily deposits of determination. As a member of the UC Irvine women’s cross country team, she trains to endure. She pushes against terrain and through pain in pursuit of a tangible finish line, all the while measuring herself against both the opposition and the stopwatch. Being geared for the grind also serves the junior political science and education major in her on-campus job, which involves a seemingly unconquerable climb. “This is a problem for which I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel yet,” Boyd said of food insecurity, the somewhat benign

term for students who don’t have consistent access to food for nutritious meals. “Actually, 44% of students at UCI are projected to have food insecurities,” Boyd explained. “And it doesn’t affect just one group. It goes across the board.” Boyd said she learned of the issue as a freshman when she stumbled upon a campus food pantry that had opened in 2015. A larger facility, the 2,630-square-foot FRESH Basic Needs Hub, opened in September 2017 and is the largest food pantry in the 10-school UC system. “When I found it, it was a really tiny food bank,” Boyd said of the initial pantry. “You

could literally put your hands on both walls.” Boyd was immediately moved to lend a hand, first as a volunteer during her freshman and sophomore years. This year, she is a paid member of the FRESH team, which during the 2017-18 school year served 83.5 tons of food to 3,243 unique visitors who made 14,926 visits. The program also generated more than $40,000 in monetary donations. The pantry, which gets new shipments daily, offers fresh produce, canned, dried, refrigerated, and frozen items at no cost to students. In addition, the FRESH store has its own kitchenette, cookbooks, and a variety of seeds for those interested in growing their own vegetables.

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The program, run by Basic Needs Coordinator Andrea Gutierrez, also offers emergency food swipes, emergency grants, CalFresh application assistance, toiletries, consultations with nutritionists, and workshops as part of a life skills series. “We serve around 700 students a week who come in and get what they need,” said Boyd, who is passionate about the program’s ability to benefit her fellow students. “Most of my close friends know I work at FRESH and that I am a little obsessed with it,” said Boyd, who estimates she works 10 hours a week. “I am running in [NCAA] Division I and doing this job I care about more than anything in the entire world. If I didn’t have this job, I’d still be volunteering, because in the end, it’s something I really love. People joke that when I graduate, I’m going to have to leave my dream job and work some place I don’t like as much.” Boyd said she regularly dispenses FRESH pamphlets kept in her backpack, and she has given presentations about the program in classes on campus. She takes every chance she can to publicize the program. “Keely is someone who is really special, in that she is always thinking about others and how decisions and actions in the world impact other people,” said Chris Evans, who coaches UCI distance runners. “She is always looking to make a better impact on the world.” Boyd, a former individual CIF San Diego Section cross country champion at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, also volunteers with the Best Buddies program that pairs students with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She said she came to UCI with the goal of becoming a teacher. “I wanted to try to make an impact on a grass-roots level,” said Boyd, who noted that involvement in FRESH is among the factors that helped broaden her career vision. “I took a law class just for kicks and I just got into political science,” said Boyd, who would like to eventually pursue an advanced degree and possibly attend law school. “I just really liked the idea of making change on a

policy-side level. When I stumbled across the food bank and the [food insecurity] problem that lots of people deal with, the two things kind of connected. Now, I can’t see myself going any other way.” Boyd, who has surpassed her individual running goals this fall as a consistent member of her team’s top five scorers, said she is also giving thought to solutions for other issues facing fellow students. “I definitely think about my future every day, wondering about what the next step might be,” Boyd said. “Personally, I have some goals for FRESH as well. I’d love to maybe work toward getting affordable housing on campus. That’s something that students, through FRESH, are advocating for.” Boyd, who helped UCI finish fifth in the 2018 Big West Conference championships, the program’s best conference showing since 2008 - said she occasionally ponders big questions while training. “During long runs, sometimes I will try to tackle these impossible problems that don’t have an answer,” she said. “But most of the time, I try to think of good things while running, because running is a really positive thing in my life, just like FRESH is a really positive thing in my life.” “Sometimes, I’ll wonder what our next shipment is going to look like, whether maybe we’ll get tons of strawberries.” Evans said he sometimes thinks about how Boyd will impact others in the future. “I can’t wait to see what Keely is doing in 10 years,” said Evans, who enthusiastically praised Boyd’s work ethic and dedication to his program. “When people learn I work with college students, they always start to bash them and say things like ‘Kids these days …’ My response is: ‘Yeah, you have to meet kids these days, because if you meet someone like Keely, you know the world is going to be a better spot in 10 years because of what she is doing.’” •

how to make YOUR MARK Get involved with UCI’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub


he UCI FRESH Basic Needs Hub is a student-initiated effort that promotes equitable access to basic needs through student empowerment, community collaboration, and institutional integration. The hub’s aim is to shift cultural consciousness toward understanding the fulfillment of basic needs, which include food and housing security Each fall, the School of Social Sciences partners with FRESH to help stock the shelves through an alumni and community-based food drive. We invite you to join us in donating needed items anytime you’re on campus and have some resources to spare. The hub is located at:

4079 Mesa Rd Most needed items include bagged or ready-to-eat rice, canned fruit, whole grain cereal, canned or boxed soup, whole grain pasta, pasta sauce, canned meats and fish, healthy snacks, canned beans and veggies, and peanut and nut butters. Toiletries and bedroom/bathroom supplies are also welcomed. Learn more - and give online - at



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into the EXTREME Book by UCI anthropologist explores the interdependent relationship of our world in outer space

“The line between bodies and environments is not a strong boundary; the body is very much a part of its environment. But outer space is unlike any environment human beings evolved in,� says Valerie Olson.

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hether or not you’re a fan of Ryan Gosling, the actor’s performance in “First Man” is revving up interest in the U.S. space program at a very opportune moment: July 20, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the world’s first lunar landing. And as the nation gets ready to celebrate with a series of events, a new book by UCI anthropologist Valerie Olson gives us an ethnographic window into the ultra-secret, yet oddly public lives of NASA astronauts, and questions about the national purposes of space exploration, from hardcore science to social spatial management, to the ways far away spaces connect us all. Told from an anthropological angle, she provides a new perspective on the making of U.S. technical systems and environmental politics beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Below, she weighs in on the importance of thinking politically, socially, and scientifically beyond our surface. Q: How does an anthropologist come to study space? The line between bodies and environments is not a strong boundary; the body is very much a part of its environment. But outer space is unlike any environment human beings evolved in. So I became interested in how outer space is being included as a part of the “human environment” through big national space programs that put people and machines out there. In grad school, I interviewed someone at NASA and they found out I had medical project management experience. I was offered an opportunity to be an intern and help develop some protocols for underwater and outer space human subjects research. I thought, wow, this is a really cool way to get into a space very much closed off in the U.S. that almost no anthropologists have been privy to. NASA is a high security enclave and astronauts are very highly protected human subjects. They’re some of the most public figures we have, but their lives are very controlled and regulated. I was really interested in this unique exceptional human subject and what it might tell us about American technological subjects - people who are created to be exceptional representatives of national interests in knowing and securing all kinds of spaces. I asked around to see if anyone had done an ethnographic study within NASA - and it hadn’t been done. So I went in with a medi-

cal anthropological focus, to study what happens when human bodies prepare for space in the name of national spatial expansion. I discovered some very interesting cultural practices in NASA around systems engineering and systems science and became very interested in the role of systems thinking and project management in American history in the governmental project of expanding U.S. national interests beyond Earth. Q: The conventional concept of anthropology as we all know it is the study of cultures – so what’s the connection to space? All societies have a historical relationship to what they see when they look up into the sky at night. Our relationships with outer space are cultural. Even if we can’t survive there, space is part of social cosmologies. Now societies with the means and power to do so are having a more direct relationship to space through flight. This has created the three-dimensional outer space of globalized communications and remote sensing technologies that we often take for granted. Now many societies have a much more expansive relationship with space than before. Think about satellites - they shape aspects of our daily life. However, studying outer space technologies and practices hasn’t really been a topic for environmental anthropology. There’s been a “surface bias” in the field. But there are now anthropologists myself included - starting to pay attention to deep sub surface and the outer spatial social relationships. Q: With the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing coming in 2019, what does your book add to the conversation? Because I focus on the extensive environmental systems work NASA has perfected since the 1960s, from systems engineering to human systems modeling, I think my book is a reminder of how important the “system” concept continues to be today. As an anthropologist, I’m interested in the system concept as a cultural concept. How does it organize scientific and governmental thinking? What does it mean to think about and manage machines, bodies, and spaces as systems? The system concept gave very different disciplines a common language through which to work together to produce info on large scale relationships, as it does today in everything from genomics to climate change science.

While it’s common to see the astronaut as an individualistic hero, all the astronauts I interviewed - 23 of them - were very aware of their interdependence on others for survival. Q: Do you think “First Man” does a good job of portraying NASA and what it was like preparing our first successful lunar landing? And as a space junky, what excites you most about this point in our nation’s history? The movie does a good job showing how the space program is a very important component of our contemporary national landscape, but also how it and its people can be isolated from everyday people and their concerns. The space program is an ambiguous thing. On the one hand, it creates national-level and elite engagements with new spaces. Yet most people feel very distant and removed from the secretive environment surrounding NASA. The movie gives a chance for viewers to see this contradictory connection - how the space program connects people in places in new ways - and also how it disconnects people through funding for processes people feel completely alienated from. It also reminds audiences how the lunar landing was one of the most complex of interdependent social activities. While it’s common to see the astronaut as an individualistic hero, all the astronauts I interviewed - 23 of them - were very aware of their interdependence on others for survival. They seem elite and removed, but they’re also hypersensitive about being dependent and interdependent. Many come back from space profoundly changed in their understanding of the fragility of human relationships on this planet, and also the need to make those relationships more equitable and more environmentally aware. • Read the full Q&A at



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AAAS FELLOWS Seven UCI researchers named AAAS fellows, an honor conferred for distinguished contributions to their fields


even UC Irvine researchers in areas ranging from engineering and chemistry to sociology and anthropology have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.

Leo Chavez, professor of anthropology, for distinguished contributions to the field of medical anthropology, human migration, and applied and public policy anthropology, particularly in regards to Mexican-origin populations of the United States.

A total of 416 AAAS members were honored this year for their efforts to further science or its applications. New fellows each received an official certificate and a gold-and-blue rosette pin in February at the organization’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

UCI’s other recipients are:

The honorees were formally announced Nov. 27 in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science. Those from social sciences are: Carter Butts, professor of sociology, for distinguished contributions to the modeling of relational structure and dynamics, in humans and nonhumans, alone and in groups, using mathematical, computational, and statistical approaches.

John Chaput, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, for distinguished contributions to the field of chemical biology, particularly for the development of engineered polymerases that enable the evolution of artificial genetic polymers. Fillmore Freeman, professor of chemistry, for distinguished contributions to the fields of computational quantum chemistry, heteroatom chemistry, oxidation chemistry, and reaction mechanisms. Pramod Khargonekar, vice chancellor for research and distinguished professor of electrical engineering & computer science, for contributions to systems and

control theory, applications to manufacturing and energy, and leadership in engineering research, education, and innovation. Stephen White, professor emeritus of physiology & biophysics, for distinguished contributions to the understanding of cell membrane biophysics, particularly the structure of membranes, lipid bilayers, and membrane proteins. Zachary Fisk, professor emeritus in physics & astronomy, for pioneering scientific discoveries regarding the magnetic and transport properties of important magnetic and superconducting materials, including heavy fermion compounds and high-temperature superconducting cuprates. With this year’s class, UCI has 167 AAAS fellows. •

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learning crisis UCI poli sci professor Heidi Hardt draws on interviews with political officials and top military brass to highlight need for NATO reforms to strengthen military operations Heidi Hardt.


nformal networks are critical for organizations to learn from past mistakes - particularly in large, multi-national settings like NATO, says UCI political science assistant professor Heidi Hardt. In her book, NATO’s Lessons in Crisis: Institutional Memory in International Organizations, Hardt draws on her 120 interviews with NATO’s high-level elites. Ensured anonymity, ambassadors and highlevel political and military officials opened up about the behemoth organization’s culture of addressing strategic failures in military operations. Elites use an extensive, private network - rather than NATO’s learning offices - to capture many of the important but difficult lessons. As described below and detailed in her book with direct quotes from NATO’s top brass, Hardt identifies several ways that organizations, whether businesses, universities, or alliances, can do a better job at learning from past mistakes to ensure future success. Q: What is institutional memory and why does it matter for organizations like NATO? Institutional memory is a collection of knowledge that exists among the individuals within an organization and that concern past strategies and decisions. While there are takeaways for many types of organizations, this book specifically makes an argument about the development of institutional memory in international organizations (IOs). These IOs are groups of states committed to a common set of goals, and examples of

IOs include NATO, the United Nations, the European Union. Importantly, the book also identifies what NATO elites consider to be the most important strategic lessons from NATO’s responses to crises in Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine. At NATO, institutional memory encompasses the collection of knowledge among senior IO “elite” officials, and this knowledge can have a direct impact on the organization’s performance. Accountable to their member states (like the U.S.), IOs strive to be effective at what they do so they need to have the capacity to learn from their mistakes. Institutional memory is also critical because IOs experience constant turnover. If individuals are rotating out and not able to pass on knowledge about their biggest mistakes, history risks repeating itself. And in the context of military planning, repeated failures can be deadly. So institutional memory really matters not only for organizational effectiveness but also for preventing future loss of life. Q: What do past failures mean for these organizations? I became really focused on past failures because in military operations, failures often involve civilian casualties. These can threaten the success of the organization depending on the scope of the incidences, the response of IO member states and the local government and the international media attention. The good news is that my research indicates that institutional memory about strategic failures does exist at IOs like NATO. The bad news is that knowledge about past failures is heavily dependent upon informal

networks that are vulnerable to knowledge loss. Many of the individuals central to these networks are retiring since NATO officials are required to do so at age 65. The WTO is facing the same wave of retirements. When these key individuals leave the organization, knowledge loss is inevitable. Q: What can an organization like NATO or the UN take from your study to ensure important institutional knowledge is passed through to new office holders? The first thing formally is to ensure that reporting systems guarantee anonymity. NATO should reform its lessons learned office (i.e. the JALLC) so that if people do want to pass on strategic level lessons, they can feel relatively safe doing so. Expanding training about NATO’s existing lessons learned process would also help spread the understanding that learning is not the job of the lessons learned office; rather, each person at NATO has a responsibility to contribute lessons. Such training could be easily wrapped in as part of the security induction that all NATO officials already receive upon arrival. A lot of elites did not understand that they were obligated by NATO’s formal process to contribute lessons. Rather, some argued that the existence of a lessons learned office presented ‘an excuse’ for not passing on knowledge in this way. • Read the full Q&A at



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advancing equity &

SOCIAL IMPACT Keely Hanson, political science ’11, uses research and empathy to make her mark


eely Hanson ’11 uses social and economic policy research to understand some of the nation’s most complex challenges: inequality, poverty, the aftermath of natural disasters. It would be easy to get discouraged, but she’s brimming with optimism. As a policy associate in Washington, D.C. at the Urban Institute’s Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy, Hanson provides data, policy analysis, and empathy to strategically advise foundations and nonprofits to more effectively tackle social problems and advance their impact.

For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Hanson performed an analysis to measure the actual impact of philanthropic support in Puerto Rico - including high profile donations from celebrities like Ricky Martin - and point to where more resources were needed. The effort was personal for Hanson: she studied abroad in Puerto Rico as a UCI student. She still visits the U.S. territory each year and considers the island a second home. Hanson also manages a $3 million grant portfolio in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and performs research on equitable grantmaking - making sure that the barriers to applying for grants (such as resource constraints) do not keep small nonprofits and grassroots organizations from trying. She wants to ensure that not only the biggest, most established organizations win grants. “We need to get new ideas in there,” she says. “We face a number of pressing issues that require a lot of diverse thinking, so we need to include more people and new ideas in the process of solving them.”

Hanson tries to bring her unique experiences to bear through her work, too. “Not many people from my community get to be in the spaces I’m in,” she explains. Hanson grew up on California’s picturesque Monterey Peninsula, in the small workingclass town of Seaside, a majority-minority city, where 15% of the population lives below the poverty line - a sharp contrast to the financial wealth of cities like Pebble Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea, located just a few miles down the Pacific Coast Highway. “Because of my hometown and the peninsula I grew up on, I was able to understand from an early age what income inequality looks like,” says Hanson. “While my high school was extremely diverse, the metanarrative was that although we were all different, we all had something to bring to the table.” If her community taught her about racial and economic inequality, it was her family that taught her to do something about it. Hanson’s father served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, and stateside, he was deployed to aid the recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Although having a father away was hard for their family, it instilled in them a sense of duty. “I learned from my family the importance of doing something bigger than yourself,” she says. As soon as she arrived at UCI as an undergraduate, Hanson began giving back to other communities. Back home, the Early Academic Outreach Program guided her to select courses that met the A-G requirements to qualify for a UC, and helped her apply to colleges. In turn, Hanson started working for EAOP at UCI as a freshman.

My career today is not one I would have ever considered had I not done research programs like SAEP. Throughout her tenure at UCI, she worked at the Center for Educational Partnerships supporting a number of UCI’s outreach programs in both Santa Ana and LA County. Today, she still keeps in touch with some of the students she helped get into college. “Just last fall in D.C., I ran into one of my former students, who had worked for the Obama administration,” she says proudly, aware that in some ways, she helped him on his path just as others helped her. As an Anteater, Hanson took advantage of numerous academic programs, all of which contributed to who she is today. She studied abroad in Cuba and then Puerto Rico, which sparked her interest in Latin American politics and led her to complete an honors thesis. She also did intensive research in the social sciences Summer Academic Enrichment Program. “My career today is not one I would have ever considered had I not done research programs like SAEP,” she says. “UCI gave me a leg up on understanding the power of research.” But one of the achievements she’s most proud of is being a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at UC Berkeley.

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online “UCI gave me a leg up on understanding the power of research,” says Keely Hanson. She went on to earn her MPA at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She’s pictured here shaking hands with James Steinberg, former deputy secretary of state and former dean of the Maxwell School.

She was rejected the first time she applied. So political science associate professor Caesar Sereseres sat her down and helped her map out exactly what she needed to do to qualify for the nationally competitive fellowship - including what classes to take and how to prove herself to be a budding researcher. After finishing the fellowship and graduating with honors from UCI with her bachelor’s in political science, Hanson moved to Miami and completed over 1,600 hours of service supporting high school students in Little Haiti as an Americorps member with City Year. She stayed in Miami to work for the Posse Foundation where part of her role was making the case to colleges about students who didn’t have perfect grades but had the grit and determination to succeed in college - if only admissions officers would look beyond their GPA and SAT scores. Helping youth remains a major focus for Hanson. “Young people inspire me so much because they can face tremendous adversity and yet still carry hope in places we need,” she says.

Eventually, she enrolled at the top-ranked Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University to earn her Master’s of Public Administration. It was there that she met professor Shena Ashley who would later hire Hanson to join her team at the Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy, enabling her to scale her influence on community groups and nonprofits. “Through her research and engagement, Keely is helping to increase the potential for philanthropic capital to reach the grassroots changemakers of color who are bringing dynamic new ideas and energy for change in rural and urban communities across the country,” says Ashley, who is also vice president of the Urban Institute. “Furthermore, as a team leader, Keely is helping to build the next generation of engaged scholars who are essential to elevating the voice and expertise of the practitioners on the front lines of social change.” •

@ucisocsci @ucisocialsciences email phone 949.824.2766 in person Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway 5th Floor Dean’s Suite mail UCI School of Social Sciences 3151 Social Science Plaza Irvine, CA 92697-5100




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