be bold - uci soc sci spring magazine 2020

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BOLD Spring Magazine 2020

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 From couchsurfing to Columbia Law How Alexander “Sasha” Yusuf, ’20 sociology, has overcome every obstacle thrown his way to realize his educational aspirations

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8 Social change agent An Thien Nguyen, ’20 political science, focuses her research, outreach, and empathy on the Southeast Asian community

12 Getting by with a little help from her friends First-generation transfer student Amber Appling ’20 finds her fit in UCDC

16 Research inspired by a harsh reality Spurred by personal experience, UCI graduate student Payton Huse researches gender and homelessness

18 Award-worthy work Angela Jenks, UCI anthropology, earns an Academic Senate award for teaching in a field she almost didn’t pursue

20 Academic advocate UCI professor Anita Casavantes Bradford receives Academic Senate Faculty Award for Mentorship in recognition of her work with firstgeneration students

24 Driven by diversity Third-year international studies and poli sci major Nora Beik works to foster inclusion through donor-supported UCI community outreach program

26 Bridging the gap UCI first-generation alumnus Oscar F. Rojas Perez is proof of the power of mentorship, and now he’s paying it forward

28 Poolside reflections


DLS member Ofer Horn turns lessons from an acclaimed UCI coach into business success

31 Dean’s Leadership Society How to get involved and support scholarships, research, and initiatives

32 Leading change, no matter the distance DLS member Claudia Bonilla Keller ’87 boldly advocates for brighter futures in L.A. and O.C.

34 Ahead of the curve Race car driver Samantha Tan, ’20 economics, is an international role model


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38 Retaining cognitive youth UCI-led study finds online brain games can extend ingame ‘cognitive youth’ into old age, enabling seniors to multitask mentally on par with those 50 years younger

40 Beware: Fake Twitter accounts exploit emergencies to spread misinformation Sociology graduate student Richard Gardner researching the phenomenon earns competitive National Science Foundation fellowship

42 Incentives to hire Economists from UCI and the New York Federal Reserve are teaming up to study whether a key California tax credit for businesses boosts job creation

60 Studying those who serve UCI is 4th institution in nation to offer certificate program examining veteran community

63 International recognition Kai Wehmeier, logic and philosophy of science professor, receives Humboldt Prize for outstanding academic research career

64 Holding court UCI volleyball player and political science major Loryn Carter ’20 reflects on her time at UCI

66 Alumni Network Learn how you can get involved in a network more than 50,000 Anteaters strong

44 A global perspective Through teaching, research, and action, UCI global and international studies professor and chair Eve Darian-Smith is an ardent advocate for globalizing public education in the 21st century


46 The brain and language UCI language scientist Judith Kroll finds that a diverse linguistic environment boosts brain sensitivity to new learning, and exposure alone may confer some benefits of bilinguality on single-language speakers

48 Where have all the moderates gone? Political science assistant professor Danielle Thomsen studies whether primary voters prefer partisan polarization

50 Fat phobia Book by UCI sociologist Sabrina Strings explores religious, racial origins of society’s obsession with weight

54 A humanity seen Writer and UCI professor Héctor Tobar wants you to tell your story


56 Chasing the memory, not the high UCI cognitive scientist Aaron Bornstein says memory, more than compulsion, could be to blame for relapses among those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol

58 A commanding presence Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager’s unwavering work ethic propelled her to unprecedented heights in the Army, making the ’86 UCI psychology alumna a role model for women and girls




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b e BOL D ----a publication of the UCI School of Social Sciences ----writers, designers, editors, & photographers Heather Ashbach, Megan Boettcher, Christine Byrd, Luis Fonseca, Lilibeth Garcia, Pat Harriman, Jill Kato, Sheri Ledbetter, Kiali Wong Orlowski, Kristin Baird Rattini, Kara Roberts, Steven Zylius special thanks to contributing photographers from: DIRHA, ST Racing ----School Leadership Bill Maurer, Dean Michael McBride, Associate Dean Jeanett Castellanos, Associate Dean Belinda Robnett, Associate Dean Rebecca Ávila, Assistant Dean Marketing & Communications Heather Ashbach, Executive Director Luis Fonseca, Digital Media Production Development Tracy Arcuri, Executive Director Liz Codispoti, Director Ian Delzer, Associate Director Melissa Churlonis, Coordinator ----featured on cover: Samantha Tan ’20 economics is breaking ground internationally as one of the fastest and youngest women in her racing class, and inspiring legions of young girls along the way. More on page 34.

----Be Bold is offered this year digitally.

from the


Bill Maurer Professor, Anthropology & Law


hat an incredible time we’re living in. As the COVID-19 reality has turned kitchen counters into computer space and couches into classrooms, we are all learning just how resourceful and flexible we can be when faced with adversity. And nowhere is that more evident than in our UCI social sciences Anteaters. You can feel it in our student stories - like Samantha Tan, ’20 economics, who’s breaking ground internationally as one of the fastest and youngest women in her racing class, and inspiring legions of young girls along the way. And Sasha Yusuf, ’20 sociology, who’s overcome every obstacle thrown his way including a period he spent homeless as an undergrad - to realize his educational aspirations and acceptance to Columbia Law School.

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No matter the circumstance, the UCI social sciences maverick spirit will prevail in creating positive change. Sending positive vibes to our community near and far!

You see it alive and well in our alumni and Dean’s Leadership Society members like Claudia Keller and Ofer Horn whose professional roles are shifting with COVID-19 to help those impacted by the economic turmoil left in its wake. And you can feel it in our boundaryless research - like cognitive scientist Aaron Bornstein’s new model for addiction - and service that continues remotely through programs including DIRHA and Global Connect that are inspiring thousands of high school students with messages of international importance and inclusion. As we continue to drive our world class institution forward, I’m reminded daily of the resiliency of the Anteater spirit. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by such an amazing crew - chief among them our

staff who are pulling together daily to keep our operations running smoothly. This collective community spirit gives me the utmost confidence to say that when things return to normal - whatever that may look like - UCI social sciences Anteaters will be leading the way, just as they always have, through bold research, teaching, and service. Because that’s the social sciences Anteater way. I hope you enjoy this fully digital version of Be Bold as much as I do. May the stories inspire hope that no matter the circumstance, our maverick Anteater spirit will prevail in creating positive change. Be safe and be well,



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from couchsurfing to

COLUMBIA LAW How Alexander “Sasha” Yusuf, ’20 sociology, has overcome every obstacle thrown his way to realize his educational aspirations

When an unexpected crisis hit, Alexander “Sasha” Yusuf found an Anteater lifeline at UCI that helped him realize his dream of a college education.


n January, when Alexander “Sasha” Yusuf applied to be one of two student speakers at the 2020 UCI social sciences commencement ceremonies, he had every intention of delivering his first-generation inspired message of hope and resilience in front of thousands of graduates, family members, and friends at the Bren Center. The sweeping changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – including remote delivery of classes and commencement – have shifted his plans, but not his message or overall outlook. If anything, the new reality has made him even more grateful and optimistic about his future and his UCI community – one that has come together on multiple fronts to help him realize his dream of a college education. “Being on lock down isn’t exactly how I envisioned my last quarter at UCI, but I’m finding comfort in knowing we’re all in this together and taking these measures for the greater good,” he says over the phone from his Irvine apartment. “It’s pretty amazing to see how the UCI and student community has come together to support each other through the toughest thing we will all collectively go through and to see the amount of resources and compassion we’re providing each other. Community has never been more important than it is now, and that shows when we take collective action for each other.”

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Humble beginnings Yusuf was born in Russia where he lived with his mom and extended family. His grandfather, a hardworking, simple man, grew up in the Soviet-era, a time when breadlines and hunger-panged nights were the norm, says Yusuf. The experience permeated Yusuf’s own childhood as he was taught early on to be thankful for what he had, which he admittedly says was not much. “I learned to be thankful that there was food on the table,” he says. “I was always grateful for what I had and any opportunities I was given beyond that. I had a very low baseline for what life should be and wasn’t accustomed to nice things, electronics – things that are probably more normal for kids who grew up in America.” When he moved to the U.S. as a young boy with his mom, they spent the first few months homeless in east Los Angeles. They soon found their footing, first through the help of a halfway house where they lived with two roommates, got two meals a day, and Yusuf got to attend school, and then through a more permanent move into subsidized housing. “We were part of a big Russian community there and when I wasn’t in school, I was doing puzzles at home while my mom worked,” he says. “I had second-hand clothes, we had food on the table and a roof over our heads. I didn’t think about what we didn’t have or that we were living in hardship, I was just grateful for what we had.” Throughout his childhood, he and his mom would travel back to Russia in the summers and spend time with their extended family on the farm. Life as he knew it was good. New adventures When his mom got married, they relocated to Orange County where Yusuf grew more accustomed to creature comforts beyond basic needs. He excelled in the classroom and was part of his public school’s Gifted & Talented Education (GATE) Program. He applied and was accepted to UC Irvine - a top choice for the academically driven and economically minded high schooler – as a sociology major. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” he says, “so I was looking for a major that took a big picture view of how to create positive change in the world, and that’s sociology.”

The campus’s Mock Trial reputation was particularly enticing for the aspiring esquire. His first year in the program, he won several awards and made bonds with members who have become his closest friends. But at the close of his freshman year, an unexpected crisis left Yusuf once again homeless and without financial assistance. An Anteater lifeline “I couchsurfed with friends for awhile and was so thankful for the close knit group I knew through Mock Trial,” he says. His coach, Emily Shaw, helped connect him with Benjamin Shaver in the UCI Office of Financial Aid who proved to be a lifeline for Yusuf. “He helped me navigate the often confusing financial aid resources and support systems available to get grants and loans that allowed me to continue my education. Had it not been for Benajmin, I would likely have had to drop out of UCI.” Shaver also helped Yusuf in his part-time job search, resulting in gigs with Gamestop and T-Mobile, complete with benefits, a 401K, and enough income to pay rent and tuition when coupled with his financial aid package. “I feel so fortunate to have landed a job where, as a mobile expert, I get paid to talk to people,” he says, his enthusiasm and ability to see the bright side ever present. A bright future Instilled with his grandfather’s work ethic, he’s been able to juggle two jobs, full time school, and a Mock Trial schedule that requires a large time and energy commitment. And he’s not only managed the load, he’s excelled. At 19 years old, he became T-Mobile’s youngest Winner’s Circle member, achieving sales that put him in the top 2% of the company. Over his four-year Mock Trial career, he’s earned more than 10 outstanding attorney awards – two at the all-national level, a count that easily puts him in company with the organization’s most awarded West Coast members. In 2018, he helped bring the team to a third place finish in nationals. And this year, as team president, he led UCI to both a first place finish in the opening round of championships and receipt of the Spirit of American Mock Trial Association Award, honors that marked the group as the most winning AND most friendly,

Seeing how the community and institution has been working together to find solutions during these tough times gives me hope that we can develop bigger solutions to broader issues. nice, and collegial as ranked by their peers. He was also named one of the top 16 competitors in the nation, earning an opportunity to compete at an elite Mock Trial-sponsored competition called “Trial by Combat.” In the classroom, he’s gone beyond the required homework, projects, and exams to conduct three research studies, one with UCI political science professor Kristen Monroe focused on environmental ethics and empathy. “For me, this project pointed to the very essence of engaging in social science and sociological action,” he says. “Issues like climate change aren’t limited to one area like government, science, politics, or economics. They span the entirety of humanity and social science gives such a good grounding for understanding and impacting these big issues on a global scale.” The project spurred his interest in environmental justice, a topic he plans to pursue at Columbia Law School in the fall, despite hardships brought on by the pandemic and the likelihood his first semester will be delivered online. For him, it’s just another challenge to overcome, like the many he’s weathered to this point. And he’s grateful for the UCI community that’s stood by him through it all. “Seeing how the community and institution has been working together to find solutions during these tough times gives me hope that we can develop bigger solutions to broader issues. And that gives me so much hope for the future. Together, we are stronger and we can accomplish a lot.” •



be bold

SOCIAL CHANGE AGENT An Thien Nguyen, ’20 political science focuses her research, outreach and empathy on the Southeast Asian community


n Thien Nguyen ’20 has garnered numerous awards and scholarships while at UCI, from being named Outstanding Undergraduate Student by the Alumni Association to making the cut as a finalist for the highly competitive 2020-21 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. As one of the student commencement speakers for the School of Social Sciences class of 2020, Nguyen will have the opportunity to address her peers at their long-awaited ceremony, albeit remotely. With every new accolade, Nguyen is reminded that the life she inhabits is one her parents could never even have dreamed for her. “Because I’m so deeply rooted in my family and where I come from, a lot of my drive comes from wanting to take hold of every opportunity my parents couldn’t have,” says Nguyen, a political science major in the School of Social Sciences. Nguyen’s parents met in Los Angeles, but share harrowing stories of escaping from Vietnam amid war and political turmoil. Her mother was incarcerated for two years after one of her many attempts to flee her homeland, and Nguyen’s parents both spent time in refugee camps before emigrating to the U.S. “The unspeakable violence caused by war, and the trauma my parents experienced, is very difficult to talk about,” explains Nguyen, who urged her parents to share their personal stories with her once she was in college. “I wanted to know more about my parents because I wanted to know more about myself. Oral histories are so valuable to me because there are so many lessons embedded in those narratives.”

That desire to understand what her parents faced went beyond family bonding and became the driving force behind Nguyen’s undergraduate research and advocacy. Engaging with politics Nguyen didn’t plan to study political science when she came to UCI. She enrolled as a biological science major which, she laughs, “is such a clichè.” After a difficult initial quarter, she took a first-year writing course taught by a political scientist, and it changed the trajectory of her academic career. She switched to a full load of political science courses, and solidified her love for the subject. Nguyen seized every opportunity to engage with politics at UCI beyond the classroom, including through the Model UN, Global Connect, the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and UC Student Organizing Summit. In her campus job at the Scholarship Opportunities Program, she advised other students on scholarship programs that aligned with their interests and goals.

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An Thien Nguyen. 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

An Thien Nguyen interned for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) in Washington, D.C., raising awareness about issues facing immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

She became so well versed in scholarship opportunities that she earned quite a few herself. As she overcame the rocky start to her academic career, Nguyen wanted to help make sure other students like her have successful starts to their own, so she became involved with the First Generation Quarter Challenge, a 10-week program in social sciences that covers time management, financial literacy, and campus resources for new students who are the first in their family to go to college. “I wish I had this program as a first year, it would’ve helped me navigate the space better,” says Nguyen. “It’s a lot to ask incoming first years or transfers to think about things like ‘What is your impact going to be?’ or ‘Where do you want to go?’ but that’s the mindset that we all have to come into. My personal growth didn’t come until a lot later because no one was asking me those questions my first year.”

Making connections Pivotal to her personal growth and success at UCI was finding faculty members who believed in her and encouraged her to push her own limits. Those included Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies, as well as Long Bui, associate professor of global and international studies, and Davin Phoenix, assistant professor of political science. “When I met An, it was clear she was passionate about community and social change,” says Castellanos, who became a research advisor and mentor to Nguyen. “Over time, I have watched An develop her research interests and skills to find ways to represent her community and its voice.” With Castellanos’ support, Nguyen threw herself more deeply into scholarly research, an endeavor that engaged her with Orange County’s thriving Vietnamese community, and then extended to the nation’s capital and across the Atlantic Ocean to Scotland.

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In this process of exploring the unique challenges faced by Southeast Asian immigrants, Nguyen often heard stories of hardship and trauma, not unlike those of her parents. Through the UCDC program, Nguyen interned with the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center in Washington, D.C., interviewing Southeast Asian immigrants who had been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and writing articles and op-eds to raise awareness of the plight of hundreds of Cambodians who have been deported from the only country they ever called home. Back in Orange County, she met with seven local organizations to better understand gaps in services - legal, social, financial, emotional - for Southeast Asian immigrants in the region, services that, Nguyen says, could ideally come together in a more holistic approach. She also interned at the City of Irvine, where she got a first-hand view of local policy-making. In her final year as a UCI student, Nguyen landed an internship with the United Nations House in Scotland, researching Southeast Asian experiences in Britain. “An has tremendous self-initiative and challenges herself,” says Castellanos. “She shows a unique drive that demonstrates a desire to perform to be a social change agent.” Research with rapport One revelation that came to Nguyen as a result of all these experiences was that she doesn’t just want to strictly collect data and publish research - she wants to make a difference in people’s lives. “I realize I want to do ‘community participatory research’ and really get in touch with the community I’m studying and build rapport with them,” says Nguyen. “I really thrive off of that connection.” After she graduates, Nguyen plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology, and follow in the footsteps of a few of her favorite UCI faculty. “Seeing professors who were people of color and had such a wide batch of experiences, who want to serve undergraduates and students who are minorities, really inspired me,” says Nguyen.

If I didn’t have the courage to be bold, to be unapologetic, to be OK with putting myself out there regardless of the outcome, I would never have opened myself up to all of these opportunities and connections.

She hopes to become a professor not only to continue her research, but to mentor the next generation of students to see the possibilities that exist for themselves as educators, researchers, and policymakers. For future research, she hopes to travel to Cambodia to study a nonprofit that helps people integrate into the country if they have been deported from the U.S. or elsewhere. It’s a model she thinks may be duplicated in Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere. Nguyen urges other students, including a younger brother at UCI, and a younger sister, to allow themselves to be both brave and vulnerable. She cherishes the deeper connection she made with her parents when they opened up to her about their past, and she says that others open up to her when she has allowed herself to be vulnerable. “If I didn’t have the courage to be bold, to be unapologetic, to be OK with putting myself out there regardless of the outcome, I would never have opened myself up to all of these opportunities and connections,” she says. And for Nguyen, connections will always start with family, even as her focus and impact expands to immigrant communities around the world. •



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getting by with a little help from

FRIENDS First-generation transfer student Amber Appling, ’20 political science, finds her fit in UCDC



be bold

When Amber Appling transferred from community college to UCI to study political science, she was immediately interested in the UCDC program. Financial help from the School of Social Sciences, funded through the Dean’s Leadership Society, helped make her dreams a reality.


CI political science student Amber Appling had such a positive experience interning in Washington, D.C. through UCDC that she plans to move there and work full time after she graduates in spring. But she almost didn’t get to have the D.C. opportunity. “I was very close to not being able to do the program,” Appling explains. Her experience - and persistence - offer a lesson for others navigating challenges in their college pathway, and a reminder that sometimes we all need to ask for a little help from our friends. ‘Always ask’ Born in Covington, Georgia and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Appling is a financially independent student who works 30 hours a week while carrying a full load of courses. She’s used to being self reliant and, as the oldest of five children, Appling

says she knows her younger sister and three brothers look up to her. “Where I’m from has an insurmountable influence,” she says. “I’m the first in my extended family to go to college. I want my siblings and my cousins to know that it’s possible, despite the barriers against them.” When Appling transferred from community college to UCI to study political science, she was immediately interested in the UCDC program, which enables UCI students to take classes and intern in the nation’s capital for one quarter. However, as a transfer student on track to finish her degree in less than two years, she was on a compressed timeline to apply for the program and land an internship. The first obstacle: get a letter of recommendation from a professor even though she had just arrived on campus.

“I didn’t even know where the gym was on campus, and certainly I didn’t know anyone on campus,” says Appling. “As a financially independent student and transfer, I didn’t have time to worry about meeting with professors and getting to know them.” Although Appling didn’t frequent office hours, she actively participated in class discussions. So when associate professor of political science Daniel Brunstetter heard she needed a recommendation letter but had not asked him for one, he gave her advice that resonated. She recalls, “He told me that if you tell yourself no, then you’re not even giving other people the opportunity to help you. Always ask, always ask for help, because the worst thing they could say is no, and that’s what you were expecting in the first place.” Brunstetter wrote her a glowing recommendation.

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Leverage connections Appling still needed to land an internship in Washington, D.C., a requirement of the UCDC program. Enter Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, associate professor of African American studies and political science, another faculty member who was impressed with Appling’s presence in class. “Amber was a real standout in particular because she was able to bring what she had learned in political science to her African American studies courses, and able to transverse the two conversations with ease,” Willoughby-Herard says. Willoughby-Herard says she recognized in Appling something of herself as a young person, and she reached out to her extensive national network of political scientists. Within 24 hours, she had secured a spot for Appling to intern in D.C. at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization. “Black women political scientists use associational life - a dynamic that may be the result of marginalization,” says Willoughby-Herard, explaining the power of the network she leveraged to help Appling. “We understand that we’re going to get the door slammed in our faces, but if you take two extra steps to help us, then we’re going to bring and mobilize 500 extra people with us.” For Appling, this was another important revelation: UCI students are surrounded by faculty who are well known experts in their fields, and who know other experts. “You forget that you’re in a building with professor X, who’s connected to professor Y, who maybe wrote a book about a topic you’re really interested in,” says Appling. “I wish I could go back and tell my younger self not just to think of faculty as professors, but to capitalize on how well qualified and well connected they are.” Find the funds With her application accepted and a perfectly suited internship lined up, Appling was ready to head to UCDC in fall 2019. But then came the financial troubles. Money was already tight, and Appling was relying on her waitressing job with grants and loans to pay for educational and liv-

ing expenses. As the deadline to commit to UCDC drew near, and critical details like purchasing an airline ticket came into focus, she realized she was going to be a few hundred dollars short. “It’s an unfortunate thing to work very hard, and be so excited to get into the program, and then the only thing that comes in the way is money,” says Appling. As the realization set in that she might not be able to go to D.C. after all, she confided in her friend and classmate Lorraine Nance. Appling and Nance met in WilloughbyHerard’s course on African Americans in U.S. Foreign Policy, and they worked sideby-side over the summer as research assistants for Willoughby-Herard, who was editor of the National Political Science Review. A student athlete who works at UCI’s Center for Black Cultures, Resources & Research and is active on campus, Nance knows who’s who around UCI, and she’s not afraid to speak up. So when she heard Appling might not go to D.C., she went straight to Matthew Beckmann, associate professor of political science and chair of the UCDC Academic Advisory Committee, to plead Appling’s case. “Lorraine said our institution has this money, we have this resource, and we need to make sure we can do this,” says WilloughbyHerard. “We have someone who can imagine themselves in an internship, and we all need to pull together to get it done. At a public research university, that’s the ethical thing to do.” Sure enough, Beckmann was able to procure a $1,000 scholarship from the School of Social Sciences to bridge the funding gap. Since 2013, with support from the Dean’s Leadership Society, UCI social sciences has nearly doubled the number of Pell Grant recipients participating in UCDC by supplementing students with need-based scholarships. It made all the difference for Appling, enabling her to be part of UCDC. “Every university tells its students that it is training the next generation of leaders,” says Beckmann. “What makes the University of California extraordinary is that it goes so much further: building an academic bridge between California and Washington and supporting those students who endeavor to cross.”

Being here feels like it’s where I’m supposed to be. Everything feels natural.

Be the change “The biggest thing that shocked me is how well I snapped into D.C.,” says Appling. “Being here feels like it’s where I’m supposed to be. Everything feels natural.” Appling found her work for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to be particularly meaningful, including working on a PSA about how access to clean running water varies considerably across demographics in the U.S. Beyond the internship itself, Appling says that her experience at UCDC helped her grow more confident in herself and more comfortable with people who hold completely different ideologies. In fact, she hopes to return to D.C. to work full time after she graduates from UCI in 2020. Despite being at UCI for less than two years, Appling says she feels a real connection to the faculty she worked with. “I am blessed that my professors at UCI really did care about me and the trajectory of my career and my personal life,” she says. Meanwhile, Nance is making her own plans to intern at UC Sacramento or UCDC when her athletic schedule allows her to be away from campus. “I want to be the stepping stone and just project others around me to do greater things than what I can imagine, and that goes for my siblings, my cousins, and Lorraine,” says Appling. “I don’t want it to end with me. I want it to just be the starting point.” •



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Payton Huse assisted with Orange County’s 2019 point in time count of people experiencing homelessness.


inspired by a harsh reality Spurred by personal experience, UCI graduate student Payton Huse researches gender and homelessness


ayton Huse moved from the Midwest to California planning to help elementary school students in immigrant communities succeed. What she got was an up-close look at California’s affordable housing crisis, and her own experience with unstable housing. “No one is safe when they are homeless, but women are especially vulnerable,” says Huse, a first-generation graduate student in UCI’s sociology Ph.D. program. Her experience shifted her interest from immigration to research on homelessness and, in particular, the ways that gender plays into the homeless experience. And the National Science Foundation is now supporting her work with a competitive Graduate Research Fellowship Program award. An eye-opening experience Huse joined AmeriCorps after finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri and moved to San Jose to run after

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school programs at public schools. Living in a flea-ridden apartment with a half dozen other young women and two cats for most of the year, the situation eventually became untenable and she had to leave. But with the small stipend for what was technically considered a volunteer position with AmeriCorps, she couldn’t afford rent elsewhere. A program counselor found Huse a spot at a shelter, but instead Huse accepted offers from coworkers and friends to stay with them for the rest of her time with the program. She wasn’t on the streets, but she had nowhere to call home. While her own housing situation was unstable, Huse also developed relationships with unhoused women in San Jose. In a neighborhood with a large number of homeless women, Huse did custodial services at a yoga studio in exchange for classes. It was there that she became aware of the unique issues homeless women in the area were experiencing. At the yoga studio, she participated in dinners hosted for the neighborhood’s homeless women, as well as donation drives to provide feminine hygiene products — a program she also brought to the elementary school where she worked.

Payton Huse.

Turning experience into action, research As a first-gen college student, Huse relied heavily on her undergraduate faculty mentors for academic guidance. She became interested in graduate school when a former professor shared her experiences earning her doctorate at UCI, and it sounded appealing. Huse originally planned to study immigration, but her personal experience caused her to pivot. “UCI is an ideal location to study homelessness,” Huse says, noting that sociology faculty David Snow and Rachel Goldberg are leading much of Orange County’s research on the issue. Today, 6,860 people live in the county without housing, according to the most recent count by United to End Homelessness. Women are often the invisible homeless, Huse points out, because they tend to be housed in shelters at higher rates than men, so they are less likely to be seen in public, sleeping on benches or sidewalks. Research practices have reflected that, with most of the literature about homelessness focused on men and those who live on the streets. “Payton is interested in understanding inequalities from many levels, and this sense of curiosity about the social world makes her well-positioned to tackle pressing realworld problems,” says Kristin Turney, associate professor of sociology, who serves as a faculty mentor to Huse. This year, Huse earned the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides funding for outstanding graduate students in NSFsupported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. The financial support will enable her to spend more time focused on her research and travel to academic conferences to present her work. With the funding, Huse is further examining how women access reproductive health care when they lack secure housing, and in general how women experience homelessness differently than men. Since starting her research projects with shelters in Orange County, she has also become curious about how shelters construct gender roles. “It seems like there’s an ideal femininity that’s supposed to be enacted in the shelters,” Huse says, pointing out healthy cooking classes are sometimes offered to women who don’t have a home, much less a kitchen.

I want to continue to work to make sure that funding is secure and livable for others.

“Are they helping them be good women, or helping them get housing?” Ahead of the game Huse got a jumpstart on her graduate research by participating in UCI’s Competitive Edge Summer Research Program, which brings graduate students from diverse backgrounds to campus the summer before their graduate program officially starts in the fall. The program also pairs students with a faculty mentor and a peer mentor — which is how Huse got involved with Turney’s research. “Getting here three months early gave me extra time to adjust to graduate school and learn about the campus,” says Huse. Huse has not been disappointed. “The best thing at UCI has been the faculty advisors and mentors that I’ve had — especially the women,” says Huse. “I can see myself in them and see myself trying to do the job that they’re doing. I see them doing cool work and enjoying their job.” Although Huse would like to become a professor, she doesn’t rule out working for a government agency or research institution after earning her doctorate. For the rest of her time at UCI, Huse will be buoyed by her fellowship, but she won’t soon forget her personal experiences with housing insecurity. “I have this really rare and special funding opportunity,” she says. “I want to continue to work to make sure that funding is secure and livable for others.” •



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“I really enjoyed teaching and knew I wanted a career heavily focused on it,” says UCI anthropology associate professor of teaching Angela Jenks on her career trajectory. She was named the 2019-20 recipient of UCI’s Academic Senate Early-Career Award for Teaching.

AWARD-WORTHY WORK Angela Jenks, UCI anthropology, earns an Academic Senate award for teaching in a field she almost didn’t pursue


ngela Jenks had planned to be a doctor. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, her exposure to post-college career options had been somewhat limited to the traditional “doctor, lawyer, teacher” occupations she’d encountered in her small town up-bringing. Her first semester in college, she took Introduction to Archaeology admittedly on a whim, guided more by her interest in Indiana Jones – and a need to fill a general elective - than anything else. But like the big-screen hero often did, she ended up with a lot more than she’d bargained for.

“I instantly fell in love with anthropology,” says Jenks. “It gave me the foundation to answer questions that I didn’t know I even had, and now as a teacher, watching that same thing happen for my students is extremely rewarding.” She combined her interests with a Ph.D. in medical anthropology, and now as an associate professor of teaching in the Department of Anthropology at UCI, she specializes in the study of disease, health, and healing from a sociocultural perspective. Jenks was named UCI’s 2019-20 Academic Senate

Early-Career Faculty Award for Teaching recipient, an honor that recognizes her as one of the campus’s top teachers. For Jenks, it’s validation that her redirect from an M.D. to a Ph.D. was well worth the risk. Digging in “Anthropology is something that’s unfamiliar to most new students, like it was to me,” says Jenks. Students come into class – often taking a foray into the field to fill a required elective - with a pre-conceived notion of bones and stones or, sometimes still, Indiana Jones. These ideas are quickly upended

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when students begin digging into the way people and societies work – a core concept of sociocultural anthropology in which UCI specializes. “Anthropology often gives students a different perspective on issues they’re already interested in,” she says. “Many of my students are also pre-med, and I want them to come out knowing how to connect what we discuss in class to life outside the classroom. Whether it’s better understanding people’s illness experiences or looking at medicine as a social and political system – anthropology provides a structure for thinking about the world from multiple perspectives that can be very meaningful for students.” Jenks was hooked on anthropology after just one class. She scoured her university’s catalog for any and all related courses, and when she finished those, she set her sights on graduate school. “I was fortunate to attend school as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program scholar, which exposed me early on to the idea of earning an advanced degree,” she says. Backed by a program intent on increasing enrollment of underrepresented minority students in graduate school, Jenks applied and was accepted to the unique medical anthropology doctoral program offered jointly by UC Berkeley and UCSF. She pursued research looking at the intersection of anthropology and medicine, examining efforts to improve the cultural competence of U.S. health care. She spent time in medical schools, managed care organizations, and hospitals, exploring the understandings of culture and race that are incorporated into efforts to address health disparities.

When she was offered a lecturer position at UCI with the potential for security of employment – a role now known as a professor of teaching – she knew she’d be able to continue pursuing this mission. More than half of UCI’s students are the first in their family to go to college, and each year the campus admits increasingly higher numbers of transfer students. Jenks welcomed the chance to continue to work with this population at a tier 1 research university and joined the anthropology faculty in 2013. Since her arrival, you’d be hard-pressed to find a program she hasn’t been involved in, says Kim Fortun, UCI anthropology professor and department chair. “Professor Jenks’s pedagogy-focused service for the department, School of Social Sciences, campus, and profession has been expansive and exemplary,” Fortun says. “She’s consistently taken on major leadership roles, helped design and deliver curriculum, undergraduate programs, and even launched an open access journal.” In the classroom, Jenks teaches roughly seven courses a year which primarily fill the medical anthropology minor. She’s taught graduate courses in medical anthropology and one on pedagogy for future professors, and she’s taught courses for the UCI School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). She also helped revamp the anthropology department’s honors program from a series of independent studies courses into seminars that allow students to meet and work together as a cohort under a faculty advisor. “The new model provides a sense of community and gives students more support among themselves,” Jenks says.

A new discovery As a graduate student, Jenks - like many of her cohort- worked her way through school as a teaching assistant and adjunct instructor. The experience blossomed into something much more than an activity that paid the bills; she discovered a newfound love.

She served for four years as the coordinator of anthropology’s master’s program in Medicine, Science, and Technology Studies and she taught the graduate program’s proseminar. She also served on the department’s Undergraduate Committee, which came under her directorship in 2018.

“I really enjoyed teaching and knew I wanted a career heavily focused on it,” she says. Her first job out of graduate school was as a tenure-track instructor with Los Angeles Southwest College. She spent four years at the community college, working closely with diverse students, including many minority and first-generation students with whom Jenks really connected.

“This is an exceptionally high level of service for any faculty member and especially one with the teaching load Jenks has sustained,” says Fortun. Tools for teachers In what spare time Jenks manages to find, she also contributes to the broader field of anthropology via service work. In 2016, she

was the scholar in residence for Cultural Anthropology, one of the field’s main academic journals. The journal’s rich online environment gave her a platform from which to publish nine teaching tool blog posts focused on everything from backwards course design, to pieces on why students don’t read and how new teachers can develop a standout statement of teaching philosophy. “As much as I love teaching, there are challenges that come with it, one being a need for more community around it. There aren’t many forums for exchanging ideas outside of the groups we each form,” she said. So that’s what she tackled next with the launch of the online open access Teaching and Learning Anthropology journal for which she serves as editor in chief. With two issues out already, she and the editorial team are beefing up the online infrastructure for sharing resources – articles, films, digital materials, syllabi and more - with teachers who can also then exchange important ideas, reflections, and support. Her work earned her recognition last year as a Provost’s Teaching Fellow during which time she worked with graduate student Katie Cox to develop a learning community for social sciences faculty and teaching assistants and contributed her knowledge as part of the Active Learning Institute. With the Academic Senate Teaching Award, Jenks’s efforts are again lauded. But the real excitement for her comes in the classroom and from applying her anthropological training to teaching. “I love trying to find ways to help students apply what they’re learning, and that comes from my own belief that anthropology has something important to contribute,” she says. For her, an introductory anthropology course provided an eye-opening experience and a new trajectory in a career she never knew existed. And she hopes to engage in her students the same possibility. “When students study issues like health disparities and understand the structural inequities that lead to early death, they know how to better be involved in creating change,” she says. “Anthropology teaches us to focus on why things happen and find steps we can take to address these giant and overwhelming problems. And that gives me hope.” •



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ADVOCATE UCI professor Anita Casavantes Bradford receives Academic Senate Faculty Award for Mentorship in recognition of her work with first-generation students

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ducator, researcher, and mentor. For Anita Casavantes Bradford, the roles are inseparable, each serving as fuel for the others. The first in her low-income family to go to college, she experienced early on the lifechanging power of having academic advocates in her corner. Now, as an associate professor of Chicano/ Latino studies and history at UCI, she’s paying it forward to make sure students like her have the opportunity to thrive.

I want our first-gen students to recognize how their experience has shaped their ideas of education and how that can motivate, rather than limit, their aspirations.

Her work earned her the 2019-20 Academic Senate Faculty Award for Mentorship, an honor that punctuates the countless hours she’s dedicated to helping first-generation Anteaters through programs like the FirstGeneration Faculty Initiative and the FirstGeneration, First Quarter Challenge. “I want our first-gen students to recognize how their experience has shaped their ideas of education and how that can motivate, rather than limit, their aspirations,” she says, reflecting on an experience with which she’s intimately familiar.

Anita Casavantes Bradford.

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

Mentors matter Casavantes Bradford and her two siblings grew up in Vancouver, raised by a single mother with a tenth-grade education. By the time she was eight, Casavantes Bradford understood that education was going to be her ticket to a better life – one that she would have to fight hard to make happen. “My mother valued school because she didn’t have a chance to finish,” Casavantes Bradford says. “And her position isn’t unique. Parents of first-gen students tend to value education in an urgent way that’s related to how hard their lives have been without it.” But lack of experience in school can oftentimes leave parents of first-gen students illequipped to guide their children through the sometimes complicated education system. For Casavantes Bradford, her third-grade teacher helped fill that gap. Through positive reinforcement promoting intelligence and work ethic as part of self-worth, Mrs. Vedder pushed the young scholar to aim higher. And she wasn’t the only one. “Every few years from there, I had someone like that – someone who worked with kids like me and saw that we had potential outside the circumstances we were born into,” she says. It was because of her academic mentors that Casavantes Bradford aspired to attend college. She got accepted to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver after getting her start in community college, at which time she was also working full time as a live in housekeeper and nanny. She majored in history and literature and earned her teaching credential – somewhat by default, she says. “Teachers were the only type of professional people I’d encountered up to that point, and a career as an educator was something I could wrap my head around,” she says. She rushed through her program so that she could get a job – an experience with which many first-gen students can relate. “Part of the first-gen university motivation is the fear that’s gained from first-hand experience dealing with questions like will we pay for rent this month or be sleeping on someone’s couch, or can we afford food, medicine,” she says. “It’s built into your DNA when you’re first-gen and low income.”

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While these very real consequences tend to be pretty powerful motivators, they also limit the risks students take in studying something they’re passionate about. “I know what they’re going through, making calculations about what they like vs what will get them a job,” she says. The same motivation - and fear - drove her pursuit of a career as a high school educator for awhile, which she fortunately loved until she got a call with her acceptance to graduate school. Aiding Anteaters She completed her Ph.D. at UC San Diego and spent two years as a UC Presidents’ Postdoctoral Fellow before being hired in 2013 as a faculty member at UCI where more than half of the campus’s students are the first in their family to go to college. Casavantes Bradford wasted no time in making connections. “I was teaching a course on immigration my first quarter here, and after about three weeks of teaching, a group of students came to visit me during office hours,” she says. Before long, they “outed” themselves as undocumented, first-gen students. In Casavantes Bradford, they sensed an ally and they found one. Big time. She soon became the faculty advisor to the student organization then known as DREAMS @ UCI, supporting the students in their efforts to establish what is now the UCI DREAM Center. “They were hard working kids who’d overcome enormous obstacles; they were hopeful in the face of tremendous fear and uncertainty; they were the most altruistic students despite their circumstances,” she says. “My role as a mentor on campus began thanks to those courageous students.” Hearing their struggles as first-gen students trying to navigate the university experience brought her back to her own collegiate start. She got to thinking there were likely other faculty members at UCI with similar stories. With support from the School of Social Sciences and the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE), she helped launch the First-Generation Faculty Initiative. The program brings together first-gen faculty and advocates to foster a campus climate that supports and guides students like them at UCI.

She also created, launched, and continues to serve as faculty co-director of the First Generation, First Quarter Challenge in the School of Social Sciences. Developed by social sciences faculty, students, and staff who were the first in their family to attend college and know firsthand what it takes to succeed at UCI, the program offers support, guidance, and friendship to other first-gen students as they settle into the university. “My perspective on mentorship is that you don’t go into somewhere with grand ideas about what people need and impose it. You instead sit and listen and in that process, they’ll tell you what they need. If you can do something to help, that’s your cue.” Intertwined interests The same notion guides her research, through which she uses a historian’s lens to examine links between foreign policy and immigration policy in the U.S. Her first book was on the relationship between childhood and nationalism in revolutionary Cuba and in the Cuban exile community in Miami. She’s currently working on another book that tells the history of unaccompanied child migration to the U.S., dating from 1930 to today. The topic hits home for many of the first-gen and immigrant students with whom she’s worked. “A lot of immigrant students – documented and undocumented - don’t feel they belong,” she says. “It’s the same way that first-gen students feel at university. In both cases, the disconnect goes deeper – and is less visible – than any academic difficulties they may also have. While adjusting to university, they are also struggling to understand their place in U.S. history and the broader context of our nation’s immigration policies, while also dealing with the impact of those things on their families. They also have to deal daily with the guilt of being the one who got out - who got to go to university – while many in their families and communities are still struggling.” Award-winning work She’s been lauded for her efforts. In 2017, she received the Tom Angell Fellowship in recognition of her campuswide mentorship activities. In 2016, she received the Social Sciences Dean’s Award for Outstanding Mentorship, and in 2015, she was honored with UCI’s Outstanding Social Justice Activist Award.

As she continues her research and her work with UCI’s first-gen community, Casavantes Bradford also celebrated the debut of, “Refugee Songs: A Musical Journey,” a musical she wrote and produced that opened in fall 2019 at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Theater. She’s also deepening her engagement with another UCI student community she’s long been interested in supporting: veterans. Drawing on her firsthand knowledge as the daughter and spouse of military veterans from very different eras, she created the curriculum for UCI’s new veterans studies certificate. She’s hoping to grow the threepart course series into a full-fledged veterans studies program. Asked why she devotes such a significant amount of her time to activities outside the classroom, she responds that it’s not work nor is it outside the classroom. “I’m an educator. Part of that is research, and I’m fascinated by it, but I don’t research in a vacuum. It’s part of my identity as an educator. I study things that I hope will help enlighten, heal, and empower my students and their communities. So the same things that motivate my teaching and mentorship are also at the heart of my research agenda. For me, these things are inseparable.” •



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DIVERSITY Third-year international studies and poli sci major Nora Beik works to foster inclusion through donor-supported UCI community outreach program


ake two lists: one with your top three role models and one with the names of five people outside of family with whom you spend the most time. Now ask yourself: Are these people the same religion, race, ethnicity, education level and socioeconomic background as me? Nora Beik loves leading high school students through this exercise as part of UCI’s Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program. “It’s such an eye-opener for them to see how the people they hang out with and aspire to be are, most often, just like them,” says the third-

year international studies and political science major. As the discussion turns to the comfort students feel when they’re with people like themselves, Beik’s opportunity to spark even the smallest sliver of change arises. “When you’re not in the majority, you feel small, unheard,” she shares. That’s an experience that goes back to her childhood. Beik was born and raised in Fountain Valley, the middle of three daughters to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Damascus, Syria, nearly three decades ago. “Growing up as an Arab Muslim in post 9/11

America, I had an acute awareness of the fact that I was different from my peers,” she says. Saturday school to learn Arabic, summers in Syria with extended family and a holiday calendar that didn’t include Christmas, Halloween, or other typically “American” celebrations left Beik feeling like an outsider. Moreover, not having friends or classmates with whom she felt she could safely and unabashedly share her own traditions made her feel unrelatable and alone. So Beik kept her beliefs and culture confined to her home. It wasn’t until the end of her first year as an Anteater that she found her footing, thanks to a course she took on deconstructing diversity.

Nora Beik (left), an international studies and political science major at UCI and a student leader in the Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program, chats with a local high schooler.

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I get to help these students grow into the adults they want to be, even if they don’t know it yet.

“For the first time, I got to be part of discussions about controversial issues like race, gender, religion, and sexuality,” Beik says. “And it was amazing.” The class motivated her to become involved in campus groups with diversity at their core, including the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative. Part of its inaugural cohort, she spent a summer visiting Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and meeting with social justice advocates. As academic chair of the School of Social Sciences Dean’s Ambassadors Council, Beik leads the quarterly Dinner & Discourse series of roundtable discussions among faculty and students on difficult subjects. And now, as one of the first members of the Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program, she’s working hard to change the diversity narrative for others. “Nora’s experience of feeling like an outsider because of her religion and culture is one of the key things we’re working to mitigate,” says social sciences lecturer Teresa Neighbors, who directs both DIRHA and the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative. “DIRHA seeks to build empathy, foster cultural competency, and reduce stereotypes based on a false belief in a hierarchy of human value. “Through experiential learning, mentorship and leadership development, the program provides youth with tangible skills to improve relations across racial, religious, cultural, sexual, and economic divides, along with the self-efficacy to work toward more equitable communities.”

Nora Beik.

A campus-led community outreach program launched in 2018 with $300,000 in seed funding from the Samueli Foundation, DIRHA sends student leaders to participating local high schools for weekly discussions on such tough topics as race, gender, and religion. Four times a year, the teens come to UCI for faculty- and staff-led seminars in which they learn how to make the material digestible, thought-provoking, and age-appropriate for diversity-focused projects they implement within their schools. This year’s cohort at San Juan Hills High School, in San Juan Capistrano, launched Unity Week, a five-day lunch seminar series with speakers addressing different issues. “We had close to 200 students attend each day,” says Spanish teacher Fernanda Villalba, the school’s DIRHA coordinator. “The participants not only have grown as leaders but have been educated in some very important topics and exposed to new ways of thinking. Our first Unity Week was a huge success, and I know that this is just the beginning of a cultural change that, hopefully, will become a norm, uniting many more students in the future.” So far, 17 Orange County high schools have deployed DIRHA-based projects, reaching at least 62,000 teens with messages of inclusion, hope, and healing.

In January, the Samueli Foundation committed another $300,000 over two years to support the program’s growth. That same month, the Association of American Colleges & Universities cited DIRHA and similar racial justice programs on campus – including the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative and the Olive Tree Initiative – in naming UCI one of 13 new Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers. The designation came with an invitation for five center team members to attend the AAC&U’s annual summer institute in Atlanta and $20,000 to help fund the UCI center – which will serve as a hub for collaborative racial justice and inclusion programs on campus and in the surrounding area. For Beik, the value of the work really hits home as she leads the DIRHA group at her alma mater, Fountain Valley High School. “I get to help these students grow into the adults they want to be, even if they don’t know it yet. I get to help in a way that’s real, and I get to see the impact of what I’m doing as they implement their projects,” she says. “It’s amazing to see the breakthrough in their eyes when they realize the gravity of the lessons we cover. That’s where, I think, we start to create change, and that’s so incredibly rewarding.” •



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here’s a gap out there. A big one. And Oscar F. Rojas Perez, a 2011 UC Irvine alumnus and first-generation college student, was at risk of falling into it. It’s called the Latinx college degree gap. Simply put, Latinx Americans are half as likely to hold a college degree as non-Hispanic white adults. By the numbers According to a study by The Education Trust, 22.6 percent of Latinx Americans ages 25 to 64 held a two-year college degree or higher in 2016. More than 30 percent of black American adults had a college degree, and 47.1 percent of white adults did. That’s nearly a 25-percentage point gap in college attainment between Latinxs and whites. Furthering the gap, only 17 percent of Latinx adults who were born abroad have a college education.

Oscar Rojas Perez.

bridging the GAP UCI first-generation alumnus Oscar F. Rojas Perez is proof of the power of mentorship, and now he’s paying it forward

Hidden in the data Within that 17 percent of Latinx adults who were born abroad and have a college education you’ll find Rojas Perez. Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University Medical Campus, Massachusetts General Hospital, he graduated in 2019 from the University of Missouri with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and completed his undergraduate work with honors at UCI with a double major in Chicano/Latino studies and sociology. He was named the 2020 Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Young Alumnus award recipient. But if you rewind just a few short years, Rojas Perez didn’t even know if college was an attainable path. Born in Guatemala, he moved to the United States at the age of 5. He was raised in a single-parent household and attended school in Anaheim, but was always discouraged at school because his reading and writing skills lagged years behind his peers.

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UC Irvine created visibility. They made college seem like a real possibility.

Rerouting his path After high school he attended Fullerton Community College. His career path forever changed when a representative from UCI spoke to a group of students at Fullerton. “UC Irvine created visibility,” he says. “They made college seem like a real possibility. They communicated the requirements needed to get in, explained the transfer process, and helped me complete the forms to transfer.” Students like Rojas Perez have found a welcoming home at UCI, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution where more than 25 percent of students identify as Latinx. The campus is noted among all UCs as the top destination for first-generation college students and those from underrepresented groups. And in The Education Trust’s latest report, UCI is one of the 10 top-performing institutions closing the graduation gap between Latinx and white students. For Rojas Perez, coming to UCI marked the first time in his life that there were teachers and mentors who looked like him and encouraged his academic and personal growth. “At UC Irvine I connected with people of color and had mentors who took me under their wing and guided me through the world of academia,” he said. “They showed me what was possible, and encouraged me to consider graduate school. When I was in high school, I didn’t even know what graduate school was and now my mentors at UCI were helping me research programs that would be a good fit for me and guided me through the application process.” He was accepted into and completed the School of Social Sciences’ intensive five-

week residential “research bootcamp” known as the Summer Academic Enrichment Program where he excelled in applying academic concepts to research design and implementation. And he worked in two research labs under faculty who would become his closest mentors. For Rojas Perez, the guidance they provided was about much more than academics. “They taught me the importance of being a man of color in America. How to navigate family and the academy given that I come from a single mother household,” he says. “They provided me with consejos (life lessons) on spirituality, staying grounded, and staying true to who I am as an immigrant man of color.” Power of mentorship Who are these people who had such an impact on Rojas Perez? One mentor is Jeanett Castellanos, associate dean of undergraduate studies and teaching professor in the School of Social Sciences, who focuses her work on racial ethnic minority (REM) student psychosociocultural experiences in higher education. Together with Castellanos, Rojas Perez completed two research projects – one which has since been published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity and the other to be included soon as a chapter in a book. “Oscar’s work is progressive, innovative, and imperative. Up to date, he has published 3 referred articles, 4 book chapters, and presented at 10 professional conferences,” says Castellanos. “Undoubtedly, Oscar demonstrates a record of excellence and an extraordinary commitment to scholarship and community.” Another mentor is Belinda Campos, associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies and director of the Culture, Relationships, and Health Lab where Rojas Perez worked as a research assistant. Campos is also a faculty member in the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC), taught jointly between the School of Social Sciences and the School of Medicine. In addition, she also holds an affiliation appointment in the Department of Psychological Science in the School of Social Ecology. Another important mentor was Joseph White, who passed away in 2017. He was professor emeritus of social sciences at UCI, where he spent most of his career as a teacher, supervising psychologist, and director of ethnic studies and cross-cultural programs. He was a pioneer in the field of black

psychology and was affectionately referred to by students, mentees, and younger colleagues as the “godfather of black psychology.” With three influential mentors who worked in psychology for minority populations, it’s no surprise that Rojas Perez has patterned his research off their inspiration. His master’s thesis in counseling psychology was about redefining Latinx immigrant wellbeing. His work now revolves around creating assessment tools and treatment methods that are better suited to the community of color. Creating his own legacy “The psychological assessments currently used are based on white students and the suggested treatment plans are also based on their cultural norms. Those don’t work for Latinxs and people of color. We need to develop a different way to assess their wellbeing and mental health. And develop a different path for treatment,” he says. His research indicates that Latinxs need a more holistic construct that aligns better with their belief system to determine wellbeing. “For the Latinx community, we focus on a more holistic construct that includes family and spirituality. These domains are equally as important as the individual construct,” he says. Rojas Perez is continuing to develop these tools and treatment methods to better reach an underserved population. Practice within a clinic and furthering his research, he hopes to give a voice to the mental health of Latinxs and the immigrant population by educating the public, other practitioners, and influencing policy that affects the wellbeing of minority groups. Today it’s easy to see the positive impact he will have on his field and in the lives of so many who may never have received proper care for their mental health if not for his research and expertise. This is the power of mentorship, encouragement, and a push in the right direction. •



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POOLSIDE REFLECTIONS Dean’s Leadership Society member Ofer Horn turns lessons from an acclaimed UCI coach into business success

Ofer Horn.

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he UCI student-athletes who played for the legendary Ted Newland knew him as more than a water polo coach, but a force of nature who taught skills for success both in and out of the pool. “His mentality was that there’s no big secret in life. You get what you put into it,” recalls Ofer Horn, who competed with the Anteater water polo team for three years. More than two decades later, that philosophy continues to guide Horn professionally and personally. With a work ethic instilled by Newland, Horn founded a company that has facilitated more than $1.5 billion in loans for small businesses. In the era of COVID-19, he’s has been busier than ever, facilitating equipment loans for medical industry and food packaging companies suddenly facing an uptick in demand. Hard work Horn grew up in Israel and Africa’s Ivory Coast, following his dad’s civil engineering jobs, before the family settled in Fountain Valley, California, when he was 9. There, he took up water polo, developing a reputation as a smart and aggressive player, and earning a spot on the USA Water Polo Men’s Junior National Team. When Horn was recruited by colleges, he avoided UCI at first; too close to home, and was that Newland guy nuts? But after Horn played his freshman year at UC Santa Barbara, the departing coach released him to go to UCI and join old friends he’d been competing both alongside and against for years. Horn learned that Newland was intense and unconventional, but far from crazy. The only way to be better than the person next to you, Newland preached, was to put in more work than that person. Being “on time” to practice meant arriving 20 minutes early. “He was big on preparation, taking accountability for your actions, and hard work,” says Horn. “He devoted more than any coach out there, and that’s why he had more successful athletes.”

“But he never expected you to put in any more time than he did,” Horn adds. If his athletes had to start weight training at 5:45 a.m., Newland would be at the gym at 5 a.m. to get started. At the end of the day, if a player stayed to shoot the ball for another hour after practice ended at 8:30 p.m., Newland would stay at the pool. A drive for business Out of the water, Horn majored in social science, which further expanded the global perspective he had developed as a young child. He looked to his older sister and her future husband, who were also attending UCI, for advice on what to do with his career. His brother-in-law Shane Whiteside suggested Horn pursue finance, since he was good with numbers and had a knack for communicating with people. Until college, the only work experience on Horn’s resume was four summers as a Huntington Beach lifeguard, so he set about getting an internship doing billing and collecting in Los Angeles. But the four-hour round-trip commute was exhausting him. The Anteater alumni network saved the day — and put Horn on the path to his future career. Former water polo player Marc Hunt, who is now the head water polo coach, offered Horn an internship at the finance company he then worked at in Orange County. Horn earned minimum wage cold calling businesses to see if they needed loans to finance their equipment. It wasn’t glamorous, but Horn genuinely enjoyed it. When he left UCI, he returned to the company to work full time as a telemarketer, and leaned on Newland’s lessons. Horn says he worked an extra four or five hours a week, adding up to 20 hours a month, in an effort to make up for his lack of business experience.



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Give it all you’ve got, don’t hold back, and don’t be scared to continue to push yourself to be better.

“It really builds your self-confidence when you’re working harder than the person next to you,” says Horn. “I put in more effort, came to work early, read books about the industry, and that’s how I excelled in my job.” In 2004, Horn and a colleague took the bold step of launching their own company, Providence Capital Funding. By facilitating equipment loans for small and mid-size businesses, which can vary from furniture for a law firm to refrigerators for a restaurant, they have helped more than 20,000 businesses to date. “99 percent of startups get declined by banks,” says Horn. “That’s where we can have a real impact, getting customers approved for financing by explaining the story of the business, the business owner, where they came from, and why they’re going to be successful.” It often comes down to storytelling, Horn says. Working with entrepreneurs, many of whom are immigrants like him and his parents, Horn draws on the understanding he gained from social sciences encompassing diversity, global cultures, economics, politics, and psychology. “Social sciences helped me be a little bit more well-rounded,” he says. As companies grapple with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Horn’s work has become even more critical. Some of his existing clients are struggling due to mandatory closures, and so he is helping them arrange payment deferments on their loans. Meanwhile, food packaging and medical industries are seeing a sudden surge in demand, and he and his team are helping them rapidly secure equipment loans to meet their critical needs. Always an Anteater Both water polo and UCI continue to be a major part of Horn’s life, even as he manages his business and raises a family with his wife, Susan.

Their 11-year-old daughter is already showing an early knack for entrepreneurship, selling novelty slime online. Horn helped coach two of his now grown step children’s water polo teams, and their dedication led to college opportunities - one even graduated from UCI. Horn also still competes in the UCI Alumni Water Polo games and is involved with the Newport Water Polo Foundation. He is also an active member of the School of Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society, through which he supports student scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention, research, and other critical emerging needs. “I wanted to contribute back to the school,” says Horn. “Dean Maurer does a phenomenal job and is very passionate about the school, so I felt it was worthwhile to invest into that program, especially if it could help students.” Horn also gives a talk to current water polo players each year, passing along his tips for life after college. “UCI has a lot of resources available to students, so don’t take that for granted and don’t just go through the motions,” he tells them. Then he offers a hard truth: “You’re not going to get hired just because you have a degree.” He urges students to visit the UCI Career Center, apply for internships, and leverage the thriving network of Anteater alumni. Horn, who launched his career with the help of an internship from an alum, currently employs three UCI alumni at Providence. “Give it all you’ve got, don’t hold back, and don’t be scared to continue to push yourself to be better,” he says. “Nothing is going to get handed to you in life.” He’s passing on the lessons that have been in the Anteater playbook for decades. •

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Several members of the UCI Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society pictured with dean Bill Maurer.

dean’s LEADERSHIP society How to get involved and support scholarships, research, and initiatives


he Dean’s Leadership Society provides an opportunity for alumni, parents, community, faculty, and staff to support the school at various commitment levels, while receiving special recognition and opportunities to engage in the school’s growth. Members join an influential network of supporters and likeminded individuals who are deeply committed to enriching the UCI social sciences and university’s national prominence. Gifts to the DLS support specific projects determined annually in consultation with the DLS chair and Executive Committee.

Past gifts have supported award winning student programs such as scholarships for UCDC students, Mock Trial, and Global Connect, along with critical funding for faculty retention and recruitment. Members have enjoyed a charter member brick campaign and naming recognition in a classroom renovation. To learn more, contact Liz Codispoti, Director, 949.824.8079 or Membership levels range from $1500 to $25,000. •



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leading change, no matter the DISTANCE Claudia Bonilla Keller ’87 boldly advocates for brighter futures in L.A. and O.C.

Claudia Keller earned the 2020 Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Alumnus award in the School of Social Sciences.


hat about the distance?

Claudia Bonilla Keller instantly heard high-school students’ nervousness when they asked her this question. They knew she had grown up in the South Bay before heading off to UC Irvine for her undergraduate studies. She could understand their trepidation about leaving home. She also knew how swiftly a single road trip could alleviate their concerns. Working as chief program officer for LA Promise Fund from 2012 to 2019, Keller oversaw college-access services as part of a broad spectrum of programming for stu-

dents in Los Angeles. Planning UCI tours for LA Promise Fund’s students and parents became something of a specialty of hers. “I’ve brought busloads of students and parents from L.A. to UCI to show them the fantastic opportunities that are just a 45-minute drive down the freeway,” said Keller, a 1987 graduate of UCI’s School of Social Sciences. “Bringing first-generation students to tour the campus has meant a great deal to me. I’ve seen firsthand how UCI has lived up to its promise of serving all students, and really being an economic engine for immigrants and for all people.” Keller is a force for change in her own right. In honor of her exemplary career

and momentous contributions to UCI, she was named the 2020 Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in the School of Social Sciences. Talking with Keller, it’s clear that she doesn’t view problems for their seeming impossibilities. She looks for opportunities to drive change through smart ideas and decisive action. In 2005, this resolve led her to begin working as a social justice advocate. She pivoted away from a thriving career of 18-plus years in retail and fashion, an industry where she worked in marketing and public relations for powerhouse brands such as Calvin Klein, Vans, and the Irvine-based St. John Knits.

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To me, there’s no better feeling than watching the university thrive and knowing you’re part of that. You can give financially. You can give of your time and advice. You can show up.

With her vast business experience, she was the natural choice to lead the American Heart Association in Los Angeles as executive director, a role she held for seven years. In September 2012, she joined LA Promise Fund and remained there for more than seven years. Today, she is back in Irvine, serving as the chief mission officer of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, where she began working in February. In her new role, she is putting her passion and energy into helping to keep the food bank innovative, nimble, and responsive to the needs of those it serves in Orange County. Now more than ever, the mission of Second Harvest is critical to so many affected by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she says. “More than 290,000 food-insecure individuals in Orange County relied on Second Harvest for support before the current crisis through its pantry and partner network. Now, in light of the furloughs and lay-offs occurring in the county’s largest employment sectors, the food bank and its network are responding to an additional and new constituency - the newly vulnerable who have little or no experience accessing emergency food or social benefits,” she says. “This demand has caused the organization to drastically change its sourcing and distribution models in order to rise to the tsunami of need it now confronts.” And while this challenge might seem daunting to some, driving change is where Keller thrives. “People ask, ‘How the heck did you go from

a political science degree into the fashion industry and then into the nonprofit sector, working for organizations that focus on foundational needs such as health and education?’ And it is an unusual trajectory,” Keller said. “Working to ameliorate situations in our society is what excites me, and I think that was inculcated in me at UCI.” Amid her thriving career as a nonprofit executive, she made time for graduate studies at Cal State Fullerton. In 2017, she obtained a master’s degree in public administration and urban management, an achievement that she called “a through-line with a 30year interruption.” Keller credits her parents for emphasizing education from as early as she can remember. “Because of my parents, it just never was a question that I would go to college,” she said. “Had it not been for their belief that education is key, I easily could have had a different path.” They also were resolute about her bilingualism in Spanish and English. Her mom had emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S., and her dad came from Colombia. They met at Los Angeles Community College when they were taking classes to learn English. “My parents were still mastering the English language when I was born, so I grew up speaking Spanish at home,” Keller said. “They were insistent about that, and I’m grateful to them for ensuring I learned both, especially in spite of the potential for stigmatization of language for immigrants.” This was just one way her childhood experiences rippled into her work at LA Promise Fund. When she spoke with Spanish-speaking students, she would share with them about her own experiences learning English in school and becoming bilingual. She’d then exhort them, just as her parents had to her: “Don’t lose your Spanish!” The manifold programs that Keller led at LA Promise Fund ranged from health services, to STEM initiatives for girls, to parent engagement programs, and more. Bill Maurer, dean of UCI’s School of Social Sciences, admired Keller’s leadership and how LA Prom-

ise Fund prepared students for success in college, in their careers, and throughout life. “I saw that Claudia and I share the belief that education requires advocates, people who seek to nurture well-rounded success at the individual level and scale those initiatives to effect community-wide change,” Maurer said. “Claudia’s career has been proof of her ability to ideate systemic improvements. Just as importantly, she’s someone who can powerfully execute those ideas.” In 2015, Keller channeled her creativity and dynamism into serving as founding co-chair of the Dean’s Leadership Society (DLS) at the School of Social Sciences. Maurer also asked her fellow alumna Janice Cimbalo ’87, senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle and the 2013 Alumna of the Year in Social Sciences, to serve as founding co-chair of the academic support group. Together, Keller and Cimbalo focused on finding new ways to spotlight the school’s valuable work. Their DLS work was more than an invitation to get involved. It was a rallying call, and they saw alumni, parents, community members, faculty, and staff respond in a groundswell of support for the school. Serving as co-chairs was a natural partnership for the two friends, who first met as students at UCI’s Student Parent Orientation Program (SPOP). They reconnected through UCI’s Los Angeles Alumni Chapter in 2006, after Keller’s career took her to L.A. “For the entire time I have known her, Claudia has always reflected a seamless blend of leadership and humility in ensuring that she mentors and serves those coming behind her,” Cimbalo said. “She is the personification of the kind of leader and citizen UCI strives to develop.” Now that Keller’s career has brought her back to Irvine, she’s excited to be even more connected with UCI and find new ways to support the university’s growth. “To me, there’s no better feeling than watching the university thrive and knowing you’re part of that,” she said. “You can give financially. You can give of your time and advice. You can show up.” •



be bold

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ahead of the

CURVE Race car driver Samantha Tan, ’20 economics, is an international role model



be bold

L Be proud of who you are, and don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do.

ike any social sciences student, Samantha Tan ’20 studies, works out at the gym, and hangs out with friends. But as a professional race car driver, she is anything but typical. Tan is breaking ground internationally as one of the fastest and youngest women in her racing class, and inspiring legions of young girls along the way.

Her speedy ascent in the world of racing was not universally welcomed.

Growing up outside of Toronto, Canada, Tan’s love affair with speed began at the tender age of 5, when her dad gave her a motorized Jeep. She drove the toy car so fast, and turned so aggressively, that she drifted all over the driveway.

Zot speed When Tan started looking at colleges, Southern California beckoned, with its strong community of car enthusiasts, proximity to racing tracks, and the promise of year-round driving weather. UCI ended up being the perfect fit, and as soon as she posted a photo of a stuffed Anteater on her steering wheel to her Facebook page, fellow Anteaters started reaching out to welcome her to the family.

Tan learned to drive a real car when she was 12, seated on a pillow to help her see over the steering wheel. By the time she was 14, she became the youngest driver to attend the Ferrari Driving Experience at Quebec’s Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant. And at an age when most of her peers were getting their driver’s licenses, she was racing her Mini Cooper in the Canadian Touring Car Championship, where she took 5th place.

“There aren’t that many females in the automotive industry, so we have to go into it being tough skinned,” says Samantha Tan ’20 economics.

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

“There aren’t that many females in the automotive industry, so we have to go into it being tough skinned,” she says. “Whenever I see negative comments, it’s just motivation for me to prove them wrong. I just get angry and I go faster.”

With her dad being a business owner and her mom a financial analyst, Tan chose to follow in her parents’ footsteps academically and major in economics. The biggest challenge, she says, was learning to balance school and racing. She competes in six or seven events during a typical racing season, which runs from March to October. Each weekend includes a practice on the track, a qualifying race and the final event. Because of the grueling schedule, college can be a challenge for racecar drivers. “Samantha is a very responsible student, who took ownership of her class schedule and her academic career,” says Chika Kono, associate director of undergraduate student affairs in social sciences and Tan’s academic advisor. “She actually never told me that she was racing, but it speaks volumes that at UCI, she didn’t feel like she had to choose between her passion and her education.” To make it work, Tan doubled down on her organization and time management skills - and gratefully accepted help from classmates, friends, and TAs. And sometimes, she just has to make it work, like in winter quarter when she raced all weekend, and flew home Sunday night to take a midterm on Monday morning. In the driver’s seat Tan trains year-round for the rigors of racing, spending time on cardio at the gym, gokart racing, and using virtual reality simulators to prepare for specific tracks.

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UCI’s Samantha Tan isn’t afraid to break barriers, and with her work, she’s paving a path for others to follow.

“Driving is 85 percent mental but at my level, the physical aspect definitely does help,” she says. “Cardio endurance training helps lower your heart rate and control your breathing.” In an hour-long sprint race, wearing three layers of clothing and protective gear, temperatures in the driver’s seat can get up to 110 degrees. Braking at the turns requires 90 pounds of pressure on the pedal. And, it takes nerves of steel. She’s been bumped by other drivers, had to swerve around debris, and once even crashed into a wall at 100 m.p.h. – and walked away with just a sprained ankle. The physical demands of racing are often given as a reason why it’s remained a man’s sport for so long. But science disagrees. Tan participated in a Michigan State University study, published last year in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, that compared heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature among male and female drivers while racing, and found no difference in how the men and women react to stress on the track. The authors concluded women will eventually win racing championships. And that’s motivating – and selfaffirming – news for Tan. To improve her performance, after every session, she reviews data from her cars, evaluating when she’s braking too early, or where she could carry more speed through a corner.

“I like calculated risks - that sets me apart from some drivers who are very instinctual,” Tan says. “The data, and seeing the numbers, that definitely helps me.” And having a solid background in data tools, thanks to her economics training, provides her firm footing in how to accurately examine risk and reward both on and off the track. Paving the way In 2016, to gain greater control over her race career and her team operations, Tan pitched her dad the idea of forming their own race team. He didn’t need much convincing. “Cars and racing are a hobby for my dad, and he’s living vicariously through me,” Tan laughs. Her team, ST Racing, now includes two BMW M4 GT4s, six mechanics, and four drivers, including her. She placed second at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas last year, her first time making the podium in the GT4 driver championship. She also made history there, when she was one of two women (the other being Harvard University student Aurora Strauss) both leading the race in their respective classes, at the same time. One of Tan’s favorite things to do after races is meet fans, many of whom are young girls, excited to see a woman behind the wheel. “Even if people say that you can’t do something because of your gender or your age, which I definitely experienced when I first

started racing, I want these girls to know that they can be successful,” says Tan. “You just have to put the time in and the dedication.” Tan has her sights set on becoming the first woman to win the Dubai 24 Hour Race, an endurance race in which she and her teammates take turns driving. She gave it a go last year, but the competition ended early when heavy rains flooded the track. “Samantha is making a name for herself as a woman in racing, which is still not very common,” says Noah Stein, a fourth-year mechanical engineering and German studies major, who is a friend of Tan’s and team manager of the Anteater Formula Racing race car engineering project. “But she is very modest, and she works hard so that her driving talent on the track speaks for itself. With that mindset, she has risen and will continue to rise above her rivals’ expectations.” After graduating, Tan hopes to put her economics degree to use by becoming ST Racing’s business manager, taking more leadership of the team’s statistics and operations. “As a young Asian female, I fit in a lot of minority categories, and I’ve been fighting stereotypes my whole career,” Tan says. “But I tell people to be proud of who you are, and don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do.” •



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retaining cognitive


UCI-led study finds online brain games can extend in-game ‘cognitive youth’ into old age, enabling seniors to multitask mentally on par with those 50 years younger


UCI-led study has found that online brain game exercises can enable people in their 70s and even 80s to multitask cognitively as well as individuals 50 years their junior. This is an increasingly valuable skill, given today’s daily information onslaught, which can divide attention and be particularly taxing for older adults. “The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance,” says lead author Mark Steyvers, a UCI professor of cognitive sciences. “We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds.”

For the study, Steyvers and his colleagues partnered with Lumosity, an online platform that offers a variety of daily brain training games. They focused on data from “Ebb and Flow” – a task-switching game that challenges the brain’s ability to shift between cognitive processes interpreting shapes and movement.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore the cognitive cost of multitasking, which dilutes function by splitting focus, as well as the ways in which people across the lifespan can overcome the brain drain brought on by both the increasingly cluttered multimedia environment and the natural aging process.

Of the millions of people who played the game between 2012 and 2017, researchers randomly sampled the performance of about 1,000 users within two categories: those who ranged in age from 21 to 80 and had completed fewer than 60 training sessions; and adults 71 to 80 who had logged at least 1,000 sessions.

uci soc sci

“Medical advances and improved lifestyles are allowing us to live longer,” says Mark Steyvers, UCI cognitive scientist. “It’s important to factor brain health into that equation. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.”

The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance.

They found that the majority of older and highly practiced players were able to match or exceed the performance of younger users who had not played very much. Any lead seniors had on their younger counterparts significantly declined after the 21- to 30-year-olds completed more than 10 practice sessions. For their work, Steyvers and Lumos Labs – the parent company behind Lumosity – were named recipients of the first-ever Award for Research Data Stewardship from the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF). The honor is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Medical advances and improved lifestyles

are allowing us to live longer,” Steyvers says. “It’s important to factor brain health into that equation. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.” Guy E. Hawkins, Frini Karayanidis and Scott D. Brown of Australia’s University of Newcastle contributed to the study. •



be bold

Beware: Fake Twitter accounts exploit emergencies to spread

MISINFORMATION Sociology graduate student Richard Gardner researching the phenomenon earns competitive National Science Foundation fellowship


hen earthquakes, firestorms or hurricanes strike, people often turn to Twitter for instant updates from government agencies, news outlets, and neighbors. But user beware: networks of automated fake Twitter accounts, or “bots,” exploit exactly these emergency situations to spread propaganda or misinformation, says UCI sociology graduate student Richard Gardner. “There are whole networks of bots coordinating to try to affect the hazard and disaster response topic space,” he explains. “You might see networks of bots trying to push false information or trying to do what’s called hashtag hijacking, where they use the hashtag to spread their own ISIS- or Russian-related message.” As an example, Gardner points to the 2014 earthquake in Napa, California, in which the community used the #NapaQuake hashtag to share information. Quickly, Twitter accounts purporting to support ISIS flooded the hashtag with photos and anti-U.S. slogans. For his graduate research, Gardner is analyzing more than a decade of tweets collected by the HEROIC Project, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded program that stands for Hazards, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communication.

Richard Gardner.

He’s exploring how networks of fake Twitter accounts operate during disasters, and his findings will be relevant to the government agencies that track earthquakes, severe weather, and terrorism, and use social platforms like Twitter to communicate with the public. Ultimately, Gardner’s work could help create new technologies or apps that allow users to easily tell which tweets were created or spread by bot networks which could, in the case of high-risk disaster situations, save lives.

sociology professor Carter Butts, who himself received the fellowship as a graduate student. “I think he’s going to be a star, and I’m excited he’s going to start that career with us here at UC Irvine.” Butts, who serves as Gardner’s graduate advisor, is one of the primary reasons Gardner chose UCI to pursue his doctorate.

Gardner recently earned an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides funding for outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines so they can spend more time focused on research activities. In 2019, only 24 graduate students in sociology across the U.S. received the honor.

As a McNair Scholar at Penn State, Gardner studied the online Tulpamancy community, a group of adults who use meditation to experience hallucinations of imaginary friends they call Tulpas. The experience, which culminated with him presenting his work at a McNair symposium, piqued his interest in researching online deviance, a world that social network analysis methods can help us better understand. When Gardner dug into the subfield, he discovered Butts was the leading scholar in the field of social network analysis.

“Rick’s eminently deserving of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and it’s an indicator of his potential and the great work he’s going to do in the decades ahead,” says

Gardner now works with Butts in UCI’s Networks, Computation, and Social Dynamics (NCASD) Lab, part of a cross-disciplinary group that includes sociologists, statisticians,

uci soc sci

Networks of automated fake Twitter accounts, or “bots,” exploit emergency situations to spread propaganda or misinformation, says UCI sociology graduate student Richard Gardner.

There are whole networks of bots coordinating to try to affect the hazard and disaster response topic space.

computer scientists, and theoretical chemists all connected by social network analysis and graph theory. “Sometimes problems that I might have in trying to understand how social influence bots talk to each other can be solved by talking to members in the lab who work on different projects, or even in different fields, because the math and methodology often works out the same,” says Gardner. “It’s amazing having the lingua franca of math. I can apply intuitions about how fibrils behave from a friend’s dementia research to how humans behave in the world of social science.”

While he revels in the shared aspects of the NCASD lab’s disparate research, he also admits to initially feeling intimidated because he doesn’t have a background in math. “As a black person, I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, and often feel like I’m not supposed to be in this area,” says Gardner. “Once I got the NSF award, it was a really reaffirming moment, and confirmation that I belong in this space.” Gardner says he would not have gotten the fellowship if not for UCI’s Competitive Edge Summer Program. The program brings graduate students from diverse backgrounds to campus weeks before their graduate program officially starts in the fall. Over the summer, the participants begin conducting research, attend workshops and participate in reading groups - basically jumpstarting their graduate career. The program also pairs students with faculty and peer mentors who help the students revise and refine their proposals for funding opportunities like the prestigious NSF graduate fellowship.

“The challenge is that, for financial reasons, it’s not always possible for students to come to campus and start their research in the summer,” says Butts. “For those who do, I see a huge impact on their trajectory in the first years of grad school.” Competitive Edge overcomes this challenge by providing a stipend and on-campus housing to participants. For Gardner, that headstart on his graduate research meant finishing his winning NSFGRFP proposal by the fall of his first year. Plus, last summer, with just one year of grad school under his belt, he was able to present some of his research at the Sunbelt Social Networks Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis in Montreal. “This research is not for the faint of heart, but Rick has been a really enthusiastic student and gone straight into the hard stuff,” says Butts. “It’s already yielding important results that are going to have practical implications that will affect how federal agencies keep the public informed during disasters.” •



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incentives to


Economists from UCI and the New York Federal Reserve are teaming up to study whether a key California tax credit for businesses boosts job creation


purring business development – particularly through job creation - in economically depressed areas improves community conditions, the theory goes. But UCI economist David Neumark has found that’s not always the case. In 2009, he conducted a highly critical study of California’s Enterprise Zone Program, finding the costly program largely ineffective at creating new businesses and jobs. The state listened, citing Neumark’s report – among others – in the program’s 2013 rescission. In its place, then-governor Jerry Brown launched the California Competes Tax Credit. The program boasts a large discretionary component that awards credits where they will have the largest impact, and the ability to recapture tax credits if hiring goals aren’t met. Five years into the program, Neumark – a newly elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

– and economists Matthew Freedman, UCI, and Benjamin Hyman, New York Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are evaluating the effectiveness of the new program at creating jobs. Their work is supported by a $144,658 grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation. “The CCTC represents a new generation of geographically targeted, place-based policies aimed at improving local economic conditions,” says Neumark who also co-directs UCI’s Center for Population, Inequality, and Policy. “The innovative discretionary component and ability to recapture tax credits if benchmarks aren’t met make the CCTC program one of the more promising policies out there.” Since its launch in 2013, the CCTC has awarded approximately $150 million a year in tax credits to businesses in four different categories: growth projects for firms already in-state; out-of-state applicants looking to

uci soc sci

From 2000-16, more than 6 million manufacturing jobs vanished in the U.S. Place-based policies such as the California Competes Tax Credit have been launched in response with the goal of boosting job creation and business growth in economically distressed areas. Neumark and team are undertaking a two-year study to determine the CCTC’s effectiveness.

The innovative discretionary component and ability to recapture tax credits if benchmarks aren’t met make the CCTC program one of the more promising policies out there.

relocate to California; retention awards for businesses threatening to leave the state; and projects relocating within California. Awards can run from $80,000-$10 million, with the average award from 2013-18 totaling roughly $850,000. “The CCTC has essentially two goals: to encourage firms in the state to grow, and to encourage firms to come to California,” says Freedman. “The hope is to create good jobs with wages that meet or exceed those where the credits are awarded.” To determine the program’s effectiveness at meeting these objectives, the researchers will compare employment data of CCTC recipients to businesses that did not receive the credit using the National Establishment Time Series Database and confidential establishment-level data from the California Census Research Data Center, housed at UCI. The comparison will give researchers rich insight on employment growth, busi-

ness entry, exit, and relocation, and other outcomes that will be used to gauge the effectiveness of the CCTC at spurring economic development through job creation. “The CCTC is an ideal hiring credit to study because it embeds what may very well be “best practices” into its design with its focus on discretionary awards and incentivized benchmarks,” says Neumark. “Whether we fail to find evidence of any positives for the program and its cost, or we find positive impacts that reinforce the value aspects of CCTC’s design that other states or the federal government could adopt, research on its effectiveness is of great interest to policymakers everywhere interested in alleviating poverty in their local communities.” •



be bold

a global


Through teaching, research, and action, UCI professor and chair Eve Darian-Smith is an ardent advocate for globalizing public education in the 21st century


ublic education is under attack, Eve Darian-Smith wrote in an essay published earlier this year in New Global Studies. The professor and chair of UCI’s Department of Global and International Studies points to decreased funding, rising hyper-nationalism, and antidemocratic trends worldwide as assailants of - and precisely reasons for - globalizing public education. “We see countless examples of governments deliberately condemning educational institutions - from verbal abuse of teachers in the U.S. and attacks on teacher unions in the Philippines, to the imprisonment and disappearance of educators in Turkey and Iran,” she says. “These acts are meant to silence.”

Closing down conversations encourages narrow-minded thinking, parochial attitudes, and exclusive nationalism, and is all the more reason for expanding education aimed at developing global thinkers, she argues. In response, she says students anywhere in the world should be encouraged to think about the historical and contemporary connections across, between, and within the global south and global north, and taught to appreciate that no one country can deal alone with pressing challenges of our times like climate change and mass migrations. She presents the interdisciplinary field of global studies as the model framework for this training. Developed with the inclusive aspirations of a liberal education minus Western assumptions that prioritize

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American and European values, global studies explains concepts – such as democracy – from local perspectives where the idea can take on vastly different meanings. This foundation gives students a more nuanced understanding of taken-for-granted ideas such as justice, human rights, and development and helps open their imagination to thinking globally, she says. “Democracy in other cultural contexts means something very different than democracy in our own culture,” she says. “It’s important that students make this distinction and understand a complex topic from a global perspective – not just the one into which they’re born or educated.” Her passion and sense of urgency for deployment of global studies worldwide are palpable. Since leaving her career as a corporate lawyer in Australia to pursue her master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology at Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively, Darian-Smith has worked to expand the field of global studies through research, teaching, and formal program development. She spent 22 years on the faculty of UC Santa Barbara where, among many other things, she chaired the global studies department and helped launch their doctoral program.

She left UCSB for UCI in 2017, the same year she and co-author Philip McCarty wrote The Global Turn, one of the foundational books in the field on how to think about and study global issues. Since her arrival in Irvine, she wasted no time formalizing the program in international studies – which administers one of the top 20 most popular majors on campus - into a full-fledged department the following year. The new status gave her the green light to pursue development of a graduate program – which was approved this year and will be accepting its first students in fall 2020 - and hire faculty members dedicated to teaching more than 500 international studies undergraduate majors and many more students in high enrollment campus elective courses. As chair, she’s shepherded the department’s core faculty count to seven professors strong with research interests spanning the globe on topics from law, political economy, and environment to media, ideology, health, gender, and sexuality. And in the spring, her department convened its second annual mentoring conference that pairs graduate students and young career faculty from institutions around the

Eve Darian-Smith.

Scholars are being imprisoned and tortured in places around the globe for bucking authoritarian views and pursuing research and teaching that points to oppression and corruption.

world with established UC scholars who in turn advise on research strategies for publishing and new methods for teaching in a global era. “Everyone learns from each other,” DarianSmith says. “By bringing junior and international scholars here to campus, we show that their work is taken seriously and their professional development as colleagues is important. We’re building a pipeline to ensure global studies evolves as a dynamic field informed by knowledge beyond the EuroAmerican academy, and infused with concepts that better reflect a global perspective.” She’s also joined forces with UCI professor Jane Newman, comparative literature, who heads up UCI’s Scholars at Risk program. The international program grants one-year visiting appointments to academics whose lives are in danger for teaching opposing regional views. “Scholars are being imprisoned and tortured in places around the globe for bucking authoritarian views and pursuing research and teaching that points to oppression and corruption,” she says. “It’s important that we not only help these scholars, but that we learn from them in thinking about how we got to this point. Why is there a global rise in leadership that threatens academic freedom? The roots are deeply historical and by applying a global studies framework, we can better understand possible solutions.” Last November, she took her impassioned message to New York City where she delivered the keynote address at The New School’s 10th anniversary celebration of its global studies program. There, she met with scholars working to further the same cause. “There is much at stake,” she says. “A global imaginary that values learning from and thinking through a plurality of cultures, races, and ethnicities with diverse religions, languages, and social relations counters exclusionary and racist ideologies of nationalism and is essential for the peaceful coexistence of future generations.” •



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language UCI language scientist Judith Kroll finds that a diverse linguistic environment boosts brain sensitivity to new learning, and exposure alone may confer some benefits of bilinguality on single-language speakers


umerous studies espouse the brain boost bilinguals boast over their single-language counterparts – among them increased executivelevel cognitive function and a four- to fiveyear delay in the risk of developing dementia symptoms. A new UCI study, however, has found that monolinguals living in a linguistically diverse environment may be reaping some of the same rewards just by being in the vicinity of multiple languages. “The phenomenon is known as ambient linguistic diversity, and we show – using EEG-measured brain activity – that it has the impact of increasing monolingual brain activity similar to what we see in bilinguals, even if the person doesn’t speak or understand a second language,” says co-author

Judith Kroll, UCI Distinguished Professor of language science. Kroll and graduate student Kinsey Bice, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, began their research on monolingual brain activity related to language exposure at Penn State University in 2015. They continued their work after relocations to UC Riverside in 2016 and to UCI in 2019. They examined how singlelanguage speakers responded neurally and behaviorally when presented with a new foreign language, in this case Finnish. “Finnish was used because it adheres to vowel harmony, a phonological constraint on how words are formed that prevents front vowels from co-occurring with back

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vowels,” Bice says. “We tested whether or not monolinguals would be able to implicitly detect, extract, and generalize these patterns to new words.” In the study, 21 females and 13 males ranging in age from 18 to 35 who identified as native English-only speakers participated in a series of Finnish vocabulary lessons and comprehension tests while wearing an EEG cap that measured brain activity. Of the 34 participants, 18 were from Centre County, Pennsylvania – an area the U.S. Census Bureau reports as 85.4 percent white in a state with just 10.3 percent of the population living in a home where a language other than English is spoken. In Southern California – where the study resumed – 44 percent of the population lives in a non-English-speaking home, and in Riverside County, 35.4 percent of the population is white. At UC Riverside, 16 monolingual research subjects completed the same learning tasks after donning EEG caps. The computerized training presented participants with 60 Finnish words intermixed with 45 nonwords that violated the unique vowel harmony rule dictated by the vowel used in a word’s first syllable. Real words were accompanied by a picture and native Finnish pronunciation, while fake words were not. Subjects were asked to learn about what kind of words do and do not Judith Kroll.

Monolinguals living in linguistically diverse contexts regularly overhear languages they do not understand and may absorb information about those languages in ways that shape their language networks.

belong in the Finnish language. The goal of the study was to test whether or not participants would pick up on the vowel harmony violations and generalize the pattern to distinguish real from made-up words. Researchers found that behaviorally, neither group was able to do this. There was, however, a marked difference in the electrophysiological measurements of the Pennsylvania and Southern California subjects. California monolinguals’ brains were reliably distinguishing between previously unseen but real Finnish words and vowel harmony violations, evidenced by an anterior late positivity – a brain wave that appears after half a second – that’s similarly seen in bilinguals. Many previous studies have shown that there is often a disparity in behavioral and brain responses, with the brain outpacing behavior in revealing new learning. “Monolinguals living in linguistically diverse contexts regularly overhear languages they do not understand and may absorb information about those languages in ways that shape their language networks,” Kroll says. “Considering the consequences of the ambient environment together with other sources of individual variation will frame an important new agenda for research on language, learning, and cognition.” •



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where have all the

moderates gone? Political science assistant professor Danielle Thomsen studies whether primary voters prefer partisan polarization

Danielle Thomsen.


anielle Thomsen studies an increasingly endangered species: political moderates in Congress. One of the greatest threats to moderate candidates might be the primary election process itself, at least according to elected officials, she says. The new assistant professor of political science at UCI recently received a grant from the independent nonprofit Social Science Research Council to put this idea to the test. The primary election system has long been blamed for worsening political polarization and gridlock in Congress, she explains. Senator Charles Schumer even called primaries “a menace to governing.� As the argument goes, in primary elections, where each party chooses its favorite to advance to the final election, more conservative Republicans and more liberal Democrats tend to emerge as winners. The belief is so widely held that in 2010, California adopted a different primary election system that many hoped would lead to the election of more moderate candidates. In the new system, the top-two primary, all candidates are listed on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and the two with the most votes advance to the election. But, since the change, researchers found no real difference in the election of moderate candidates - at least at the congressional level.

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With a $10,000 grant from the Social Science Research Council, Thomsen surveyed 1,000 voters who cast ballots in previous primary elections to determine whether voters in primary elections actually prefer partisan polarization, and if they might be persuaded to vote for more moderate options. Thomsen asked voters to choose among hypothetical candidates who were described as moderate, ideological, often working across the aisle, or rarely working across the aisle. She found that voters preferred the more ideologically extreme candidates from their party above all else. “The results suggest that if primary voters are informed about the ideology of candidates, they will prefer more extreme Republicans and Democrats,” Thomsen concludes based on a preliminary analysis. In addition, some of the voters were shown a paragraph that gently reminded them that voting for extreme partisans contributes to political polarization and gridlock. This additional step did not have much influence on the outcome. “Invoking partisan conflict didn’t seem to move the needle,” Thomsen says. These findings, which will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals in the future, should be of particular interest to groups that aim to support moderate or pragmatic candidates, such as the Blue Dog Democrats and the Republican Main Street Partnership. Furthermore, Thomsen suggests that presidential candidates probably will not fashion themselves as moderates in the current political climate. “Someone like Joe Biden, who is a relatively moderate Democrat, probably will not present himself in this way during the primary season,” Thomsen says. “But candidates can craft different, and evolving, narratives about themselves.” Thomsen also points out that other research has shown that at lower levels of elected office, like the state or congressional level, even primary voters have a hard time figuring out where real-life candidates fall on an ideological spectrum.

The results suggest that if primary voters are informed about the ideology of candidates, they will prefer more extreme Republicans and Democrats.

Her survey only examines voter preferences when they are presented with information about candidate ideology. Thomsen began her professorial post at UCI in the fall, following a one-year fellowship at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, where she pursued her research on congressional candidates, including the type of people who are most likely to run for Congress. The author of Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates, Thomsen found that the candidate pool for congressional office has become more politically extreme in recent years, further exacerbating the gulf between the parties. Her next project looks at congressional candidates who file to raise money but drop out before the primary and how they differ from those who remain in the race. In 2019, she received the American Political Science Association’s Emerging Scholar Award, granted by the Political Organizations and Parties section. The honor recognizes an early stage scholar with exceptional promise. Despite the findings of her ongoing research, Thomsen is not convinced we’re doomed to a future of extremist elected officials and partisan gridlock. “I actually don’t think it’s the end-all for moderates,” she says. “Several relatively moderate Democrats were elected to Congress in 2018, and if they can leverage their votes in the current session they could serve as models for future moderates to run.” •



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PHOBIA Book by UCI sociologist Sabrina Strings explores the religious and racial origins of society’s obsession with thinness

Sabrina Strings.

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hen your breakout book is reviewed by Essence, Bitch Media and Ms., you know your topic has struck a chord.

Q: For as long as most people can remember, thin has been in. This automatically puts fat at odds with the societal standard. What’s the fallout?

That’s the case with Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, which hit shelves last May.

A: I appreciate this framing: that thin has been in for many years. Indeed, it has been the predominant fashion for women throughout all of our lifetimes. That statement is an important reminder that the preference for svelte physiques is, first and foremost, aesthetic. In my research, I found that thinness has been a mainstream archetype in the U.S. since at least the early 19th century. That precedes the medical establishment’s concerns about excess weight by nearly 100 years. It shows that slimness – while today associated with medical concerns – was not primarily, historically, about health.

In it, the UCI assistant professor of sociology discusses the stigma of larger – primarily female – body types and how deep racial and religious roots, rather than health concerns, led Western society to favor the lean. Here, she weighs in on how slimness became popular and the centuries-long repercussions of this ideal for women of all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Even if black women have historically formed the center of concern, the goal of race scientists, Protestant reformers and, later, doctors was to convince all Americans that being fat was a woeful state of affairs that all should shun.

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Q: Your book focuses on the historical origins of fat phobia. Give us a CliffsNotes version of how society arrived at the contemporary ideal of slenderness.

of racial or gender identity in America today, we are all encouraged to avoid becoming fat. The stakes are evident: Thinness is privileged, and fatness is stigmatized.

A: As I noted, fat phobia is not based on health concerns. What I found in my research is that in the West, it’s actually rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Protestantism. In the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonists and race scientists suggested that black people were sensuous and thus prone to sexual and oral excesses. Protestantism encouraged temperance in all pleasures, including those of the palate. By the early 19th century, particularly in the U.S., fatness was deemed evidence of immorality and racial inferiority.

Q: What about the claim that obesity causes chronic diseases and higher risk of death, particularly for black women?

Q: What does race have to do with this? A: Race was integral to the issue. At the onset of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, skin color was often used to determine racial belonging. But by the 18th century, skin color (after years of interracial sex in the colonies) proved a poor sorting mechanism. What we had by the 19th century was a new racial discourse that suggested black people were also inherently voracious. Combine this with the displacement of poor Europeans in the 19th century (i.e., Irish, Southern Italians and Russian Jews), and white Americans were being advised to fear black people, as well as these “degraded” or supposedly “part-black” Europeans, who were also purportedly identifiable by their weight and skin color. Q: Your book frames fat phobia in the context of women’s bodies. What implications does this research have for men? And on the flip side, what’s the significance for thin people? A: These are important questions, and I get them frequently: What about fat people who aren’t black? What about men? My response is that fat phobia affects everyone. Even if black women have historically formed the center of concern, the goal of race scientists, Protestant reformers and, later, doctors was to convince all Americans that being fat was a woeful state of affairs that all should shun. In this way, regardless

A: By now, there have been many journalists, social scientists and even physicians who have questioned the science behind such statements. In general, the claim is that an elevated body mass index will lead to adverse health outcomes and even death. But research by Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by A. Janet Tomiyama of UCLA, and by a host of other scholars shows that these assertions are overblown. The bottom line is this: BMI is a poor measure of health outcomes. Rather than trying to make people conform to a (flawed) weight standard, we can do much more to improve health outcomes in our communities by addressing systemic issues such as food security, neighborhood food availability, and access to potable water. •



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a humanity SEEN Writer and UCI professor Héctor Tobar wants you to tell your story


rowing up in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, Héctor Tobar did not know he would one day become a full-time writer. In fact, he did not even know writing could be a profession, even though his early life was filled with an appreciation for literature. This might come as a surprise to those who are acquainted with Tobar’s literary work. The UCI associate professor of Chicano/ Latino studies and literary journalism has authored four books, including the New York Times Best Seller, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free, which was adapted into a film starring Antonio Banderas.

An accomplished journalist, Tobar won a Pulitzer Prize for contributing to the reporting of the Los Angeles riots for The Los Angeles Times.

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

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An accomplished journalist, Tobar won a Pulitzer Prize for contributing to the reporting of the Los Angeles riots for The Los Angeles Times. His short stories have also been widely published. Tobar, who earned his M.F.A in fiction from UCI, now teaches writing courses through the UCI School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences. Tobar’s love for the literary world stems not from a long lineage of avid readers and writers; on the contrary. His father, who migrated from Guatemala at 21-years-old, only made it to 6th grade. His paternal grandmother was illiterate. Once in the United States, his father immediately attended night school and picked up English rather quickly, which led to an insatiable appetite for literature in both English and Spanish. At 78-years-old, he still reads one book a week. “My father carried this shame,” says Tobar. “I think that’s present in a lot of Latino families: this sense that we have been denied the chance to fulfill ourselves as human beings, to express all of our humanity. So my father subconsciously passed that on to me: this desire to be seen, to have one’s humanity seen completely.” As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, Tobar was set on becoming a doctor. But that quickly changed after he took his first Latin American studies course and discovered the region’s tumultuous history for the first time; he made it his new major. He recalls how his professor would thoroughly markup his work, which made Tobar feel like the professor truly respected him as a thinker. This encouraged him to contribute his writings to publications at his school, however, it still didn’t occur to him that he could write for a living. After working in childhood education for a while, Tobar began to volunteer at a community newspaper in San Francisco called El Tecolote, where he became an editor at age 23. That’s when it all clicked, and he thought, “This is what I really want to do as a profession.” He hasn’t stopped writing since, which he describes as a continuous challenge to create something totally new each time - to construct an entity. He does this through essays, short stories, novels, articles - and

often all at once as he juggles multiple projects. He incorporates the styles of fiction into his essays, and nonfictional elements into his novels. Tobar says that fiction has made him a better journalist and essayist. He recently wrote an essay for The New Yorker about growing up Latino in this day and age, where he recounted finding out that he was next-doorneighbors with James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He was only five-years-old at the time he lived in that East Hollywood neighborhood, so he didn’t realize it then. To make this world come alive, he used his imagination (without deceiving the reader) to reconstruct that past. These techniques contain the essence of literary journalism, which combines the art of language and the practical nature of research and gathering information. Tobar’s courses at UCI allow students in the social sciences the opportunity to engage in the world of literary journalism, since all of his classes, such as Writing Race, Writing the Latino Experience, and Introduction to Chicano/Latino Studies, surround a major, creative writing assignment. Tobar says that literary journalism is an advanced form of storytelling that gives students tools with which to become thinkers and writers about the world. “I tell people, ‘Write me a story, that’s the assignment. Write me a story that’s going to capture my attention. Your job is to make me cry, make me laugh, make me angry, intrigue me,’” he says. “So I collect all these stories, and they’re from all over the state: an undocumented kid from the central valley who has to get on stage and play a Morrissey song; a young woman who leaves from here every weekend and describes her bus journeys back to Calexico to see her friends and family; a kid that grew up in a farming family in Ventura county. There’s such a paucity of truly outstanding nonfiction, and I think about the contemporary experience of people who are under 30. It’s really limited and it’s hard to find, especially about people of color. There isn’t anything better that I could have people read than to read those things.” Reflecting the diversity of the students, the readings include stories told by AfricanAmerican, Latin American, Chinese, South Asian, and Arab writers.

You know, we’re small against all of the injustice in the world, but in that one moment, in this one space that you’re creating in building this story, you feel like you’re the master of it.

“What’s important about that is that people realize that they are actors and that their people have always been actors in the American story,” says Tobar. The professor pays tribute to a unique American story in his fifth book, a novel that will be published later this year. The Last Great Road Bum is based on the real life of Joe Sanderson, a white American who fought in the Salvadoran civil war, on the side of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP). Sanderson died with his backpack on, which contained a vivid diary about the war and also revealed that he had spent the last 20 years traveling the world, witnessing wars in three different continents - in hopes of finding the perfect story to tell. Eleven years ago, Tobar found a copy of Sanderson’s diary and took it upon himself to write a novel based on his life - to share a story that had previously been denied. Recently, Tobar authored a timely short story about a man in an immigration detention center, which he says is not really about any particular man in immigration detention. “The story is really about me, and it’s about being a father and it’s about feeling the corruption in the world. You know, we’re small against all of the injustice in the world, but in that one moment, in this one space that you’re creating in building this story, you feel like you’re the master of it.” •



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chasing the memory, not the high UCI cognitive scientist says memory, more than compulsion, could be to blame for relapses among those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol

A I think we’ve been looking at the model for addiction wrong.

ddiction to drugs and/or alcohol is a problem that affects millions of Americans - yet one for which treatment has advanced very little for decades, says UCI cognitive sciences professor Aaron Bornstein. And with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that 40- to 60-percent of people in recovery relapse, something’s gotta give.

“If you speak to an addict,” Bornstein says, “you will often hear stories of the first time they remember really enjoying their drug of choice. These memories will be rich, vividly detailed - what music was playing, what color shirt their friend was wearing, and so on.” Bornstein and Pickard reasoned that these memories might themselves be driving the choice to use again.

“I think we’ve been looking at the model for addiction wrong,” he says. In an article published online in Neuropsychopharmacology, he and co-author Hanna Pickard, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of philosophy and bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, present a novel theory that focuses on memory, not compulsion, as the driving factor behind addictive behavior.

Bornstein, who specializes in memory and decision making, recently earned a Rising Star Award from the Association for Psychological Science. He teamed up with Pickard - a philosopher and bioethicist with years of clinical experience - to understand how computer-simulated laboratory experiments could help answer what Pickard calls “The Puzzle of Addiction” - how we can explain

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why addicts persist in using drugs despite increasing negative consequences that might, to an outside observer, appear to outweigh any and all benefits to consumption. “My previous work has shown that episodic memory of rewarding past experiences guides our decisions in the present - sometimes to our detriment,” Bornstein says. “And, when those rewarding experiences come back to mind, they might drive us to re-live them - regardless of cost.” This idea could explain why people keep using drugs despite having repeated negative experiences. It might also explain how people can relapse, even after years without using. Put another way, the drug may have disappeared from their lives, but the memories always remain. This is a different way of looking at addiction than is typical in contemporary research. Most work on substance abuse uses rodents as models, because a great deal can be learned about the specific neural circuits that underlie a behavior, Bornstein explains. But rodent addiction in the lab differs from the human experience in several important ways. “For one, humans tend to know what they’re getting in to when they take a drug for the

Aaron Bornstein.

first time. Someone probably tells the person what they’re taking and they’re probably with friends or in an environment with lots of details that can define that moment in time,” he says. Conversely, an animal is often just hitting a lever in a box and has no idea what’s coming or how to make sense of it. So even if there is a memory of that experience, it might not be tied to the sensation they’re feeling in the same way. This may be part of the reason that addiction research tends to think of drug-seeking behavior as purely compulsion - that’s all there is in rodents, he says. “A recovering addict may know the consequences of using again, but something as seemingly innocuous as a social cue – like seeing a friend they’ve used with in the past – can bring back those past experiences, and might be enough to cause a relapse, despite the consequences,” he says. “This richness of memory is exactly why it can be so dangerous.” They reason that there’s something more happening beyond a compulsive, habit-like response. And unlocking the solutions to this puzzle may help clear the way to new treatments. “Once we understand that the drug use and relapse may sometimes be caused by the impact of episodic memories of early drug experience on present decisions, we can see a new target for intervention,” says Pickard. “Drug memories can’t be erased, but their power can be diminished, if other things that a person values can be simultaneously brought to mind when they are faced with a decision to use.” This new model suggests that treatment for addiction may need to focus on strengthening existing and creating new associations between drug cues and drug-inconsistent rewards, rather than breaking learned associations between drug cues and drug rewards - which is a common goal of many other treatments under development today. The researchers are pursuing these questions using tools from philosophy, the laboratory, and the clinic to try and understand both what drives people to remember these early drug experiences, and how to guide them to build new experiences and memories that can help them achieve the life they want to live. •



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a commanding PRESENCE Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager’s unwavering work ethic propelled her to unprecedented heights in the Army, making the ’86 UCI psychology alumna a role model for women and girls

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

Laura Yeager.


hen Laura (Brandt) Yeager joined the U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps during her freshman year at UCI in 1983, she viewed it as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The daughter of an Army helicopter pilot and Vietnam War veteran, Yeager had no intention of following her father’s footsteps into a military career; she simply needed money to pay her tuition – and the ROTC offers college scholarships in exchange for service after graduation. Since UCI didn’t yet have an ROTC program, she joined the one at nearby Cal State Long Beach.

“The more Army training I did, though, the more I found that I really liked it and I was good at it,” Yeager says. “So I thought, ‘Why not just do this for my job?’” Her ascent through the ranks to major general over her 36-year Army career is proof that she’s not just good but exceptional. A helicopter pilot with more than 1,500 flight hours and a veteran commander with experience battling everything from forest fires to drug trafficking, Yeager has earned a raft of ribbons and medals for leadership. But her latest promotion caught the world’s attention, when she shattered the Army’s brass

ceiling and became the first woman to head an Army infantry division. At a ceremony this June in Los Alamitos, upon the formal passing of the regimental flags, Yeager, 55, took command of the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, which has fought on fronts ranging from Kosovo to Korea and from France to the Philippines during its storied 102-year history. “As I held the colors,” she says, “I was imagining how many hands they had passed through prior to getting to me and how important it is for me to live up to that legacy.”

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Someone told me, ‘A psychology degree is not very useful.’ I thought, ‘Wow, you really don’t understand what leadership is all about.’

While Yeager’s decision to join the military may not have been directly inspired by her father, retired California National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert Brandt, her approach since entering the Army certainly has been. “He instilled values that have made me successful not just on the career side but in managing all the different things you have going on in your life,” she says. Punctuality is a priority, Yeager learned, as is an unwavering work ethic. “There are many people smarter than me,” she says, “but I will outwork pretty much anybody.”

tunity arose to transition out of active duty and into the Army National Guard reserves back home in California, Yeager seized it to spend more time with their growing family. “Our quality of life was so much better,” she says. Their four sons are all now grown; Scott, 24, is a specialist in the Army Reserve.

The task force draws on all branches of the military to provide support for federal law enforcement operations to prevent illicit drugs from entering the country. “It’s very important work,” Yeager says, “and with the opioid crisis, it’s needed now probably more than ever.”

When her husband retired in 2005, Yeager resumed full-time active duty with the California National Guard, which responds to not only military emergencies but natural disasters.

Today, with her groundbreaking leadership of the 40th Infantry Division, she recognizes that she’s regarded as a role model not only for her own troops but also for the women already in the armed forces (they account for 16 percent of personnel) and those contemplating a military career. “I tell people, ‘It’s very simple. The Army tells you exactly what it needs you to do. You achieve that objective, and you’ll be successful,’” Yeager says. “It’s a great career that pays well and has fantastic benefits, and you get to work with the best people.”

For example, in 2008, Yeager coordinated the air response to severe wildfires in Northern California. “We were so overwhelmed with requests for helicopters that we had to reach out to other states,” she says. “My job was to find crews, get them out here, and get them everything they needed.” In all, crews from 14 states came to California’s aid. In fall 2010, Yeager deployed to Iraq as assistant commander of the California National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade. She battled blistering heat and blustering dust storms while flying seven- to eight-hour shifts in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

Likewise, Yeager has found her degree in psychology, which she earned at UCI in 1986, an advantage since her first command out of college, as a platoon leader.

“I loved it,” she says. “I was doing what I had been trained to do as part of a great organization that was doing its mission well. Our brigade had more than 260 aircraft in Iraq and flew over 100,000 hours, and we brought everyone home safely. That deployment is the highlight of my career.”

“Someone told me, ‘A psychology degree is not very useful,’” she remembers. “I thought, ‘Wow, you really don’t understand what leadership is all about.’”

It was at this point, as a colonel, that Yeager started garnering attention for being among the few female officers in the room – if not the only one.

Yeager was accepted to helicopter flight school within her first two years of active duty, at a time when few women were earning their wings, let alone flying choppers. “I love the feeling when you pick up off the ground to a hover and the ability to maneuver in closely to the terrain,” she says. “It’s just magical.”

“People would say, ‘You’re the first female’ in this role or that role,” she says. “I didn’t really notice. To me, it was just my next job.”

While in flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, she met her copilot for life, an Army officer named Curtis Yeager. Their first years of marriage were tough but typical for military spouses, with deployments keeping them apart for about four of their first eight years together. When the oppor-

Her next promotion – to commander of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade – placed Yeager in treasured company: Her father once held the same position. “In the hallway at brigade headquarters in Fresno are pictures of previous commanders,” she says. “I love the fact that my dad’s picture is up there and then, so many pictures later, there’s mine.” Yeager set an Army precedent in 2017, when she became the first female commander of Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss, Texas.

She has reached out to younger females through presentations about STEM and military careers to Girl Scouts and Whirly-Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in helicopter aviation. “Dads will bring their little girls up to me and say, ‘Look, honey, you could do this,’” Yeager says. “I love that [my position] is meaningful for them.” Her new command involves keeping more than 10,000 troops – scattered among nine states and territories – equipped and prepared for deployment to places unknown. “The world is in such a state of disarray right now, with so many threats out there,” Yeager says. “It’s important for me to continue to take this organization forward and, frankly, be ready for whatever comes down the pike.” •



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studying those who


UCI is 4th institution in nation to offer certificate program examining veteran community

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hen people think of underrepresented groups in academia, veterans generally aren’t the first to come to mind. UCI’s School of Social Sciences hopes to change that. In January, the school offered the first of three courses in a new certificate program focusing on veterans and their multiple roles in U.S. history and society. Dean Bill Maurer and Anita Casavantes Bradford, associate professor of Chicano/ Latino studies and history, conceived of the program as a way to raise the visibility of the veteran community, help vets feel more included on campus, and serve workforce needs. “The School of Social Sciences by nature questions identity and empowers difference,” says Maurer, a cultural anthropologist and sociolegal scholar. “This certificate program will share veteran experiences from wide and varied angles – gay, straight, brown, black, white, male, and female. We must ask questions so that the totality of what it means to be a vet is examined. The social sciences are uniquely equipped to ask these questions.” “Too often, veterans are portrayed as either heroes or damaged,” Casavantes Bradford adds. “Drawing upon critical insights from disciplines like Chicano/Latino studies and gender & sexuality studies, our curriculum will explore the complexities of veterans as whole people.” Open to all undergraduates – veterans or not – the program encompasses three classes: Veterans in History and Society; Veterans’ Voices: Culture, Identity and Expression; and Veterans’ Transitions. It’s intended for students aspiring to careers in a wide range of fields, including healthcare and law, who expect to work with former military members. The veterans studies program fills a critical need, given that there are 18 million veterans living in the U.S. today, making up 7 percent of the population, according to the most recent census data. It also fills a gap in career training identified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which noted a scarcity of job applicants with broad knowledge of this demographic.

“When we began to explore the idea of a certificate program focused on veterans studies, we were shocked to find only three places in the nation offering something similar,” Casavantes Bradford says. “Not only will we be the only institution in California providing this program, but we’ll also be the only one west of the Mississippi River.” The novel course of study is the latest manifestation of UCI’s commitment to veterans, specifically the 300 or so student veterans on campus. The university’s Veteran Services Center, a division of Student Affairs, assists them in transitioning to college, helps manage their GI Bill benefits, and celebrates veteran culture through events on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. A new director for the center, Army vet Dani Molina – who founded the Veterans Resource Center at Cal State Los Angeles – was named in fall quarter. UCI veteran suicide researcher and U.S. Navy vet Harwood Garland, who taught Veterans in History and Society in winter, says: “People need to know that we are more than damaged or dangerous. Through this program, we can improve the way vets are perceived in our culture. We’ll discuss unique veteran experiences like deployments, homecoming, and transitioning out of the military. “Three veterans have earned Nobel Peace Prizes, but they aren’t much talked about. Just last year, two Marine Corps veterans won a prestigious UCI robotics competition. There is plenty of evidence that veterans want to be – and can be – valuable assets to their communities. I hope this program helps the next generation of veterans and nonveterans figure out how to make that happen.” Adds Maurer: “What we deem worthy of academic study – and how we approach that – says a lot about what our society values. By providing a space for studying and learning about veterans, we hope to validate this UCI student community. We’re saying to them, ‘You are important.’” •

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Kai Wehmeier.

international recognition Kai Wehmeier, logic and philosophy of science professor, receives Humboldt Prize for outstanding academic research career


ai Wehmeier, UCI logic and philosophy of science professor, has been named a 2019 recipient of the Humboldt Research Award. Granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, the honor recognizes outstanding academic researchers “whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.” The honor includes a €60,000 cash prize and the opportunity to spend up to one year collaborating on a long-term research project with colleagues in Germany. Wehmeier’s research applies techniques from mathematical and philosophical logic to investigate notions fundamental to contemporary theoretical philosophy and formal semantics, including necessity, identity, and the compositionality of linguistic meaning. His research often draws on insights by Gottlob Frege, the founder of modern logic, to the study of whose work Wehmeier has contributed significantly.

Wehmeier holds a master’s in mathematics from UC Berkeley and a master’s in philosophy from Universität Bochum, Germany, as well as a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from the Universität Münster, Germany. Before joining the UCI faculty in 2002, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at Leiden, The Netherlands, and a faculty appointment at Tübingen, Germany. During his 18-year tenure at UCI, Wehmeier has also held visiting professorships at the University of Mannheim, Germany, University of Cologne, Germany, and Université Nancy, France. At UCI, he founded and continues to direct the Center for the Advancement of Logic, its Philosophy, History and Applications, a cross-disciplinary research unit with faculty from the schools of social sciences, physical sciences, ICS, and law. His research has been published internationally in academic journals including the Journal of Philosophical Logic, the Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Studies, and Linguistics and Philosophy, among others. In 2017-18, Wehmeier was a fellow of the National Endowment of the Humanities. •



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holding COURT

Loryn Carter ‘20 political science is a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the volleyball court.

Senior UCI volleyball player and political science major Loryn Carter reflects on her time at UCI


CI senior Loryn Carter ’20 makes quite an impression. At 6’3”, she’s hard not to notice. But it isn’t just her height that garners attention: Carter’s skills on the volleyball court, as well as her leadership roles on campus, have carved out an impressive legacy during her time as an Anteater. A political science major, Carter will graduate this spring. As her time on campus comes to a close, Carter reflects on the experiences that have shaped her college career, as well as the path that led her to where she is today. An early leader Carter grew up in Pomona, CA with her parents Bill and Lori and her older sister, Selby. Selby played volleyball, and like many younger siblings, Loryn was dragged along

to her sister’s practices. When her mom discovered that there was a team for Loryn’s age group practicing at the same time, Carter was soon signed up and on the court. She quickly found her footing in the game that she would grow to love, and she played club volleyball starting in sixth grade. Carter attended St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora and was a standout on the volleyball team. While in high school, Carter attended a volleyball camp at UCI along with some of her teammates. She so loved the experience that Carter committed to play volleyball for UCI at the end of her sophomore year. Originally a middle blocker, Carter has served as outside hitter during her time as an Anteater. She is a force at the net, and led the team in kills her junior year.

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I’m really interested in politics - I want to figure out how I can make a change, whether it’s at the local, state, or national level.

Ashlie Hain (‘04) – who’s been the UCI head coach since the year before Carter arrived – developed a close relationship with Carter built on mutual respect.

“The reason I say full-time for student and athlete is that it requires a unique and demanding dedication to both to succeed as Loryn has.”

“As a Division I student-athlete, Carter excelled in the classroom, was an exemplary teammate and got to practice each morning well prepared and enthusiastic about the day’s work ahead,” says Hain. “Around the athletic facilities and main campus, she’s a familiar and friendly face that exemplifies what it means to be an Anteater.”

Future community leader Off the court, Carter’s interest in politics was piqued early on and encouraged by her parents. It was a family tradition to watch “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos together and discussions about the current political climate often ensued.

Carter has proven herself to be a leader off the court as well, serving as 2019 team captain, as well as holding a position on the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which provides a forum for communication and feedback to improve the overall experience for student-athletes. “She was very influential in many of the decisions that we made for our student athletes,” says Alexis McDonald, assistant athletic director, academic & student services, who’s worked with Carter on the committee and been impressed by Carter’s proclivity to lead. “Her work ethic and leadership are both commendable and a great representation of the character that she exudes and that we hope to see from our student athletes.”

Loryn Carter.

Carter was also selected to the Big West All-Academic team in 2019 and 2020, and was one of 20 volleyball players selected to the 2018 First Team All-Big West by the Big West Conference. Finding balance Being a student athlete requires dedication to both academics and athletics, and the pressures of both can be significant, particularly at the NCAA Division I level. Carter views handling the demands of both as an opportunity. “I looked at it as a challenge: I was excited about school,” says Carter. “I just really wanted to soak up as much as I could while I could because this is an extremely fortunate opportunity that I am in.” Her social sciences academic advisor, Kurt Hessinger, agrees. “Loryn represents what it means to be a full-time student and fulltime athlete.”

When she entered UCI, Carter was originally a business economics major. However, the 2016 election prompted her to change her major. “I’m really interested in politics - I want to figure out how I can make a change, whether it’s at the local, state, or national level,” she says. “I feel like there’s just so much that needs to be done.” The courses that Carter has taken have shaped her interest in politics and focused her attention on where she’d like to take her career. Her honors thesis is a study of the achievement gap between black and white students. In her thesis, she’s looking at educational environment, and studying different factors that contribute to the achievement gap, such as early childhood development, funding, neighborhood economics, and more. In addition, Carter is proposing sample policy recommendations. Working with Carter on her thesis is James Danziger, political science professor emeritus. Danziger sees in Carter the attributes that have contributed to her success in both athletics and academics. “As a former student-athlete myself, I recognized in Loryn someone who has the capability and drive to excel in both domains,” says Danziger. “Loryn will be an alumna of whom UCI will be very proud.” Carter is also minoring in urban and regional planning to gain a tangible sense of how to make change in communities. “By combining my major and minor, I’ve been able to focus on things like economic development, sustainability, housing,” she says. “It’s given me a nice history of the federal, state, and local policies that have shaped the way our cities are made up.” •



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ALUMNI NETWORK Learn how you can get involved in a network more than 50,000 Anteaters strong


he UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network is a community of 50,000+ Anteaters worldwide who once called the School of Social Sciences home. Expand your influence and access lifelong learning events, networking mixers, and social gatherings by becoming an active member of the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network. The network helps advance the personal and professional development of our alumni, deepens alumni connections with the school and university, and builds a culture of philanthropy and lifelong learning. Involvement in the network connects you with an

alumni base through exclusive online and regional events - ensuring that your time on campus was only the beginning of a lifetime of learning and fulfilling relationships. The network also helps us harness the power of our bold Anteater alumni base through our #50for50 campaign, With more than 50,000 social sciences alumni, if everyone makes a $50 donation, that’s $2.5 million! Together - that’s the power of #50for50. Learn more about our Alumni Network and get involved today by contacting Ian Delzer,

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connect with us


@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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