Scholarship recipients and donors come together at scholarships luncheon

From left: Lau scholars Yang Wang and Rochelle Ellison with Stanley Lau’s nephew Dennis and son Michael

Scholarship recipients had a unique opportunity to meet their donors and share their achievements at the UCLA 2019 Scholarships Luncheon on March 3.

The annual brunch was held in Carnesale commons and celebrated scholars from across the campus including those supported through the UCLA Division of Undergraduate Education. Students had the opportunity to meet with their donors over coffee, tea, and hors d’oeuvres, before joining them at their tables. The brunch program featured remarks by Chancellor Gene Block, leadership staff, and UCLA students who shared their own scholarship stories.

Undergraduate Education philanthropist guests included Dick and Eve Bergstrom, Rica and Ellen Rodman, Dennis and Michael Lau, David Brady and Stephen Petty. Collectively support from these individuals, families and foundations have helped fund three students in the Academic Advancement Program (AAP), four students conducting research in physical sciences or life sciences, and one transfer student.

Leslie Hwang, a senior majoring in neuroscience, received a scholarship from the Bergstroms through AAP. She said the brunch was “inspiring,” and she enjoyed meeting the Bergstroms in person. They wanted to know more about her hobbies and goals, and shared more about themselves – including some great book recommendations.

“The brunch felt like a celebration of achievements and a sense of community where our diversity – backgrounds, races, cultures, genders – are able to mingle and build a network of support,” Hwang said. “Each person has his or her own share of hardships and at least for me, the speakers did a wonderful job of sharing their personal narratives and passions that resonated within me. I found their perseverance inspiring and the entire time throughout the brunch was just absolutely amazing.”

Rochelle Ellison received a Lau scholarship for her research in the life sciences. A junior molecular, cell and developmental biology major, she said the scholarship allowed her to spend more time working on her research project in Dr. Stephen Young’s lab at UCLA Medical Center instead of worrying about getting a job on top of her classes, studying and other commitments.

Although Stanley Lau passed away, Ellison was able to meet his family at the brunch, who told her how important it was to him to support UCLA students.

Ellison was touched to learn that Lau kept the thank you letters that “his students” wrote to him near his bed so that he could read them from time to time.

“I appreciated being able to hear stories about Mr. Lau to form an image in my mind of the person I will forever be grateful to,” Ellison said. “I also enjoyed being able to personally thank the Lau family and to tell them how much their generosity means to me.”

Chancellor Gene Block with scholarship recipients

From left: David Brady, Warner Scholarship trustee; Vanessa Berg, Warner scholar; Stephen Petty, Warner Scholarship trustee

Vice Provost of Enrollment Management, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, speaking to the audience.

AAP Alum Featured on Fox 11 Los Angeles

Academic Advancement Program alumna Ashley Williams ’12 was featured in a Fox 11 Los Angeles news segment honoring anchor Christine Devine. The Drew Child Development Corporation honored Devine at its “It Takes a Village Awards” for her work advocating for foster youth through her weekly segment “Wednesday’s Child,” which profiled local foster youth. Williams was one of the children featured on Wednesday’s Child and was ultimately adopted by a couple who saw her on the show, and her father made a surprise appearance at Devine’s award ceremony.

After being adopted, Williams went on to graduate from UCLA and received her law degree from Southwestern Law School. While at UCLA, she was a leader on campus. She co-founded the UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars program and was a  Sidley & Austin Pre-Law Initiative Scholar, UCLA Law Fellows Scholar, and UCLA Afrikan Graduation Co-Chair, among other leadership positions.

Associate vice provost Charles Alexander selected to contribute to Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research selected UCLA associate vice provost for student diversity Charles Alexander as a contributor for the 2020 Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health.

The report will document key issues, progress, challenges and opportunities in oral health in the United States. It is commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of the Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Public Health Service’s Oral Health Coordinating Committee.

Kathryn Atchison, professor in the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Division of Public Health and Community Dentistry, is serving as a section editor on the report and invited Alexander to join the team that is contributing a section titled Oral Health Integration, Workforce and Practice. He will submit material and text on “Pipeline Programs to Increase Underrepresented Minorities in Dental Schools.”

The last Surgeon General’s report on oral health was published in 2000, and “generated a lot of buzz in dentistry,” Alexander said. The report’s findings led to millions of dollars being pumped into efforts to improve recruitment and diversity in the field, access to care, and curriculum reform. Now, 20 years later, the goal of the new report is to see if these efforts had a lasting impact.

“In 2000, less than four percent of dental practitioners were African American, five percent were Latino and less than one percent were Native American,” Alexander said. “How far have we come?”

Alexander has long been a champion for pipeline programs and increasing diversity in dental schools. He is currently an associate adjunct professor in the UCLA School of Dentistry and previously served as an associate dean for admissions and student affairs at UC San Francisco, where he directed the Dental Careers program.

“I’m excited to contribute to this important document that is evidence-based and that heightens the issue to create more diversity in the dental profession,” Alexander said.

A dream fulfilled on Denali

Early in the morning, while most people are still sleeping, Joy McKee climbed out of her tent at an altitude of 17,200 feet. After two and a half weeks of climbing, six months of training and 15 years pursuing some of the world’s tallest peaks, the summit of Denali was only 13 hours climbing and 3,110 vertical feet away.

Last July, McKee, Director of Development for Undergraduate Education, embarked on a nearly month-long journey to climb Alaska’s Denali. At 20,310 feet, it is the tallest mountain in North America and the third-tallest of the seven summits after Mount Everest and Aconcagua in Argentina.

An avid outdoorswoman since childhood, McKee has already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier, Tent Peak and others. But Denali would help fulfill her goal of climbing all the high points in the United States, and despite all her experience, proved to be one of her most challenging climbs yet.

McKee started working out with a trainer six months before the climb, mainly to prepare for the heavy 60-pound backpack and 40-pound sled she’d be hauling up the mountain at altitude. Climbers carry their own personal gear as well as gear shared among their climbing group, including food, fuel, tents, climbing supplies and more, enough for 22 days on the mountain. To prepare, McKee climbed the steps of UCLA’s Drake Stadium, the Santa Monica Stairs and other steep routes while wearing a 30-pound vest or carrying a 60-pound bag of dog food, among other exercises.

“I’m not necessarily an athlete – I’ve never done so many planks in my life,” McKee said. “The biggest challenge is you’re training on your own and you can’t really entirely mimic what you’re going to do [on Denali] so there’s a lot of uncertainty in the preparation process.”

On June 18, McKee joined seven other climbers and four guides on the very last expedition of Denali’s 2018 climbing season, which runs from May to July.

During a typical day on the mountain, the group might start climbing around midnight (since Denali is so far north, there is near-constant light during the summer months). Climbing days are often a 10-12 hour push with 10 minute breaks to rest, hydrate and snack – then pack up and do it all over again. Other days are spent resting, building snow walls, waiting out bad weather or acclimatizing cache climbs – when climbers carry gear up the mountain in multiple loads and bury it in the snow for safekeeping.

When the group (minus three climbers who decided to turn back) reached the “Autobahn,” a section of the final 3,000-foot climb to the summit, they found themselves at the back of, well, a traffic jam of seven teams. The group at the front was struggling to navigate around a steep rock face, forcing all the teams behind them to wait in freezing temperatures.

After two hours of waiting, and another two days hoping for a break in weather, McKee’s guides decided to call off their summit attempt. With a large storm system moving in and a limited window of time that the climbers could stay at high elevation without suffering frostbite or side effects of low oxygen, it was just too risky. McKee and the other climbers were disappointed, but they weren’t surprised, she said.

“When your tent’s shaking from the 30-plus mile per hour winds, you know it’s not happening,” she said. “The bottom line is everyone knows Denali’s this way. The challenge of that mountain is the weather and the extremity of energy that it takes to safely climb.”

As it turned out, they made the right decision. Some of the climbers who’d decided to go for the summit got lost in the storm, and McKee’s guides performed several rescues.

McKee said not summiting doesn’t take anything away from her experience of climbing Denali. She came so close and was proud of her own performance.

“I left nothing on the mountain,” she said. “I could go six more times to that mountain and never make it to the summit, and there’s so many other great mountains out there.”

For McKee, climbing isn’t just about the summit. It’s a chance for her to disconnect from everyday life and quiet her mind in some of the most awe-inspiring places on Earth.

“It’s one of the few ways that not only can you challenge yourself, you can challenge your perspective, you can challenge your thoughts and just remind yourself that we make a lot out of nothing in our everyday lives,” she said. “This true survival piece is one of the few ways you can access something so much beyond yourself.”