Sarina Morales is a self-proclaimed “city girl.” Born and raised in San Fernando Valley, Morales had never worked on a farm, planted her own food, or chased chickens. But all of that changed this summer.
UCLA has been awarded a four-year grant from the Amgen Foundation to continue providing hands-on laboratory experience to undergraduate students across Southern California through the Amgen Scholars Program. The Amgen Foundation is expanding the Amgen Scholars Program, bringing the program to a total of 24 premier institutions across the U.S., Europe, Asia and, for the first time, Australia and Canada, to provide undergraduates with financial support and hands-on summer research opportunities in biomedical and biotechnology fields.
Douglas Yao discovered his passion for research as an undergraduate at UCLA. Now, he’s embarking on a PhD at Harvard in pursuit of his goal to run his own lab in the field of bioinformatics.
Yao, who graduated in June with a bachelor of science in cell/cellular and molecular biology, said he entered UCLA as a pre-med and first began working in labs on campus during his freshman year in order to prepare for applying to medical school. But he found that he enjoyed spending time in the lab so much that he wanted to make research his career.
Yao worked in four different labs throughout his undergraduate career as he attempted to hone in on which research topics he was most interested in. Ultimately, the labs of Thomas Graeber, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and Eleazar Eskin, assistant professor of computer science and human genetics, sparked his newfound passion for a field called bioinformatics, in which scientists collect and analyze biological data.
“Bioinformatics brings together three disparate fields: biology, computer science and statistics,” Yao said. “I saw that as a good opportunity because there has to be a breed of scientist who knows all three subjects.”
Yao presented his original research projects twice at Undergraduate Research Week and currently has a paper in review, about gene expression and genomic instability in cancer cells.
This summer, Yao began his first year in Harvard’s bioinformatics and integrative genomics PhD program. He hopes to become a professor and run his own lab one day, a goal that he acknowledges would be much harder to reach if he hadn’t gotten his start at UCLA. He’s seen how valuable the undergraduate research opportunities are at UCLA, and how they inspired and prepared him for his career ahead.
“If you don’t go to a big research school it’s so much harder to get those research experiences,” Yao said. “I was really lucky to have picked UCLA because of the research environment.”
The opportunity to conduct his own research not only taught him new skills such as how to analyze research papers and participate in scientific discussions, but also introduced him to the world of being a professional academic and researcher. He realized how much he loved learning.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of careers that let you consistently learn every single day,” he said. “There’s so many interesting things out there in the world and we know so little. I think [research will] help me appreciate just how weird and amazing the world is.”
Chancellor Gene Block offered encouragement to UCLA’s newest entrepreneurs during his visit to Startup UCLA’s Summer Accelerator in early August.
As UCLA undergraduate Jendalyn Coulter spoke to the several dozen professors, students and educational leaders about her research on former foster youth who go on to college, she was poised and commanded the room.
Fourth-year art history major and digital humanities minor Rocio Sanchez-Nolasco is about to have her original research published by a southern California art gallery, all because of a photo her proud professor shared on Facebook.
Sanchez-Nolasco will write a total of six essays about photographs taken by artist Patssi Valdez that will be published on the internet-based Sanguine Gallery’s website every other month beginning in September. In her writing, she intends to discuss the historical, social and cultural contexts of Valdez’s work and analyze the photographs’ portrayal of Chicana femininity.
Charlene Villaseñor Black, professor of Chicana/Chicano studies and art history, is Sanchez-Nolasco’s honors thesis advisor. For the past year, the two have met weekly to discuss Sanchez-Nolasco’s interests and hone in on a research topic for her thesis.
After becoming interested in Asco, an East Los Angeles Chicano artist collective during the 1970s and ‘80s, and doing research at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, Sanchez-Nolasco stumbled upon photographs by Valdez, a founding member of Asco who is more well-known for her brightly-colored, avant-garde expressionist paintings. She decided to make Valdez’s photography the subject of her thesis.
“I was blown away that she identified this as a topic that needed to be researched,” Black said. “No one has written about [Valdez’s photographs]. It’s a completely new topic.”
Sanchez-Nolasco admired the photographs’ distinctive style and was surprised no one had examined them on their own, not just within the context of Valdez’s other work.
“I thought all these images were so beautiful and so amazing that I couldn’t think of a reason why no one has written about them collectively,” Sanchez-Nolasco said.
Sanchez-Nolasco presented a poster about her preliminary research findings at Undergraduate Research Week this May. Black was so proud of her and all her undergraduate advisees that she posted pictures of them on Facebook, including captions about their accomplishments and projects.
To her surprise, later that day, her picture of Sanchez-Nolasco standing in front of her poster at Undergraduate Research Week received a comment from Thomas Canavan, arts administrator of the Sanguine Gallery and creative arts and special projects manager of the Millard Sheets Arts Center in Pomona, Calif. Black met Canavan recently after she participated in a talk at Millard Sheets.
“Is it possible to get a copy? We’d love to publish it!” Canavan wrote, referring to Sanchez-Nolasco’s poster about Valdez.
As it turned out, the Sanguine Gallery was about to launch a Valdez exhibition, and the gallery frequently publishes writing and other creative works on its website to accompany its physical exhibits. Sanchez-Nolasco’s research would be the perfect accompaniment to the Valdez exhibit.
Canavan said the Sanguine Gallery wants to provide a space for artists, creators and scholars of all ages and experience levels to contribute their voices and unique insights – even an undergraduate like Sanchez-Nolasco. It benefits everyone, Canavan said, since young scholars in particular may be more connected to certain cultural and artistic spaces that older people may not.
“We exclude younger voices and because of that, they don’t have the opportunity to express what they think,” Canavan said. “If we’re not listening to them, we’re missing out on an opportunity to learn more about what’s around us.”
Sanchez-Nolasco credits Black for supporting her research and for making her partnership with the Sanguine Gallery possible.
“I just thought my project would be a thesis and that would be the end of it, but it’s really a privilege and an opportunity to be able to share my research in this way,” she said. “It’s inspiring to see that this is an opportunity I can now pursue as an undergraduate student.”
Two UCLA College honors students presented at the annual Academic Resource Conference sponsored by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission.
Held in April in Burlingame, Calif., this year’s conference theme was “Future Perfect,” and focused on encouraging university faculty, administrators and staff attendees to exchange ideas about how to transform their schools to meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.
Third-year neuroscience and African American studies double major Chinyere Nwonye and fourth-year political science major Jeremiah Barnett joined Jennifer Lindholm, Assistant Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Director of Honors Programs at UCLA, in a presentation about the newly redesigned College Honors Program titled “Learning, Being, and Doing: Launching a New College Honors Program.”
In another session facilitated by Director of Assessment Kelly Wahl and Director of Curricular Initiatives Mitsue Yokota, both of the UCLA Division of Undergraduate Education, Barnett offered his insights into learning outcomes and interests.
Lindholm noted that Nwonye and Barnett, both Honors Fellows, were invited to speak because of their valuable contributions toward enriching UCLA’s traditional College Honors Program and developing the new pilot program, which will welcome its inaugural cohort of first-year students this fall.
During the group’s 15-minute presentation, Nwonye and Barnett each shared their personal experiences as honors students in order to explain how the honors program was transformed to be more experiential and interdisciplinary, more tailored to students’ individual interests, and better positioned to cultivate a community among honors students.
“I was thrilled, humbled, honored and of course nervous,” Barnett said of being invited to speak at the conference. “But I was excited to be able to share my story.”
Barnett spoke about his expectations on entering the honors program compared to what he felt he ultimately gained from the program. He stressed the importance of discussing learning outcomes with students. Nwonye talked about experiential learning and how it has enriched her academic career.
Lindholm said that student participation in these meetings is essential as it allows conference attendees to hear directly from students and ask them questions about how to get students to be more connected to university programs.
“We do a lot of talking about students and how to document ‘evidence’ of their learning such that federal expectations for institutional effectiveness are satisfied,” she said. “Too often though, we don’t invest enough time actually talking with students and, especially, listening closely to what they have to say. When we do, the conversations are more fun and good ‘outcomes’ tend to result for all involved.”
Nwonye said, “The [attendees] were very interested especially because Jeremiah and I were there and [we could explain] how students become more engaged and how we’re going to do that [in the honors program].”
Barnett said he thought the support of the UCLA administrators added to the audience’s enthusiasm and interest in the presentation.
“Being backed by the [attendees’] peers from UCLA gave us, as students, a level of credibility that allowed us to speak and others to listen,” Barnett said.
Nwonye and Barnett hope that more students might be invited to participate at similar conferences in future, noting that they offer a valuable real-world perspective that administrators and staff don’t often hear, and that inviting students to contribute to the conversation can impact
the decisions made by university leaders.
“I felt like I was representing my peers who don’t have the opportunity to speak in front of people, to help make decisions that may impact students’ lives,” Barnett said.
“Jeremiah and Chinyere did a fantastic job representing UCLA and our honors program,” Lindholm said. “Their valuable perspectives, coupled with their poise, candor and enthusiasm, made them the stars of every session in which they participated.”
Over 1,100 undergraduate students presented original research projects at Undergraduate Research Week, May 21-25, 2018. From Poster Day in Pauley Pavilion to the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Oral Presentations, the students’ hard work and passion for research was on full display. Award receptions for sciences and humanities gave special honors to exceptional student researchers as well as the faculty mentors who have gone above and beyond to support their students’ research goals.
Click through the slideshow to view highlights from the week!