This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.

Four graduating seniors were driven to succeed and give back

Angela Sanchez: A Magical Education (Social sciences)
Graduating senior Angela Sanchez, 22, pulls off magic tricks — literally and figuratively. An amateur magician who performs for friends and school children, she managed both award-winning academic and service careers while attending UCLA.
Grad2013-ASanchezArmed with the College Honors Program’s Naumburg Honors Programs Research Stipend, Sanchez conducted original research at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Skirball Center in Los Angeles, Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Harvard University’s Theater Collection and Boston’s Mini Museum of Magic.
Among her discoveries: male magicians introduced the convention of appearing to saw female assistants in half at precisely the same time as the Suffragette Movement took off in the United States and England. Her resulting thesis, "Conjuring the Modern Woman: Women and Their Representation in the Golden Age of Magic," was selected to receive one of eight UCLA Library Prizes for Undergraduate Research.
A history major with minors in English and education, Sanchez also netted a valuable service award. As a junior she was selected as one of 15 recipients state-wide for the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship, which provides $10,000 toward a public service project. She founded and directs UCLA’s branch of School on Wheels, Inc., a nonprofit that tutors homeless K–12 students in the Los Angeles area. She has a special connection to these students, having been homeless herself while attending Hoover High School in Glendale. Sanchez and her father spent two years in a homeless shelter, during which time she was tutored by a School of Wheels volunteer, a graduate student from Caltech.
"I was inspired to begin a School on Wheels student group here at UCLA for one simple reason: I wished to repay a service that had been afforded to me," she said.
During her UCLA career, Sanchez worked "to ensure that homelessness, either through social stigma or financial distress, does not destroy a child's ambition for higher education," said G. Jennifer Wilson, UCLA's assistant vice provost for honors and the chair of a campus committee that selects candidates for the Strauss and other awards.
"Instead of falling into depression or having her own grades suffer, (Sanchez) made the experience meaningful," Wilson said.
Besides tutoring, UCLA's School on Wheels program offers workshops on financial aid, scholarship awareness and college readiness, and sponsors a tour of UCLA.
Sanchez is graduating magna cum laude with history department and College honors as well as a Chancellor’s Service Award. She has been accepted to the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies Teacher Education Program and aspires to be a school district administrator.
Matthew Rosenstein: A Circle of Friends (Humanities)
What do French medieval studies and UCLA Medical Center's Department of Neurosurgery have in common?
They’ve both helped shape Matthew Rosenstein’s life.
Grad2013 MRosensteinAs an entering freshman four years ago, Rosenstein, now 22, and a soon-to-be graduate in Jewish Studies, knew he wanted to do something that helped others. He was already a mentor for his best friend, who was diagnosed with autism.
And he was well on his way to founding a UCLA chapter of Circle of Friends, which connects university students with young adults who have developmental disabilities.
A year spent interning in the U.S. Senate through the UCLA Center for Community Learning, stints as a research assistant in trauma medicine and neurosurgery, and a course in French medieval studies led the Santa Monica native to find his calling: medicine.
"My experience working for and shadowing Dr. Isaac Yang, a neurosurgeon, really inspired me to take interest in bridging science with the human side of medicine," Rosenstein said. "Dr. Yang inspired me because he promises every single patient he will care for them as he would his brother or wife. When he's with a patient, he carries knowledge and training as tools, but his heart is on the table first. He's ready to do whatever he can, and sometimes just his listening comforts."
And French medieval studies? The course came with an option of tacking on a travel studies program that took Rosenstein to France. Under the mentorship of Professor Teofilo Ruiz, a 2012 U.S. National Humanities Medalist, he compared French medieval humanist culture and the rapport that French physicians at Groupe hospitalier Pitié Salpétrière in Paris (France National Medical Center) develop with their patients.
"I've learned that the relationship a doctor has with their patients is just as important as the medical treatment that’s administered," Rosenstein said. Rosenstein, Yang and Ruiz were among the authors published in a recent book on the topic, "The Service Minded Physician."
Rosenstein was able to finish the requirements for his major early and quickly dove into pre-med courses. He has applied to medical schools and is awaiting responses.
But his academic success is only part of Rosenstein’s story at UCLA. His work as founder of Circle of Friends has established a mentorship program on campus that connects UCLA students with participants of Pathway, a program at UCLA Extension that offers a two-year certificate program for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
The group, made up of 25 UCLA mentors, organizes events for Pathway students, and works with the UCLA Volunteer Center, where Rosenstein is a Leadership Fellow, to bring leaders from across campus to discuss a variety of issues. The chair of the UCLA Department of Surgery once came to talk about what the university is doing to treat pancreatic cancer. Nutrition and healthy living were the topics when UCLA’s head volleyball coach and head golf coaches visited the group.
"UCLA really promotes diversity and encourages its students to see the world from new angles," Rosenstein said." You have to take the perspective of one of these students if you want to be an effective mentor, and of a patient if you want to be an effective physician, and the university really prepares us for that."
Andrew Nicholls: A UCLA Soldier’s Story (Life sciences)
Andrew Nicholls, a College of Letters and Sciences senior who will graduate in June, served eight years in the U.S. Army, including a year in Iraq. In spring quarter, he shared his firsthand perspectives about the military and combat in a UCLA psychology course he taught called "Fast Cars and Battle Scars: Understanding the Modern Combat Veteran and PTSD."
"We discussed the entire process, from who chooses to serve in the military, what it’s like to be trained to kill somebody and how that affects you, to things that happen in combat, as well as military culture and civilian life when you leave the military," said Nicholls, a 29-year-old psychology major. "I thought undergraduates who never served in the military should have some idea what it's like … so that as future voters and perhaps policymakers, they can think about veterans' issues in a more nuanced way."
Grad2013-ANichollsInspired to join the Army Reserve by the 9/11 attacks, Nicholls served in a civil affairs unit that helped rebuild communities. He served as a liaison between the military and the local populace on issues like infrastructure, jobs programs, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and training the military and the police.
"We would advise the commander on the local population and his moral obligations," Nicholls said. "We helped a lot of people as we tried to figure out what they needed in their neighborhoods. It was very rewarding."
How hard was it for Nicholls to get through that year? "Before I left for Iraq, my game plan was to tell myself, ‘I’m already dead and I will not come home from this,’" Nicholls said. "Some of the older guys said if you worry about dying, you'll freeze up and not react, so I walked through that year like a dead man. Every morning I woke up thinking, ‘Today could be the day, but don't worry about it. Just keep going.’"
When he came to UCLA in 2010, Nicholls quickly understood why acclimating to civilian life can be difficult for veterans. "In combat, there’s a lot of numbness," he said. "You push everybody else aside emotionally except the people you're deployed with. Combat is simple — life or death, black and white. Then you return to the grayness of everyday life and many veterans think, ‘I don’t want to deal with this — I'd rather be back in Iraq.’"
The class also covered the experience of basic training, unique issues facing female veterans and how military training prepares prospective soldiers to kill.
"Andrew is a uniquely talented and mature student whose experiences in the Army are educational to our campus community," said Chris Dunkel Schetter, a UCLA professor of psychology who is mentoring Nicholls. "Most of us don't understand the military very well. Andrew uses data and examples from personal experience to share what he has seen and learned and in the process those who know him here are much the wiser."
After graduation, Nicholls plans to become a therapist working with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder and problems with substance abuse. Already, he and an Army friend have founded a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about veterans of the war on terror who were killed or wounded in action, the KIA WIA Foundation.
Victor Ruiz: Beating the Odds (Physical sciences)
Victor Ruiz knew the odds weren’t in his favor.
He was the first in his family to graduate high school, let alone attend college. As an entering freshman at UCLA, he had few mentors and little idea of what he wanted to become. Expectations were low.
But Ruiz, now 22, defied the odds. As a soon-to-be graduate majoring in chemistry, Ruiz is headed to Yale University as a doctoral candidate in the pharmacology program. He hopes to help devise medicines that treat heart disease, which has claimed the lives of some of his family members.
Grad2013 VRuiz"I feel that I have redefined the expectations that embody, and sometimes limit, my own status as a first-generation student, and I firmly believe that others in this situation can do the same," he said.
Although Ruiz found mentors along his educational journey — like his high school teacher who first encouraged him to take a chemistry class — his drive to exceed expectations was fueled by the need to thank his parents for the sacrifices they made for him.
"I set those expectations for myself for the purpose of thanking them," he said. "The moment I came to UCLA, I always remembered where I came from. My mindset was to stay focused, have the right grades, be part of the right programs and part of the right support system."
Ruiz said that it was difficult to find people with similar backgrounds to lean on, especially in the science and math courses he was taking. But some initiatives at UCLA helped bridge the gap, such as the Academic Advancement Program, the nation’s largest university-based student diversity program, and PEERS, or Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences.
"I wouldn’t be in this position to do research and to be learning at such a higher level if it wasn’t for those programs," he said. "There have never been high expectations for me, but I found a way to keep up with everyone else."
After fours years at UCLA, Ruiz has gained new mentors and role models to help him continue his rocket-like trajectory. Still, his greatest role models are the ones who gave him the opportunity to shine in the first place.
"My biggest role models are still my father and grandfather," he said. "For them, there was no time for school. They worked in the fields, tirelessly and endlessly in the sun. But that work ethic has been passed down to all of us."
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