Each member of the UCLA class of 2023 has earned the right to celebrate this season. And each has traveled a unique journey to reach the milestone of commencement.

To honor those journeys — the challenges our students have overcome, the talents they have contributed and the inspiration they will continue to provide for all of us — we are pleased to spotlight a small number of the 14,000-plus Bruins who will receive their degrees this week and who are poised to launch into the next chapter of their lives. Their stories, representing undergraduates and graduate students from across the entire campus, reflect the qualities that help set UCLA apart as a world-class public research university.

Please join us in honoring UCLA’s class of 2023. This page will be updated regularly through June 16.

She followed in her daughters’ footsteps, now her sights are set on a master’s degree

Kelly Kingman was so close to graduating when she dropped out of high school as a senior in 1985. After some adversity, she slowly began to rebuild her life. The mother of two eventually earned her high school diploma from Burbank Adult School in 2007.

Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez/UCLA
Kelly Kingman

Then she watched as her daughters were placed in their schools’ gifted programs, and witnessed their academic successes, and wondered: Why not me?

“I had always been unsure about myself because of my early life, but I had these two beautiful kids — just off the charts — and through them I discovered my potential,” Kingman said.  

Now, the 55-year-old is about to earn her bachelor’s degree with honors. And she’s planning to continue her education at UCLA this fall, when she will enter the master’s degree program in library and information science.

Read more about Kelly Kingman on UCLA Newsroom.


He examined how Latino migrants shared their experiences online

Among his many achievements at UCLA, Jordy Magallanes is perhaps most proud of his work on his senior thesis. The paper examined how Latino migrants making the journey North from Latin America record and document their experiences on social media, creating a living online archive of migration in real time.

The work drew upon Magallanes’ love of the internet, knowledge of social media algorithms and family history of migration — his grandparents and parents emigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico, to settle in the U.S.

Peggy McInerny/UCLA International Institute
Jordy Magallanes

“It’s very interesting that people are sharing their migration experiences,” he said “They want to be seen, which contrasts to the idea of migrants hiding or keeping to themselves.” 

“I wanted to study this material because it gives you [the perspectives] of the people who are going through the process, together with the human smugglers. Both of them are telling their personal stories.”

Magallanes is graduating with highest honors with a degree in global studies and political science. 

Read more about Jordy Magallanes on the International Institute website.

Nene Usim is charting her future in medicine

Growing up in Bellflower, California, Nene Usim’s favorite toy was a little plastic doctor’s kit her mother bought for her — she loved pretending to help people in need. But years later when her triplet younger brothers were born prematurely and subsequently had health complications, Usim spent a lot of time with her family in hospitals being around medical professionals who were living her childhood fantasy.

Grace Wilson
Nene Usim

“There were so many really good doctors and other people who were very supportive to my mom and family in the system,” she said. “I saw there was an opportunity for me in medicine to be an advocate and serve people, which is my biggest passion.”

And so Usim set her sights on UCLA, beginning her Bruin journey via the Academic Advancement Program’s Freshmen Transfer Summer Program, a residential bridge opportunity to empower first-generation, low-income, students from historically underrepresented groups to make a successful transition to campus and academic life.

The experience not only helped Usim find two lifelong best friends — who, like her, are currently applying to medical schools — but it also inspired her to become an AAP peer counselor herself.

“I know how much my support system encouraged and influenced me here at UCLA, and now I’m able to be that person for others, too,” Usim said. “The job also made me realize how much of a people person I am. I love being able to alleviate someone’s stress, hear their stories and help them leave each visit feeling better than when they came in.”

Read more about Nene Usim on the UCLA College website.

‘I learned the importance of being brave enough to pursue opportunities that may seem daunting’

Leer en español.

“I was first exposed to science as a child through my love of dinosaurs,” graduating senior Israel Carrillo writes in a first-person essay. “This evolved into watching science and engineering shows on TV. I loved that science provides us the ability to understand what happens in our world, even when things seem strange or counterintuitive.

Courtesy of Israel Carrillo
Israel Carrillo

“By the time I joined Bell Gardens High School in southeast L.A., I understood that my grades and hard work would provide me with a path to pursue what I really loved. I also understood that my parents had worked hard to give me an opportunity to go to college — something they never had the chance to do. 

“Los Angeles may be a diverse city, but in reality the different communities can be very isolated, especially immigrant communities like the one I grew up in. When I came to UCLA, I was suddenly exposed to all kinds of people from all over the world. Moving just a few miles away from where I grew up turned out to be a real culture shock.

“Nonetheless, I was determined to pursue my love of physics and space science. What I love about physics is that it is the ‘language of the universe.’ I love that it has been used to describe what we observe in detail and make predictions about phenomena that we have yet to observe. That eventually led me to take a class on the formation of the solar system with Professor Hilke Schlichting.”

Read Israel Carrillo’s full essay on the Division of Physical Sciences website.

Undergraduate research pushed her to explore questions she wouldnt have considered on her own

When she came to UCLA from Maryland, Gillian Smith fully intended to major in history as a means to one day going to law school. That is, until she got involved with the UCLA Undergraduate Research Center—Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Courtesy of Gillian Smith
Gillian Smith

“Undergraduate research has changed my life and intended career path entirely,” Smith said. “Initially, when I began my research with Professor Muriel McClendon, I planned to finish my honors thesis only as a personal achievement.” 

Now, she plans to pursue a master’s and a doctoral degrees in early modern history.

As her June 16 graduation approaches, Smith is glad to know that she made the most of her undergraduate experience, thanks in part to the UCLA students, faculty and staff who made this proud Easterner feel at home on the West Coast.

Said Smith: “I have had opportunities at UCLA which I never dreamed of, and I am very pleased with how much my own skills and determination have developed over the last four years so that I will take them into every future setting.”

Read more about Gillian Smith on the UCLA College website.

Pursuing a profession in which she can learn forever

Ariella Gaughan (Chickasaw Nation) was so unsure what she wanted to do, or even why she was going to school in the first place, that she dropped out of junior college after her first semester.

Courtesy of Ariella Gaughan
Ariella Gaughan

To help her gain job skills and time to think, her father suggested she go to a trade school. And so Gaughan enrolled in a paralegal certificate program that changed her life.

“In less than a month I knew I wanted to go into law because I found all aspects of it fascinating — I felt like I could enter this profession where I could continue to learn forever,” said Gaughan, who went on to work as a paralegal for nearly a year in her hometown of Sonora, California. 

Since arriving as a transfer student at UCLA, she has made an impact on campus and off. 

In addition to interning at the Chickasaw Nation Department of Culture and Humanities as well as the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, Gaughan has served as the director of sustainability for the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council’s community service commission, a program coordinator for the nonprofit Commission on Voluntary Service and Action and a student speaker for Bruin Day.

Read more about Ariella Gaughan on the UCLA College website.

Johanna Carbajal’s journey from lockup to law studies at UCLA

The makeup didn’t entirely cover things up. It would get cakey and crack, she says, especially during her dishwashing shift in a hot kitchen, exposing her face tattoos, inked long before she took this job, as well as two others, to make a better life for herself and her unborn baby.

David Esquivel/UCLA
Johanna Carbajal

That was a half-dozen years ago. Today, Johanna Carbajal is in a place she never thought she’d be: graduating from the nation’s top-ranked public university and applying to law school in the fall.

“It’s been more than just second chances, it’s like six chances,” said Carbajal, 26, a political science major whose journey has taken her from foster care and incarceration to motherhood, higher education and a commitment to helping others overcome the systemic hurdles that nearly robbed her of her future.

It all hits her profoundly, she says, during the afternoons she spends walking around the Westwood campus with her daughter. The two, in fact, became Bruins together during the pandemic — Carbajal enrolling as a transfer student in 2020 and her daughter starting kindergarten at the UCLA Lab School a year later.

Read more about Johanna Carbajal on UCLA Newsroom.

First-gen transfer student takes aim at liver cancer

Thien Nguyen is determined to help unravel how patients with chronic liver diseases develop liver cancer. The first-generation transfer student, who will graduate from UCLA this week, has seen far too many people — including in her family and neighborhood — suffering from the cancer at late stages.

Tien Nguyen
Thien Nguyen

“That’s because there is a high rate of hepatitis viral infection in Vietnam, and many just don't have access to be diagnosed and monitored for chronic conditions, which leads to liver cancer,” said Nguyen, who was 18 when her family moved to Orange County, California, from Vietnam.

“Liver cancer does not have obvious symptoms until late stage and the treatment is not effective, with a patient response rate below 20%.”

Nguyen began her studies at Orange Coast College, but with funding from a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, she transferred to UCLA and chose molecular, cell and developmental biology as her major. She won a Goldwater Scholarship to conduct research with Dr. Joseph Crompton, an assistant professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, that focused on identifying the causes of autoimmune reactions to immunotherapy treatments.

Read more about Thien Nguyen on UCLA Newsroom.

Creating her own major helped Ava Boehm further her social justice pursuits

Ava Boehm was just 16 — a high school student on a UCLA Summer Sessions scholarship — when she took a UCLA course on language, gender and stereotypes that sparked her future journey as a Bruin.

Courtesy of Ava Boehm
Ava Boehm

“It felt like I was performing self-surgeries, drawing a scalpel over my skin to better understand the linguistic mechanisms that underpin my thoughts and interactions,” she says. “Simply put, I loved it.”

So when she later enrolled at UCLA as an undergraduate, Boehm sought to recreate that experience, which dovetailed with her growing commitment to social justice. But because the classes she wanted to take were scattered across disciplines, she set out to design her own major.

“Two incredible professors, Norma Mendoza-Denton in anthropology and Yael Sharvit in linguistics, agreed to mentor me,” says Boehm, who has received the UCLA Academic Advancement Program’s AAP Council Scholarship, among other honors. “I had a pretty clear idea of the content and classes that I wanted to include in my major, but my mentors played a big role in helping me articulate my interests.”

Read more about Ava Boehm on the UCLA College website.

She established her voice as a photographer, sculptor and disability awareness activist

In 2019, Rowan O’Bryan wasn’t sure she’d be able to attend college.

Courtesy of Rowan O’Bryan
Rowan O’Bryan

She was on the waiting list for a lung transplant when a groundbreaking drug in the treatment of cystic fibrosis increased her lung capacity, and ultimately made it possible for her to attend UCLA.  

O’Bryan, who will graduate June 17 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, has spent her time at UCLA establishing her voice as a photographer, sculptor and disability awareness activist. 

“I want to figure out how to merge disability studies and art,” she said. “I am always thinking about mixing those things. At UCLA, disability studies is not medicalized; it’s all about culture and that’s an important thing I learned here.”

O’Bryan earned an honorable mention in UCLA’s inaugural Class Artist competition, recognized for her work “Invitation to Stare,” a self-portrait project and body of work that revolves around her identity as a chronically ill person.

Read more about Rowan O’Bryan on the Go UCLA Arts website.

His art spurs conversations about disparity and equity

Carlos Agredano didn’t start thinking of himself as an artist until he was an undergrad at Harvard University, where he studied history and literature. 

Courtesy of Carlos Agredano
Carlos Agredano

But shortly after he completed his undergraduate studies, Agredano held his first art exhibition at his family home in Lynwood, a city in Southeast Los Angeles. It was that show that helped him get into the graduate program in fine arts at UCLA, and this week Agredano will graduate with a master’s of fine arts degree. 

“I use readymade and process-based sculptures to materialize the pollution that affects working-class communities of color like mine,” Agredano said.

For one project, that meant rolling a ball of clay around Los Angeles streets, capturing the different colors of grime and soot from various neighborhoods. The work, which he called “Smog Stones,” became a sort of performance art and conversation starter in the neighborhoods he visited.

Read more about Carlos Agredano on the Go UCLA Arts website. 

Commencement will be thrice as nice for this Bruin family

During 2023 commencement ceremonies, UCLA is welcoming more than 14,000 new members to the Bruin alumni family. Three of them are already pretty close.

Courtesy of the Farrukh family
Humzah, Umiemah and Qasim Farrukh

Three siblings in the Farrukh family will become UCLA graduates on June 16. Younger sister Umiemah and middle brother Qasim will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in psychology; older brother Humzah will receive a bachelor’s in sociology.

All born within four years of each other, the Farrukh siblings’ lifelong bond is strong. And even though they hadn’t planned to move through their schooling in unison, they all transferred to UCLA from El Camino College in 2021.

“We like to say we are triplets in spirit,” Umiemah says. “For us, three heads have certainly been better than one!”

Adds Qasim: “Our biggest strength as siblings has been that we have been able to rely on each other’s unique life experiences and diverse skill sets.” 

That’s been the case since the trio were growing up in Vancouver, Canada, to parents who emigrated from Pakistan in the 1980s. Taught from a young age to give back to their community, the siblings dreamed of one day attending UCLA due in part to its commitment to historically disadvantaged communities.

Read more about the Farrukh siblings on the UCLA College website.

‘Being taken out of that box and put on the opposite side of the world has been amazing’

When Jasmine Mundo graduates from UCLA later this week with a bachelor’s degree in Asian studies, she will have completed an educational journey that began with an interest in Japanese before expanding to include intra-Asian history and political relations and, finally, cultural studies. 

Peggy McInerny/UCLA International Institute
Jasmine Mundo

Mundo first became interested in Japan in middle school, where a textbook chapter on pre-modern Japan piqued her interest. Equally important, sizeable Vietnamese and Filipino communities in Fountain Valley made Asian culture tangible to her throughout her childhood.

“Growing up, all of my friends were Vietnamese,” she said. “Everybody around me was speaking Vietnamese and eating Vietnamese food. I thought, ‘That looks good.’ I even asked my Mom, ‘Why don’t you pack me lunches like that?’”

Now Mundo plans to take a gap year before she follows her dream of becoming a university professor. “Most people think I would go for a Ph.D. in East Asian studies, but I’m actually going to apply for programs in cultural studies,” she said.

Read more about Jasmine Mundo on the International Institute website.

She balanced international studies with social justice activism

Growing up in a family where volunteering was the norm, Sophie Zane developed a mindset that “if you care about a problem and you’re not doing anything to solve it, then you become part of the problem.”

Peggy McInerny/UCLA International Institute
Sophie Zane

Zane, who will graduate this week with a double major in international development studies and European languages and transcultural studies, did a wide variety of volunteer work throughout her childhood. She volunteered at food pantries, participated in beach cleanups and environmental restoration projects and organized events for victims of domestic violence.

As a Bruin, Zane volunteered for JusticeCorps at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pasadena throughout the 2021–22 academic year, putting in over 300 hours of service after receiving some 50 hours of training. And although she has done research and policy outreach for both social justice and consulting firms, her work for JusticeCorps remains her greatest source of pride.

“I find that I like working with actual people best, because it feels like you have more of a direct impact,” she said.

Read more about Sophie Zane on the International Institute website.

Earth protector: UCLA Law grad to work at the intersection of tribal and environmental law

Shasta Fields came to UCLA School of Law to make waves in environmental law. She succeeded.

Courtesy of Shasta Fields
Shasta Fields

Fields, who graduated in May, has clerked with a major environmental nonprofit, worked on a case with the California Attorney General’s Office, researched zoning laws as part of her participation in the Environmental Law Clinic, served as president of the Environmental Law Society and was chief comment editor for the Journal of Environmental Law and Policy.

“I knew I wanted to practice environmental law before I came to law school, so it was very important to me to go somewhere that had a robust environmental program,” she said. “Not only is the natural world beautiful, it’s also our home. So, I can't think of work that is more important and worth doing.”

UCLA School of Law is home to the No. 1 environmental law program in the country, and it is bolstered by its Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the center of all things environmental at UCLA Law and the home of many of the extracurricular and experiential opportunities Fields took part in.

Read an interview with Shasta Fields on the School of Law website.

Forging dual paths in music and science

Emma Breen is completing her master’s in trumpet performance and preparing to continue her studies at UCLA this fall as a doctoral student. She has also staked out terrain in the world of science, a passion she holds equally with music and plans to continue. 

Erica Hou
Emma Breen

“You have to be versatile,” said Breen, reflecting on her decision to pursue multiple paths. “And UCLA is a great place to prepare for a career in the 21st century.” 

For Breen, who will serve as the graduate student commencement speaker at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music commencement, the decision to attend UCLA was a very considered one. She chose UCLA over the Royal Academy of Music, both because she wanted to work with trumpet professor Jens Lindemann, and because UCLA offered a different kind of education.

“The Royal Academy is much more traditional in their approach,” Breen said. “I felt like UCLA would give me opportunities to do other interesting things, and that was great. I was also fortunate to receive a Mimi Alpert Foundation Scholarship, which really made it possible to come to L.A.”

Read more about Emma Breen on the Herb Alpert School of Music website.

Finding a future in a shared adventure with his son

Eduardo Jacques Martinez had always envisioned himself going into accounting. But after he completed a stint as a Marine reservist and was preparing to apply to transfer from Long Beach City College to a four-year university, his Veterans Affairs counselor advised him to consider fields that were connected to his passions.

Courtesy of Eduardo Jacques Martinez
Eduardo Jacques Martinez with his son, Bryce

So, after some introspection — a process he refers to as “self-digging” — Martinez opted to apply to UCLA, where he would pursue a major in geology.

“As a child, I always loved to go on outdoor adventures with the family and be surrounded by nature,” Martinez said. “I’m also a single dad, so having my son see and enjoy the outdoors made me even more excited about studying geology.”

Now on the cusp of finishing his undergraduate studies, Martinez, 31, made the most of his final days in labs with classmates, gaining a deeper understanding of structural geology, depositional environments and the rich array of minerals that form in the Earth’s interior. Using a microscope, Martinez can, for example, decipher a rock’s history by analyzing characteristics like its crystal shape, texture, color and luster.

Read more about Eduardo Jacques Martinez on UCLA Newsroom.

He found that he had something unique to offer

Playing first base requires a lot of concentration — which can be difficult when you’ve just heard life-changing news. That’s what happened to Drew Nishikawa during one eventful high school baseball game in 2019.

Sofia McMaster
Drew Nishikawa

“My parents had checked my email and were texting me during the game, saying, ‘Oh my God, you just got into UCLA!’” he said.

The news was especially meaningful to Nishikawa because his journey to UCLA came with some unique challenges. Born with Poland syndrome, which left him with a smaller right hand and a missing right pectoral muscle, the right-handed Nishikawa had to grow up adjusting to life as a lefty. Although he adapted and even became a talented baseball player, he was also diagnosed with dyslexia, which made timed tests particularly challenging.

“I always had this idea that I would need to go to a smaller private school because I have a disability and learning took more time and effort for me,” he said. “Plus, I knew how hard UCLA can be in general. But once I got in, I knew I wanted to go — how could I turn down a place like this?”

Read more about Drew Nishikawa on UCLA Newsroom.

Fulfilling a family tradition but blazing her own trail

If you had to describe Morolake Omoya’s UCLA journey in just two words, you might choose “risks” and “firsts.” 

UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
Rolake Omoya

In March, she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, becoming the first Black student to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

For Omoya, who goes by Rolake (pronounced raw-lah-keh), a career in science and technology is practically a family tradition. But she was the first member of her family to study outside of Nigeria. In 2012, she took a big risk when she moved nearly 8,000 miles away to pursue a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at UCLA. 

“I wanted to blaze my own trail and study in the country I believed offered the best tertiary education at the time, so I applied to the top engineering and civil engineering schools in the United States,” she said. 

Read more about Rolake Omoya on UCLA Newsroom.

‘To be the person I’ve always wanted for myself, for others’

Raised in the Bay Area in a family devoted to education and community engagement, Antwan Adams committed early on to public service. While still in high school, he volunteered at philanthropic organizations and shelters for the unhoused, and he secured internships with local elected officials.

Brooklyn Bush
Antwan Adams

At the same time, he found himself magnetically drawn to the world of broadcast journalism — he calls Anderson Cooper one of his idols — and started to hone his strengths as a communicator and storyteller.

At UCLA, Adams has put all of his skills to work as chair of internal affairs in the office of the president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, sharing students’ perspectives with campus leadership. The role gave him the chance to help advance a wide range of initiatives, including those related to environmental sustainability — one area of particular importance to him.

“It’s rewarding to be working toward the goals that I and many of my student government associates have in place for all Bruins, especially for students of color, women, disabled persons and LGBTQ+-identifying people,” he said. “Being in an executive position where I can advocate for my peers, enact transformative, long-lasting change and make an impact is all that I could ever hope to do with my time here at UCLA.”

Read more about Antwan Adams on UCLA Newsroom.

2 students honored as inaugural Class Artists

Two promising artists, singer-songwriter Paravi Das and filmmaker Jahmil Eady, have been named UCLA’s inaugural Class Artists. Both will earn degrees from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television on June 16.

Lucretia Stinnette (Eady) and Kay Pham-Nguyen (Das)
Jahmil Eady and Paravi Das

The Class Artists program recognizes two students each year — one undergraduate and one graduate student — whose work showcases the presence and purpose of the arts at UCLA. Each honoree receives a $1,500 prize.

“The Class Artists program is a wonderful new way to celebrate the transformative power of the arts and to recognize that they do much more than provide entertainment,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Our two inaugural Class Artists exemplify the capacity of the arts to inspire us, ask us to reflect on aspects of society and challenge us with new perspectives.”

Das, who earns her bachelor’s degree in musical theater this week, was honored for her song “Broken English,” for which she wrote the lyrics and melodies in collaboration with two other artists, Khushi and Carol Ades. The song is a tribute to her parents, who emigrated from India, and a love letter to anyone who has ever felt marginalized because English is their second language. 

Eady was honored for her film “The Bond,” which follows an incarcerated pregnant woman as she gives birth. The short had already been named best student film at the BronzeLens Film Festival and was recognized at the Bentonville and Atlanta film festivals.

Read more about the honorees on UCLA Newsroom.

Creating more opportunities for graduates of color

Applying research to real-life situations has been one of the main missions of Bernard Reyes’ academic pursuits.

Fowler Photography
Bernard Reyes

Reyes, who earned a master’s degree in education from UCLA in 2020, is now poised to earn his doctorate and will participate in the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies commencement on June 17. He also is the founder of HigherRoots Socioeconomic Solutions, which draws upon his varied experience as a student affairs professional and research analyst to provide consulting services for higher education, industry and local government, all with the goal of improving career opportunities for graduates of color. 

As if launching a nonprofit was not enough, Reyes is also reaching back to communities of color, where students’ college aspirations are often hampered by a cultural misunderstanding of higher education. Celebrating 2023 as the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, he created a podcast to encourage students of color to #ownthenarrative of their goals and successes.

The Northern California native has served as a research analyst for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, studying racial climate on college campuses, and for the National Institutes of Health, examining diversity and culturally aware mentoring in the biomedical fields. 

Read an interview with Bernard Reyes at the School of Education & Information Studies website. 

This designer unapologetically lives and breathes art 

“What started my artistic career was wanting to be famous, wanting to be a superstar,” says artist and designer Fabian Rios.

Lauren Villanueva/UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture
Fabian Rios

Growing up in Salinas, California, 100 miles south of San Francisco, Rios subsisted on a steady diet of music videos. Shakira and Beyonce were on regular rotation. The appeal of pop stars, said Rios, “wasn’t so much their fame but more the security that fame brings. I saw these people doing what they love, and that's their life. I want to be like that.

“I want to wake up and my only worry is, ‘How will I do my art today?’”

Now, Rios is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in design media arts and will serve as the undergraduate student speaker at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture’s commencement on June 17.

Read more about Fabian Rios on the School of the Arts and Architecture website.

These seniors shared sustainable farming practices with incarcerated youth in Cameroon

They could have chosen Cabo San Lucas or Cancun, but seven UCLA seniors traveled to a less typical destination for spring break 2023: a youth detention facility in Cameroon.

Courtesy of Madeline Wiygul
From left: Qile Chen, Ogechi Hubert, Maddie Wiygul, associate adjunct professor Kevin Njabo, Teti Omilana and Kristen Tam, and Matthew Puls (front).

And while there was time for the UCLA students to let loose — they dined, played music, danced and shared stories with the Cameroonian youth — they also spent much of their visit getting their hands dirty. Working with the nonprofit Agriculture for Africa, the students farmed and taught sustainable agriculture methods.

The participants were Qile Chen, Ogechi Hubert, Ava McCandless, Teti Omilana, Matthew Puls, Kristen Tam and Maddie Wiygul. And their goals for the 12-day visit were not only environmental but also social: improving the youths’ employment options with an eye toward minimizing the chance that they would return to prison after their release.

The trip was organized through the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability’s senior practicum, a yearlong project for students pursuing degrees in environmental science. The program pairs teams of students with organizations and companies to research and address real-world environmental problems.

Read more about the project on UCLA Newsroom. 

‘If there was one thing I needed to do, it was to give back’

Growing up in South Korea, Gloria Jiyoon Kim was often yelled at by teachers because she struggled to keep up with her wealthy classmates who, thanks to private tutors, had already grasped the material. 

Hyuncheol Kim
Gloria Jiyoon Kim

“I learned to put the blame on myself for not being smart enough,” Kim said. “That pressure, as well as my limited resources and lack of guidance, made me question whether higher education was ever an option for me.”

Since transferring to UCLA from Cerritos College, Kim — who will graduate next week with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and in education and social transformation — has made it a point to pay her experience forward. In addition to participating as a student speaker at Bruin Day this year, she serves as a senior student ambassador for the UCLA RISE Center, which focuses on student mental health and well-being, as well as a peer advisor and office assistant for CCCP. 

“Transfer students bring so many unique experiences to their academic journey,” she said. “We took the path less traveled and arrived at the same destination with a more colorful narrative. What transfers bring to UCLA is vital and makes this institution a better place.”

Read more about Gloria Jiyoon Kim on UCLA Newsroom.

Creating art installations that invite critical discussions

Shani Strand is difficult to pin down. Her artwork is one part sculpture, one part installation and entirely thought-provoking. When discussing her work, she simultaneously shies away from explanations yet provides a plethora of interpretations.

Lauren Villanueva/UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture
Shani Strand

It can be overwhelming, but that’s Strand’s intention. She wants to trigger emotional reactions.

“I want my work to be affect-oriented, and I want critical discussions to be had,” said Strand, who is set to graduate with master’s of fine arts in sculpture. “I’m putting art into the world like an experiment.”

Strand will deliver the graduate student speech at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture’s commencement on June 17.

Read more about Shani Strand on the School of the Arts and Architecture website.

Aspiring urban planner chews into use of city property for outdoor dining

In recent weeks, UCLA graduate student Graham Rossmore has become a go-to expert for Los Angeles officials who are studying the economic pros and cons of continuing the al fresco dining that sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Graham Rossmore

Does the economic benefit of allowing outdoor dining on public property outweigh a loss of revenue from, say,  parking meters? 

Rossmore will receive his master’s degree in urban planning on June 16, and he dove deep into that question and a host of related ones as part of his capstone project at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He found that, indeed, continuing outdoor dining would outweigh a loss of various revenue sources — along with a whole bunch of other benefits.

“Al fresco encourages more people walking, or people choosing to take alternative modes of transportation — and enjoying their neighborhoods,” Rossmore said.

Read more about Graham Rossmore on UCLA Newsroom.

Arjun Verma’s approach to science is equal parts heart and hands-on

It’s hard to say how Bay Area native Arjun Verma first fell in love with science.

Tia Liu
Arjun Verma

One could say that it was inevitable — after all, his mother was a physician who transitioned into clinical research, and his father is a software engineer. But he traces the initial spark to lessons he learned as a child while spending time with his friendly neighbors.

“One was a retired engineer, and he spent a lot of time with me, digging in the garden for bugs and building model train sets and balsa wood airplanes,” Verma said. “And that was when I really gained a deep appreciation for working with my hands and understanding how things work.”

Today, Verma is a molecular, cell and developmental biology major with a minor in bioinformatics on the cusp of his graduation from UCLA — and his entrance into Harvard Medical School this fall. His goal is to become both a scientist and a cardiothoracic surgeon.

“I’m very interested in surgery and data science, and I hope I can contribute to the melding of the two. Through my volunteering, I’ve learned that I love to interact with patients face-to-face and to be a pillar of support for them as they go through difficult times,” he said. “But I also really enjoy the process of taking the challenges patients face and zooming out to think, ‘What kind of research can be done to solve these issues?’”

Read more about Arjun Verma on UCLA Newsroom.