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‘Doers’ in diversity receive chancellor’s achievement awards

By Dave Jones on February 8, 2013 in University News

One is a graduate student in psychology who researches mental health status and ethnic identity in biracial people — and works closely with the Mixed Student Union.

Another is an assistant dean (and physician) who fosters diversity in the School of Medicine — and volunteers at the UC Davis Health System’s Imani Clinic in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.

Celebrate Principles of Community Week, Feb. 25-March 1.

Both are among the 2012-13 recipients of the Chancellor’s Achievement Awards for Diversity and Community, presented during a late afternoon reception Feb. 6 at the Chancellor’s Residence.

All of them are doers in diversity: two staff members, two students, a member of the Academic Senate and a member of the Academic Federation, and a community member.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said diversity adds value, and she thanked the awardees “for committing themselves and their energy to enrich the community.”

Here are the awards, by category:

Academic Senate

• Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine — A professor of clinical internal medicine and the founding director of the university’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

With its emphasis on diversity — appreciating it, celebrating it, promoting it — the center led the UC Davis Health System to better engagement with diverse and underserved communities, and to better understanding of culture and language, all reflected in a higher standard of patient care. 

The center has become the focal point for community and nonprofit groups who strive for improvement in people’s health in Sacramento and Central California’s diverse populations, including black, white and Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and those who are questioning their sexual identity, and Spanish-speaking.

Specifically, Aguilar-Gaxiola devotes his own time, unpaid, in meetings at the grass roots, say, with the leaders of small community centers; and on up to county public health officials and legislators. His persistence is credited with the creation of partnerships with more than 40 community-based organizations.

As a result of his outreach, Aguilar-Gaxiola and his team increased the participation and involvement of underserved communities in mental health policy development and implementation, created bridges between communities and county administrations, and empowered community members and leaders by bringing the results of the community engagement project to communities.

Academic Federation

• Darin A. Latimore, assistant dean, Student and Resident Diversity, School of Medicine — To create an educational experience that fosters an appreciation for diversity and inclusion, Latimore starts with the makeup of the school itself, by conducting extensive outreach to recruit socioeconomically disadvantaged students, residents and faculty.

In high schools, he presents academic enrichment programs designed to prepare students for health science majors in college. Undergraduate college students are provided with “hands-on experience,” in which they assist in caring for underserved and diverse patients in the health system’s community clinics.

In addition, Latimore developed a course specifically for premedical undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds — a course that offers preparation for the medical school admission test and application process.

He works with the Graduate Medical Education Council to increase the diversity in the faculty ranks. And, as president of the California chapter of American College of Physicians, he is leading the way to greatly increase diversity within health professions.


• Donna Billick, co-founder and co-director, Art-Science Fusion Program — No doubt you have seen evidence of this program all around the campus, from the arboretum to the pillars of Robbins Hall to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.

The program, involving students, faculty, staff and members of the community, specializes in mosaic murals and other mosaic art, like Nature’s Gallery in the arboretum — all based on science.

In addition, she has collaborated with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden on the GATEways Project, a framework for innovative, physical and programmatic experiences that open up the riches of the university to the public.

Billick, an alumna (’73, M.F.A. ’76) and longtime member of the Davis community, runs Billick Rock Art, bringing large-scale public art and community-built art to communities across the nation since 1977. She is the founder and director of the Todos Artes workshops that bring community-built art to Baja California.

• Felicia Miller, outreach coordinator, Office of Medical Education, UC Davis Health System — With innovative programs like High School Summer Scrubs & Beyond, Miller encourages underserved and unserved students to pursue health science careers. The programs focus on the importance of academic preparation, especially in math and science.

With Miller’s guidance, the UC Davis Latino Medical Student Association adopted the national association’s Salud program — whereby 200 Spanish-speaking high school and middle school students visited the School of Medicine.  

Miller put on a workshop at the annual conference of the African American Student National Medical Association. In the workshop for African American high school students, she talked about assessing health risks — with President Barack Obama as the patient (well, not him, but the results from his 2010 physical exam).

Miller works on two fronts to boost the number of Native Americans in the pipeline for health science careers. She designs workshops for the Association of American Medical Colleges, on the topic of Native American contributions in medicine, and she has developed outreach programs that connect with more than 1,000 Native American high school students in California each year, resulting in more UC and California State University applications from this population group.

Graduate Student

• Lauren Berger, whose discipline is social personality psychology — She conducts innovative research on the mental health status and ethnic identity of biracial people. Her dissertation, “Unpacking the Relationship Between Ethnic Identity and Adjustment Among Biracials,” tests the explanatory role of self-discrepancies and disaffirming experiences in biracial identity, functioning and adjustment.

She works closely with the Mixed Student Union, serves on the planning committee for Mixed Heritage Week, and developed and organized the now-annual Mixed Heritage Photo Project.

She has mentored dozens of undergraduates (more than 30 research assistants, as well as members of the Mixed Student Union), an honors student and a McNair Scholar.

She is the recipient of a number of awards from the Asian American Psychological Association, including the Dissertation Award (2011), and awards for leadership and service. The UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research presented its Graduate Research Award to Berger in 2009.

She has coordinated several local and national conferences to advance research on cultural diversity issues in mental health interventions.

Undergraduate Student

• Madevi Sun-Suon, double major, economics and design — She is a volunteer in the community and internationally, with a strong commitment to human rights.

As a member of the Prytanean Women’s Honor Society, she has volunteered for Rebuilding Sacramento, the Pence Gallery Garden Tour, the Turkey Trot, the Women’s Resources and Research Center, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

She did an internship at International Bridges to Justice in Geneva, helped design promotional items for the International AIDS Conference, compiled legal aid research and attended the 21st session of the Human Rights Council as an observer.

She is writing an undergraduate honors thesis in economics, exploring the relationship between economic freedom and brain drain in developing countries.

Community Member

• Pleshette Robertson, founder and chief executive officer of the Media Co. and who subsequently created the Sac Cultural Hub Media Foundation, which develops programs to “educate, empower and train young adults and women of color in underserved communities.”

The Bay Area transplant started in 2002 as an Internet platform for multicultural events, e-newsletters, breaking news articles, career profiles, professional business services, classifieds ads, a scholarship directory and a photo gallery for the African American and other urban communities.

Four years later, she helped in the development of THE HUB: Urban Entertainment & Lifestyle Magazine, to complement the website.

UC Davis, through the Office of Campus Community Relations, partners with the foundation on its Exceptional Women of Color Conference. Last year’s conference, the fourth annual, drew more than 600 people to Freeborn Hall.

The School of Medicine partners with the foundation on its Black Physicians Forum, geared toward addressing health disparities in the community. More than 200 physicians and health care professionals participated in 2012, the forum’s second year.

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,