Chancellor honors 7 for achievement in diversity and community

The 2014 Chancellor’s Achievement Awards for Diversity and Community have been presented in the categories of Academic Senate and Academic Federation, staff, undergraduate and graduate student, community member — and in a new category, post-doctoral scholar.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor for Campus Community Relations, made the presentations during a reception Feb. 13 at the Chancellor’s Residence.

The chancellor gave seven awards in seven categories, to Barbara Horwitz, Academic Senate; Wetona Suzanne Eidson-Ton, Academic Federation; Kriti Garg, undergraduate; Cristian Heredia, graduate student; Tanya Whitlow, staff; Georgia West, community member; and the post-doc, Carolina Balazs.

Academic Senate: Barbara Horwitz, distinguished professor, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior; former vice provost of Academic Personnel (now called Academic Affairs), 2001-11; and former interim provost, 2007-08.

She is the program director of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity-Development, funded by the National Institutes of Health for 13 years, during which time she has mentored nearly 100 underrepresented minority students in the initiative’s graduate component (42 of whom have completed their Ph.D.s); and provided oversight of the undergraduate components, the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program, or BUSP, and BUSP Honors.

In her own lab, Horwitz has mentored more than 300 undergraduates, among them about 25 percent from underrepresented student populations, and 12 Ph.D.s (three of them from underrepresented student populations).

She also serves as the program director of the NIH-funded Biology Scholars Advanced Research Program, or BSHARP, which provides mentoring for junior and senior honors students from underrepresented populations — students who are headed for research careers in biomedical related areas.

As head of Academic Personnel, Horwitz instituted and strengthened efforts to promote faculty diversity and advancement, including the Partner Opportunities Program (offering, for example, employment assistance to the partners-spouses of newly recruited faculty members); and family-oriented work-life programs (including accommodations for childbearing and childrearing leaves).

In 2006, Horwitz was instrumental in securing a $250,000 Alfred P. Sloan Award for the Davis and Berkeley campuses, to expand programs that support career flexibility for tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Academic Federation: Wetona Suzanne Eidson-Ton, associate clinical professor, School of Medicine; director, Family Medicine Medical Student Education Program; and director, Rural-PRIME (part of UC’s Programs in Medical Education, dedicated to improving medical services to underserved communities).

Since joining the faculty in 2002, Eidson-Ton has designed, promoted and taught cultural competence curricula for students in School of Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, as well as residents in the Department of Family Medicine — readying a new generation of health care providers to care for culturally diverse communities.

She has been instrumental in recruiting and training a diverse and community-oriented student body — students who go on to practice in regions where there are physician shortages. And she has contributed to a “match” rate that exceeds the national average for the matching of medical school graduates to further training in the primary care disciplines.

As an advocate for underserved communities, Eidson-Ton led the successful effort to reopen the Knights Landing Clinic (Yolo County), run by Rural-PRIME students.

Additionally, she was instrumental in the UC Davis Health System’s launch last year of a system to record patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity — asking for such information in a sensitive manner — so as to provide the specific care they may need as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people.

Undergraduate Student: Kriti Garg, a third-year student who is majoring in international relations and living international relations — forging relationships with students across all social and cultural identities, and bringing diverse communities together.

So you can easily understand her involvement with the Cross Cultural Center, as an intern (serving as coordinator of campus climate and community outreach) and as a co-coordinator of the center’s 2014 REACH Retreat (REACH stands for Reaffirming Ethnic Awareness and Community Harmony).

Last year, she served as the lead coordinator for UC Davis’ delegation to the Students of Color Conference, and she was instrumental in recruiting 95 students to travel to the conference, held in November at UCLA. Garg led a workshop at the conference, on how to build a peer-led diversity and social justice program.

She has been a member of the ASUCD’s Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission since 2012, and chairs it this year, leading a panel of 10 students in advancing programs and policies on diversity and inclusion.

In short, she is described as an outstanding student leader, and an ambassador of diversity and inclusion for UC Davis — inspiring many of her peers to join movements or participate in projects to advance equity and inclusion.

And she does it all while serving as a peer adviser in the College of Letters and Science, and maintaining a 3.6 grade-point average.

Graduate Student: Cristian Heredia, a first-generation college student, pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, and striving to help others who like himself are members of underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

Through the Latino/a Graduate Student Association, he mentors Latino undergraduates and helps them with graduate school applications. Then, after the students go off to other schools around the country, Heredia maintains the connections he made at UC Davis — supporting his former mentees via online video chats.

On the other end of the spectrum, Heredia believes in early outreach as an essential part of recruiting students to the STEM fields. He did this as a paraeducator at Frances Harper Junior High School in Davis, serving as a tutor, translator and mentor.

In the same role at Rio Linda Prep Academy in Sacramento, he taught science modules to fifth- and sixth-graders, and fostered team building and leadership through weekly science activities.

Last year, with a Business Development Fellowship from the Graduate School of Management, he gained experience for a career in industry and the opportunity to develop new business ventures.

Today, as a fellow of the National Science Foundation, he teaches science modules to fifth-graders in traditionally underserved schools, and helps with after-school programs.

All this goes along with his interest in the intersection between technology and social responsibility: He envisions being involved in a project to deploy low-cost solar harvesting technology to developing countries, in the hope of providing an alternative to fossil fuel dependency.

Post-Doc: Carolina Balazs, a UC Presidential Post-Doctoral Scholar (2013-14), works in the field of environmental justice, in particular clean drinking water in California. She has been a strong advocate for low-income Latino communities in the Central Valley where some of the state’s most egregious water violations are found. 

She did her graduate work with the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. She received a Master of Science degree in water resources management in 2006 and a Ph.D. in environmental health and water resources management in 2012. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science from Brown University in 2001.

She looks at health impacts, regional planning, and water system capacity and sustainability, as well as the disproportionate burden of poor drinking water quality. Her published articles on nitrate contamination of drinking water in the San Joaquin Valley have been widely circulated.

Balazs, described as a model of engaged scholarship and policy impact, has worked for and in partnership with the Community Water Center, an independent, nonprofit organization based in Visalia (Tulare County) with an office in Sacramento.

With her research and engagement, she has made important contributions to solving crucial environmental justice issues, and advancing knowledge about the social, economic, political and technical variables that influence environmental justice outcomes.

Staff: Tanya Whitlow, student affairs officer, College of Engineering, where she is the leader of LEADR, a new student center designed to improve the retention rate among historically underrepresented student populations in engineering. 

LEADR stands for Leadership in Engineering Advancement, Diversity and Retention. Whitlow played an instrumental role in developing the center’s mission statement and goals — and in raising $200,000 to help fund the project. She did it with connections she made as an adviser in another diversity effort, the MESA Engineering Program, or MEP, part of Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA.  

MEP no longer exists, but its graduates are out in the field, working, and now giving back as mentors in LEADR. And giving Whitlow her inroad to industry, for funds to support LEADR.

Some of the funds went to the Special Transition Enrichment Program, or STEP, which works in recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented populations. Because of budget woes in recent years, the number of STEP students had to be reduced. Whitlow’s fundraising, however, forestalled a cut in the number of STEP engineering students.

Whitlow also has partnered with the advisers in the dean’s office to provide summer advising and mandatory quarterly advising for all STEP students. Of the 34 engineering students who participated in STEP in 2012, all but two are still in the major — a remarkable feat, considering the overall retention rate of freshmen in engineering is close to 50 percent.

Whitlow is described as a role model to colleagues, always leading by example in promoting diversity — a champion who works diligently to ease the way into engineering education, for women and for students from underrepresented populations in engineering.

Community Member: Georgia “Mother Rose” West, owner of Underground Books in Sacramento’s Oak Park, an historically African-American community whose residents have not always felt UC Davis was within their reach for admission opportunities and community educational programming.

Enter Underground Books, as a partner with the Office of Campus Community Relations, and, in particular, its Campus Community Book Project. By encouraging people on and off campus to read the same book, UC Davis aims to promote dialogue and build community among people of all backgrounds.

Underground Books is part of the 40 Acres Art Gallery and Cultural Center, which has become the hub of cultural and civic revitalization efforts in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.

Underground Books has played a major role in this effort, by presenting exhibitions and educational programming, including panel discussions on the Campus Community Book Project.

This partnership has planted a seed that will provide a pathway for Oak Park students and their families to deepen their connections with the university, advancing the university’s goal to increase the number of African American students.

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