LAURELS: Award for Human Rights Education

A professor puts a symbolic card into a student's backpack during a demonstration
With student Naomi Danner, Professor Keith David Watenpaugh uses a backpack and other materials to demonstrate the difference between human rights and civil rights. (Tim McConville/UC Davis)


  • Keith David Watenpagh, College of Letters and Science
  • David Gold, College of Letters and Science
  • Jesús Velázquez, College of Letters and Science
  • Alan E. Brownstein, School of Law
  • Kevin R. Johnson, School of Law
  • Shama Mesiwala, School of Law
  • Carter C. “Cappy” White, School of Law

Human Rights Educators USA, or HRE USA, has named Keith David Watenpaugh, professor and founding director of Human Rights Studies at UC Davis, the recipient of its O’Brien Award for individual achievement for 2021.

The annual O’Brien awards were established in 2015 in memory of Edward O’Brien, a pioneer in street law programs. They honor individuals and organizations who have made outstanding contributions to human rights education in the United States.

The organization will recognize the professor during its online Human Rights Day Celebration Dec. 10.

In announcing the award, HRE USA said Watenpaugh has led important educational initiatives at UC Davis and in collaboration with partners in the Middle East, including those to address the needs of displaced and refugee university students and professionals.

HRE USA highlighted his roles in developing Human Rights Studies at UC Davis into the largest program of its kind in the UC system, and as founding director of Article 26 Backpack. The latter, available in five languages, uses face-to-face counseling and cloud-based technology to help refugees and other displaced people document and share their educational accomplishments.

“Watenpaugh’s commitment to participatory student involvement in the construction and implementation of the Article 26 Backpack has impressed me most deeply,” said one nominator, adding that the professor “prioritizes the engagement of students as peers, mentors and leaders in the operations of Backpack.”

In 2019, the Institute of International Education awarded a Centennial Medal to Watenpaugh for his “friendship, guidance and dedication” in support of its mission and cited the Backpack project.

Read the story about the launch of Article 26 Backpack in Lebanon in 2018.

Watenpaugh’s most recent book is the award-winning Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism. He is working on a new one exploring how historians, aid workers and humanitarian organizations can recover the voices of refugees, internally displaced people, rape victims and genocide survivors to create a more humane, non-discriminatory and effective humanitarianism.

— Julia Ann Easley, news and media relations specialist, Office of Strategic Communications

David Gold headshot
David Gold

David Gold, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, College of Letters and Science, recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER award — from the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program — to investigate biomarkers for identifying the oldest animal fossils on Earth. CAREER awards are from

Biomarkers, also called molecular fossils, are chemical compounds produced by once-living things that are preserved in the geologic record. These compounds are valuable for natural resource exploration, tracking pollution sources, reconstructing the history of life on Earth and even looking for signs of life on Mars.

The award also provides funding for Gold to recruit American Indian students from regional community colleges for summer research and professional training at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. He also plans to teach an annual short course in computational phylogenetics for young geoscientists.

Read more in this article by Becky Oskin, content strategist, College of Letters and Science.

Jesús Velázquez headshot
Jesús Velázquez

Jesús Velázquez, assistant professor of chemistry, College of Letters and Science, is the recipient of a $15,000 fellowship in sustainable energy, an award named for engineer, scientist and inventor Stanford R. Ovshinsky (1922-2012) and given annually by the American Physical Society.

The early career honor recognizes Velázquez’s “transformative research accomplishments in advancing the production of solar fuels, elucidating fundamental design principles underpinning negative emissions science, and for articulating a bold vision of a sustainable chemical industry using CO2 instead of fossil fuels as the primary feedstock,” according to the society.

— Becky Oskin, content strategist, College of Letters and Science

4 headshots
From left: Alan E. Brownstein, Kevin R. Johnson, Shama Mesiwala and Carter C. “Cappy” White.

Honors for law school faculty:

  • Alan E. Brownstein, professor emeritus — Recipient of the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Milton L. Schwartz/David F. Levi American Inn of Court for judges, lawyers and law students in the Sacramento-Yolo region. The Schwartz/Levi chapter is affiliated with the American Inns of Court, which is dedicated to improving the skills, professionalism and ethics of bench and bar. Professor Brownstein, a nationally recognized constitutional law scholar, taught constitutional law, law and religion, and torts at the School of Law for more than 30 years.
  • Kevin R. Johnson, dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law (and also a professor of Chicana/o studies) — Named as one of the most-cited legal scholars of all time in the category of critical race theory/feminist jurisprudence. The distinction is included in “The Most-Cited Legal Scholars Revisited,” a study by Fred R. Shapiro, associate library director for collections and access, Yale Law School, published in the November edition of the University of Chicago Law Review. A follow-up to Shapiro’s “The Most-Cited Legal Scholars,” published in 2000, the new essay, like the first one, includes a list of the 50 most-cited U.S. legal scholars of all time and adds breakdowns for individual areas. Johnson, an internationally recognized scholar in the fields of immigration law and policy, refugee law and civil rights, is ninth on Shapiro’s top-10 “Most-Cited Critical Race Theory and Feminist Jurisprudence Scholars of All Time.” In October, he was recognized as the most-cited immigration law scholar in the United States in University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter’s highly influential rankings.
  • Shama Mesiwala, J.D. ’98, adjunct professor (and Sacramento Superior Court judge) — Recipient of the Frances Newell Carr Achievement Award for Professional Excellence, given by the Women Lawyers of Sacramento. The award is named after the first woman appointed to the Sacramento Superior Court, in 1975. She subsequently received an appointment as an associate justice on California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal, where she served until her death in 1991. She was a founder of the Women Lawyers of Sacramento and served as the organization’s first president, in 1962.
  • Carter C. “Cappy” White, lecturer with continuing appointment — Recipient of the Joe Ramsey Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service, given by the Sacramento Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. A member of the law school’s clinical faculty, he has taught courses in civil rights and pretrial skills. He has been the supervising attorney of the School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic for 23 years, continuously since 2001. Kimberly J. Mueller, chief judge of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, in congratulating White by letter, noted that he had consistently demonstrated his commitment to pro bono service by working with law students, introducing them to federal pro bono practice and planning and executing several pro bono training events. “You were the very first person to accept a pro bono appointment in the Eastern District of California,” the judge wrote. “Since then, you and the clinic have been appointed in no less than 16 pro bono cases — nine in a general capacity and seven for a limited purpose. Of those cases, 13 have closed: eight settled, three went to trial and two closed for other reasons. You have always fulfilled your appointment obligations, and you currently have two appointments that remain active.”

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Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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