The two UC Davis students have different passions: One advocates on student issues including diversity and inclusion, hunger and homelessness, and mental health. The other works for environmental sustainability and access to education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
What Mariah K. Watson and Lauren Jabusch have in common is the distinction of winning a UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership, presented today (May 11) at the UC Regents meeting in Sacramento.
The awards recognize students and student organizations for outstanding efforts in promoting and supporting programs that address issues through collaborative efforts and further the university’s mission and presidential initiatives. Individual award recipients receive a $2,000 grant.
Watson, a Los Angeles resident who will graduate this June with two bachelor’s degrees in international relations and philosophy, served first as a senator and then as president of the Associated Students of UC Davis in 2015-16.
Jabusch of Newcastle, California, has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Davis and is working on a doctoral degree in biological and agricultural engineering.
Watson has strived to make the campus a safer and more inclusive environment, wrote Milton Lang, associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs, in helping prepare her nomination for the award. “Mariah is an outstanding student leader who is always positive and direct, hardworking, and an asset to whichever conversation she joins.”
Watson got involved in student government as a member of the ASUCD's ethnic and cultural affairs commission in her freshman year. “I immediately knew I wanted to be a vehicle for change,” she said.
Her proudest achievement came when she was entrusted to advocate for a bill that stood against Islamophobia. “It pretty much launched everything else,” she said.
Watson said she was not shy about using her status as the first female African American president of the UC Davis student body in 2015-16 to start “complicated and uncomfortable conversations” about being a Black student at the University of California. The award selection committee noted she was instrumental in establishing productive meetings between the African Black Coalition and the UC Office of the President.
Her contributions include serving as a member of the campus steering committee for diversity and inclusion, planning and hosting a series of community forums regarding national police brutality demonstrations, and initiating a campus task force to tackle the issue of student homelessness. Earlier this year, Watson worked with campus leadership to organize the White House Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans and served as a panelist.
“I care about students needs, wants and desires,” Watson said. “Advocating for them has been something that has made my time at UC Davis rich.”
Watson hopes to be accepted to the Capital Fellows Program in Sacramento and later pursue a career in public policy.
Jabusch has worked to foster sustainability since she started her undergraduate studies at UC Davis. “I just know that I can’t stop,” she said.
She is most proud of her eight-year involvement with the California Student Sustainability Coalition, a network of student organizations that promote sustainability. Jean VanderGheynst, associate dean for research and graduate study in the College of Engineering, said that Jabusch helped what was once a haphazard organization evolve into one with multiple campaigns and programs spanning the state.
Chair for the last two years, Jabusch helps guide the coalition’s vision and goal setting, started an alumni network, and launched the Students for Energy Justice campaign and the Solidarity Organizing Program. On the Davis campus, she has organized coalition conferences, coordinated campus workshops on sustainability and helped create the student-led public lecture series, called the Education for Sustainable Living Program.
Since fall 2015, Jabusch has served as a communications and engagement fellow for UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative. She coordinates the work of about 40 other fellows on UC campuses to promote broader student participation in climate work.
Jabusch has also inspired younger students. She participated in a program that partners doctoral students working on renewable energy technologies with teachers in low-income schools to develop new science lessons and activity plans. And she mentored a team of sixth-grade students through a year-long project to win a competition with their recommendations for saving energy and water at their school.
At UC Davis, Jabusch studies the production side of growing algae to make biofuels. After she completes her doctoral degree, she said, she wants to have a career that mixes ecological and social responsibility with policy.