UCI takes first place in EPA Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 4, 2022 — A cross-disciplinary team of engineering, biological sciences, public health and anthropology graduate students from the University of California, Irvine took first place in Phase 1 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students for their “Unearthing Lead: The Power of Historical Maps” entry, which reveals the dangerous levels of lead in soils in Santa Ana.

The EPA asked college students across the country to create a video “demonstrating innovative approaches to identify and characterize an environmental justice issue in a select community using data and publicly available tools” and were encouraged to collaborate with neighborhood groups to bring a local perspective of challenge they are facing. The UCI student team collaborated with faculty from the Program in Public Health and members of the Orange County Environmental Justice organization to create the video.

Unsafe lead concentrations in the soil is a primary concern of Santa Ana residents in urban, disadvantaged neighborhoods. The video shows how a mixed-model approach combining historical and statistical methods was used to determine that lead-based paint and leaded gasoline were the two main sources of lead contamination which disproportionately affected the city’s communities with lower socioeconomic status.

“This award is a recognition of the collaborative relationships our team built between OCEJ and UCI researchers. Moving forward, the video will help launch the next phase of communicating the research findings on the national level, with the possibility to inspire action in similarly impacted communities,” said Tim Schütz, anthropology Ph.D. candidate and videographer. “It also supports my dissertation research about the role of data and digital technology in environmental activism. As part of the award nomination, our team is planning to submit a peer-reviewed journal article that discusses the use of videos, podcasts and other creative media that help make lead soil contamination a matter of public concern.”

The team also included graduate students Annika Hjelmstad, Ariane Jong, Ashley Green and Irene Martinez, all in civil & environmental engineering; Javier Garibay, civil engineering; David Bañuelas, ecology & evolutionary biology; and Alexis Guerra, environmental health sciences. Schütz and Bañuelas were fellows in the UCI Newkirk Research Justice Shop. The video was produced as part of the year-long training program and practicum in community-based research.

“The video highlights how community-based organizations in the places most impacted by environmental injustices, such as OCEJ and GREEN-MPNA, who are featured in the video, are collaborating with UCI researchers to produce findings that will advance the understanding and mitigation of EJ problems by integrating community knowledge and techno-scientific knowledge in research practice,” said Connie McGuire, RJS director of community relationships and faculty advisor on the students’ EPA Video Challenge submission.

“It’s been such a privilege to work with such a dedicated and talented group of UCI students, faculty and community members on this important work relating to lead contamination in Santa Ana,” said faculty collaborator Shahir Masri, associate specialist of environmental and occupational health with the UCI Program in Public Health. “The team’s video will play a critical role in shedding a light on the environmental injustices facing Santa Ana residents, as well as those in other parts of the country and world to whom environmental inequities play a role in their everyday lives. The end goal, we hope, will be government-assisted remediation of the soil and access to resources to help prevent lead exposure in the community, particularly among the most vulnerable and socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Jun Wu, professor of environmental and occupational health, and Alana LeBrón, assistant professor of public health, both with the UCI Program in Public Health, also served as faculty collaborators.

“Addressing environmental justice concerns is a core part of our work at EPA,” said Chris Frey, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This challenge empowered young people to bring attention to important environmental and public health issues. I look forward to seeing how students collaborate with communities to advance environmental justice in the second phase of this challenge.”

Awards of $20,000, $12,000 and $6,000 were awarded to the Phase 1 first, second and third place recipients, and the seven honorable mentions each received $1,000. A September launch is planned for Phase 2 of the competition, which will be open to all eligible Phase 1 applicants. Students will collaborate with their community partners to develop a strategy or proposal that demonstrates effective engagement and advocacy to address the environmental issues identified in Phase1.

About UCI’s Brilliant Future campaign: Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The Planned School of Population and Public Health plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit Additional resources for journalists may be found at


Carlene Chinn and Adviser Dr. Marcelo Wood Awarded Prestigious Gilliam Fellowship

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Carlene Chinn, a Fourth-year PhD candidate in UCI’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and adviser Dr. Marcelo Wood have been awarded the prestigious Gilliam Fellowship by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study. The pair is one of 51 student-adviser teams to receive the honor.

Each of the 51 elite scholars to receive the honor are conducting outstanding research in their respective scientific fields and are committed to building a more inclusive scientific ecosystem. Each student-adviser pair will receive an annual award totaling $53,000 for up to three years.

Chinn’s research is centered around two projects. The first involves changes to DNA methylation through aging, and whether these epigenetic changes can be used as significant markers in age-related cognitive impairments or a lack thereof. Her second project investigates the role of stress response pathways on long term memory in a sex-dependent manner. She hopes to continue working in a field where her efforts as a scientist can be translational and imperative to answering longstanding questions about neurobiology and behavior. 

“Being awarded as a 2022 Gilliam Fellow is a tremendous honor and opportunity,” Chinn said. “I am hoping this fellowship will allow for me to grow as a member of the scientific community into a scientist that helps to contribute to STEM exposure, inclusivity, and retention of future generations of scientists from traditionally underrepresented groups. Along with the help of my mentor Dr. Marcelo Wood, I aim to strengthen the access to research opportunities that young students receive through scientific communication and mentorship of my own students.”

The Gilliam Program invests in graduate students from populations historically excluded and underrepresented in science so that they are prepared to become scientific leaders.

“To support the development of these students as future scientific leaders, it’s crucial to provide high-quality mentoring, financial support, an inclusive lab environment, and a supportive community,” said David Asai, senior director for science education for the Gilliam program. “True change will not happen on campuses without the support and commitment of faculty and institutional leaders.”

HHMI recognizes that the advisers of Gilliam Fellows play an important role in helping the students realize their high potential. Since 2015, more than 200 Gilliam advisers have successfully completed a year-long course in culturally aware mentorship, developed and led by the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER).

“I’m absolutely delighted and honored to be serving as Carlene’s mentor for this HHMI Gilliam Fellowship,” said Wood. “She is an exceptional researcher and colleague. This HHMI Gilliam Fellowship will allow us to develop our mentoring and leadership skills as well as help foster advances in diversity and inclusion here at UCI.”

Wood’s lab is focused on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms necessary for long-lasting forms of synaptic plasticity, long-term memory, and drug-seeking behavior. We primarily focus on histone modifying and nucleosome remodeling mechanisms. These have been implicated in generating long-lasting changes in cell function that can ultimately give rise to long-term changes in behavior, and most of these enzymes are associated with human intellectual disability disorders.

Click here for more information on the prestigious Gilliam Fellowship program


UCI Places 2nd in NSF Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Challenge

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the winners of the Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Challenge, with UCI finishing second in the STEM Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar category and claiming honorable mention status in the STEM Faculty category.

UCI was the only member of the University of California system to place and was awarded $15,000 for the second-place finish.

NSF awarded cash prizes to the winning institutions of higher education that identified actions they implemented or planned to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in STEM at their colleges and universities.

“This important challenge rewards institutions for their efforts to ensure that the pandemic will not reduce the already low participation and inclusion of diverse students and workers in STEM education and careers,” said Dr. Diana Elder, Division Director of NSF’s Division of Human Resource Development.

Winning challenge participants shared a number of interventions, such as launching a graduate student well-being program, providing accessible and free Wi-Fi connectivity on and near campus and shifting institutional policies to automatically grant tenure clock extensions to faculty.  

“Issues brought on by the pandemic or exacerbated by it really require all hands on deck,” said Dr. Sylvia Butterfield, Acting Assistant Director for NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate. “It was wonderful to see so many institutions across the country share their action plans to tackle the long-term impacts of the pandemic on DEI in STEM.”


43 UCI Graduate Scholars Earn NSF-GRFP Honors

A total of 43 UCI graduate scholars received honors from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 22 of those students received earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), while 21 were recognized with honorable mention.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines across the U.S. Students awarded the fellowship receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, as well as $12,000 paid directly to the university to cover tuition and fees. The GRFP has a history of selecting recipients who go on to achieve high levels of success. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.

This year’s UCI recipients are listed below:

NSF-GRP Award Winners

Araneta, Erin Joy EsposoChemistry – Sustainable Chemistry
Bakis, AthanasiosMathematical Sciences – Computational Statistics
Bautista Garcia, EstebanChemistry – Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry
Castillo, Andrea LidiaSTEM Education and Learning Research – Engineering Education
Dohl, JacobLife Sciences – Cell Biology
Hernandez Santacruz, JasminPsychology – Cognitive Psychology
Huynh, AmyEngineering – Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering
Issa, Mariam AliEngineering – Artificial Intelligence
Liu, Christopher PantayatiwongEngineering – Chemical Engineering
Lopez, John Louis-StrakesSTEM Education and Learning Research – Science Education
Martinez, Maricela XochilLife Sciences – Neurosciences
Mendoza, Guadalupe AileenPsychology – Cognitive Psychology
Muthukumar, PratyushComp/IS/Eng – Artificial Intelligence
Nguyen, HannahChemistry – Chemical Synthesis
Ramirez, FabianMathematical Sciences – Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics
Saleh, SamerEngineering – Chemical Engineering
Samuels, CamilleSocial Sciences – Cultural Anthropology
Schulte Bisping, Marie CelestineLife Sciences – Neurosciences
Showalter, Samuel RComp/IS/Eng – Machine Learning
Sousa, Rachel SylviaMathematical Sciences – Mathematical Biology
Vasquez, Alexander MichaelPhysics and Astronomy – Other (specify) – Chemical, Applied, and Materials Physi
Yang, Lucy LChemistry – Chemistry of Life Processes

Honorable mentions

Allison, StevenMaterials Research – Chemistry of Materials
Bautista, MaliaLife Sciences – Neurosciences
Beshai, Ryan AmirLife Sciences – Ecology
Bonadonna, Christine CarmellaLife Sciences – Other (specify) – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Cenkner, David PatrickPsychology – Developmental Psychology
Cheng, JiangningEngineering – Biomedical Engineering
Cypcar, Andrew DavidChemistry – Sustainable Chemistry
Daniels, Brian SullivanChemistry – Chemical Synthesis
de Carvalho, Gregory BeloLife Sciences – Neurosciences
Fortin, BridgetLife Sciences – Biochemistry
Freedman, HaydenComp/IS/Eng – Software Engineering
Granger-Jones, Jessica AnnChemistry – Sustainable Chemistry
Heid, LesliePhysics and Astronomy – Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
Khazindar, YezzenGeosciences – Arctic-Antarctic
Nishida, MikaelaMathematical Sciences – Statistics
Pahl, Bryant LabajoGeosciences – Paleoclimate
Pina, Dolores AlejandraSocial Sciences – Other (specify) – Global Studies
Ramirez, CuauhtemocLife Sciences – Physiology
Silvester, Joseph MaxwellPhysics and Astronomy – Quantum Information Science
Spitz, ShiriPsychology – Social Psychology
Urrutia Avila, Ashley NoemiEngineering – Biomedical Engineering

UCI’s Graduate Programs Shine in U.S. News & World Report Rankings


UCI joins CGS Coalition to Support Diverse Career Pathways for Humanities PhDs

Washington, DC — Today the University of California, Irvine announced funding from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) to encourage innovative ideas about preparing humanities Ph.D.s for diverse careers following their graduation. Through a competitive process, a committee selected UCI to join The Humanities Coalition, which will develop and assess initiatives for better supporting humanities Ph.D. students transitioning from graduate programs into the workforce, including outside academic institutions.

Universities will be working in one of two areas: grant-writing and resource development, and building professional networks. UCI will focus on grant-writing and resource development for School of Humanities graduate students. Starting summer 2022, the UCI Humanities Center will host a series of grant-writing workshops in partnership with university and local community partners to train graduate students how to seek support for their scholarly and extracurricular projects.

“Graduate students from the humanities go on to work in a variety of professional areas, including, of course, academic employment, but also in cultural institutions, government, business, entrepreneurship, and the non-profit sector,” said Tyrus Miller, dean of the School of Humanities. “Garnering the resources to realize one’s goals is critical to all of these, so having a deeper and broader knowledge of grant-writing represents great career preparation, whichever professional direction a graduate student wishes to pursue after they earn their Ph.D.”

“We’re honored to join The Humanities Coalition,” said Gillian Hayes, Vice Provost for Graduate Education. “Our humanities Ph.D. students are some of the brightest on campus and providing them with more resources is only going to help ensure their academic and professional success.”

This latest project is an expansion of prior work that included developing and supporting a network of 75 U.S. doctoral institutions as they collected data from STEM and humanities Ph.D. students and alumni about their professional aspirations, career pathways, and career preparation. In general, data from the project yield a positive picture of humanities doctoral education. Most alumni reported that they are engaged in meaningful work and believe their doctoral work prepared them for their current job responsibilities. However, data also indicate that humanities Ph.D.s who were employed in business, non-profit, or government, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, feel less adequately prepared than their peers working at universities.

“Building on the extraordinary work of the Ph.D. Career Pathways project, The Humanities Coalition will develop, expand, and scale up a suite of programs and practices in key areas of need. We’ve been conducting research in career diversity for nearly a decade, and this work will take the next logical step from better understanding aspirations to preparing for successful careers,” said Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “We know that humanities Ph.D.s have many possible career paths in front of them. We need to make sure they know their options, how to access them, and that they’ve developed the skillsets necessary for success.”

UCI will join a network of other grantees as well as universities that submitted competitive proposals to participate, including: Arizona State University; CUNY Graduate Center; Howard University; Indiana University Bloomington; Loyola University Chicago; Michigan State University; Purdue University; Texas A&M University; The University of Southern Mississippi; The University of Texas at El Paso; University of Arizona; University of Arkansas; University of California, Irvine; University of Missouri; University of Rochester; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Wayne State University.


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About CGS

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is an organization of approximately 500 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada engaged in graduate education, research, and the preparation of candidates for advanced degrees. The organization’s mission is to improve and advance graduate education, which it accomplishes through advocacy in the federal policy arena, research, and the development and dissemination of best practices.


Two #GradEaters Represent UCI in Tokyo Olympics

Information for this release was gathered with the help of  

IRVINE, Calif. – One current graduate student and one former UCI grad student are among the 16 UCI representatives to participate in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games held July 23-August 8 in Tokyo, Japan. The games were postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UC Irvine men’s water polo player and current graduate student Jason Evezard will play for South Africa in the games. Evezard is in the process of completing his Master’s of Finance at UCI. Amber Neben will compete as a member of Team USA’s Olympic Women’s road race cycling team. She graduated with her Master’s in Biology from UCI.

Evezard is utility player for the Anteater water polo team and was selected as a part of the 13-man roster for the South African Men’s National Team. This marks the first Olympics for Evezard.

Evezard, who has played two seasons at UCI, was named the Golden Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2018 and has led the Anteaters in scoring in back-to-back seasons with 59 goals in 2018 and 50 in 2019. He holds the UCI single game school record, scoring nine goals in 2019. Evezard also is a GCC All-Academic Team selection.

He is no stranger to the South African National Team as he represented South Africa at the 2019 FINA World Championships where he helped the team to a 12th place finish.

Evezard will become the 15th Anteater in men’s water polo history to compete at an Olympic Games.

Evezard will kick off Olympic action Sunday, July 25th against Italy.

Neben is already a household name when it comes to Olympic glory, as she’ll be making her third appearance for Team USA in the Summer Games (2008, 2012, 2020). She competed in the 2008 road race event in the Beijing Olympics, placing 33rd.

She also placed seventh in the time trail event at the 2012 Olympics in London and took home a 36th place finish in the road race event.

Neben did not compete collegiately while at UCI, but she was on a track and field scholarship at the University of Nebraska as an undergraduate. She’s already proven to be a winner off the bicycle as well, as she defeated cancer in 2007 after being diagnosed with melanoma. In addition, Neben also survived spinal meningitis after being in a coma for three days at age four.

For updates, be sure to follow throughout the Olympics.


Remembering the Life of Vince Steckler

Photo Credit: Jiri Turek/Forbes

The UCI community mourns the loss of beloved alumnus, friend and supporter Vincent Steckler ‘80. The former CEO of Avast Antivirus Software passed away in a tragic car accident on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at the age of 62.

Steckler earned both a B.S. in information & computer science and a B.S. in mathematics at UCI in 1980. He joined Avast as CEO in 2009 and transformed the company from a small regional business into a global provider of internet security. Steckler remained active in the Orange County community and was a strong advocate for equity and inclusion in the computing industry.

Steckler donated $1 million to the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences to support women in computing and endowed fellowships and scholarships. Most recently, a $10.4 million gift was made to UCI from the Steckler Charitable Fund, formed by Vincent and Amanda Steckler, to support art history students and to establish the Center for Responsible, Ethical, and Accessible Technology.

About half of the donation – $5 million – will establish the Center for Responsible, Ethical and Accessible Technologies within the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences. The unit will focus on creating a computing industry that’s inclusive, accessible, safe and equitable for all.

The other half of the gift – nearly $5.4 million – will largely be allocated to endowed funds that support graduate and undergraduate students pursuing coursework in art history by providing experiential learning, research-related travel, mentoring, career-building opportunities and fellowships.

The UCI community extends its sincerest condolences to the Steckler family and friends. Vince Steckler will hold a special place in the hearts of many at the UCI campus.

Per the family’s request, those who would like to share memories can do so by emailing


UCI Graduate Students Take Part in Historic 2021 Commencement Ceremony

Nearly 1,500 graduate degrees were conferred during the 2020-21 academic year, marking a monumental accomplishment for UCI graduates and their families.

In a year of such uncertainty, tragedy, loss, and adversity, UCI graduate students rose to the challenge. But maybe most importantly, limited family and friends (2 guests) were allowed to be at the Bren Events Center for priceless onstage moments during Sunday’s Graduate Hooding Stage Moments, which took place from 4-7 pm PT. While it certainly didn’t take the place of the full in person ceremony, graduates were able to walk the stage and be hooded. This was something that was sorely missed last year due to the global pandemic.

“This year’s ceremony was unique, but almost fittingly so,” said Vice Provost for Graduate Education Gillian Hayes. “These graduates have navigated challenges no scholar has ever had to deal with before. While the rest of the world was trying to stay afloat amid a global pandemic, social injustice, and other treacherous obstacles, UCI graduate students pushed through. This has been an inspiration for all of us.”

In addition to the on-stage moments, graduate students took part in a virtual Graduate Hooding Reception on Saturday.

The graduate degree breakdown for the 2020-21 academic year is below:

  • Master’s degrees: 845
  • Doctoral degrees: 289
  • Law degrees: 220 (conferred May 8)
  • Medical degrees: 105 (conferred June 5)

Stories of outstanding UCI graduates are available at the #IamUCI special report site:


Four Graduate Scholars Earn Dynamic Womxn of UCI Awards

IRVINE, Calif. — This year, four incredible UCI Graduate students, Janielle Vidal, Sophia Metcalf, Elissa Cobian, and Herschell Valenova Dayag earned Dynamic Womxn of UCI Awards. These prestigious awards celebrate and honor womxn leaders who leverage their graduate education to make a positive difference in the world. Each student has gone above and beyond to initiate change and fight for causes they believe in.

“These four scholars are incredibly impressive, both inside the classroom and in the community,” said Gillian Hayes, Vice Provost for Graduate Education. “We’re lucky to have such great ambassadors to UCI, and I know all four of them will continue to impact the world in positive ways.”

Janielle Vidal and Sophia Metcalf received the Academic Achievement Award, which honors members of the UCI community who have contributed academic research/theory that advances knowledge, narratives, and/or pedagogy that elevates Womxn and BIWOC (Black, Indiginous, Womxn of Color) issues in their field.

Janielle is a PhD candidate in Environmental Health Sciences and deeply cares about advocating for underserved populations at UCI.

 “She has repeatedly been called on to do extra-curricular racial bias training as one of a handful of Black PhDs in UCI’s Medical School. Her work has contributed to several substantial changes at UCI’s Medical School,” writes UCI’s Womxn Hub

Janielle sincerely hopes to be an inspiration and role model for other Black women.

 “I wish for others to see me (a Black woman from Jamaica) and know they can reach similar, if not better heights given the resources to do so,” said Janielle. 

After graduating from UCI, Janielle hopes to use the insights from her graduate education to help agencies make critical decisions to improve human health. 

Sophia, who just graduated with her MFA in Acting, co-founded UCI’s first queer theatre company, Brick Theatre, and has been actively involved in Students Mobilizing Change (SMC). She also serves as an Inclusive Excellence Ambassador for UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence

“UCI has an impressive cadre of high achieving and community engaged leaders, and it was an honor to be nominated with them,” Sophia said.

As a teaching assistant, Sophia has continuously created a safe and collaborative learning space. Post-graduation, they plan to continue teaching and engaging in the New York City social justice community with the goal of changing students’ lives for the better. 

Elissa Cobian, an MA candidate in Public Policy, received the Outstanding Social Justice Activist Award. Elissa worked tirelessly to promote CalFresh, a federally-funded nutrition assistance program that provides financial resources to people experiencing food insecurity, as a way to combat malnourishment and poverty. Elissa created tutorial videoshandouts, and guides to help break down the application process for students and eliminate any barriers. Her work has been instrumental in helping students ensure their basic needs are met.

Herschell Valenova Dayag, an MPH student in Public Health and advocate for preventative care, received the Dynamic Womxn of the Year Award, which honors individuals who have gone above and beyond to make a significant contribution to the UCI community. 

“To me, this award represents the momentous hurdles I have overcome to earn my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while actively making a difference in the UCI community for over 7 years,” said Herschell. “Being bestowed with this prestigious accolade is a culmination of the first-rate education I received from UCI’s Public Health Program’s cutting-edge training, its esteemed faculty, and the guidance of my distinguished medical mentors. I am proud to be honored as a fellow UCI trailblazer alongside such inspirational womxn on our campus.”

Herschell’s experiences at UCI have fueled her continued dedication to education, research, mentoring, and community service. After graduating, she is committed to using her skills to empower others and create a healthier future.

These phenomenal students exemplify how UCI graduate students are the future leaders of the world. On behalf of the UCI Graduate Division, congratulations to all of the award recipients and thank you for your incredible work!