Graduate Division

Courtney Echols and Brenna Biggs Earn Dynamic Womxn of UCI Awards

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Picture of Courtney Echols and Brenna Biggs

Irvine, Calif. – UCI PhD candidates Brenna Biggs and Courtney Echols were honored by the Dynamic Womxn of UCI Awards committee in June, as Brenna was named Dynamic Womxn of the Year and Courtney was awarded the honor of Outstanding Social Justice Activist.

Brenna is currently a PhD candidate in UCI’s department of chemistry. Her research focuses on effectively trapping greenhouse gasses and using the energy to provide electricity to power various dairy farms across the world. Courtney is working on her PhD in Criminology, Law & Society and her research centers on documenting historical anti-Black violence in the United States. 

“I’m lucky to know both of these wonderful scholars,” said Graduate Division Dean Gillian Hayes. “It’s no surprise that these two were nominated for their various awards, as both have made a tremendous impact on their communities with their research and philanthropic efforts.”

Courtney’s work, as both a community organizer and researcher, is rooted in two core principles: 1.) Once Black people get free, everybody gets free. 2.) to know the present, we must understand the history. Her research centers on documenting historical anti-Black violence in the US and intervening in its legacies. For example, some of Courtney’s research examines the relationships between violent anti-Black histories and various contemporary measures of inequality and conflict as well as how transitional justice efforts relate to and impact these legacies.

“I am grateful to have received this recognition by the Womxn’s hub, but I also believe white people have a duty and obligation to fight for justice—particularly given that we only got to where we are today because our ancestors committed genocide against Native people and then built their wealth on the backs of Black people,” said Courtney. “I echo so many others and call upon all white people to leverage their privilege and access to resources within and outside of this university to directly confront anti-Blackness. By centering racial justice in our fight for social justice, justice in all other arenas will inevitably follow.”

Courtney is expected to graduate with her PhD in 2023. She also received her master’s degree in Social Ecology from UCI, while also earning her BA from UCI. She triple majored in Criminology, Law & Society, Psychology & Social Behavior, and Social Ecology.

“We are proud to see Courtney Echols honored through this award,” said Associate Dean of Social Ecology Susan Coutin. “I’ve had the privilege of reading some of her academic work and have seen her commitment to documenting forms of racial violence."

Brenna’s research is impressive in its own right, as she was recently named a Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) Fellow. The UC President’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellowship Program funds student-generated projects that supports the UC system’s goal to produce zero-net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Brenna also took second place at UCI’s Grad Slam Finals for her research.

“I am incredibly honored and excited to be chosen as the Dynamic Womxn of the Year, Biggs said. “UCI is home to such amazing role models that have inspired my journey to empower and make space for others to shine. I am grateful to be part of the Anteater family, and I hope to make our campus proud.”

In addition to Brenna’s outstanding research, she also goes out of her way to inspire women of all ages to be confident and believe in their dreams and goals. The combination of her research and her positive spirit has made Brenna a special ambassador to UCI.

“I am very excited for Brenna that she received the Dynamic Woman award,” said Associate Dean of Physical Sciences Isabella Velicogna.  In addition to being an impressive scholar, Brenna is very committed to community service, communication, and to promoting the use of science for decision making. She is very much deserving of this award and we feel very fortunate to have her in our school at UCI.”

Brenna received her master’s degree in Physical Chemistry from UCI in 2020 and completed her undergraduate education with a degree in chemistry at Cal State Fullerton 2015.

For more information on the winners and the Dynamic Womxen of the Year Awards click here.