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Emilia Fields, a second-year PhD student in public health, was among the Graduate Student Excellence Award recipients.

The 2021 Latinx Excellence and Achievement Awards took place April 1 as a virtual gala. In its fourth year, UCI’s LEAD remains the only celebration and awards event in the University of California system focused on Hispanic and Latinx graduate student success.

This year’s event welcomed remarks by Chancellor Howard Gillman and UCI Foundation Trustee Gaddi Vasquez and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla. It recognized graduate research excellence and achievement in all 15 academic units at UCI based on nominations from the senior leadership in the units. Here is a list of the recipients.

The Latino Excellence and Achievement Awards began in 2018 as the inspiration of Ph.D. in Education graduate Veronica Ahumada Newhart, who believed that as a federally designated Hispanic Serving  Institution, the time had arrived to celebrate the accomplishments of UCI’s Hispanic and Latinx community. Currently, Latinos are 39.4% of the state population in California but are only 11.4% of the graduate student population at UCI. LEAD aims to raise awareness of challenges in the graduate community, increase visibility of success, and inspire the Hispanic/Latinx community to advance in graduate and postdoctoral programs.

In addition to recognizing a graduate student in each academic unit, LEAD recognized 5 campus-wide awardees: Outstanding Community Builder Award to José Mayorga, M.D., assistant clinical professor of family medicine; Distinguished Staff Leadership Award to Burt Alvaro Slusher, M.S., director of recruitment and admissions for specialty masters programs, Merage School of Business; Outstanding Faculty Mentorship Award to Leo R. Chavez, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of anthropology, and Regina Ragan, Ph.D., professor of materials Science & engineering; and Outstanding Alumni Leadership Award to Héctor Tobar, M.F.A.UCI alumni and associate professor of literary journalism and Chicano/Latino studies.

Something new this year was the addition of a ZotFunder award to honor José Flores Velázquez, a former UCI Physics & Astronomy PhD student who passed away in 2019. Student LEAD awardees will receive fellowships from a memorial fund in honor of Velázquez.

The mission of LEAD is to: celebrate graduate student research excellence and achievement; recognize faculty, staff and alumni who provide support for excellence and success; and create a sense of community and institutional memory of academic and professional achievement in the UCI Hispanic and Latinx community.