Women’s History Month
Women at UCI are passionate about transforming the world around them – whether they’re providing lifesaving vaccines for their communities, making STEM careers accessible to everyone, elevating Black perspectives in media, or eradicating hunger on a global scale. May their stories of breaking down institutional barriers – not just for themselves, but for all the generations yet to come – inspire us this Women’s History Month and always.
Chief Operating Officer
Director and founding dean
Program in Public Health
This list of UCI faculty, staff and students who have stepped up to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic is long and impressive, with the contributions of Nasim Afsar and Bernadette Boden-Albala holding particular importance. Boden-Albala joined UCI in 2019 as director of the Program in Public Health to build a School of Population Health, and she’s become a pivotal figure in Orange County’s response to the pandemic and a valued leader in establishing campus protocols. She’s helping lead county surveillance and contact tracing efforts and participates on the Orange County Vaccine Taskforce, which determines how vaccines are delivered in our county. Afsar became COO of UCI Health last October, leading planning and construction, emergency management, clinical support services and facilities management, and ambulatory care for the county’s top healthcare system. In addition to helping oversee UCI Medical Center’s response to COVID patient care, she’s managing the complex creation and logistics of UCI Health’s drive-thru testing sites and vaccine clinics at the Bren Events Center, assuring that tens of thousands of eligible patients receive vaccines efficiently and effectively.
What are you looking forward to doing when pandemic restrictions are lifted?
Afsar: Our family really misses traveling – we’re looking forward to continuing to explore the world in the future.
Boden-Albala: I am looking forward to seeing the world again – traveling both to see my family on the east coast and in the UK, and experiencing the history, cuisine and cultures of a global landscape.
What new talent have you developed during the pandemic?
Afsar: The pandemic has really honed our decision-making skills when we don’t have all the data and information to proceed. I’m very proud of how our team has come together on behalf of our patients and community.
Boden-Albala: I have always multi-tasked, but the pandemic has called for a new level of precision juggling. In this pandemic we all had to embrace and implement everchanging COVID guidelines on top of assuring the wellbeing of faculty, students and staff while continuing to manage other public health priorities.
Claire Trevor School of the Arts – Dance
Like any good dancer, Beverly Bautista knows how to pivot. When the pandemic curtailed opportunities to travel and perform for live audiences, she turned to teaching Zoom dance classes. Along the way, she found herself showing other artists how to navigate the new world of online instruction. Thanks to a fellowship from UCI’s Graduate Division, Bautista received training to support faculty in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts in adapting dance classes for online instruction. Her dance background also helped her handle the painful emotions generated by a pandemic, protests for racial justice and a toxic political climate. “Without a doubt, dance has been and continues to be my voice as I process last year and even the past couple of months, with increasing reports of hateful anti-Asian rhetoric,” she says. Bautista’s M.F.A. thesis explores Asian American identity and perceptions in the commercial dance industry. She says that learning Asian American history has empowered her and made her more confident in sharing her work and perspective as a Filipino American choreographer and dancer. Bautista’s dance resume includes touring with Nicki Minaj in Japan and Australia and performing on the TV show “Lip Sync Battle.” While last summer was a departure from her “normal” routine of traveling to dance conventions and teaching, she’s grateful for the opportunities and lessons learned. “I hope to collaborate with artists and continue to bring awareness to social justice issues involving the Asian American and Filipino communities,” Bautista says.
What’s your favorite dance movie of all time?
“West Side Story”!
Follow Beverly on Instagram: beverlyjaneb
Founder and inaugural chair, Women in Technology at UCI
To connect, inspire and empower women working, researching and teaching in technology-related fields across campus, Shohreh Bozorgmehri led the creation of Women in Technology at UCI. Through strategic partnerships, educational events and networking activities, Women in Technology at UCI’s objective is to engage with staff, faculty, students and alumni to further the group’s vision and build an alliance of women innovators and leaders and those who support them. “Our slogan is to ‘advance, inspire, empower and act,’” says Bozorgmehri, who is also the director of student and academic services division in the Office of Information Technology. “WiT UCI is an organization that will work tirelessly to make a positive difference by focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. Its vision extends across all areas of technology at UCI, and our goal is to initiate change that advances, inspires and empowers women.”
What woman (or women) in STEM influences you?
As the first woman engineer in my family, during a time where few women studied computer science, I constantly looked up to other women for inspiration and still do. I was fascinated by Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), a pioneering woman who wrote about how machines could be algorithmically programmed using code like today’s computers. We both shared a passion for the intersection of humanities and science, and I was continuously inspired
The importance of community is a hallmark of Tonya Williams Bradford’s research. Her studies have shown that membership helps drive success in achieving goals and producing change. As faculty adviser, she was instrumental in launching the Black Management Association, an organization that seeks to foster community and facilitate professional advancement for Black students and alums of The Paul Merage School of Business. Bradford is a proponent of making connections with various business groups to grow the networks of Black Management Association members. In addition to BMA, she is passionate about “creating opportunities and pathways for women to excel while remaining true to themselves.”
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in researching communities?
I’ve studied tailgating, weight loss, surgical, detox, organ donation and brand communities. Each has exposed me to many things I had not contemplated previously. I believe the most interesting thing I’ve learned is how similar these different communities are in terms of the ways in which members interact, support one another, and employ rituals and brands.
School of Humanities – Literary Journalism
As literary journalism majors, editors at New University, and co-hosts of the video series “The Welcome Table With Sydney and Tatum” and the “Black Fam 2.5” podcast, Sydney Charles and Tatum Larsen are revolutionizing the media world at UCI and beyond. In their up-and-coming audio show – named in reference to the fact that Black students account for 2.5 percent of students across the UC system – the seniors spotlight the Black community on campus and discuss contemporary topics such as mental health, entrepreneurship, and the relationship between COVID-19 and inequality. The video interview series, part of the Black Thriving Initiative, won a CASE gold award for responding creatively to the events of 2020.
What’s your favorite podcast, and why?
Charles: One of my favorite podcasts is “Therapy for Black Girls,” hosted by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford! There are very few platforms focused on women of color, and not only does this one focus on Black, indigenous and people of color, but it’s also centered on derailing myths and stereotypes not talked about in the Black community.
Larsen: My top podcast is “Code Switch,” because it introduces me to so many strong Black voices that are able to speak on the multifaceted nature of Black history and culture with every episode. I also love “Why Won’t You Date Me?” – a podcast about love, relationships and culture hosted by one of my favorite comedians, Nicole Byer.
Leticia Fernández is a third-year student double majoring in mathematics and Spanish. Her interests include sports data analysis and STEM outreach in underrepresented communities. She is a passionate advocate for women in science, technology, engineering and math careers and is dedicated to raising awareness of the racial gap in STEM education – and working to bridge it. Fernández’s goal is to improve representation for minority students across the STEM academic landscape.
What advice do you have for women from underrepresented groups who are considering a career in STEM?
Never hide who you are or where you’re from, for you bring so much to the table. Begin to talk to people, build a network, ask questions, stay curious and don’t ever be afraid to challenge the status quo. Never stop building a strong network and community that will help foster your future.
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering – Mechanical and aerospace engineering
Amy Huynh, a first-generation college student majoring in both mechanical and aerospace engineering, wants to inspire future generations of girls from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in space exploration. The senior has worked on multiple research and design projects, including her own engineering education study to understand how internships affect female engineering undergraduates’ learning experience in the classroom. Huynh’s part-time job as an undergraduate researcher in the Designing Education Lab at Stanford University led to a first-author journal publication. The recipient of multiple fellowships, she has interned four times at NASA, as well as at Astra, a startup rocket launch company, and Made in Space, which manufactures microgravity technologies. In February, Huynh won a 2020-21 Women in Aerospace Foundation scholarship.
Do you have a favorite space movie?
My favorite space movie is Disney’s “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.” But watching “October Sky” in middle school got me to pursue aerospace!
Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA)
Kim Kanatani came to UCI from the Guggenheim in 2019 with a mission to create a welcoming hub and lay the groundwork for a new museum and research institute. IMCA uses its collection, exhibitions and programs to celebrate the work of artists who illuminate California’s rich cultural heritage and its global contexts. “Through our founding collections of modern and contemporary art, IMCA is exploring new ways to connect with our campus, regional and peer communities,” she says. “We intend to propel higher education learning and research, ignite K-12 education, and offer vibrant programs that enrich the cultural landscape of Orange County.”
Which museum inspires you?
There are too many to choose! Every museum visit is inspiring in any number of ways. Of course, IMCA is the one that I am immersed in and inspired by daily.
Who is your most influential mentor?
I’ve had the great fortune to work with wonderful mentors throughout my career, including the museum director who initially helped guide my professional path, the late Josine Ianco-Starrels of the LA Municipal Art Gallery.
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CalFresh coordinator at the FRESH Basic Needs Hub
Alumna Malak Kudaimi is passionate about alleviating health disparities and promoting health on a global level. As an undergrad majoring in both international studies and public health policy, she interned for the Associated Students of UCI’s food security commission, led a research project about campus food insecurity, and put together cooking workshops for the FRESH Basic Needs Hub. After Kudaimi graduated with summa cum laude honors in 2018, she worked on a college hunger project in Seattle and researched effective nutrition policies for women in Washington, D.C., through the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship program. Kudaimi is currently the CalFresh coordinator at the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, and she recently became the first UCI staff member to receive the prestigious Marshall Scholarship.
What’s your favorite dish, and why?
My favorite meal would have to be chicken curry (from any culture). I love the mixture of creamy sauce, spices and chicken that you can dip bread into or eat with rice. So delicious!
Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences – Informatics
Success as a young chess player helped Nika Nour get into college at age 14. She left middle school to attend Cal State Los Angeles and found the diverse environment liberating. Nour graduated with a B.A. in communications and went on to earn an M.A. in strategic public relations at The George Washington University and an M.S. in biodefense at George Mason University. At UCI, for her Ph.D., she’s focusing on online misinformation, with an emphasis on deepfakes. “Misinformation online is really, really broad, but I love looking at things five years down the line,” Nour says. “That’s my approach to everything, because if you don’t shoot for the moon, if you don’t punch high, what’s the point of it all? That’s why I picked deepfakes.”
On pursuing a doctorate, she says: “It’s not a daunting task to get a Ph.D. if you have an idea and a narrow project focus and an insatiable thirst and curiosity to learn about this problem in the world that you want to solve. I would like to see more people who look like me or come from backgrounds that would never expect [a doctorate] to be an option.”
What’s your favorite thing about UCI?
The informatics department – everyone is incredibly kind and encouraging.
Associate professor of criminology, law & society
School of Social Ecology
Higher education has proven to be a remarkably effective intervention for reducing recidivism, lowering the crime rate and improving public safety. Since her days teaching in prisons while an undergraduate at Harvard University, Keramet Reiter has been a forceful advocate for educating the incarcerated. Now she’s director of Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, UCI’s recently established in-prison B.A. completion program, the first in the UC system. “People need to understand that 95 percent of those currently incarcerated will be released, so helping them successfully reintegrate into society is important not only to incarcerated people and their families, but to the community as well,” Reiter says.
How did you get involved teaching prisoners while at Harvard?
I always loved teaching, and I was looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity as a freshman in college. I had a few new friends (including my now-husband) who were teaching in prison, and their experiences sounded interesting, so I volunteered. The students I met – mostly tutoring for GEDs – were articulate and inspiring, and I was repeatedly surprised at how much trauma they had experienced in and out of prison. Within a few years, I was overseeing the undergraduate volunteer programs in prison and doing advocacy work around prisoners’ rights.