Seven Honored for Making a Difference, One Innovative Step at a Time

UC Riverside faculty and alumni recognized for their work in solving social problems and empowering others to succeed

UCR Riverside alumna Carrie Garcia speaks at the Living the Promise Symposium. Photo by Carrie Rosema

By Jeanette Marantos

When teacher, activist and UC Riverside alumna Carrie Garcia said she wanted to change the world, an elder within her Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians just laughed.

“But I told him, ‘I cannot the change world we live in, but the world I live in, the community where I live. And if I can do it, then you can do it too,’” Garcia said Nov. 10, at UCR’s Living the Promise Symposium on Social Innovation and Empowerment.

Garcia was one of seven UCR faculty and alumni who were honored for their work in solving social problems and empowering others to succeed. The event was part of a yearlong series of symposia to highlight the six key themes in the university’s Living the Promise campaign to raise $300 million for student support, faculty research and infrastructure by 2020.

UCR Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Paul D’Anieri said UCR is about halfway to its goal, and is taking its project to the public through a series of public events “that celebrate what’s great about UC Riverside and what contributions UCR makes to students and to the community.”

Gabriela Canalizo makes a point during the panel discussion. Photo by Carrie Rosema</b

Gabriela Canalizo makes a point during the panel discussion.
Photo by Carrie Rosema

During the symposium, the honorees briefly outlined their projects, and emphasized the need to stay focused on specific goals for change, to avoid getting overwhelmed by the world’s complex needs.

“One think I like to tell people is to resist the temptation to be paralyzed,” said Gabriela Canalizo, professor of physics and astronomy, who has spent six weeks every summer since 2006 teaching science and English to more than 200 children orphaned by AIDS in the African nation of Malawi.

“In the case of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, it’s easy to think, ‘It doesn’t matter what I do because things aren’t going to change.’ So I like to tell people stories about very specific kids,” she said, such as the orphan named “Often,” whom Canalizo met when he was 10 years old. Over the years, she said, she helped feed, clothe and educate Often, and took him on field trips to the big city and a hospital, which he had never seen.

“Today, he’s in medical school,” Canalizo said. “Here was an orphan where only one percent of the population goes to college, and now he’s in med school. The lives of all the people around him will be changed because of him and what he’s done. And when I tell that story to everyone, they get excited.”

The other honorees included:

Professor and Associate Dean Karthick Ramakrishnan, the moderator and one of the organizers of the event, talks with Professor Jan Blacher, who studies autism. Photo by Carrie Rosema

Professor and Associate Dean Karthick Ramakrishnan, the moderator and one of the organizers of the event, talks with Professor Jan Blacher, who studies autism.
Photo by Carrie Rosema

Jan Blacher, distinguished professor education and founder and director of the SEARCH Family Autism Resource Center at UCR. Her work helped provide free screening clinics and services to low-income and Latino families “who were left behind on the autism train,” she said, lagging behind their higher income Anglo counterparts in diagnosis and treatment. “We don’t just provide services but a laboratory for our graduate students to learn techniques for assessing and developing programs,” she said.

Rita Kohli, assistant professor of education, who cofounded and co-directs the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice (ITOC). Research has shown that teachers of color have a huge impact on the academic success of students of color, she said, yet teachers of color make up only 18 percent of our teaching force, and are far more likely to leave teaching than their white counterparts. The ITOC is committed to recruiting and retaining teachers of color during its annual summer professional development conference, which has served more than 400 selected teachers since 2010.

Garcia, a 2005 UCR graduate with a degree in Native American Studies, is focused on building awareness of Soboba culture and tradition, through her work with tribal government, education, family service, and environmental stewardship. For instance, through her involvement with the California Indian Basket Weaving Association, Garcia started the Tending the Wild program, introducing Soboba students to traditional basket making materials and restoring the canyons and wild areas where those materials grow.

Mihri Ozkan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, was named UCR’s first Faculty Climate Action Champion for her innovative solutions to climate change problems, such as the Sponge swimsuit, made out of a material that filters impurities from the water as the wearer swims, and lithium-ion batteries made from biomass materials such as portabella mushrooms and beach sand. They are “three times better performing than what Tesla has in their cars today,” Ozkan said. The honor was part of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in May 2015.

Daniel Peeden and his twin brother Darrell Peeden are both 2015 UCR graduates with degrees in public policy. They are co-founders, board members and executives of Sigma Beta Xi, a program that aims to break the cycle of poverty through mentorships and education. The organization has provided more than 26,500 mentoring hours to 453 students in 15 Inland Empire schools and hopes to provide mentors to every school in the Inland Empire, Daniel Peeden said.

Future Living the Promise symposia themes and dates are: Health and Wellness, Jan. 17, 2017; Emerging Technologies, Feb. 16, 2017; From Genomics to Harvest, March 17, 2017; Renewable Nature, April 19, 2017; and New Voices and Visions, May 4, 2017.

 

UCR Living the Promise Symposium included all the award winners. Photo by Carrie Rosema

UCR Living the Promise Symposium included all the award winners.
Photo by Carrie Rosema

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