By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications
UCLA International Institute, June 13, 2022 — The International Development Studies (IDS) Program of the International Institute has recognized four outstanding students who graduated this past weekend.
Two seniors, Cassidy Tshimbalanga and Gabriel (Gabey) Adrian Rojas, received the IDS 2022 Activist Award in recognition of their commitment to making a difference on international development issues through exemplary activism, service and leadership.
And seniors Hayley Farrell and Anne Werner received the IDS 2022 Academic Award in recognition of their exemplary academic and extra-curricular achievements in the program.
Activst Award winners
“As a young girl, I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to visit family and witnessed some of the great disparities in the modern world,” says Cassidy Tshimbalanga, who co-founded the award-winning nonprofit organization ASISTERSPROJECT.ORG with her sister Sydney in 2011.
Photo of the reconditioned building that houses A Sisters Project in the DRC. (Photo: asistersproject.org.)
To date, she recounts, “We have renovated a school in Africa, led a global clean water campaign, worked on voting rights and brought much-needed resources to regions experiencing extreme poverty.”
At UCLA, the IDS senior volunteered on PAC-12’s Get Out to Vote and mask campaigns and became an inaugural member of the Black Athletes Association. The latter, she explains, “was formed after the killing of George Floyd to help create a safe space for black athletes and direct our activism in ways to help the community.
“I chose IDS because it allows students to study the social, political and economic forces that have constructed these inequalities and when we begin to understand, we can begin to deconstruct and reassemble institutions in more reasonable and just ways. I want to be a part of the generation that solves some of the world’s biggest problems,” comments Tshimbalanga, who plans to go to law school.
“IDS is one of the best programs at UCLA. The most important part for me was the overall reinforcement of my optimism about development as a global good. Small classes allowed for robust debate and discussion on critical topics,” she says.
Tshimbalanga’s advice for incoming IDS students? “Be bold as you think about your IDS major. Your career opportunities are limitless. We thrive in situations that are multidisciplinary and complex. We are uniquely qualified for the private and public sector.”
Reflecting on his own UCLA path, fellow IDS Activist Award winner Gabriel (Gabey) Adrian Rojas says, “My first step on campus was to join organizations that were focused on campuswide initiatives.”
Over the course of his undergraduate education, Rojas served as mental health director in Eduardo Solis’ USAC office; member, then advocacy director and, finally, executive director of two separate student organizations, Project BRITE and the Hunger Project (which address incarcerated youth and homelessness and food insecurity, respectively); an intern at ReEvolution, which serves people recently released from prison; and member of Alternative Breaks, a community service organization.
His roles at Project BRITE and Hunger Project were, says the senior, “the most rewarding because they were so hands-on. I was a part of a community again, one that understood me, it was as if I was home.
“I helped these organizations navigate an intense moment in history. The most important part is that I didn’t do it by myself. I worked with directors to ensure that we were really making an impact. We created a home in which we were able to help others create theirs.
“In all of these situations, I was applying my IDS coursework everywhere. The classes I have taken as a part of IDS have been instrumental in crafting my perspective, influencing my leadership style and helping me in my application of coursework to real-life projects.”
Asked about his future, Rojas says, “Whatever I do, I hope that helping others is at the core of it… If there is anything international development has taught me, it’s that you cannot help those half a world away if you don’t understand what those around you are going through.”
He counsels future IDS students to treasure the community around them: “These people are just as passionate as you are and can teach you valuable lessons. Always remember where you came from because that is the only way to truly understand where you’re going.”
Academic Award winners
Hayley Farrell, a Santa Monica College transfer student who completed her B.A. at UCLA without ever having taken a course on campus (see separate article), spent her senior year in a study abroad program at the University of Ghana. She consistently earned excellent grades in the IDS program, which earned her a nomination to the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society.
Throughout the 2021–22 academic year, Farrell interned at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD), a nonprofit organization that conducts research and policy advocacy related to democracy, civic education and government accountability.
Photo: Ghana Center for Democratic Development.
The IDS senior was also engaged in a year-long independent research project on the impact of globalization on the poultry industry in Ghana. “I’ve conducted interviews with farmers, industry associations and other key stakeholders in Ghana to collect some qualitative data,” says Farrell.
“I like that the IDS program really changed my perspective on development work, and that I was able to evaluate a future in that field from an evidence-based viewpoint,” says the recent IDS graduate, who also intends to pursue a law degree.
“Right now, I feel that instead of participating in interventions abroad, it may be better to get involved in initiating change in American foreign and economic policy because these factors oftentimes really impact development in other parts of the world (for better or for worse).”
She tells aspiring IDS students, “Don’t just go to class! Go to office hours, get into research, study abroad, join a club, apply for scholarships and internships.”
Fellow IDS Academic Award winner Annabelle (Anne) Werner spent her years at UCLA completing a triple major (political science, IDS and an individual concentration, ‘Human Rights and International Legal Studies’) while volunteering for a broad range of international justice organizations.
“When I entered UCLA as a political science major, I knew I wanted to study topics relating to war, peace and diplomacy. I soon discovered the international development major... IDS resonated with me because it articulated experiences I had when volunteering on a service-oriented trip to Laos,” she says.
“In particular, IDS introduced me to economic and political theories on how to overcome complex issues of destitution and inequality, and why the solutions we are searching for might be even more complicated.
“Throughout college, I have pursued my passion for international human rights through advocacy, student journalism and research,” says Werner, who aspires to become a human rights attorney. In addition to working on The Generation, the student-run foreign affairs magazine of the UCLA Burkle Center, she volunteered for the undergraduate chapter of the Los Angeles Human Rights Initiative, where she helped found the digital magazine, Rights and Refuge.
Werner also completed a United Nations Association–USA fellowship, but considers her seven months in Tanzania, Switzerland and France to have given her the most valuable perspectives on development and human rights.
Photo: From Awalhurio Facebook page, 2020 (https://bit.ly/3zABYE8).
“In Tanzania, I volunteered at the Arusha Women Legal Aid and Human Rights Organization in the morning while working remotely in the evening as a research intern for the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect,” she relates.
While in Arusha, Werner conducted preliminary background research at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for her senior thesis, which looks at the potential for such regional human rights mechanisms to gain the ability to try international crimes.
The IDS student next traveled to Geneva for a six-week internship at International Bridges to Justice — “an international NGO that works to guarantee competent legal representation for marginalized and vulnerable persons,” she explains. Werner then participated in a study abroad program at Sciences Po in Paris “focusing on topics such as international trade and comparative judicial politics. Simultaneously, I interned remotely for the Bihndumlem Foundation of Peace and Hope, an NGO operating in the conflict zones of the Anglophone regions in Cameroon.”
Werner values the guidance she received at UCLA. She recounts, “I didn’t think I wanted to be a lawyer when I came into UCLA. But I knew I wanted to study international relations and the UN. Through an exploration of that field, I found a niche in international human rights law because I saw the law as a tool to pursue various goals in the international human rights movement.
“My mentors helped me shift how I envision my career goals so that I would pursue what is most authentic to me instead working to achieve a fixed identity or position.”
As these students’ stories make clear, IDS majors not only fulfill a demanding academic program, but undertake serious activism in support of international equity and justice. The UCLA International Institute commends these four recent graduates for their exemplary work and service in the IDS program and their well-deserved 2022 Activist and Academic Awards.