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International development studies seniors Samhita Mallavarapu, Khonzodakhon Murodkhujaeva, Sophie Zane and Alexis Daetz.

International Institute seniors distinguish themselves through activism, research and academic performance

Four stellar International Institute seniors won awards from the International Development Studies Program, and a global studies senior built an impressive foundation in consulting and research skills that led to a full-time job.

UCLA International Institute, June 16, 2023 — The International Institute’s multidisciplinary academic programs consistently attract creative, motivated students who shape their coursework and research to their interests. Many of these Bruins are international students, and a significant number succeed in developing significant skills in specific fields. The Class of 2023 does not disappoint in any of these aspects.

Two graduating seniors, Samhita Mallavarapu and Khonzodakhon Murodkhujaeva, recently won the 2023 IDS Activist Award for their exemplary activism, service and leadership in service of international development goals. Another two, Alexis Daetz and Sophie Zane, won the 2023 IDS Academic Award in honor of their exemplary academic and extra-curricular achievements.

And graduating global studies major Minh-E Lau accrued substantive work experience and academic research skills that helped her land a position after graduation.

IDS Activist Awards

Samhita Mallavarapu, a pre-med student who will graduate with a B.A. in IDS and a B.S. in computational and systems biology, has done almost as much volunteering as studying at UCLA.

Throughout her undergraduate years, Mallavarapu volunteered for a wide variety of organizations focused on public health and community education, often for three to four years. She gained critical experience at Bruin Partners, the UCLA Jules Stein Institute, UCLA student app Palgorithms and UCLA VOICE Mission (where she co-directed the education committee), among other organizations. The Bruin senior also refined her medical communications and marketing skills at a part-time job with Latitude Mental Health in Los Angeles.

“My experiences have deepened my understanding of the complex social and structural factors that shape health outcomes and have inspired me to continue pursuing opportunities to promote education, empowerment and equity in my community and beyond,” she comments. “I have seen firsthand how access to healthcare is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty and empowering communities to achieve their full potential.”

Mallavarapu’s future plans include “working at the intersection of medicine and public health before going to medical school.”

The second winner of the IDS Activist Award, Khonzodakhon Murodkhujaeva, hails from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and did her first two years of UCLA undergraduate studies entirely remotely due to pandemic restrictions. She spent just one year (2022–23) on campus, managing to complete her B.A. in international development studies in only three years.

“I was working in early mornings, working in afternoons and studying at nights, staying up until 3:00 to 5:00 a.m. in the morning Tashkent time,” she says. (The time difference between Uzbekistan and Los Angeles is 12 hours; 13 hours in winter).

Having developed a passion for international human rights in the program, the graduating senior spent the 2022–23 academic year writing a departmental honors thesis, “Human Rights Violations in Afghanistan and the Impact of the Conflict on Central Asian Countries.”

“The [IDS] major opened the door to wide educational opportunities, from development, economics, history, political science, and global studies to statistics and research… [M]ost importantly, it will allow me to contribute to a better future [for] the world,” she comments.

While studying remotely, Murodkhujadaeva worked a number of internationally related jobs: as an administrative coordinator for a Swiss auditing firm, an educational counselor for SelfStartGlobal and a private English instructor. She also volunteered for a Tashkent district women’s rights department and led a volunteer program at WCU/Tashkent.

“I have always believed that education is the very key to all closed doors and have always valued it. That is why I was engaged in … helping students from post-Soviet Union countries with the process of acquiring degrees abroad, teaching them English and helping [them] with [applications],” she shares.

Graduating IDS senior Mikayla O'Connor. Senior Mikayla O’Connor, who majored in IDS and minored in geography, won honorable mention in the IDS Activist Awards competition. O’Connor did a research project on human rights and Chile’s road to democracy during a study abroad program in Argentina and Chile, and volunteered for Kidsave, where she was responsible for organizing events that pair older foster children with adult mentors. This summer, she will work with a Kidsave program that arranges U.S. summer vacations for Colombian and Russian orphans. She will go on to teach English in Spain for the coming year.

IDS Academic Awards

Sophie Zane, who will graduate with a double major in IDS and European languages and transcultural studies, received an IDS Academic Award for her superb academic performance, a departmental honors thesis and impressive social justice volunteer work at JusticeCorps, USTRHT and the Center for Policing Equity.

Zane’s thesis compared refugee laws against socioeconomic outcomes in three countries considered to have some of the most progressive laws on refugees: Uganda, Türkiye and Germany. Her thesis advisor, Professor Kevan Harris, also taught her senior IDS capstone seminar — a course she credits with pushing her academic limits (in a good way).

“I am surprised and honored to receive the IDS Academic Award,” says Zane. “The International Institute has provided me with many wonderful opportunities to learn about this world. I feel like I picked the right major!

“It has been such a privilege to be surrounded by amazing classmates and faculty who have motivated me to show up and do my best every day. A big thank you to my family for always supporting me in my education, I couldn’t have done it without them!” (Read a recent profile of Zane.)

The second winner of a 2023 IDS Academic Award, Alexis Daetz, double majored in IDS and political science. She wrote her senior departmental honors thesis under the guidance of Professor Mike Lofchie, former chair of the IDS program. A member of the College Honors Program, Daetz made the Dean’s Honors List every quarter of her four years at UCLA.

Her thesis, “Fully Charged: Confronting Corporate Outsourcing of Responsibility in the Cobalt Supply Chain,” examines the supply chain for a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries. “[I]nvestigating the source of cobalt initiates discussions of colonial history, corporate governance and foreign direct investment,” she explains.

“I don’t claim to have the answers, but IDS has taught me how and where to dig deeper and investigate upstream sources of some of our most pressing issues,” she continues. “Everyone should take an IDS class — I'm grateful for the stellar faculty that challenge our ingrained assumptions and make sense of our world… IDS has challenged me to become a more critical thinker and writer.”

In addition to volunteering throughout her undergraduate years with the Pediatric Aids Coalition at UCLA, of which she was president in 2022–23, Daetz also interned or worked for a variety of political and legal organizations, including the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the Orange County Public Defender and the GMMB, a Washington, D.C.–based political communications firm.

“In the spirit of protecting and informing consumers, I will be joining the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division as a paralegal specialist in San Francisco next year!” she says.

Graduating IDS senior Robert Jiménez.

Robert Jiménez (IDS and political science double major) and Emily Moreira (IDS major with double minor in French and linguistics) both won honorable mentions in the 2023 IDS Academic Awards competition. The two Bruin seniors exemplify the kind of academically achieving, socially engaged students drawn to study international development.

Jiménez, who sustained a high GPA throughout his UCLA education, is deeply committed to community engagement. He honed his communications and organizing skills through work at the USAC Office of the President, the Grace Yoo LA City Council campaign, Grassroots Democrats HQ and Tenants Law Firm.

Graduating IDS senior Emily Moreira.

Moreira, who grew up speaking Portuguese, studied French and Korean at UCLA and did a study abroad program at Yonsei University in South Korea (see article). In addition to her studies, she was a lecturer for four years at Splash @UCLA, worked for the UCLA International Education Office and interned at International Rescue Committee. Moreira wrote an IDS departmental honors thesis on the housing crisis in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil’s development history.

Global studies student develops research and consulting skills

Lest readers think that global studies majors are not equally distinguished, senior Minh-E Lau is the second global studies major from Singapore (see article on the first) to win a research award from the interdisciplinary Internet Research Initiative at UCLA. Lau used her $7,500 award to work on a yearlong research project, “Closing Technological/Cultural Gaps: Providing Accessible Education for Refugee Children,” under the mentorship of Victor Agadjanian, who has a joint appointment in the sociology department and the UCLA International Institute..

“I originally intended for my project to be a skills-based educational model that could be delivered over the internet and applications popular with refugees like Whatsapp… However, after much research, I realized that I did not have the technological skills to complete the project in a year.

“Thus, I changed my final deliverable for the year to be a writeup on the digital inequalities found within education for refugee children that included insights on best practices in implementing educational materials for marginalized communities. Although my project didn’t pan out the way I intended, I still learned a lot.”

Global studies senior senior Minh-E Lau. Lau’s global studies senior thesis, “Chinese Immigrant Food Entrepreneurship as a Method of Cultural Preservation in Singapore and Los Angeles,” explores her interests in migration, identity and entrepreneurship. The paper also served as her research project for the yearlong UCLA Undergraduate Research Program.

“Through conducting, transcribing and analyzing interviews, I was able to capture the nuances of migrants’ experiences and gain insights into the challenges they face in different institutional environments,” says Lau.

The Bruin senior, who completed her studies in three years while maintaining a GPA of 3.97,  acquired extensive hands-on consulting and financial experience at the UCLA chapter of 180 Degree Consulting, the United National Children’s Fund Club, the Singapore-based firm Altios, EY-Parthenon and Books Unbound, among other organizations.

“Global studies has been the perfect major to allow me to explore my interdisciplinary interests at UCLA. Through the major, I have taken many different classes in departments such as sociology, geography and film, which has been essential to my development as a student and researcher,” says Lau, who will start a full-time job with EY-Parthenon after graduation.

The UCLA International Institute salutes these students, together with all of its graduating seniors, on their many achievements.