Photo for Global Development Lab showcases student-designed...
Members and leaders of the Global Development Lab, a student association founded in 2015. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Global Development Lab showcases student-designed projects, awards funding

The GDL's Project Incubator culminated in an evening of presentations on May 31, 2023, when three student teams presented community engagement projects for potential seed funding.

Photo for /media/mp4/Reach-presenters-50-do2.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Reach_slide-al-nnz.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Medical-Freedom-Now-presenters-fb-da1.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Medical-Freedom-Now_slide-cq-egs.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Connect-to-Equip-presenters-ra-tl4.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Connect-to-equip-slide-jz-zxu.jpgPhoto for /media/mp4/Project-Incubator-Director-Seadona-Taloma-uv-lhz.jpg

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, June 20, 2023 — The UCLA Global Development Lab (GDL) held its annual project showcase on May 31, 2023, at which three undergraduate student teams presented projects for potential GDL seed funding for the coming academic year.

The winning project, “REACH,” is a peer-led sexual health education program that meets the requirements of a California state law mandating sex education in middle and high schools, using a state-approved curriculum. It was designed and presented by GDL members Veronica Reyes (UCLA 2024, global studies/economics) and Nina Parsee (UCLA 2026, political science).

All three projects were developed as part of GDL’s year-long Project Incubator, which takes students through the steps of researching and designing an international development and/or local community project in response to a crucial social need.

Students qualify for the showcase after becoming GDL members and attending its General Lab and Project Incubator, a two-quarter, for-credit course that includes research, readings and discussion sessions, and skills workshops conducted by international development and community organizing professionals. By enrolling in International Development Studies 193 and 194, they receive course credit for their work. 

Both sets of activities aim to help students develop skills in needs assessment, project design, project monitoring and evaluation, impact assessment and sustainability planning. Members of the student club pursue majors in diverse disciplines, ranging from the humanities and social sciences to life sciences, engineering and public policy.

The event began with a short presentation by GDL members on one of the association's exclusive internships with PARI (People's Archive of Rural India), a nongovernmental organization for which they learned to write effective social media posts customized to specific audiences about the lives of some of India’s 900 milllion rural residents.

Moderation for the proceedings was provided by the GDL board of directors: Vibha Gurunathan (UCLA 2023, microbiology, immunology & molecular genetics); Seadona Taloma (UCLA 2023, philosophy), Dabik Chakraborty (UCLA 2023, public affairs/economics); Seher Alvi (UCLA 2024, global studies); and Pete Finnican (UCLA 2023, political science). Board members develop and teach the curriculum throughout the year and mentor each Project Incubator group personally.

Serving as judges for the funding decision were Jennifer Jihye Chun, professor of international development studies (IDS) and Asian American Studies, and chair of the International Institute’s IDS program; Joseph Wright (UCLA Ph.D. 2023), a doctoral candidate in the international and comparative education program of the School of Education & Information Studies and lecturer for the IDS program; and Barry Sanders, J.D., an international lawyer who teaches in the communication department at UCLA and chairs the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (an organization independent of the U.S. Olympic Committee).

Projects address needs of disadvantaged populations

The three incubator projects respectively addressed challenges associated with 1) medical debt, 2) access to medical equipment and medical information among lower-income and undocumented worker populations and 3) teen-relevant sexual education.

Brandon Bohrnsen (UCLA 2025, political science and statistics) and Ben Chlarson (UCLA 2024, IDS and economics) presented “Medical Freedom Now, 2023,” which seeks to alleviate the medical debt problems of low-income and undocumented workers in Los Angeles County. The presenters noted that 61 percent of families in LA County are considered financially insecure and that one in three Californians is saddled with medical debt, with uninsured immigrants reporting substantially higher levels of such debt.

The project, already created in pilot form, takes the form of a multilingual website (English, Spanish and Chinese) that connects people suffering from medical debt to existing Los Angeles County resources to help them. Designed to work on Android phones favored by undocumented residents, the website uses an onscreen information request form to help people find relevant resources. Bohrnsen and Chlarson made clear that the website would not store any information entered by a user — respecting the concerns of undocumented immigrants — and that a search request would work regardless of whether all fields in the information form were completed.

Frank Woods (UCLA 2024, IDS), Nathan Lee (UCLA 2025, political science) and Melodie Ahn (UCLA 2024, IDS) presented “Connect to Equip,” a project that addresses the needs of farm workers living and working in the Coachella Valley for medical equipment and medical/ health information.

The project envisions UCLA volunteers working with local partners (clinics and health-oriented NGOs) and an existing student service program at UC Davis to provide a website that links under-equipped health clinics with organizations that provide free medical equipment; printed (or printable) information on Medi-Cal and Medicare qualifications and policies, as well as mandated health and occupational safety practices; and regular visits by volunteers from UCLA, UC Davis and possibly UC Riverside. Equipment shipping and transportation were anticipated to account for the majority of the project’s operating costs.

As noted above, Veronica Reyes and Nina Parsee presented the winning “REACH” project for providing sexual health education to mostly Latinx 7th- through 12th-graders attending Camino Nuevo Charter Academy schools in Central Los Angeles. (The schools had fallen out of compliance with the state mandate to provide sexual health classes.) The project uses peer-led “Teen Talk” methodology for teaching youth about sexual health, sexual risk, reproduction, identity, body image and social media.

Reyes and Parsee signed an MOU with the Charter Academy in 2023 under which the Los Angeles County Office of Education trained 30 undergraduate UCLA volunteers, who taught 12 lessons of the curriculum at five Camino Nuevo schools this past spring. REACH is scheduled to deliver the same curriculum at the same schools in fall 2023. Volunteer educators were close in age to the students, and Reyes and Parsee said both they and the curriculum were well received. The major problems they encountered related to logistics and scheduling, that is, getting volunteers to Central LA and back, as well as coordinating student schedules with class times.

The proposed REACH budget for the 2023–24 academic year, now partially funded by GDL, principally reflects the transportation costs of volunteer Bruins working as health educators.

Congratulations to the winners and to all the project presenters for their hard work in developing project proposals in 2023!

* * * * * * * *

The Global Development Lab was founded in 2015 by UCLA alumni Joan Hanawi (UCLA 2016, IDS), David Joseph (UCLA 2016,microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics), Noah Lizerbram (UCLA 2017, global studies) and Jessa Culver (UCLA 2017, IDS) to provide students hands-on experience in international development. Depending on the year and the interests of the board of directors, projects designed by GDL members may focus on international development or local community needs, or both.

Many past GDL members have successfully won funding to implement local and global projects from GDL, as well as from international organizations and the UCLA Citizens Fellowship.


This article was originally published on June 16, 2023, and updated on June 20, 2023.