• Founded in 2015, the Global Development Lab at UCLA is in its ninth year of operation.

  • GDL officers and members of the winning Project Incubator team. From left: Haniska Nath, director of external relations (and incoming executive director, 2024-45); Ben Chlarson, director of finance; Olivia Cervantes Llamas, director of membership and media; Nicholas Sharifi, Katherine Brezoczky and Maher Sahla, UCLA Bridge project; Seher Alvi, executive director; and Frank Woods, director, Project Incubator.

  • From left: Seher Alvi, Frank Woods and Olivia Cervantes Llamas of the GDL leadership team.

  • Slide from presentation about GDL internships with PARI.

  • PARI presenters Ixchel Aguilar-Moore and Katherine Berezoczky.

  • Slide from presentation about GDL internships with NEI.

  • NEI presenters Nathan Klassen, Ben Chlarson and Defne Tanyildiz.

  • UCLA Bridge project.

  • Prototype phone app for FREEateries project.

  • Coalition of Students Against Female Genital Mutilation project.

Global Development Lab hosts annual project showcase

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

At the annual UCLA Global Development Lab showcase, members gave detailed presentations on internships and the international and/or community projects they developed over the past year.

UCLA International Institute, July 1, 2024 — “The Global Development Lab was established in 2015 by UCLA students who felt that there was a major disconnect between the theoretical knowledge they were learning in their classes regarding development, poverty, economics and globalization, and how they were able to practically apply that to real life.* So they founded the lab for a chance to do that,” said GDL Executive Director Seher Alvi (UCLA 2024, global studies) in her opening remarks at the GDL’s annual showcase in late May.

The evening showcase included presentations by UCLA student members on their internships with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and Nutrition & Education International (NEI), followed by team presentations in three GDL Incubator Projects.

The winning project, “UCLA Bridge,” is a mentorship program in which UCLA students will partner with the Koreatown Youth + Community Center to serve as mentors for disadvantaged high school students as they plan their educational and work futures. Presented by GDL members Katherine Brezoczky (UCLA 2026, political science & economics), Maher Salha (UCLA 2025, global studies & political science) and Nicholas Sharifi (UCLA 2026, political science & economics), the project was awarded $1,000 in seed funding and will initiate operations this summer.

Internship Presentations

Katherine Brezoczky and Ixchel Aguilar-Moore (UCLA 2025, global studies) spoke about their internships with PARI, an Indian online journal that documents the diverse cultures of rural India from the perspectives of people within those cultures. A third student who participated in the internship, Isabella Berg-Patton (UCLA 2025, human biology and society), was unable to participate in the presentation.

The PARI interns sought to identify and interview migrants in the LA region from rural India as a unique contribution to the PARI archive. They began by training with the Indian nonprofit organization in ethnical interviewing and intercultural communication techniques, then seeking local interviewees. After initial contacts with community organizations proved unfruitful, a UCLA staff member who had recently immigrated from rural India connected them with an appropriate interview subject: a man who had emigrated from India with his family due to religious persecution.

“The process proved to be difficult because, obviously, the three of us are not Indian,” said Brezocsky. “We didn’t want to come off as insensitive or unthoughtful; we really wanted to approach it in a way that they would feel they were going to be heard.” Hansika Nath, director of external relations at GDL, served as the interpreter for the interview.

“There were two main aspects of the interview that we felt were really important… adapting to a new life and cultural preservation,” Brezocsky. The team is currently working on an article that will document what they learned from their interviewee for publication on the PARI website.

A second group of interns worked with Nutrition & Education International (NEI), a Pasadena-based nonprofit led by food scientist Steven Kwon, Ph.D., who introduced soy farming and a soy production value chain in Afghanistan to address malnutrition. Kwon participated as a guest speaker in GDL’s General Lab, inspiring several members to intern for his organization.

GDL Finance Director Ben Chlarson (UCLA 2024, international development studies & economics), Defne Tanyildiz (UCLA 2026, international development studies & statistics and data science ) and Nathan Klassen (UCLA 2024, international development studies & political science) all participated in the presentation. Another intern at DEI, GDL marketing and social media chair Meena Mohajer (UCLA 2025, political science), was unable to attend.

Tanyildiz and Mohajer spent the last five months pouring through 20 years of NEI documentation to create a 20-year report for the organization complete with data analysis and infographics. The work will be one of several marketing materials to be developed by GDL members.

“We have just finished our first draft [of the report], which is over 30 pages long, and it still has a long way to go,” said Tanyildiz.

“From there, we also are going to be working on creating data visualizations from the numbers that we have, as well as infographics that are more easily accessible than the long document. We will continue to work [on the project] through the summer and are excited to keep working with NEI.”

Meanwhile, Chlarson and Maher Salha formed a financial team that researched potential funding sources for NEI, identifying 15 potential grants and a host of multilateral organizations that offer competitive funding. The two honed their grant writing skills and laid the groundwork for a future crowdfunding campaign to support NEI’s work. Klassen worked in parallel, developing marketing ideas and reaching out to media organizations to highlight the work of NEI.

Project Incubator Presentations

After a few enthusiastic words of welcome by UCLA Vice Provost Cindy Fan, GDL Project Incubator Director (2023–24) Frank Woods (UCLA 2024, international development studies) introduced the team of judges who would evaluate the project competition: nonprofit veteran professional Jeffrey Janis, Peace Corps campus recruiter at UCLA; Joseph Wright (UCLA 2023, Ph.D., international & comparative education), lecturer at the UCLA International Institute; Marie Ahmed, U.S. Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development; and Katelyn Choe, U.S. Diplomat in Residence for Southern California. (The latter two judges participated in the proceedings remotely.)

Katherine Brezoczky, Maher Salha and Nicholas Sharifi were the first team to present their proposed project, “UCLA Bridge.” The project seeks to use undergraduate Bruins as a resource and knowledge bridge to high school students in disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles, where high school graduation rates can fall as low as 30%.

UCLA Bridge Team: Nicholas Sharifi, Katherine Brezoczky and Maher Salha.

The project will focus on providing disadvantaged LA high school students (grades 10–12) workshops, supplemented by online resources, that build foundational skills that the students can use to succeed with a high school degree and/or to pursue educational alternatives beyond high school. Students will also be offered individual, one-on-one mentorships with individual Bruin volunteers.

The students will partner with community organizations, starting with the Koreantown Youth + Community Center, or KYCC, this summer, to reach students who could benefit from the project. Low-income high school students who work as volunteers at the KYCC summer session for elementary and middle school students will be the focus of the group’s work this summer. UCLA Bridge will be established as an official student club in fall 2024, followed by student recruitment and mentorship training. “We’re trying to find people who are also passionate about [the project and who] can pass it along to others, similar to GDL, as something that continues beyond us,” said Brezoczky.

Nathan Klassen, GDL Director of Media and Marketing Clarissa Damesyn (UCLA 2027, international development studies and environmental studies/geography) and Ashley Radfar (UCLA 2026, political science) next presented “FREEateries.” Their proposed project would assist the 37% of the Bruin student population that is food insecure by means of a phone application that would provide consolidated, updated information on free food resources offered at UCLA and in surrounding Los Angeles neighborhoods.

FREEateries team: Ashley Radfar, Nathan Klassen and Clarissa Damesyn.

“Food insecurity,” said Klassen, “is a fixable issue and is disheartening because it leads to a domino effect of problems, such as increased stress and mental health issues, worse nutritional and physical health and poor academic performance, all of which leads to higher dropout rates.”

Although they began their background research with the idea that Westwood Village might need a new food bank, the team discovered that present resources were ample, but centralized information on the varied food resources available to Bruins was lacking. Most students, stressed the team, are unaware of the food resources offered by UCLA, both on and off campus (74% according to a survey that the team conducted of 11 diverse organization on campus).

The final Project Incubator team — Oluwadamilola (“Dami”) Salami (UCLA 2025, international development studies & public affairs), Ella Morris (UCLA 2026, global studies) and Isabella Berg-Patton — concluded the competition with a presentation on “Coalition of Students Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).”

“Over 230 million girls and women have been subjected to this practice, with over 513,000 in the U.S. alone,” said Salami. The consequences of the practice on their sexual, reproductive and psychological health, she added, “[include] PTSD, excessive bleeding, increased risk of infection, childbirth complications and even death.”

Coalition team: Isabella Berg-Patton, Ella Morris and Oluwadamilola (“Dami”) Salami.

The project seeks to empower young girls aged 1 through 15 in specific areas of Tanzania and Sierra Leone, respectively, through a two-pronged effort:
1) partnering with established NGOs working on the ground to train girls in basic digital storytelling techniques so that they may effectively advocate for themselves, and 2) educating and inspiring a generation of college-age women in the U.S. to lend their skills and voices to the ongoing campaign to protect at-risk girls worldwide from FGM. As part of the latter effort, the coalition would develop an active social media awareness campaign on FGM (to include short videos with individual African women) that would specifically target American college students.

Of note, the group plans to impart video skills to young girls in Africa as part of a skills exchange between the girls and Bruins who will intern with the two local nonprofits (Desert Flower Foundation in Freetown, Sierra Leone and the Maasai Girls Rescue Center in Karatu District, Tanzania).

The team planned to make the Coalition of Students Against Female Genital Mutilation an official UCLA student association, enabling it to fundraise and attract more volunteers, conduct informational panels on FGM at UCLA and send student coalition members to do internships with its local partners in Africa. Their first intern is already working remotely for MGRC in Tanazania.

After a brief consultation, the judges awarded the UCLA Bridge project the top prize and $1,000 in seed funding, while the FREEateries and Coalition of Students Against FGM was each awarded $250 toward the implementation of their projects in the coming year.

Congratulations to all the internship and Project Incubator presenters for their hard work over the past year and best of luck with your continued work in the 2024–25 academic year!

*GDL was founded 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) in order to give Bruins hands-on experience in international development.

Now in its ninth year of operation, GDL has built a self-renewing community of undergraduates on campus with a deep interest in international development. Lab members acquire concrete skills in research, project design, monitoring and evaluation, and sustainability planning through the lab’s General Lab and Project Incubator, which are both offered as for-credit courses. Many students spend four years at GDL while also serving as officers of the association.