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  • Erika Johnson

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  • Erika Johnson

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Graduate Scholars Shine as Equity-Minded Mentors

Five graduate students inducted into Bouchet Honors Society for efforts to improve access and belonging

Five graduate scholars at UC San Diego have been inducted into the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society for their role in cultivating inclusive environments, advocating for traditionally underrepresented students and serving as leaders through academic excellence. UC San Diego was the first university on the West Coast to join the national society that exemplifies the values of Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American doctoral recipient in the U.S.

“We are so pleased to have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate this year’s Bouchet Scholars, who all are exemplars not only of scholarly achievement, but of character, leadership, advocacy and service to others,” said James Antony, dean of the Graduate Division. “They join a growing group of scholars on our campus and across the nation who are committed to diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate.”

Each of the scholars have the opportunity to attend the annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education in April. The theme of this year’s virtual conference is “Our Social Justice Imperative: Shifting Societal Norms,” which aligns with UC San Diego’s campus-wide efforts on inclusive excellence and anti-racism, as well as the Principles of Community.

UC San Diego’s 2021 Bouchet Scholars include:

Daril E. Brown II, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Daril E. Brown II

Daril E. Brown II has been guided by the philosophy, “reach back as you strive forward.” He has found that the ultimate reward is when his mentees succeed, many of them are the first in their family to earn a college degree and are now poised to become first generation Ph.D. graduates. Brown has served as a mentor in several capacities, including lead instructor of “Introduction to Mechanical Engineering,” a pre-college summer course through UC San Diego Extension’s Academic Connections program, as well as a graduate advocate for the campus’s Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS) program.

“I try to be the mentor I wish I had when I was in my mentees position,” explained Brown. “I’ve had a lot of great mentors; however, I did not meet many of them until later in my academic career. I felt lost throughout much of the early parts of high school and my undergraduate education. I want to ensure that my mentees don’t miss important opportunities or make the same mistakes I made when I was just starting out.”

Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University and a master’s degree in bioengineering from UC San Diego. He is now a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering with a focus on medical devices and is exploring whether the neural activity of songbirds can serve as a model for the development of a human speech prosthesis. Raised with a grandparent who was paraplegic, he has always been drawn to the field of neural engineering. Brown’s desire to help his grandfather regain the use of his legs became the driving force that influenced his core values of compassion and enthusiasm for mentoring the next generation.

Mayra Cortes, Literature

Mayra Cortes

Her purpose is clear: to bring communities together to support the personal, academic and career goals of students. Mayra Cortes, a Ph.D. candidate in literature, has initiated partnerships between UC San Diego’s Graduate and Professional Student Association and the Undocumented Student Services Center to enhance resources and inclusion for undocumented/DACA students. As a mentor, she shares her story and demystifies the graduate school application.

“The most wholesome and beautiful feeling about being a mentor and guiding students, especially undocumented/DACA students who seek to enter the Humanities field, is sharing resources, strategies, knowledge, and a positive, abundant mindset that will enable them to overcome all the challenges that dare to stand between them and their life goals and purpose,” explained Cortes. “Ultimately, I encourage my students to believe in their full potential and to raise their courageous, generous and creative voices in order to plant a healthy and bountiful world that they can enjoy and share with their families and communities.”

Cortes attended Cerritos Community College and transferred to UCLA where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She went on to earn a master’s degree in literature from UC San Diego and is now working on completing her dissertation, titled “Acousmatic Empire: Spanish and English Sonic Warfare in Utopian ‘New Worlds,’ 1542-1638.” This summer she will be teaching a course she created, titled, “Sounds of Resistance: The Future is Now!” through Academic Connections and the Department of Literature.

Syeda ShahBano Ijaz, Political Science

Syeda ShahBano Ijaz

As a first-generation immigrant, an American Muslim of color, and a graduate student parent, Syeda ShahBano Ijaz is committed to flattening the academic playing field for minority students–particularly those who bear the intersectional burden of discrimination. At UC San Diego, she serves as the co-convenor of Women in Political Science, where she has actively led conversations with diverse female voices about the specific experiences of women of color at conferences, job talks and in other environments.

“Something as seemingly innocuous as cultural differences can impact not just how students navigate their program, but also how excluded they feel in conversations that assume a certain degree of cultural literacy,” explained Ijaz. “Creating an awareness around issues that differentially impact people of color and women is the first step towards attaining equity in the academy. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to make the path more inclusive to others after me.”

Ijaz is a Ph.D. candidate in political science and specializes in the political economy of developing countries. Through her research, she develops a theory of access provision to foreign aid-funded projects and its consequences for democratic accountability and representation. Specifically, she focuses on gaps in last-mile access to foreign aid-funded social security programs in Pakistan. Ijaz earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Lahore University of Management Sciences; a master’s degree in Politics from NYU; and a Master of Science degree in economics for Development from Oxford University.

Tashiana C. Osborne, Climate Sciences

Tashiana C. Osborne

Tashiana C. Osborne believes that the multifaceted identities of scientists as human beings should be considered when building and strengthening STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) teams. She has served as a Science Mentor for several Girls in STEAM conferences, which are designed to empower girls in grades 6-8 to become the first in their families to graduate from college. She is also a founding member of the Oceanography Society’s JEDI (Justice-Equity-Diversity-Inclusion) Committee, a group dedicated to fostering environments wherein all can engage in and benefit from ocean sciences.

“I’ve had the honor to witness and help support girls as they explore interests and build confidence through practice and time, which can be both heartwarming and inspiring,” shared Osborne. “I enjoy hearing the broad range of dreams girls have and relating to having an interest in something I didn't fully realize was ‘science’ at the time. I also appreciate opportunities to share some of the various ways one can ‘be or look like a scientist’ today.”

Osborne is a Ph.D. candidate in climate sciences with a concentration in hydrometeorology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research defines, characterizes and investigates changes in precipitation during atmospheric river storms. She earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Meteorology and Hydrology at Saint Cloud State University and a master’s degree in climate sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Donté Alexander Stevens, Biological Sciences

Donte Alexander Stevens

Donté Alexander Stevens (Alex) is a Ph.D. candidate in cell and developmental biology. He has been an active member in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at UC San Diego and believes that the benefits of diversity derive from the power of inclusion. Stevens and colleagues successfully rechartered a university chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), which is dedicated to promoting student success in attaining advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in STEM. In addition, Stevens also was part of a group of graduate students and post-docs that established the Diversity and Science Lectures Series, a weekly program that celebrates the life journey and cutting-edge science of underrepresented graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

“I have benefitted immensely from those who came before me to push for diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Stevens. “I find promoting equity and access for underrepresented students rewarding as I know that I can become the shoulders that students can stand on to achieve the education they desire and truly feel like a valued member of the academic community.”

Prior to enrolling at UC San Diego, Stevens earned bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Spanish Literature from Washington and Jefferson College. After, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he participated in the National Health Institutes’ Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program. His current research seeks to understand how pathogens can subvert the intracellular transport machinery to establish successful infections.

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