Wednesday, August 21

Grand Challenges to launch in 2014-2015 academic year

The Grand Challenges Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, a new yearlong undergraduate course that focuses on research about sustainability and the environment in Los Angeles, will be offered starting in the next academic year.

The program is part of the UCLA Grand Challenges initiative. More than 130 UCLA faculty members are involved in the project that aims to make the Los Angeles region 100 percent sustainable in water and energy without harming biodiversity by 2050, said Amy Hawkins, the Grand Challenges coordinator at the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

Students can apply through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research’s website until May 29. The program will accept 50 applicants, and students who will be sophomores in the upcoming school year will be given preference during the selection process.

The first project of the Grand Challenges initiative will revolve around the theme “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles.” The course is funded by a portion of the UCLA Dream Fund, a donor-advised fund that supports academic programs at UCLA as well as other charitable projects in the country, which was allocated to the Grand Challenges initiative, said Michelle Popowitz, assistant vice chancellor for research and executive director of UCLA Grand Challenges.

The program consists of hands-on research with select faculty members from various departments including atmospheric and oceanic sciences, engineering, law and public affairs, as well as a weekly class that teaches students practical and professional research skills, Hawkins said.

All undergraduate students with a minimum 2.7 GPA can apply to enroll in the program.

“Nothing really like (the program) exists in UCLA right now,” Hawkins said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for undergraduates to do research with faculty and get guidance at the same time.”

In an effort to improve sustainability in Los Angeles and solve the problems of excess water and energy use, the Grand Challenges initiative brings students and faculty from different disciplines together to brainstorm solutions that are more broadly applicable, said Gaurav Sant, a civil and environmental engineering assistant professor and a research faculty in the program.

Students working in Sant’s lab during the program will be conducting research on construction materials that could make buildings more energy-efficient.

Rachel Kennison, the assistant director at the Undergraduate Research Center, Sciences, who will be teaching the class, said she thinks the program will provide a more intimate and comprehensive setting where students with diverse majors can collaborate to address important environmental problems.

“UCLA is so big that students are often isolated in their own major,” Kennison said. “(In the program), they
can be exposed to different research all over campus and work with students from
different majors.

In addition to working with faculty and developing individual research projects, the weekly class aims to teach students research and professional skills that can be applied outside of classrooms, such as how to work in a lab and how to write resumes and cover letters. Students will also learn how to communicate and collaborate in interdisciplinary teams, Kennison said.

Growing up, third-year psychology student Jasmine Jafari often struggled with breathing problems because of her asthma. Because of this, she developed a particular interest in Los Angeles air quality and its connection to respiratory problems.

Jafari said she hopes to go into pediatric pulmonology and help kids like her who suffer from asthma. She said the program is a way for her to try to directly contribute to reducing respiratory problems.

“Rather than treating people after they’re sick, we can fix the problem that’s causing it,” Jafari said.

Students who applied for the program will find out the result of their application in July.

The course is expected to be offered every year starting with the 2014-2015 school year, with a different challenge focus each year.

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