Saturday, July 20

Making the Most

The Daily Bruin interviews the five True Bruin Distinguished Senior Scholarship Award winners, who were chosen based on their ability to embody integrity, excellence, accountability, respect and service.

Arami Walker, a fifth-year world arts and cultures student, worked to create a bilingual poetry and song album driven by her experiences. Walker is a winner of the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award given to students who have demonstrated excellence and service through leadership on and off campus. (Owen Emerson/Daily Bruin senior staff)

In March, Arami Walker took the stage to perform with a popular Argentinian band at a crowded Buenos Aires club. She spoke to the audience of locals in Spanish, a language she only learned a couple months before.

Walker, a fifth-year world arts and cultures student, ran into the band in a bar earlier that night. Once band members learned Walker had singing experience, they invited her to perform their last song of the concert with them.

For Walker, one of the five winners of the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award, it was just another day in her time abroad and her history of performing.

The True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award is given to students who have demonstrated excellence and service through leadership on and off campus, according to the scholarship's website.

When she was younger, Walker and her friends would write and perform skits for their families, but Walker's parents urged her to become a lawyer because they felt her love for public speaking would be better suited to a practical field, she said.

Walker spent part of her fourth year studying abroad in Argentina with a guitarist, who reinforced Walker's decision to devote her time at UCLA to performing arts.

"He told me, 'If this is what you want to do, this is what you have to do every single day,'" Walker said. "'Stop wasting your time doing what people think you should be doing, and go for it with all of your heart.'"

After returning to UCLA in spring, Walker began to create a bilingual poetry and song album, driven by her experiences in South America.

"If I dedicate as much energy to music as I am now, by the time I’m 30, I'll know that what I leave behind on earth is representative of who I am as a person," said Walker. "If I die tomorrow, I want today to be filled with everything I love."

Walker's close friend and UCLA alumnus Zakk Marquez said Walker's enthusiasm is clear in her powerful onstage presence.

"If you've ever seen her perform, she is the sun," Marquez said. "She demands attention."

Walker has also performed with the UCLA Sex Squad, a group that aims to bring attention to sexual health through artistic expression at Los Angeles Unified School District high schools.

As a fourth-year student, Walker performed a weekly piece that focused on how hip-hop music affected her perception of self-worth.

"All of our lives ... we’re singing songs about our own bodies," Walker said. "What we don’t realize is that we’re chanting mantras of how our bodies aren’t worth any more (than) their physical shell."

She said students approached her after the shows to tell her they really connected with her message.

"I had a 15-year-old girl come up to me and tell me that I changed her life," Walker said. "She wanted to start writing poetry, and ... start paying attention (to the lyrics in songs)."

Walker's boyfriend, fifth-year anthropology student Drew Frye, said he thinks Walker's ability to connect with her audience is valuable when she is discussing health and identity with high schoolers.

"She’s used that presence to connect with the hearts and minds of thousands of high schoolers, to push them to see past who media tells them they should be, and be who they really are," Frye said.

Walker said her family was always supportive of her decision to join the group, but she truly felt the impact of her performances when she saw her conservative grandmother approach Walker's gay best friend and commend him for his performance.

"I actually saw in my own family a change in perception about queer people, which was really awesome for me," Walker said.

Walker said she aims to create dialogue through her poetry, which focuses on the common human experience.

Her first poem, which she wrote when she was a first-year, addressed how people use the word "n-----". Walker said she thought her own experience of growing up in a biracial household gave her a unique perspective on the often-controversial issue she addresses.

"My mom has blue eyes and straight hair, and I have brown eyes and brown skin," Walker said. "Looking into my mom’s eyes and seeing how much she loved me every day, I never really understood racism until I got to college."

She performed the poem at an event held by an African-American fraternity, in front of her parents and grandparents. Walker said the pride she saw in their faces encouraged her to pursue poetry.

Peter Sellars, one of Walker's world arts and cultures professors, said her dedication to bringing new perspectives to others has helped her in her projects both inside and outside his class.

During her time in Sellars' class, which focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, Walker incorporated poetry and images into a piece she performed in front of 400 students.

"The kind of power and commitment (she has) is really special," Sellars said. "She's going to do anything she wants to (in the future), and the world is going to watch."

Walker said she plans to continue exploring her passions for health education and performance art in the future, and foresees a career that allows her to have a voice in social issues.

"I definitely aim to be a world leader," Walker said. "I plan to have my voice heard across nations, whatever that may take."

Michael Anderson, a fourth-year applied mathematics student, helped create a satellite that will go into space next year. Anderson is one of five students to win the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award. (Owen Emerson/Daily Bruin senior staff)

(Rachel Zhu/Daily Bruin)

In 2017, Michael Anderson will watch the UCLA Mission Operations Center launch his satellite into space.

Anderson, a fourth-year applied mathematics student, was the chief engineer for the Electron Losses and Fields Investigation CubeSat, or ELFIN, the first satellite built by UCLA students. The satellite, about the size of a loaf of bread, will collect data on how electrons in Earth's radiation belts are scattered by different electromagnetic waves.

"It was kind of crazy to think in a couple of years I’m going to be putting something into space," Anderson said.

Anderson recently won the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award scholarship, which is given to five seniors who demonstrate leadership in service and academia, according to the award's website.

Lydia Bingley, project leader for ELFIN and a graduate student in geophysics and space physics, said ELFIN team members consider Anderson one of the founders of the project, and credit him for helping turn the idea into a reality.

As a first year, Anderson noticed a lot of renewed activity in the commercial space sector, which made him consider focusing his studies on aerospace engineering.

“I was watching a live-streamed spacewalk on my phone, and I thought it might be a good time to switch over to a south campus major," Anderson said. “I was hesitant to switch ... but when I did, I never looked back.”

As a second year, Anderson joined the UCLA Rocket Project, which cemented his decision to pursue aerospace sciences.

"The first day I showed up at the lab, I was making carbon fiber parts for the rocket body," Anderson said. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do for the next three years.'"

Anderson said he had a difficult time fitting in at UCLA until he joined the Rocket Project.

“That was when I first felt like I had a family on campus, and a community I connected with,” Anderson said. “I loved building rockets, and the people I was working with became my best friends.”

Alan Anderson, Michael's father, said Michael was always focused on academics but never considered his interest in space as anything more than a hobby.

“He has always had an affinity for space,” Alan Anderson said. “The idea was always there, but it wasn’t until he got to UCLA that it could really thrive.”

After joining the Rocket Project, Anderson learned about the ELFIN project, which was nothing more than a concept at the time. Faculty members had repeatedly proposed the project since 2009, but there was no funding to get the project off the ground, Anderson said.

By 2013, Anderson and a group of fellow students had taken over the ELFIN project, developing plans for the satellite and hoping they would raise enough money to build it. In 2014, the NASA and the National Science Foundation awarded the ELFIN project a $1.2 million grant.

“When you look at space, there’s so much stuff we haven’t even begun to explore yet,” Anderson said. "I wanted to be a part of those missions, out on the edge of pure exploration."

At the end of his second year, Anderson traveled with Bingley and the ELFIN team to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to present the project to an Air Force review board. Bingley said their project manager, who planned to give the presentation, fell ill the day before.

"We were desperate and terrified, but Michael and I stayed up all night and prepared in eight hours for a presentation other students finished in two months," Bingley said. "It was an incredible experience, lifting each other up and supporting each other like that."

Anderson said his work on ELFIN led him to an eight-month aerospace engineering internship at Planetary Resources, Inc., where he worked on a spacecraft called the Arkyd 3. The spacecraft, named after a droid from Star Wars, exploded 15 seconds after its initial launch, Anderson said.

"I saw it go up in flames (while I watched) the live stream from the ELFIN lab," Anderson said. "But luckily, we made multiple copies of everything."

Last July, the Arkyd 3 Reflight was successfully deployed from the International Space Station. Scott Kelly, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, took photos of the spacecraft and sent them to the company's team.

"It’s really cool to see something you’ve worked on in space, with Earth in the background," Anderson said.

Anderson, now in his last quarter at UCLA, has applied to six graduate schools with aerospace engineering programs.

“He’s going to get to do some things he’s always dreamed about,” Alan Anderson said. “For a lot of kids those are just dreams, but Michael’s going to make those dreams reality.”

Anderson is currently working as an intern with The Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit organization that provides technical advice and assessments to space missions. He said he uses his experience engineering ELFIN to develop satellite performance simulations.

Bingley said she thinks Anderson will be a leader, whether he ends up at a small company or a big one.

“He’s going to be inspiring a younger crowd, educating them and building them up,” Bingley said.

Christina Springer, a fourth-year political science student, has a knack for analyzing political data. (Hannah Ye/Daily Bruin senior staff)

(Rachel Zhu/Daily Bruin)

As a child, Christina Springer stayed up late to watch TV newscasts on election night with her parents, writing the number of electoral votes in her pink Minnie Mouse notebook as they increased one by one, using them to make her own predictions.

She was fascinated by the idea that the individual votes of people across the country could determine who would become the President of the United States.

Springer, a fourth-year political science student, has since maintained her interest for political data. She now advocates for civic engagement among college students, despite witnessing what she calls dismal voting numbers among her peers.

Springer works with UCLA’s BruinsVOTE! Campaign, which aims to encourage civic engagement among students, and interns with local political leaders to encourage UCLA students to vote. She added she thinks it’s important for students to partake in government decisions.

“If we don’t start to vote as young people, older politicians will make our decisions for us – decisions that will impact us in our lifetimes, not them in theirs,” she said.

Springer is one of five students who won the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Scholarship Award, a sum of up to $5,000 given to students who exemplify integrity and service, according to the award’s website.

Although eager to participate in the election process, she said she was dismayed by the level of cynicism regarding voting among the student population.

Springer said she thinks her work at UCLA and her research on congressional primaries has effectively prepared her to work in election polling after college.

Alongside her interest in politics, Springer is particularly passionate about helping transfer students like herself.

More than a year ago, Springer came to UCLA from a community college with few student organizations and what she called a nearly nonexistent social community.

During her first year at UCLA, Springer said she relied on the Bruin Resource Center for Transfer Students to help her navigate through UCLA after coming from a smaller collegiate setting.

Springer said the transfer community has become a family for her. She added she hopes to help transfer students connect to UCLA by referring them to other resources on campus.

Springer said she tries to support other transfers by interning at the Transfer Student Program to ease their transitions into UCLA and help them make the most out of their time at UCLA, the same way the Bruin Resource Center did for her.

“(People assume) we know how to navigate UCLA because we’ve navigated community college,” Springer said. “But that’s not the case – it’s a transition.”

Heather Adams, a Transfer Student Program director, said Springer was willing to sacrifice her own time to mentor a student who came into the office feeling lost.

“She spent as long as it took to work out (the student’s) issues, mentored her and took her on as an extra mentee,” Adams said. “She’s very giving of her time.”

Springer mentors new transfer students and helps them find their place on campus as part of the Show Me the Ropes program, hosted by the USAC Office of the Transfer Student Representative.

Springer said she struggles to balance her academic career with extracurricular opportunities every day, but she’s thankful to be able to learn about politics and support her community at the same time.

“(Being at UCLA) has allowed me to do all these things,” she said. “The way that I found that they all work together has been really important to my developmental experience.”

True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award winner Sophie Tanaka is working to address the lack of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. (Owen Emerson/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Growing up, Sophie Tanaka remembers seeing her mother break down in tears at a bank, overwhelmed by simple math calculations.

A few years ago, her mom found enough confidence to return to community college to take a math class. Tanaka said seeing her mother struggle encouraged her to dispel the stereotype that women do not study science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Tanaka, a fourth-year psychology transfer student, took a job at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to address the lack of diversity in leading technological companies and encourage executives to fairly promote women in workplaces.

Tanaka is one of five students awarded the annual True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award. The award grants up to $5,000 to students who demonstrate integrity, respect and service during their academic careers.

Tanaka has conducted research since she was in community college. When she arrived at UCLA, she decided to design a study that would evaluate psychological and social factors behind women’s absence in STEM fields.

Women account for over 50 percent of college students, but are still a minority group in STEM fields, Tanaka said.

“The two fields that are the most lucrative and have the most growth are the fields in which women are most underrepresented,” Tanaka said.

Last year, the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program funded Tanaka’s research. She later presented the conclusions from her study, which found some job applications were worded to discourage women from applying to jobs in STEM fields.

Rebecca Sadwick, program manager of the digital technologies initiative at the center for innovation, said she heard about Tanaka’s research and thought she’d be a good fit for her project, which aimed to analyze existing literature on women in STEM fields and compile strategies for industry leaders to increase diversity.

Sadwick said Tanaka, the only undergraduate student working on the project, demonstrated skills and maturity that exceeded what she expected of her graduate students.

“I was incredibly impressed by her intellect and passion,” Sadwick said. “She could jump from one complex issue to another.”

Tanaka now works in a lab at UCLA with Steven Reise, Tanaka’s thesis adviser and a UCLA psychology professor who specializes in quantitative data.

Reise said he thinks Tanaka is filling in a large gap in the research field by directing her honors thesis toward researching why individuals appear as outliers to the rest of a population and examining why inconsistencies occur in survey answers.

Tanaka said she thinks stereotypes about women’s roles still exist and students who see themselves as poor performers in mathematics are scared of pushing themselves in that area.

“I know my mom has this fear of math and wasn’t expected to be successful or good at it,” Tanaka said. “But I’ve watched her face her fear.”

She added she could not have accomplished what she has without her mom.

“(She) told me everything she wants to do, she’s had to struggle for,” Tanaka said. “For me, things come easier and I have to take advantage of that – I have to keep pushing myself and help those around me.”

Tanaka said working on a psychological research project created by Philip Zimbardo, a professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University who is known for conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, at her community college inspired her to pursue a career in social psychology.

She added she set her sights on UCLA to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology before moving on to earn a doctorate degree. Tanaka said she hopes her experiences at UCLA prepare her for her dream of becoming a research professor.

“I’ve learned to embrace challenges,” Tanaka said. “I believe I can do anything I’m willing to work for.”

Avinash Malaviya, a winner of the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award, is working to combine his two loves: music and neuroscience. (Keila Mayberry/Daily Bruin staff)

Six-year-old Avinash Malaviya’s piano teacher taught him to play by ear.

Malaviya, now a fourth-year ethnomusicology and neuroscience student, recalls walking into his first lesson, his nervousness stifling his normally energetic personality. His teacher was strict, but Malaviya would continue to pursue music for years to come.

When Malaviya arrived at UCLA, he began to mentor elementary school children who would often ask whether it was normal for musicians to become doctors, as he planned to do. Malaviya said he refused to give up his love for music, but still wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

Malaviya is one of five students to win the True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award, which recognizes students who exemplify integrity and service, according to the award’s website.

He said he didn’t know whether he could feasibly pursue both majors, but Mark Tramo, a music industry professor and a neurology residency lecturer at the David Geffen School of Medicine, showed him he could do both.

“I didn’t know anyone (who had done it before),” Malaviya said. “But he’s a neurologist who studies aural diseases and addiction issues.”

Music and science is not an intuitive combination, but Malaviya has tried to interweave the two through his research in Dr. Edythe London’s lab.

London is a psychiatry and behavioral science professor who works in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Malaviya said her research focuses on addiction.

Malaviya said he enjoys learning about different cultures, and takes a variety of ethnomusicology classes that focus on different regions.

“The cross-cultural exposure isn’t something you necessarily get in another major,” Malaviya said.
Malaviya is double majoring in ethnomusicology and neuroscience. (Keila Mayberry/Daily Bruin staff)

He added he hopes his exposure to different cultures will help him be more conscientious in the medical field.

Anthony Mai, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said he is impressed Malaviya manages to balance his many responsibilities while still being a caring friend.

“As busy as he is juggling two majors and heaps of extracurricular activities, he never ceases to amaze me with (how deeply) he cares,” Mai said.

Malaviya is also a member of High Achievement in Math and Sciences, or High AIMS, an organization that provides academic and financial support to 10 pre-medicine and pre-health students each year.

Dr. Charles Alexander, director of High AIMS, said he has seen Malaviya mature over his three years with High AIMS.

“He’s grown from this quiet, shy, smart person to this forward-thinking, mature, happy person you just want to be around,” Alexander said.

Malaviya said he plans to take a gap year after graduation to apply to medical school but still plans to continue writing songs and performing music.

Alexander said he is confident Malaviya will be successful, regardless of whatever he does in life.

“He works hard to get to where he wants to be,” Alexander said.