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Award Recipient Profiles_2020-2021

Congratulations to the 2020-2021 award recipients!

Michael Piña

Mather Good Citizen Award

Michael was raised in Kerman, CA, and from the start, has been passionate about giving back to her community. Currently a senior at UC Berkeley, Michael noticed the lack of educational resources students from the Central Valley face in comparison to her Berkeley peers, so she founded Central Valley Scholars to meet this need. As a Queer, Latinx, and fem identifying person, Michael faced tremendous amounts of hardships from community members and school faculty, inspiring her mission of creating an educational space in which all students are supported, admired, respected, and advocated for. Michael’s work is driven by love, community, friendships, family, and a passion to make a positive change.

Alexandra Potter

Undergraduate Award for Civic Engagement

Alexandra is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studies Bioengineering and works in Dr. Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang’s lung cancer research lab. She is very passionate about raising awareness about the importance of lung cancer screening and helping high-risk individuals get screened. She is the program director for the American Lung Cancer Screening Initiative (ALSCI), a team of doctors and students across the world working to raise awareness for lung cancer screening. In 2020, she co-drafted the first House and Senate resolutions to support lung cancer screening and in December 2020, the Senate resolution was passed, making the first time the U.S. Senate has ever recognized the importance of screening. She has worked with communities in 40 states across the U.S. and has worked with over 82 mayors to issue proclamations on the importance of lung cancer screening. Additionally, she has worked with communities in India and Mexico to raise the awareness. Her current focuses include working on lung cancer screening research and working ot help more high-risk individuals get screened for lung cancer.

Angela Laureano

African American Studies
Undergraduate Award for Civic Engagement

Angela is a first-generation DACA student. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico and raised in Compton, California where her family migrated when she was three. Although her early experiences in the US were marked by instability, her mother’s willingness to strive for a better future instilled in her an intergenerational commitment to hope and freedom. This commitment undergirds her passion for criminal justice and devotion to improving people’s lives. Angela’s desire to create change stems from her proximity to the carceral state through the incarceration of many of her loved ones. These experiences prompted her to become invested in helping the people most vulnerable to incarceration. The contact she maintains with people behind bars actively informs the work she does and keeps injustice in her radar. As a student at Cal, she began her de-carceration efforts at Berkeley Underground Scholars, an on-campus organization that serves formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students. There, she serves as the Lead Coordinator of the Incarcerated Scholars Program in which she provides academic services to incarcerated individuals. Alongside her work at Underground Scholars, she advocates for marginalized communities by conducting independent research projects. In 2019, she co-founded an undocumented research cohort to provide students, who otherwise are legally barred from participating in various programs, the opportunity to conduct their own funded research. Recently, Angela was admitted into the Goldman School of Public Policy where she will complete her MPP.

Noor Chadha

UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program
Graduate Award for Civic Engagement

Noor is a medical student at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program who strives to integrate her core values of justice, joy, and compassion throughout her life and medical career. As a part of her master’s work at the JMP, Noor collaborated with Dr. Stephanie Fong Gomez, youth and staff at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, and many others to create the VOICE Project, which supports adolescents and families in developing the healthy habit of voting through nonpartisan outreach, capacity-building, and research in pediatric spaces. Noor is also a co-founder of the Institute for Healing and Justice in Medicine, which publishes and uplifts perspectives related to healing, social justice, and community activism in Western medicine and public health. In addition, Noor is passionate about mentorship, Bhangra, and spending as much time outside as possible.

Sydney Ji

Berkeley International Office
Staff Award for Civic Engagement

Sydney works as staff, as an International Customer Service Assistant, for Berkeley International Office. They strive to combine patience, compassion, and knowledge obtained both on the job and from their previous experiences as a UC Berkeley undergraduate, lifelong bay area resident, and 2nd generation child of former Chinese international students in hopes of holistically supporting students. They currently serve on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for LGBTQ+ Communities and as a volunteer and leadership team member for LavenderCal, and are also part of the Dismantling Racism study group, APASA, The Alliance, and Berkeley Staff Assembly and enjoy participating in other events and organizations on campus. As a student, they were involved with planning Queer & Asian Conference and NorCal T-Camp. They remain active outside of work with various bay area and online spaces including groups for queer and trans Asians and/or broadly people of color, disabled people, supporting survivors of police violence, organizing young people with class privilege to redistribute wealth, and addressing racial justice and other equity issues within Fremont Union High School District. Sydney enjoys sharing resources and things they have learned between the various settings they are in.

Covid Wastewater Epidemiology for the Bay Area (COVID-WEB) 

Berkeley Water Center
Campus-Community Partnership Award

When the pandemic hit, the Nelson Lab group, which had traditionally researched pathogens in water, immediately thought, “What can we do to help?” This motivation led us to develop COVID Wastewater Epidemiology for the Bay Area (COVID-WEB;, an innovative partnership between UC Berkeley researchers, campus Environmental Health & Safety staff, 19 different local wastewater agencies, and 6 local public health departments. The COVID-WEB team analyses wastewater samples from around UC Berkeley campus and the greater San Francisco Bay Area for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because people who are infected with COVID-19 excrete the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their feces, detection of the virus in wastewater can provide critical information about infection levels in the population to complement other public health data. We developed novel methods to detect SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, built out a laboratory and laboratory team and quickly ramped up to conduct routine monitoring. We regularly present results of ~150 samples/week from 38 different sampling locations to local public health decision-makers. Over 2300 samples have been analyzed to date. In addition, our team is working on genetic sequencing of wastewater to detect mutations, which can provide information on whether new COVID-19 variants are being introduced from other regions. We have seen wastewater data about SARS-CoV-2 have a real, beneficial effect on managing the pandemic. For example, COVID-WEB’s wastewater data provided early warning to a local prison medical officer about an outbreak at the facility, allowing her to take extra precautions which likely reduced disease transmission. In another example, a local public health department was able to allocate strained contact-tracing resources to a sewershed which displayed relatively high concentrations of the virus in wastewater, but for which they had little clinical testing information. Going forward, wastewater data is likely to be even more valuable as more of the population is vaccinated and routine clinical testing rates decline. COVID-WEB has exemplified one way in which UC Berkeley, in partnership with local public health and wastewater agencies, can leverage its scientific resources to make a difference in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

White Coats for Black Lives

Student Group Award for Civic Engagement

The White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program chapter is dedicated to providing support, access, and mentorship to local premedical students to address the lack of underrepresented minorities (URM) within the medical field. We are a collective of students within the UC Berkeley Joint Medical Program completing a five year dual degree MD and MS program. Many of us are from historically marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds. As such, we recognize the specific challenges and barriers to recruiting and supporting underrepresented minority students. We aim to use our expertise as URM medical students to support the premedical students at UC Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Funded by the Big C Grant, we provide longitudinal direct mentorship as well as host a series of events that provide premedical students with valuable information, build connections to nearby medical institutions, and provide opportunities for networking which–in our experience–have proven highly effective at getting us to the next steps of our career development. In order to make the pathway to medical school more equitable and to support our community, we run a mentorship program, a seminar series, volunteering and clinical experiences for over 180 students with University Health Services, supply drives for our community, and a scholarship program to award underrepresented minority students interested in pursuing medicine. In the summer of 2020, we brought together 600 Bay Area health workers to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement in light of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breyonna Taylor. We also advocated for racism to be declared as a public health crisis on a state legislative level, and our work has resulted in a passed resolution by the San Francisco and Marin Medical Association (SFMMA). We do this work to honor our communities, to support those coming after us, to carry the work forward of those that came before us and ultimately because we fundamentally, wholeheartedly believe that Black Lives Matter.

Anu Manchikanti Gómez

School of Social Welfare
Faculty Award for Research in the Public Interest

Anu is associate professor at the School of Social Welfare and director of the Sexual Health and Reproductive Equity(link is external) (SHARE) Program. For more than 15 years, Dr. Gómez has worked as a health equity researcher with a focus on reproduction and sexuality throughout the life course. She has conducted research both in the US and globally on diverse topics, including contraceptive use, abortion, HIV prevention, gender equity, transgender health and violence against women and children. Dr. Gómez’s current research focuses on three areas: (1) the measurement and meaning of pregnancy planning; (2) understanding contraceptive decision-making within social, relational and structural contexts; and (3) evaluating the impact of and evidence base for policies related to reproductive health. She also serves as a co-PI on SOLARS(link is external), a prospective, longitudinal cohort study funded by UCSF’s Preterm Birth Initiative(link is external). SOLARS aims to describe the relationship between psychosocial stress and preterm birth in Black and Hispanic/Latina women in Oakland and Fresno, Calif. She currently collaborates with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco; the Guttmacher Institute; Planned Parenthood Northern California; and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. Dr. Gómez’s work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Society for Family Planning Research Fund, the Berkeley Population Center, the Institute for Research on Labor and Education at UCB, the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative, and Gilead Sciences. In 2017, she was named a winner of 120 Under 40(link is external), a global initiative to identify the next generation of family planning leaders. She was also the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Professional Award from the Sexual and Reproductive Health Section of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Gómez currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Health Network(link is external) and Ibis Reproductive Health(link is external). Dr. Gómez earned her PhD in Maternal and Child Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. She also received an MSc in Health, Population and Society from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from New York University.

Grace O’Connell

Mechanical Engineering
Faculty Award for Research in the Public Interest

Grace is the Don M. Cunningham Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the co-director of the Berkeley Biomechanics Laboratory, and her research interests are in soft tissue mechanobiology and tissue engineering. O’Connell received PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, where her research focused on intervertebral disc biomechanics with age, degeneration, and injury. O’Connell’s research group employs computational modeling and experimental approaches to study the effect of aging and disease on tissue- and joint-level mechanobiology. She has received many awards including the 2019 YC Fung Young Investigator Award and NSF CAREER Award, and was inducted into the AIMBE College of Fellows in 2021.

Lisa Hirai Tsuchitani

Department of Ethnic Studies
Faculty Award for Community Engaged Teaching

Dr. Lisa Hirai Tsuchitani is a lecturer in the Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies Program of the Department of Ethnic Studies. Upon graduating from the Asian American Studies and East Asian Studies Programs at UC Berkeley, Dr. Tsuchitani continued her interests in critical pedagogy and educational equity in the Social and Cultural Studies Program of the School of Education on campus. Her academic service has included work with the UC Office of the President, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, and the Student Learning Center. She also serves as founder and chair of the Japanese American Studies Advisory Committee (JASAC). More recently, she was appointed co-chair of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Standing Committee (AAPISC), an inaugural advisory body to the Chancellor under the executive sponsorship of the Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion dedicated to increasing awareness about and developing strategies to address campus climate issues for AAPI students, staff, and faculty. Dr. Tsuchitani also has worked with a number of Bay Area nonprofit organizations, foundations, and schools. Her recent publications include Mountain Movers: Student Activism and the Emergence of Asian American Studies (2019) and Japanese American Millennials: Rethinking Generation, Community, and Diversity (2019). She is honored to be teaching the courses that initially inspired her as an undergraduate to pursue a teaching career in Asian American Studies: AAADS 122, “Japanese American Historical and Contemporary Issues” and AAADS 146, “Asian Americans and Education.”

Martha Ortega Mendoza

School of Education
Robert J. and Mary Catherine Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Undocumented Students

Martha is the youngest daughter of two former restaurant workers. Currently, she is a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education. Her work seeks to uplift and center the voices and experiences of undocumented graduate students. Her professional dream is that one day her research will be used by practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to support the recruitment and retention of undocumented graduate students. Her personal dream is to permanently settle down in southern California alongside her husband.

Naniette H. Coleman

Robert J. and Mary Catherine Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Underrepresented Students

Naniette is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at the UC Berkeley. Naniette is the first (and only) social scientist to receive this honor in the UC system. Naniette’s doctoral research sits at the intersection of the sociology of culture and organizations and focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, and privacy in the US context. In 2016 she founded and has since served as executive director of two entrepreneurial diversity, equity, inclusion, representation, and belonging initiatives at UC Berkeley: Interdisciplinary Research Group on Privacy/Coleman Research Lab (IRGP), which trains undergraduate students in research, writing, and professional skills and directly connects with Naniette’s dissertation research, and Night Out/Night Off for Graduate Students of Color (NO/NO), which is a diverse patron advocacy and experience initiative that provides subsidized tickets and programming for graduate students at Cal and connects to Naniette’s lifelong love of the arts. Naniette holds a Master of Public Administration with a specialization in Democracy, Politics, and Institutions from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and both an M.A. in Economics and a B.A. in Communication from the University at Buffalo, SUNY. A non-traditional doctoral student, Naniette’s prior professional experience includes local & state service in her home state of New York as well as federal service (US Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representatives Office), as well as work for two international organizations (the United Nations Volunteer Program and the World Bank), and two universities (UC Berkeley and Harvard University). Naniette serves on the Board of Directors of ScienceCounts and Cal Performances. During the 2020-2021 school year Naniette served as the founding Chair and Board sponsor of the Cal Performances Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee.