Service to Community, Abroad a Focus for Outstanding Seniors
Christine Clark and Kristin Luciani | June 14, 2010
Beza Abebe, a graduating senior at UC San Diego, and her family emigrated from Ethopia when she was 8 years old. She didn’t know it at the time but she now realizes the move made it possible for her family to escape hunger, poverty and war. Her home country underwent a series of famines and civil wars in the 1980s, resulting in millions of deaths.
“Moving to the U.S. gave my family better economic and educational opportunities,” she said, “which is part of the reason why I took as many opportunities as I could at UCSD to get involved and help people in my community.”
During her four years as an undergraduate, Abebe was active in the Black Student Union, helped found the UCSD chapter of Engineers Without Borders, interned at two San Diego hospitals and volunteered providing healthcare in Honduras. The physiology and neurosciences double major also organized social activities for her peers as a campus resident advisor and helped raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation through the Chi Omega sorority.
After graduating, Abebe will spend the next year applying to medical schools and hopes to use her training to aid under-served communities in the future.
For graduating senior Kenny Pettersen, the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 was a personal tragedy. Pettersen has traveled to Haiti seven times to volunteer with the Haiti Endowment Fund and has established lifelong friendships with the people there.
Following the earthquake, Pettersen spearheaded a student relief effort to aid victims of the 7.0 magnitude quake. In just two days, Pettersen and his peers raised over $6,000. To date, students across campus have raised more than $15,000. Pettersen's commitment to Haiti has been an important part of his life ever since his father volunteered there when Kenny was a child.
I remember talking to him one time on a satellite phone. It was his first time there, Pettersen said. He described the living conditions and how he was really excited to be there, because he felt for the first time in his life he was really making a difference.
Following his father’s example, Pettersen made his own trek and discovered communities of optimistic and resourceful people making the best of life despite living in extreme poverty. The experience changed his outlook on life. “In Haiti, there’s no prevalence of depression, said Pettersen. It says a lot about what it means to be happy.”
Pettersen continues to return to Haiti periodically to volunteer. During his most recent trip over spring break, he volunteered in a medical clinic and witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the earthquake. Particularly upsetting for Pettersen was seeing schools destroyed and students left without access to education.
I tried to imagine what my life would be like if UC San Diego was destroyed,” added Pettersen. “Hope for Haiti lies with the education of its future leaders. Seeing that delayed is deeply saddening.”
An aspiring specialist in public health and infectious diseases, Pettersen will return to Haiti this summer to continue helping with the relief efforts before attending medical school at UC San Francisco in the fall.
Rakim Johnson grew up in an impoverished single-parent home. Drugs and incarceration were the norm in his community. But the graduating UC San Diego student said he can now appreciate what living there has taught him.
“It helped shape the man I am today, he said. In the four years I've spent at UC San Diego I have come to terms with my background and feel proud to have overcome the obstacles I faced.
The economics major always earned high grades from elementary to high school and thrived at UC San Diego. An honors student, he held many leadership positions and made a lot of friends through the Pre-Law Society, Economics Honors Society, Active Students for Kids and Teens and other student organizations at UCSD.
Johnson went home to Oakland one summer where he held a job working for a cellular phone company. I had to work outside in a mall as a sign holder, he said. I hated that job with a passion, so on my breaks I would go into to the Barnes and Noble and read books on how to get into top law schools.
Sure enough, Johnson made his dream a reality. He will start law school at Stanford University this fall. “I’m very excited,” he said. “I grew up in public housing and benefited from public programs, so I hope to help protect those programs and the people who need them by my practice in law.”
In his four years at UC San Diego, Chase Bauer traveled to Peru to help repair an orphanage, to Guatemala to help spruce up a rural school and to Honduras to help build a filtration system that is now providing clear water to more than 700 people. He also spent a semester in Spain, studying the language, completed a senior honors thesis and earned acceptance into the masters in educational studies program at UC San Diego.
His travels were inspired by Elearnor Roosevelt College’s emphasis on global citizenship, he said. “We’re fortunate in America to have more than other nations,” he said. “We have to show that we can help out.”
He also said he was inpired by his mother, a teacher. As a freshman, he joined Community Outreach Effort (CORE), a student organization at Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated to community service and outreach. His trip to Peru was part of the organization’s “Spring Breakaway.”
The next year, Bauer became a lead organizer for the group’s spring trip, this time to Guatemala. To raise money for the trip, he initiated a recycling program, where students collected bottles and cans from the residence halls. The first of its kind at the college, Bauer’s recycling program raised more than $2,500 for the trip.
“My entire time spent co-leading our trip to Guatemala is my proudest accomplishment at UCSD,” he said. “I am so proud of my entire group.”
Bauer started off as a pre-med major. But over the years, he realized he would rather be a physical therapist. After completing his master’s in educational studies at UCSD, he plans to apply to top phsycial therapy programs across the nation. Either way, he said he plans to use his degrees to help others through teaching and physical therapy.
One of Sabrina Owen's greatest educational experiences at UC San Diego was learning how to teach others. I am passionate about contributing to my community and helping people, she said. With a double major in biology and ethnic studies, Owen's extensive volunteer efforts include tutoring at The Preuss School, leading student orientations, volunteering at UC San Diego events and working as an academic advising peer counselor on campus.
Owen's drive to help people and her interest in biology led her to pursue a career in medicine. Her outstanding academic achievements earned her entrance into the UCSD School of Medicine's Post Baccalaureate Program, which is designed to assist students in gaining an acceptance into medical school within one year of completing of the program. In whichever medical field I choose, Owens said, I want to serve under-privileged communities and help those in need.
From conducting research abroad to writing for the Guardian, Jacob Blanc made it a point to take advantage of the exceptional educational opportunities available to him at UC San Diego. He also fights to ensure that future students have access to the same opportunities.
Blanc was one of the lead student organizers behind the protests that took place March 4 to fight for funding for public education. He joined students, faculty and staff at UC San Diego in a statewide demonstration against budget cuts to public universities.
His passion for education stems from his rich academic experiences at UC San Diego. During his junior year, Blanc studied in a full-immersion program in France where he carried out an independent research project that focused on the role the inhabitants of Lyon played during the French Revolution. Blanc's unique approach to the study-abroad experience and his innovative research earned him the University of California Education Abroad Program Undergraduate Research Award.
Doing all of my own translations with primary source documents was an incredibly rewarding experience, said Blanc. I hope to become a history professor, and the opportunity to undertake serious historical research in another country and in another language was exhilarating.
During his senior year, Blanc took on another research project this time focused on the present. He participated in the Mexican Migration Field Research Program through the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at UC San Diego. Blanc traveled to Mexico to conduct ethnographic field research, an experience that varied greatly from his research in France.
In Mexico, I got to live my research, said Blanc.It was a transformative experience.
The program also offered the opportunity for Blanc to apply his research to co-author a chapter of the CCIS book Recession Without Borders: Mexican Migrants Confront the Economic Downturnan, an unusual accomplishment for an undergraduate student.
After graduating from Eleanor Roosevelt College this month, Blanc will advocate for education in a global setting as he travels to Chile to teach English and social studies classes.
Justice Castaneda was 20 years old when he went to a military recruiting office. At the time, he had been involved in drugs and seen many of his close friends go off to prison. Now the 29-year-old is about to graduate from UC San Diego, where he excelled as an urban studies and planning major and served as the president of the university's Student Veteran Organization, collaborating with staff members and fellow veterans to create events and develop initiatives to support the campus’ 200 undergraduate students who have served in the military.
Castaneda grew up in a working class neighborhood in Madison, Wis. and got into the Marines “by the skin of his teeth, he said. I knew if I couldn't make it in the Marines, I couldn’t make it anywhere. In 2004, Castaneda was deployed to Iraq, where he worked as a security team leader in the village of Fallujah.
Castaneda had been out of the military for less than a month when he started attending UC San Diego. He soon got involved in the Student Veteran Organization and was elected its president.
“As former public servants,” Castaneda said, “all of us understand the importance and value of providing a service to benefit a greater good and we want to give back to the campus community.”
Castaneda will attend graduate school at Stanford University in the fall.
Graduating Revelle senior Dipika Gopal tutored at The Preuss School, studied abroad in Chile to learn Spanish and volunteered at a medical clinic in downtown San Diego—an example of Revelle College’s philosophy of a well-rounded education. Gopal is not only an aspiring physician, but also a talented musician who performs in the wind ensemble and chamber orchestra at UC San Diego. Her double major in music performance and physiology and neuroscience goes hand in hand with the extensive scope of her talents and interests.
Her background made her an ideal orientation leader at Revelle College, where she welcomed incoming freshman and their parents to the UC San Diego community for three consecutive summers. She helped ease the fears of new students and calm some of the more anxious parents. Students said they were captivated by Gopal’s passionate spirit and limitless energy, and as she got to know the freshmen, Gopal was equally impressed. “It was amazing to see that we have such a diverse student body,” she said.
Whether it’s tutoring students or helping patients at a medical clinic, Gopal has been a devoted volunteer in the community. At The Preuss School, she tutored students in science, math and college prep classes. In addition to teaching the material, Gopal helped to motivate the students to succeed in their classes and aspire to attain a university education, officials said. She also volunteered at the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic, which provides accessible, quality health care to underserved individuals in downtown San Diego. The hours she spent in the clinic opened her eyes to health care issues in the local community, she said. “It was one of my best experiences at UCSD,” she said. “I learned so much from the patients themselves.” After graduating in June, Gopal will attend medical school at UC San Diego.
As a physiology and neuroscience major, Ryan Lau excelled in his academic studies while pursuing a variety of other interests and extracurricular activities—from cooking to croquet.
Lau entered UC San Diego as a Muir Scholar, the highest academic honor the college bestows. A dedicated leader and talented artist, Lau proved to be an exceptional student leader in Muir College, officials said. He served as a resident house advisor, and his exceptional intelligence and likeable personality easily won over his residents and colleagues, they said. Lau also left his mark on the college by designing some of Muir’s most popular logos and T-shirts, and, as an avid croquet player, he established Muir’s first croquet club.
“Being involved with the Muir community really allowed me to experience the small college atmosphere that UC San Diego is known for,” says Lau. “Where else can you say that you regularly play croquet with your college's provost?”
Most recently, his academic achievements and leadership skills earned him the UCSD Alumni Association Outstanding Senior Award, an honor awarded to one graduating senior from each college. Lau’s next step will be attending medical school at New York University in the fall.
Stephanie Usry survived a life-threatening car accident during her first year at UC San Diego. She spent a month in a drug-induced coma. But she pulled through and returned to UC San Diego, where she dedicated her time to student life and became one of the most devoted and passionate student leaders on campus. Through her involvement with Eleanor Roosevelt College Council, the Associated Students, Campus Tours, the Student Foundation and the UCSD Alumni Association, Usry helped foster a supportive and active student community on campus.
“Being involved at UCSD is the reason that I was able to recover, especially in the short amount of time that it took me,” Usry said. “While I struggled to rediscover where I would fit in, the relationships that I had developed through AS and my college council during my first quarter back became the support network that inspired me to work and push myself to get better. I didn’t want to miss out on experiencing college life because of my injuries!”
Her peers, colleagues and friends are continuously inspired by Usry’s passion for everything she does and her tenacity to overcome a devastating accident.
After she graduates, Usry will sell all her possessions to backpack across Europe for three months. When she returns, she plans to work in the field of organizational development for high tech companies.