The history of advocacy at UC Davis

Published: The California Aggie. February 2, 2017.


At the Memorial Union, the eyes of important global and local activists gaze upon passersby to remind them that UC Davis students of both past and present have felt compelled to advocate for change. “The Unfinished Dream,” a mural at the MU which depicts multicultural art pieces like Greek and Egyptian busts alongside portraits of activists such as Harriet Tubman, was commissioned in 1991 to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the importance of activism.

“We wanted [to convey] that things were not perfect, that one always has to keep agitating and going forward,” said Kim Anno, an artist who co-created the mural. “This idea of a utopian society, where all people sit around a table, is not yet achieved. We wanted to make something that was triumphant.”

UC Davis’ history is deeply characterized by student-led movements. A 1969 protest which confronted then Chancellor James Meyer in regards to the excessive use of police force at People’s Park was attended by his own children. The 1969 March for Peace at Sacramento, organized by UC Davis, was attended by 6,000 to 8,000 people. In 1970, the Rally on the Quad for Vietnam involved the planting of 500 white crosses, symbolizing war deaths, which were subsequently uprooted and carried to then Chancellor Meyer to demand that the university cut ties with the war effort. After the Kent State shootings and the deployment of US troops in Cambodia, two molotov cocktails were thrown at the UC Davis Reserve Officers’ Training Corps building.

Student gathered in the ‘80s and ‘90s to protest against Apartheid in South Africa, the first war in Iraq, sexism and racism and in support of Affirmative Action. In 1989, students protested the presence of Robert Bork, the rejected Supreme Court Justice nominee who opposed federal anti-segregation laws, who came for a university-funded campus event.

“What the demonstration [showed] to the university leadership and the greater community was that people were not going to be silent and let their rights be squashed to protect the rights of others,” said class of ‘93 graduate William Schlitz, who was involved in the protest. “Just because you have your rights and I have my rights doesn’t mean asking for my rights infringes on your rights. I tell people, ‘What the nation is experiencing now, California went through in the ‘80s and ‘90s.’”

Four students in 1990 began a water-only Hunger Strike which lasted six days and called for an investigation into alleged racism in the Spanish Department against native Spanish speakers, the establishment of an on-campus ethnic and cultural center and the increase of full-time ethnic studies faculty members. Andrea Gaytan, one of the four hunger-strikers and now the director of the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, said that the effect of the strike was greater than the granting of the three demands.

“The whole gist of the protest […] was really the mobilization and awakening of the community,” Gaytan said. “Afterwards, […] we had a humongous coalition for the anti-war movement. When we had the anti-fee hike protest, students and the campus community mobilized faster. We had members of the community and staff and faculty […who] became more widely-known as advocates and allies for students.”

Shortly after the Hunger Strike, the Office of Student Affairs and the Campus Art in Public Places Work Group decided to commission a piece of art that would both celebrate achievements and inspire further advocacy. This piece became “The Unfinished Dream.”

“The demand and the desire to have a mural was part of showing an unfinished dream [for] real equity and international respect and collaboration,” said Miranda Bergman, who co-created the mural alongside Anno. “[The mural] was combatting Eurocentrism in education and also remembering and honoring both students from the school and people throughout history who took that step to stand up for equality.”

Today, Gaytan said she sees a large difference in modern UC Davis student activism versus the activism of 1988 to ‘92, when she was a student. The AB540 and Undocumented Student center she directs is the result of student advocacy.

“Watching the students originally organize and […] write a plan and proposal for this AB540 Center was so different from what my experience had been,” Gaytan said. “It’s been really full-circle. Davis has made a lot of progress, just for Davis, but we’ve made even more progress compared to other universities in California and across the country. I feel extremely proud of what we’re doing now.”

More recent movements include the Occupy UC Davis movement over tuition hikes, during which students were pepper-sprayed by police. Evan Loker, a 2012 graduate who was involved in the Occupy movement, said that this event resulted in a mobilization similar to what Gaytan described after the 1990 Hunger Strike.

“What made Occupy unique from other cycles of political resistance was that it localized these new connections and energies into a particular territory – traditional political actions like marches and pickets taking place alongside micro-political processes […like] building relationships alongside ideologies and strategies,” Loker said. “The UC movement and Occupy shared a set of political concerns, symbols and tactics [which] created a set of common experiences and images that offered many millennials and older folks an entrance into radical politics.”

Just last year, the Fire Katehi movement resulted in the resignation of former Chancellor Linda Katehi. Even more recently, student protests manifested in regards to the highly controversial scheduled appearance of alt-right Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who came accompanied by entrepreneur Martin Shkreli via invitation from the Davis College Republicans (DCR).

“We decided to host Milo in order to allow our fellow students the opportunity to hear about ideas, policies and theories that may be entirely alien to their background,” said Deborah Porter, a fourth-year biological systems engineering major and political director for DCR. “We had hoped that liberals alongside conservatives would attend Milo’s talk with the purpose of pondering his ideas, asking difficult questions and promoting UC Davis as a place where we challenge the ideas set before us rather than blindly accepting them.”

2016 graduate Eric Gudz, who provided support and assistance to protesters who led to the cancellation of the event, said he is opposed to the presence of “hatred and bigotry” and campus.

[Not] having the platform for that speech is not the same as losing your right to be able to conduct free speech,” Gudz said. “[I] wanted to show my support and solidarity to resisting and voicing my concerns over what I see [is the] proliferation of hateful and fearful rhetoric that is becoming more […] normalized in our communities. This provides other communities an example of how [they] can be powerful enough to really counter the spread of hate that’s happening and demonstrate that everybody has that ability to be able to […] stand up for what they believe in and what they know is right […] for the community.”

One day after the cancelled speech, Yiannopoulos and Shkreli returned to campus for a free-speech countermarch, during which the 2011 pepper-spraying incident was reenacted using silly string. The “Shkrelopoulos” event is reminiscent of past UC Davis histories, given that it directly referenced recent student movements and was extremely similar in character to speaker-related protests like the 1989 Robert Bork controversy. According to Porter and the DCR, the re-enactment “especially reiterated” their rights.

“Just as the Occupy protesters had a right to be there, so did we. It doesn’t matter the material they discuss, they have a right to peacefully do it,” Porter said.

According to the UC Davis Policy and Procedure Manual, anybody may exercise first amendment rights, including free speech, on all public university grounds. Symbolic structures are permitted at a designated site on the quad meant for “symbolic speech,” but all acts of civil disobedience are not condoned. Though the manual acknowledges that civil disobedience has played a historic role at UC Davis, it is not Constitutionally protected.

For those looking to get involved in the future of activism on campus, Gudz said he recommends that students join established groups and organizations first before launching their own movement.

“Organizing in this era is going to be critical to move things forward,” Gudz said. “A good first place to start is to check in with those pre-existing activism groups. One of the big keys for activism [and] advocacy going forward is that these struggles are intersectional whether we want to realize them or not. The struggles of all these different groups are […] intertwined and they must be treated as such to be able to advance the causes forwards.”


Teaching Togetherness

Published: The California Aggie. January 26, 2017. Viewable here.


After becoming interested in yoga her senior year of high school, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Megan Settles decided to complete the 200 hours of training needed to become a yoga instructor. Settles, who now teaches yoga classes at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), said the activity has significantly changed her for the better.

“[During] your first sun salutation […] you’ll probably feel a little tight and not super relaxed,” Settles said. “Once you do a million of them, you’re going to feel better. [You will feel] a sense of strength in your body which will [allow] you to feel strength outside of class. Feeling good can bring out […] confidence. It has this domino effect. You feel really powerful and lifted up.”

On and off campus, students and faculty are engaging others in wellness activities as a means to self-improve and create communal bonds. One pioneer of this is Stacey Brezing, the director for the UC Davis Staff and Faculty Health and Wellbeing Program. Brezing and two student assistants use a small budget and pre-existing resources to organize wellness activities for the campus community.

The upcoming Mindfulness Meditation series, a four week class starting January 31 which will be offered at the Mondavi Center, is one such activity aimed at increasing wellbeing.

“Going back to work after meditation, [staff and faculty are] a little more resilient, [and] able to handle more,” Brezing said. “It [also] decreases stress levels.”

Another event, the 4-part Lunchtime Gentle Yoga series, had 50 slots available and sold out in 20 minutes, Brezing said, with another 70 on the waitlist. From this high demand came the inception of the Meditation Ambassadors and Wellness Ambassadors program. The Meditation Ambassadors program trains those interested in meditation so that they can provide meditation to their colleagues, whereas a Wellness Ambassador is a voluntary position in which volunteers promote wellness activities.
“Especially with [the] Wellness Ambassadors, they can do something as simple as passing on the word about what’s happening on campus,” Brezing said. “It’s kind of a grassroots effort to promote stress reduction and wellbeing.”

According to Brezing, data from surveys given after the meditation series in the fall showed that 94 percent of those in attendance felt their health had improved, 97 percent felt their wellbeing had improved and 83 percent felt their work performance improved following the series.

Engaging in wellness activities can be an individual experience, but can oftentimes shape and create new bonds.

Wellness activities can definitely be communal,” Brezing said. “A lot of groups get together and knit, color, play four square, meditate, bring in group exercise instructors, et cetera. The social aspect of these activities can really help motivate people to make long-term behavior changes. It also increases employee morale.”

One drawback in seeking out wellness activities such as yoga classes is the typical cost associated with involvement. Yoga classes at the ARC can range from around $50 to $70. Due to their own passions for yoga and the desire to bring it to students, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Athena LeMay and fourth-year food science and technology major Ana Skomal co-founded the UC Davis Yoga Club.

“The Yoga Club offers free classes and workshops every week,” LeMay said. “We have guest teachers and provide a variety of all sorts of yoga styles. We have worked with sororities […] and the new Manetti Shrem Museum [on their] opening day. The Yoga Club also offers hikes for building community and relationships with fellow yogis.”

With almost 300 “yogis,” or members, on their Facebook page, the Yoga Club’s activities are addressing the student demand. However, Skomal said that they aim to provide more than just yoga.

“The simple mission of the Yoga Club is to provide a safe community for students to relax, meet new people and practice the art of meditation and yoga for free,” Skomal said. “For being a fairly new club, I believe we have engaged many students to start and continue their yoga journey in the midst of the college environment. Each yoga class or workshop is beginner-friendly and all levels are welcome.”

In addition to the Yoga Club, Skomal has sought out additional ways to teach others about yoga. In addition to instructing donation-based yoga classes at a studio in Davis, in which all proceeds went to Wind Youth Services for homeless youth, Skomal also taught mindfulness and meditation classes at the Center Against Sexual Harm in Oak Park.

“I made a commitment to continue on my path of yoga outreach,” Skomal said. [I want to] create a community within the UC Davis campus where yoga is available to all students who are interested in starting and continuing their yoga journey.”

Maria West teaches a variety of yoga classes, including several at the ARC. West taught yoga at the Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland and says yoga can bring personal growth and much-needed reflection.

“The practice of yoga encourages letting go of thoughts that do not serve you,” West said. “I remind my students [that] this is where [they] are today […and] nothing is permanent, so tomorrow might be different. Tomorrow, [they] just might be more steady in this pose, or not. We’re all trying to do our best. Yoga is also the unfolding experience of humility.”

Both Skomal and West share a passion to use their yoga expertise as a way to give back to the community.

“Initially, it was not my intention to teach, [but] after I taught my first class, I was hooked,”  West said. “There’s something about teaching that feels like a privilege – [a] privilege to serve and give back, to encourage, to break through walls and help someone feel good, not just about their body but about themselves.”

Brezing said that after meditation or other engagements in wellness exercises, workers are invigorated. Similarly, Settles said that over the course of the ten-week period she spends teaching yoga to students at the ARC, she sees a definite change. A change which brings positive results.

“If you can find five minutes to lay or sit and meditate […] just with yourself and try and focus on your breath […], I feel like that would have so many benefits on this campus,” Settles said. “I think an awesome aspect of [yoga] is community. We’re not all like-minded […] but we’re all here, together, in that time, practicing the same thing. There’s such a powerful, almost magical, experience to just feel so connected to so many people.”

Meet the Meat Lab

Published: The California Aggie. January 24, 2017. Viewable here.


As a second-generation butcher, Caleb Sehnert’s roots have been in the meat industry since before he was born. Sehnert works with and teaches students how to humanely slaughter and process animals for consumption as part of his job as the manager of the UC Davis Meat Lab.

“I really, really like my job,” Sehnert said. “It’s a really rewarding and fun job. I get to work with our researchers and facility managers when they bring animals in and help collect certain tissues and data, [I] get to teach the whole process of slaughter and processing to our students and then I get to help our students prepare it all and sell it to our customers.”

Serving a multitude of functions, the Meat Lab is equipped with a kill floor, processing and cutting rooms and classrooms where students in classes such as animal science 49G (ANS 49G) learn the entire process of meat production. A part of the Department of Animal Science, the Meat Lab has been processing and selling fresh, local meat to the community since the 90’s and is the only one of its kind in the UC system.

Krista Leili-Marrazzo, a fourth-year animal science student, is a self-proclaimed butcherette who has a close relationship with the handful of other student workers and interns at the Meat Lab.

“We spend a lot of time together because if we’re not in class, we’re probably at work,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “I’ve learned so much more than I thought I was going to at this job, so that has been really rewarding.”

Similarly, fourth-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major Geoff Koch, who worked at the Meat Lab for about nine months, said his experience was both enjoyable and extremely rewarding.

“I don’t come from a farming background, so it was another way that I [learned] a whole lot about what it takes to get food to our plates,” Koch said. “I had a really excellent experience working at the Meat Lab. I made some really good friends and I got to be involved in a lot of events on campus with the Animal Science Department.”

Yearly, the Meat Lab processes a total of 600 to 800 cows, pigs, goats and sheep, all of which are raised at UC Davis. Weekly sales are Thursday and Friday from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Cole C Facility. Additionally, meat products are also ordered by restaurants from the community, departments on campus, local butcher shops and, occasionally, the dining commons.

“We do sell to campus catering quite often when they do events,” Sehnert said. “The G Street WunderBar in Downtown Davis [uses] our bacon, ground beef and pastrami on some of their burgers and sandwiches. We also sell lots of carcasses to other local butchers [because] they know they can get fresh, consistent, good animals here.”

In addition to sales, the Meat Lab workers also compete with the five other collegiate meat labs in the state at the annual California Association of Meat Processors (CAMP) competition. Leili-Marrazzo, who was awarded the CAMP scholarship, said that each student is allowed to enter a sausage that they have created which follows the CAMP requirements for that year.  Last February, the UC Davis Meat Lab took home top honors and student-specific awards.

“Each year there’s a different requirement for the sausage, so last year we had to have a pale ale in it […but] this year it’s an Italian sausage,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “I know in past years they’ve had to have an apple ingredient or a weird candy, so this year is not too bad. We’ll spend about a month experimenting and perfecting our own sausages. If you win the award, [then] something you invented won.”

Last year, second-year managerial economics student Denelle Flake was awarded grand champion for her sausage, “The Bangkok Banger.”

“The annual convention provides great networking opportunities with potential employers and fellow college students,” Flake said. “It opens your eyes to the many components of the meat industry.”

The Meat Lab sales room is covered with plaques, noting the many achievements from students of the past and present. However, the most important factor to workers at the Meat Lab is that the livestock is cared for and eventually slaughtered in as a humane way as possible. Sehnert said that most people are not aware that an inspector from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is present for every slaughter.

“All these animals are very well taken care of at our facilities,” Sehnert said. “Our inspectors are always complimenting us on how healthy our animals are, so we’re pretty proud of that. Without humane handling, if you’re not handling the animals properly, you’re going to have a poor product.”

Involvement at the Meat Lab, in classes such as ANS 49G, allows students to receive a hands-on interaction with the entire meat production process. Leili-Marrazzo said she thinks that the opportunity for hands-on learning clears away misconceptions about the meat processing industry.

“I think it’s cool for students to see that everything is done very humanely and the animals [are] really taken care of beforehand and even during the slaughter process,”  Leili-Marrazzo said. “I like [for] students to have that realization of, ‘Oh, this isn’t such a terrible industry and the animals aren’t suffering.’”

Student workers at the Meat Lab are often working while ANS 49G students use the facilities for class. Koch said that while he worked to process meat, students in classes would observe and absorb practical information.

“We get the opportunity to teach by showing what we know,” Koch said. “I got the opportunity to relay the knowledge I had in the short time I was there to some students, but I was also learning myself. You learn by experience.”

According to Koch, every Thursday and Friday when the Meat Lab is open for business, the lines stretch out the door. Sehnert said there are dedicated customers that come every week, rain or shine. But for Sehnert, the Meat Lab is not about profit.

“We’re not really here to make money or lose money,” Sehnert said. “Everything that we sell or produce here is a byproduct of teaching and research.”

Additionally, Leili-Marrazzo said she thinks many students are not aware the Meat Lab exists.

“It’s on campus, it’s so close and I think more people should know about it,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “It’s a nice way to get really local and fresh meat and it’s very humanely slaughtered and processed and we’re really proud of what we do. It’s like the hidden gem of Davis.”

The Collective Effort for Individual Well-being

Published: The California Aggie. December 9, 2016. Viewable here.


Chemistry professor Andreas Toupadakis makes sure to ask the 400 plus students in his lectures questions which allow him to learn more about them. His questions range from whether they would prefer that he upload homework assignments online to whether they know about the Reflection Room in the Student Community Center.

With a passion for helping others, Toupadakis’ name has become associated with his genuine care for the well-being of his students. Although he loves teaching chemistry courses, Toupadakis said teaching first-year seminars about student success and wellness is what keeps him at UC Davis.

“I had a driving force inside me to really see people happy,” Toupadakis said. “For years I [have been] teaching two seminars [that] are very, very successful; the comments are extremely positive. I’m acting like a catalyst to bring [students] together, [to] talk to each other [and] help them navigate through the things that they’re going through. I’m very thankful for these programs.”

Toupadakis teaches two first-year seminars: From Self Awareness to Inner Growth for True Success in and After College as well as World Music as a Means to Embrace Diversity and Reach Self-Discovery. In addition to the resources offered through the university, such as the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC), faculty members and students alike are pioneering new efforts to promote student well-being.

Sylvia Sensiper, the director of The Guardian Professions Program, which helps former foster youth throughout California go to graduate school, also teaches two first-year seminars.

“The Science of Well-being [seminar] looks at meditation [and] gratitude, and we also do a physical practice — sometimes it’s tai-chi sometimes it’s yoga — to look at how that keeps people centered in their mind [and] body in a holistic way,” Sensiper said. “[The seminar on] Contemporary American Buddhism is more like a cultural, historical look at different traditions, and we [engage in] different meditative practices.”

Sensiper said that maintaining stability is essential to achieving personal stability.

“Well-being is the ability to remain stable and flexible in the face of endless change, because there are very many things that are not in your control,” Sensiper said. “We’re all in the midst of a flux of change, and just knowing the resources on campus, knowing when you need to ask for help, knowing when you can just settle down and sit with something and let it go — that’s well-being.”

This personal and external awareness is relevant in the videos Sarv (aka Sodid) Mithaqiyan, a fourth-year philosophy major, creates for his YouTube channel Elevated & Meaningful. Mithaqiyan asks random passerbys meaningful questions, such as “What is Human Nature?” to build awareness about the community, society and ourselves.

“I try to raise the kind of questions that [explore] the kind of knowledge about who we are as human beings,” Mithaqiyan said. “There [needs to be a] catalyst to start the process of talking about things that matter, things that do contribute to well-being — either spiritual or mental or physical. I’m trying to show that people are capable of doing more than they can imagine. We can do more [and] we can construct a more meaningful life if we have higher goals.”

Mithaqiyan has joined a group of students on campus who attempt to engage classmates by offering a constructive, open dialogue. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) club at UC Davis focuses mainly on eliminating the stigmas surrounding mental illness and aims to providing a safe space for students to talk freely. Kim Shuster, a fourth-year psychology major who serves as the speaker coordinator for NAMI, said mental health is at the heart of well-being.

“When I first started my psychology major, I thought that mental health [was] more important than physical health,” Schuster said. “But the longer I’ve been here, I’ve started to realize there’s a lot of intersections. It’s hard to be mentally well if you’re not physically well. [It’s] so important to have a holistic [health].”

The promotion of holistic health is at the crux of the efforts of the Naturopathic Medicine Club (NMC), a student club started this quarter. Naturopathic medicine is a branch of medicine which stresses alternative forms of treatment and emphasizes patients’ individual needs to find the most effective solutions for them.

“Instead of [just] prescribing someone medicine, [naturopathy tries] to focus more on [the patient] as a whole,” said Talha Kilic, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and public relations official for NMC. “Whether it’s mental health […] meditation [or] acupuncture, [the focus is on] soothing you as a whole. As a holistic health [club], we’re able to touch on a lot of different areas.”

Kilic said that the NMC is planning to bring in different professionals from the naturopathic medical field as well as from alternative treatment processes, such as Chinese acupuncturists.

Similarly, both Toupadakis and Sensiper utilize meditation in their seminars to lower stress levels, as it is a practice that is becoming more popular and more secular. Toupadakis said he hires a professional to come to both of his first-year seminars every quarter to lead yoga meditation for two hours. Sensiper requires her students to observe the effects of meditation and other soothing activities, such as writing in a gratitude journal, on students.

“My goals are for them to discover on their own what they can [learn] about these practices, [as] meditation is [an] internal [reflection]” Sensiper said. “Anything I teach externally is not really going to be helpful to anybody until they internalize it and find some benefit for themselves.”

Mithaqiyan, who said he wants to promote reflection as well as introspection through his videos, believes that asking questions and starting conversations has the power to create a large ripple effect that could potentially change current cultural climates.

“The kinds of interactions I try to encourage are ones […] that are directed towards bringing peace, bringing unity and even analyzing what […] that means,” Mithaqiyan said. “More and more individuals [could be] working together and […] coming up with, hopefully, the kind of actions we need to come up with that will stop violence, stop arrogance, stop disunity and hatred and racism.”

Toupadakis also focuses on opening up the dialogue on mental health as well as decreasing stress and anxiety amongst students. Toupadakis said that faculty have a responsibility to reach out to their students. He was recently given the UC Promoting Student Mental Health Guide meant for all faculty and staff and said he finds it incredibly useful.

“I wish I was given this guide years ago,” Toupadakis said. “I truly believe every subject teacher should be equally [if not] more devoted to the well-being of the students [and] this is the guide that could do it. The final solution [is to] cultivate compassion.”

Furthermore, both Sensiper and Toupadakis feel that requiring each first-year student to take a course that deals with topics such as well-being would have a huge impact.

“When [students] come in, there should be required classes about well-being of students,” Toupadakis said. “Your peace and health is more important than anything else.”


The Perks of Having Professors as Pals

Published: The California Aggie. November 20, 2016. Viewable here.


In effort to get to know her upper division French students, professor Claire Goldstein  invited her class for lemonade and a game of boules, a French game similar to bocce. As the students engaged in cultural activities, Goldstein got the opportunity to interact with them outside of the classroom, and she thoroughly enjoyed their conversations.

“I like to know what [students are] doing, […] what they’re interested in and their experiences,” Goldstein said. “I get some of my best ideas about teaching from really hearing what students are [saying and] their perspectives.”

From organizing committees, to having meals, to casually chatting, many UC Davis faculty members are making the effort to connect with their students.

One program on campus that tries to foster such connections is the Entrée to Education (E2E) program, planned by Student Housing, which invites a faculty member to eat a free meal with up to 10 students in the dining hall of their choice. Brandon Petitt, the director of the Office of Student Development, worked in a committee alongside students to create the program.

“[We were] looking at ways to engage students to ensure their success [by specifically engaging] students with faculty on campus,” Petitt said. “One key idea was [for students and faculty to] have a meal together. Where we finally landed was on the Entrée to Education program.”

For the last two years, the E2E program has been providing students with dining hall access the opportunity to dine with faculty. Carolyn Thomas, professor of American Studies and Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education, recently participated in the program and said that, although mostly just resident advisors (RAs) joined her, it was a worthwhile experience.

“It went well,” Thomas said. “There were mostly RAs who were there when I went [and] we talked about housing, […] what the experience is for students who are RAs and how much they enjoy working with first year students. We also talked about their classes [and] concerns that they had.”

Thomas said she was so impressed with the RAs who showed up to eat with her that she invited them to join her advisory board— one RA took her up on the offer which, she said, “was a really nice outcome.” Thomas’ advisory board is a diverse group of about 10 students which meet with her once a quarter to talk about concerns or ideas about undergraduate education. Goldstein explained exactly what a faculty member can get out of prioritizing active outreach.

“[I get to learn about] what [students] want to know, what they want to understand [and] what they think they understand about what’s happening,” Goldstein said. “It’s good for [students] to have the opportunity to meet faculty in [informal] situations.”

After Jasneek Attwal,  a fourth-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, invited her chemistry professor to attend the annual Prytanean Women’s Honor Society’s Dinner for Ten event — in which students of the society bring one faculty member of their choosing to a large dinner — she said she was both excited and nervous.

“He said yes and [the dinner] was wonderful,” Attwal said. “They sat us with people from different departments, even Prytanean alumnae, and we had one of the coolest conversations ever. It expanded from bees, to biochemistry, to mosquitoes, to politics, to different types of law — it was really fun. And I definitely had a [closer] relationship with my professor after.”

Both Attwal, who serves as the treasurer for the Prytanean Women’s Honor Society, and Sheila Kulkarni, a third-year chemistry major who serves as the historian, will help organize the Dinner for Ten this year. Both Attwal and Kulkarni said they feel fostering student and faculty relationships outside the classroom is important for both parties.

“[Building connections] really enriches the educational experience for both students and teachers,” Kulkarni said. “It’s difficult for teachers to understand how students absorb knowledge, so getting to know your students as people, getting to understand how they learn, who they are as students and as people is very important in helping [faculty] teach and interact with their students on a very human level.”

Some faculty members are even willing to live in close proximity with students. Petitt acknowledged landscape architecture professor David de la Peña who, alongside his family, lives in Primero Grove. De la Peña explains that meeting with his neighbors in an informal setting is what helps him get to know them the best.

“I am there to help students connect with faculty in a comfortable setting,” de la Peña said in an e-mail interview. “Last week, we served churros and Mexican hot chocolate and chatted with a dozen or so students about moving to Davis about good places to hike and about study abroad. It can be hard for students sometimes to connect with all of the things happening on campus, so it’s fun to see them get engaged and contribute their energy.”

Student-faculty interactions can be mutually beneficial for both parties involved. Thomas said she encourages students to involve themselves in events which connect them to faculty because it helps to make students “more active in class” as well as more confident to approach professors about their work outside of the classroom. Additionally, she encourages faculty to do the same.

“Coming into Segundo [Dining Commons] and sitting down over a meal […] is very different [than the classroom],” Thomas said. “It makes us better teachers when we really take time to get to know our students as people.”

When students and faculty take the time to get to know each other, the results can be emboldening to everyone involved.

“Teaching […] is a collaborative experience that is born out of a relationship that involves trust and a mutual interest,” Goldstein said. “I really love getting to talk to UC Davis students in a non-classroom setting. I love hearing [about] all the rich things they’re up to, and thinking about and involved in. It’s really inspiring for me, and I’m happy to teach here.”

The Benefits of Going Abroad

Published: The California Aggie. November 13, 2016. Viewable here. Co-written with Allyson Tsuji


When Alissa Alson returned to UC Davis after a year spent on an independent study trip in Ireland, she knew she did not want to continue pursuing her major in biological systems engineering.

“I took about two quarters [for that major] and realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” said Alson, a fourth-year student who now works as an administrative assistant at the Study Abroad Center. “I already knew I was studying abroad […] so I went and I figured ‘I’m going to take whatever classes sound fun.’”

While abroad, Alson took classes on Celtic civilization and Irish folklore. By embracing the opportunities she was presented with abroad, Alson discovered that she “really liked delving into other cultures” and decided to instead pursue a major in international relations.

“[Study Abroad tries] to focus on the life experience,” said Pablo Ortiz, professor in the UC Davis Music Department and Study Abroad instructor. “Being able to experience things face-to-face, without the mediation of a camera or social media or anything like that […] is completely different. It’s […] great to be able to experience things in a more direct way.”

UC Davis has over 300 study abroad programs to choose from, making the boundaries limitless both academically and geographically. In addition to approximately 50 UC Davis faculty-led programs, the systemwide UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) offers around 350 different plans of study at host universities around the world.

Regardless of the program, studying abroad offers experiences that many students do not get to experience at home. Ortiz, who has taught a variety of music classes abroad, takes his students to opera festivals and street art tours.

“I take students to places that are the opposite of Davis –– places where there are […] experiences you would never have in the context of a small town in California,” Ortiz said. “I believe that that makes people acquire a repertoire of behaviors [and] resources. [These experiences] confront [students] with realities that they’re not confronted with here.”

Along with experiencing the world outside of Davis, students who study outside of the country can also add to their “repertoire” by making new connections.

Paula Levitt, a programs manager at the Study Abroad Center who has, according to her online biography, “visited, worked or studied in 45 countries and six continents,” has remained in contact with the friends she met from her time studying abroad through a UCEAP program over a decade ago. In addition to forming  new friendships, Levitt also emphasized the benefits of studying abroad with UC Davis faculty members and how they can provide letters of recommendation or research opportunities in the future.

“That’s what I like about traveling –– those person to person experiences [can help you] learn more about [yourself] and also other people and cultures,” Levitt said. “Staying in hostels and meeting people from all over the world […] who have similar passions, [allows you] to learn about your field from a different perspective. The reason that I’m so flexible and adaptable […] is really due to my travel experiences […] and my ability to get along with all sorts of people from different walks of life.”

Like most great accomplishments, studying abroad is often accompanied by challenges of all sorts, from homesickness to culture-shock. These difficulties test a student’s limits and push them to accomplish even more than they thought they would able to do.

“When you go abroad, what happens [there] is not in any way similar to what happens [at Davis],” Ortiz said. “Your food may not be what you’re expecting, or the train may not leave at the time it’s supposed to leave. You have to adapt to the circumstances and make the best of something that initially may look like it’s bad, [until] it turns out to be one of the greatest things that may have happened to you.”

Levitt also said that she encourages students to start thinking about studying abroad as early as possible, since the “experience is so impactful that they find a way to make it happen again.” Though advising sessions beforehand help students plan for their trips abroad by discussing how to pack and what to bring, nothing can prepare students for the impact the trip will have on their lives.

“I think everybody should go abroad,” Ortiz said. “Most of the [students] I’ve had […] always refer to their study abroad as a before-and-after, completely life-changing experience.”

Megan Perry, a third-year history major, was recently accepted to the Spring 2017 London quarter abroad program during which she will have an internship and be taking two UK-themed courses. Perry applied in early October and said the reality of the trip is “surreal.”

“I grew up in Sacramento so I didn’t go to college very far away from home,” Perry said. “Getting out of that comfort zone and finding out who [I am] as a person and having these new experiences […] can really help [me] grow. It’s kind of nice that I’ll have that experience of being away. I think it will help in the long-term in [terms of adjusting to] new circumstances.”

Alson, after her experiences in Ireland, is now considering about a professional career overseeing study abroad programs. She strongly encourages students to step out of their comfort zone through the opportunities available outside of the country.

“Studying abroad is a great way to figure out, ‘What do I really like? What don’t I like?” Alson said. “Davis is great […], but maybe you’ll find some place that speaks to you even more. Maybe there’s something out there that’s going to speak to you, [and] you haven’t found it yet.”