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Awards ceremony highlights how students are driven to solve

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GPS Awardees 2023

Community gathers to celebrate academic excellence, innovative research and other contributions to the school

UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) students, faculty and staff were all smiles May 12 as they gathered on the 15th floor of The Village to celebrate some of the school’s best and brightest. 

The annual awards ceremony was emceed by associate professor and associate dean Samuel Bazzi

“Each year we take great pride in recognizing the students who represent the highest ideals of our school, and it’s an honor to serve as emcee this year to celebrate the achievements of these students,” Bazzi said during the ceremony. 

Students received awards for academic excellence, achievements in research and other contributions to the GPS community. 

Inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award

One new award added to the roster of exemplary achievements for 2023 was the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Award, which was awarded jointly to two students: Ana Zapata and Yazmin Franco. 

Associate professor and EDI Committee member Jakana Thomas presented the award and highlighted the two students’ significant contributions. 

Zapata, Thomas said, has been instrumental in creating an inclusive environment for all Latin American students, as well as those in the regional track, through her work with the Latin American Students Organization (LASO). 

“She has organized celebrations of Latin American culture, panels on current events, and provided connections across cultural student associations to boost the diversity of student experiences at GPS,” Thomas said. “We have little doubt that the standard she has set for LASO and for inclusive leadership at GPS will live on for many cohorts of students to come.”

Franco, who was not in attendance at the ceremony, was honored for consistently and successfully advocating for improved services for students with disabilities, as well as advocating for increased awareness at GPS and UC San Diego about the structural barriers students with disabilities face during their studies. 

As a direct result of Franco’s advocacy efforts, Thomas explained, UC San Diego’s mobility services improved the standards of their transport services throughout campus, and as an advocate and volunteer for DACA grad student programming, Yazmin helped secure $80,000 in funding for undocumented and DACA graduate students. 

“Yazmin has helped change GPS’ understanding of the experience students with disabilities have in our program, and her advocacy will have a lasting impact on the priority we are putting and the approach we are taking to improve their experience,” Thomas said. 

Other awards honoring contributions to community

Ayal Margalith Award and commencement speaker

During the ceremony, Peter “PJ” Wilborn was named as both the class commencement speaker and the recipient of the Ayal Margalith Award. 

2023 GO GPS Vice President of Internal Affairs Jeff Myers presented the Ayal Margalith Award, which honors students who go above and beyond to demonstrate leadership, compassion and devotion to their community. 

Myers explained that since first meeting Wilborn at GPS, Wilborn has demonstrated exceptional character and willingness to serve others.

“Just a few days into our time in math camp two summers ago, while everyone else struggled to match a name to a single new face, PJ was learning so rapidly that he felt he needed to apologize to anyone he didn’t recognize by Day 3,” Myers shared. “He has embodied that ethos throughout his time at GPS, enriching everyone’s experience.”

Robert Daquila, 2023 president of GO GPS, shared similar sentiments about Wilborn’s contributions to his cohort when announcing Wilborn as this year’s commencement speaker. 

“Peter is a Master of Public Policy (MPP) student with a focus on peace and security, and this isn’t shocking in the least,” Daquila said. “Peter makes no secret about the issues close to his heart and selflessly dedicates hours each week to his mission of uplifting others, creating a cohesive and tight-knit community.”

Doming Liu Award

This year’s Doming Liu Award, which recognizes a first-year student for their contributions to the GPS community and their actions throughout their first year, was awarded to Muhtadi Faiaz. 

“He has been a supportive peer for other students and has contributed to making classes an engaging space to learn,” said 2024 GO GPS President Taysia Leung, who presented the award. “He’s stepped up to help his fellow students through the PMP review and has always been the first person to ask the hard questions in class.”

MAS-IA Peer Award

The MAS-IA Peer Award, given to an outstanding student in the Master of Advanced Studies in International Affairs (MAS-IA) program as voted by their peers, went to Reed Harbeck. 

Global Leadership Institute (GLI) Director Grace Osborne presented the award. 

“Reed not only excelled in his coursework, but his classmates have lauded him as a team player from start to finish and someone who best represents UC San Diego excellence,” Osborne said. 

Dean’s Teaching Award

This year’s Dean’s Teaching Award was presented jointly to Marcia Yang and Salma Shaikh. 

Student Jonathan Elkobi presented the award, which is given to the best core curriculum teaching assistants as voted by the first-year class. Both Yang and Shaikh, Elkobi said, went above and beyond by answering countless questions, leading fantastic sections and easily managing busy office hours.

“You both have been exceptional TAs, and your dedication to helping first-year students succeed has not gone unnoticed,” Elkobi shared. “Your hard work and patience have made a real difference in their lives, and you should be proud of all that you have accomplished.”

Faculty Recognition Award

2023 GO GPS Vice President of Academic Affairs Marissa Myers presented the Faculty Recognition Award to two faculty members: associate professor Samuel Bazzi and assistant professor Nico Ravanilla

Myers first lauded Bazzi, sharing that numerous students shared their appreciation for him, his classes and his approachability, all while balancing his new role as associate dean for the school year. 

Myers then honored Ravanilla for his ability to teach with kindness even while tackling incredibly complicated topics in quantitative program designs and Southeast Asian politics. 

“Also, in his words, he can look into our eyes and know exactly when we weren’t getting it,” Myers joked. “He would then happily repeat the same information over and over in new ways until we understood it.”

Ultimately, Myers said, both professors are exemplary scholars known for their expertise in their field and love of teaching. 

“We are extremely grateful for the time and energy you have given to each of us,” Myers concluded. 

Academic and research achievements

Econometrics Award

Professor Jennifer Burney presented this year’s Econometrics Award, which honors the year’s most outstanding quantitative methods paper, to Jeff Myers. His paper focused on the impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision on the 2022 election. Myers’ analysis cleverly leveraged the existence of “trigger bans” on abortion that were activated in numerous jurisdictions across the nation in the wake of the Dobbs ruling, Burney explained. 

“Jeff found that areas where the Dobbs ruling resulted in a sudden increased distance to providers, Democratic vote share in the 2022 election exceeded expectations,” Burney added. “This was a well organized and executed paper on an important and timely topic — fantastic job!”

Ruth Adams Award

This year’s winner of the Ruth Adams Award — an award for the best qualitative paper — was Tomoyuki Suematsu for his paper on the drivers and obstacles of effective carbon pricing in Japan’s political economy. Suematsu was not in attendance, but associate professor David Fortunato announced the award in his absence.

“The author argues that the interplay among politicians, bureaucrats and interest groups helps to explain the different policy decisions made,” Fortunato said. “The paper supports its theoretical argument with a comparative case study of the processes leading to different climate policies in Japan. Congratulations to Tomoyuki!”

Richard Covington Award

Professor Gaurav Khanna presented the Richard Covington Award to Katy Norris. The award recognizes a technically excellent program design and evaluation paper, with the aim of moving it toward publication. The winner not only receives a monetary prize but also receives feedback and support from faculty to bring the work into a publishable format. 

Norris’ paper examines the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and shows that the Rwandan government expanded education in heavily contested areas, perhaps with the aim of establishing governmental control. 

“Katy collected historical data on the genocide prosecutions, education expenditure and attainment, and it comprehensively shows that education attainment rose rapidly in heavily contested areas,” Khanna said. “This research has substantial implications for post-conflict targeted governmental investments, especially in education.”

Joseph Grunwald Award

This year’s Joseph Grunwald Award was given to Ana Zapata. Grunwald, a former professor, was a strong advocate of political and economic cooperation throughout the Americas. 

Professor Rafael Fernández de Castro, who also serves as director of the school’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (USMEX), lauded Zapata’s efforts with LASO and USMEX, as well as her contributions to student life at GPS. 

Language Achievement Award

This year’s winner of the Language Achievement Award was Marcia Yang for her achievements in learning Japanese. Bazzi read a statement on behalf of her professor, Yashu-Hiko Tohsaku, who could not be in attendance. 

Tohsaku’s written statement explained that though Yang had no formal instruction in Japanese before GPS, she worked diligently to build and enhance her Japanese proficiency. 

“Now, she has achieved excellence in both oral and written communication skills in Japanese, allowing her to deliver public presentations on topics such as Japanese education policy,” Bazzi read. “Her dedication, intelligence, and interest in language and culture are a testament to how a student can grow both personally and academically.”

Policy Memo Award

This year’s Policy Memo Award, which recognizes a well-written memo analysis by a student in their first year of studies at GPS, was jointly awarded to Muhtadi Faiaz and Minh Nam Pham. 

Associate professor Lauren Prather, who presented the award, said Faiaz’s memo focused on the age-old question of collective action in politics: when does it make sense for a firm to push for a policy even if other firms in the industry may not go along? 

“Faiaz looked at that challenge from the perspective of an unlikely client — Meta — and showed how the firm could shape rules to its competitive advantage,” Prather explained. 

Pham’s memo, Prather continued, contained an analysis of how administrative law reforms in Korea have worked — but with unintended consequences. 

“These rules, modeled on the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act, make it harder for the government to respond to recent street protests that created fast-moving and changing policy challenges,” Prather said. “The memo is sophisticated about the theory of administrative law while also practical about how Korean leaders can craft policy responses that will be more effective.”

Academic Achievement Awards

Students with the top marks in their respective programs were honored with the Academic Achievement Award: Master of International Affairs (MIA) ’23 candidate Marcia Yang, MAS-IA ’23 candidate Gary Slater, MPP ’23 candidate Jeff Myers and Master of Chinese Economic and Political Affairs (MCEPA) ’23 candidate Junhui “Chris” Xu. 


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Virginia Watson is the communications editor for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism with a minor in graphic design from Troy University.
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